Monthly Archives: June 2016

Anybody remember the OU?

by reestheskin on 27/06/2016

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Coursera pilots a new course format

‘Starting today, we will begin piloting a few courses in which all content is available only to learners who have purchased the course, either directly or by applying for and receiving financial aid.’

Stephen Downes comments ‘You will recognize it as “what we had before MOOCs” ‘ Anybody remember the OU? Although at least with the OU you could watch the TV programmes and look at the books in the bookshop.

“I actually believe that we need domain specific online learning environments that cater to the pedagogies appropriate to different disciplines.” Mark Smithers

As compared with the LMS as all about management and and not much about learning.

Skin cancer in less than five minutes

by reestheskin on 23/06/2016

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Skin cancer in five minutes. Well actually, less than that.


Skin cancer in five minutes from jonathan rees on Vimeo.

“Scandals, however, raised questions about whether to trust U.S. researchers. In 1964, news broke that 22 patients at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn had been injected with cancer cells without their knowledge”

NEJM. Worth a read.

‘When people say ludicrous things like “we don’t need to remember things any more because we have Google!” you can assume they haven’t tried to learn anything outside their domain for a long time.’

Yes, facts matter and memory is our intellectual ballast. Here.

The GRIM test for honesty

by reestheskin on 19/06/2016

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No, not ‘up North’, but a neat way to check whether people have been sloppy or dishonest.  The following from the Economist

The GRIM test, short for granularity-related inconsistency of means, is a simple way of checking whether the results of small studies of the sort beloved of psychologists (those with fewer than 100 participants) could be correct, even in principle.

Full PeerJ reprint here.


The QAA….

by reestheskin on 18/06/2016

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Quotes from the THE on the topic of QAA and Oxford.

‘Oxford students have long been known to be among the hardest working in the UK, with analysis conducted by Times Higher Education in 2013 suggesting that undergraduates on many courses at the institution were dedicating more than 40 hours a week to their studies, on average, double what their peers at other universities might do.’

‘Oxford students taking courses in historical and philosophical studies spent an average of 41 hours a week studying, compared with 19.3 at Northumbria University, while in biological sciences, Oxford students’ average workload of 40.3 hours compared with 20.2 hours at the University of Portsmouth.’

This is a problem apparently for Oxford.

The next article in headed: “Dozens of QAA jobs ‘at risk’”

You could not make this stuff up.

“There is a naive view that giving more education to young people will help them get employed. This is a myth” 


Why is brown melanin blue!

by reestheskin on 17/06/2016

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Another (very) short video

Why is ‘brown’ melanin ‘blue’? from jonathan rees on Vimeo.

Why does psoriasis sometimes look white?

by reestheskin on 16/06/2016

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(Very) short video!

Why does psoriasis sometimes look white? from jonathan rees on Vimeo.

Video:The biology of the skin barrier and the eczema connection

by reestheskin on 15/06/2016

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A short video on epidermal biology with an emphasis on barrier function and irritant dermatitis.


The biology of the skin barrier: the eczema connection from jonathan rees on Vimeo.

The Quad and the aggrieved townsmen

by reestheskin on 14/06/2016

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On the origin of the university quad:

These facilities were often enclosed quadrangles that were accessed by defensible gated entrances to protect their scholars and faculty fellows from aggrieved townsmen.

From Wisdoms Workshop 

Itching for an explanation

by reestheskin on 09/06/2016

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Basics of itch and scratch…


Itch, and the utility of scratch from jonathan rees on Vimeo.

Physics matters!

by reestheskin on 08/06/2016

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A basic introduction to clinical photobiology for our students.


Why so few running instructors?

by reestheskin on 08/06/2016

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I have come across this from Paul Graham before, but I think he is saying something very important about learning in general. He points out that there are lots of skiing instructors, but not many running instructors. When you learn to ski, often your intuition is to lean back. Big mistake. Often you need to lean forward. It takes a while to re program the intuition.

