Wednesday, November 28, 2012

City of Longmont stands up to Colorado Governor

On November 6th, 2012 the people of the City of Longmont, Colorado passed an amendment to the city charter banning hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) within city limits. The ballot initiative was known as measure 300. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has helped sue the city for restricting oil and gas activity before and has vowed to repeat himself.  Hickenlooper's ardent support for the oil and gas industry has given him the nickname Governor Frackenlooper. His position also makes me suspicious of his motives and for the murky circumstances of his Democratic predecessor Governor Bill Ritter stepping down.

Watch in the video below as the people of Longmont chant "Dirty water, dirty air. we get sick and you don't care" at Governor Hickenlooper as he leaves the city in September 2012. During this visit the Governor said the passage of fracking ban 300 would bring a second lawsuit from the State.

I am curious to see the Governor's next move. As a native Western New Yorker I hope Hickenlooper looks to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for guidance on this precarious environmental and economic issue. As I understand the current legal situation in New York there is a state-wide moratorium in place against fracking and Cuomo has left the decision up to municipalities whether to allow fracking to occur if the moratorium should happen to be lifted. I plead with state representatives Randy Fischer and John Kefalas to urge Governor Hickenlooper to take a similar stance on Fracking in Colorado.

Stevie Wonder receives Gershwin Prize, performs for Obama

Monday, November 26, 2012

Watershed - a film by Robert Redford

And guess what... The Dovekins (one of my favorite local Colorado Bands) lays down some of the soundtrack. Looks like a great film to raise water awareness.

Elegant Aspergillus - Dance of the spores

Louis CK on Evolution

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wild Sex! Episode 1

Fellow science-blogger Dr. Carin Bondar has begun to release episodes from a new series all about sex in the animal world. In this first episode she delves into... SEXUAL CANNIBALISM! Check it out!

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Lies from the pit of hell" guy won.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) is seen in the video below proclaiming evolution, embryology, and the big bang “lies straight from the pit of Hell." AND, he just won reelection in Georgia's 10th congressional district (recently gerrymandered, I might add).

His reelection was not gained without scorn in the national media. As several major news agencies reported over 4,000 of his constituents wrote in "Charles Darwin" on the ballot.

Did his opponent get Nadered by Darwin?

No, sadly Broun would have won despite the shenanigans as he was running unopposed. Though his thumbs are still opposable.

As I am about to move to Georgia to begin a PostDoc at Emory I am frightened by this kind of person being my neighbor. But I hereby take up the challenge to bring the scientific method and reasoned argument with me in full force. I'm sure Georgia is rife with fossils for me to show them.

Watch out Georgia, here comes Tom Paine's Ghost!

Bach on the Brain - Oliver Sacks as Guinea Pig

Saturday, November 10, 2012

University of the People: An Online School for the Masses

Guest Post by Rachel Higgins

The University of the People is an online institution that claims to be “the world's first, tuition free, nonprofit, online university.” Since it's inception, the school has managed to educate thousands of students who would have otherwise never had an opportunity for higher education while turning its idealistic founder Shai Reshef into a star in non-profit and education circles. Yet, despite its early successes, many still question the long term feasibility of such a revolutionary school. In order to take on the educational needs of poverty-stricken potential students around the globe while maintaining solvency, the institution will likely need to restructure and make some difficult choices.

The University of the People aims to offer higher education to poor students around the globe who lack the means to attend university of any sort. After making millions of dollars from several for-profit, online education ventures in the US, Europe and the Middle East, Shai Reshef founded the university in 2009, and today, continues to run it with only two people. It has no campus, no visitors center, and no signage whatsoever. It is simply exists in a downtown high rise in Pasadena, CA. Despite his previous global education ventures, Reshef chose to base The University of the People in the US “because students from all over the world want an American degree. They want to study, and want to find a job, and they want their degree to be recognized.”

Today, the school has enrolled 1,300 students from 129 countries, mainly from Nigeria, Indonesia, Haiti and the US. Upon registration, students must verify that they are at least 18 years old and pay a one-time application fee ranging from $10 to $50, which varies according to the comparative wealth of the student's home nation. Otherwise, there are no tuition or book costs. So far, the school offers two- and four-year degrees in business administration and computer science, but Reshef has been meeting with academics at many top universities, developing plans to expand the course offerings Instructional materials are provided for free online by an open-source consortium, with Yale and Hewlett Packard expected to partner with the university soon as well. “Of course, you see 'free' and right away you're suspicious,” says Villanueva Sanchez, University of the People student from northern Peru. Sanchez contends that after reading the school’s mission statement, though, she was convinced the school is for people like her who lack the money or opportunity to attend college.

“Listen, everyone should be educated,” says Reshef. “I care about the people who don't have the right to an education right now, and they should have the right.” Regardless of the school’s ideals and the lofty goals of its founder, many wonder how a school that essentially requires no tuition from students could possibly remain solvent. “I think the concept of the University of the People is a nice idea,” says Philip Altbach, head of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, but adds, “I think it's a bit half-baked at this point.”

“I have a bunch of concerns that we're all still trying to figure out,” says Dalton Conley, former dean of social sciences at New York University, who is currently on loan to help the school expand course offerings. Indeed, the school remains unaccredited, a significant limitation on the future prospects of its graduates, and while the courses are still ostensibly free, new expenses are already being incorporated. In September, for instance, new students will be required to pay a $100 fee for every final exam. Meanwhile, while more than 30,000 people have applied to the school, so far, only about 1,000 have met the school's admission criteria: attainment of a high school diploma, and English proficiency.

Yet, Reshef insists the university will yet survive, with its mission intact. “We're building a model,” says Reshef, “[all of higher education] can do it for sure. So we're showing that it is possible.” Aiding Reshef's cause is a partnership with New York University announced last year, which may allow University of the People students to enroll at NYU's Abu Dhabi campus and receive financial aid. The ambitious and philanthropic nature of the project have also proved a major asset, one which Reshef may well utilize to ensure the university remains solvent in the coming years, perhaps drawing on the benevolent supporters to handle administrative duties or fundraising if the organization ever outgrows its humble office space. While the school already utilizes almost 3,000 volunteering professors, as well as volunteer librarians, in 2011 Reshef said “We have 2,000 volunteers, we don't know what to do with them.”

However, once students graduate, goodwill will no longer be enough to ensure their education will be acknowledged in a competitive global marketplace. If the school is to thrive in the long term, accreditation is key. Reshef asserts “when a student from anywhere in the world is taking an exam, we send the exam to a reputable person from his community. This could be a clergy member or a public official. It's a tedious process, but we want to verify that the person taking the exam is the same student.” Despite these measures, Reshef maintains the school continues to work on accreditation.

For many students around the world, it is apparent that The University of the People remains the best hope for a healthy and prosperous future. Dalton Conley claims that Reshef once stated “We're not the future of higher education, we're the last resort.” While this mindset is an noble place for any organization to start, the most trying work may yet be ahead if Reshef and his cohorts are to turn the concept of free (or almost free) higher education into a sustainable reality. 

While Reshef may be offering hope to a thousand individuals in poverty throughout the globe with focused efforts toward bringing his school into the mainstream, The University of the People could yet transform education for those in poverty well into the foreseeable future.