I used to think most medical students knew how to learn and acquire expertise efficiently. I no longer think this way. In particular, there is an over emphasis on rule based strategies, rather than naturalistic ones.  Just as people over emphasise predicate calculus in thinking about the world, so we  and they, are often prisoners of mistaken theories about how ‘learning works’. Much learning is very unnatural.

Louse Richardson on no platforming, and being taught how to iron a man’s shirt.

by reestheskin on 07/06/2016

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Louise Richardson said a few interesting things talking to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. Anybody who has been taught by (Irish) nuns or Christian brothers, will know some of the terrain.

In response to, ‘The most recent NUS survey says that 63% of students support the view that people with potentially offensive views should be banned from British campuses and from speaking from events’, she replied, ‘Well the first point is that I couldn’t disagree more with than view, I have to say’. No flimflam here, thank God. She pointed out that this is not entirely a new phenomenon, and wondered if young people are now less exposed to alternate views than they once were, and are more ‘cosseted’ by their parents.

I wonder how the for-profits would handle this issue.

‘AI’ as the buzzword for everything, understood or not.

Benedict Evans

Living to a hundred, fees and pensions

by reestheskin on 04/06/2016

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This is from a book review in the Economist about the implications of changes in life expectancy (The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. By Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott). The figures are sobering.

Jack, born in 1945, worked for 42 years and was retired for eight. He had to save only a small percentage of his salary in a pension every month, which was topped up by the government and by his company. Jimmy was born in 1971 and has a life expectancy of 85. If he works for 44 years and retires for 20, he will be likely to need to save a whopping 17% of his income during his working life. From here the numbers grow more unsettling. Jane, born in 1998, will need to finance 35 years of retirement on the same 44 years of work. This will mean she must save 25% of her income—an improbable sum given other commitments such as mortgages, university fees and child care. The upshot of all of this continued extension of longevity is that working to 70 or even past 80 may not only become less unusual, but may be necessary in the future.

Three thoughts. I think practising medicine is going to be tough, especially on the surgeons (and do not mention shift working, as it will only drive the best into alternative careers). The second, is that student fees are going to  compete with pension saving, as the provision of occupational pensions deteriorates. Third, as the quote below attests, we need to question the model of bingeing on expensive education in early adulthood.

But universities may need to rethink the model of handing a big dollop of education once, in youth, and forcing graduates to repay that cost over decades. If people must retrain throughout their lives, as well as save more for retirement, a costly, one-shot education at the start might become an unmanageable burden.

Dawkins’s Law of Conservation of Obscurity

by reestheskin on 03/06/2016

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‘Dawkins’s Law of Conservation of Obscurity states that obscurantism in a subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity. Academics sometimes language up their writing to conceal how little they have to offer.’

Richard Dawkins. Here

MOOCs and predicting Hamlet from the atoms in a lamb chop

by reestheskin on 02/06/2016

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I suspect my analogy is wrong, but I am going to persist. In economics, the subject is often divided into ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ — microeconomics and macroeconomics. The problem is how you meld the two together in a coherent intellectual way. To me there is a flavour of the absurdity of John Tyndall’s quote to the effect ‘that it would be possible to predict Hamlet from a knowledge of the forces between the atoms in a mutton chop’ (quoted by the late physicist and sociologist of science, John Ziman).

Yesterday, I was at Senate, listening to presentations on distance learning, MOOCs and ‘disruption’. The memes of my first paragraph came to mind. On the one hand we have the macro world of finance, fashion, innovation, novelty, and professional jousting and jostling for power; and on the other, the micro world of experiment, and laboratory control, and the tired p<0.05 that has come to replace thinking. The former is going to win, because when the search space is so large, intuition is all you have. Academia will indeed change, because many of academia’s methods are what we use once the terrain has been mapped out. We are not there yet, but the insights of the legendary scholar De Selby comes to mind: serious science takes over from relevance.