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Archival Opinion: YouTube’s Educational Program Crash Course is Incredibly Important in Our Media Age — And Here’s Why

Archival Opinion: YouTube’s Educational Program Crash Course is Incredibly Important in Our Media Age — And Here’s Why

 

Originally Written in 2016 and posted on LinkedIn.
Revisited in 2018 with updated information.

Not Sponsored by Crash Course or its parent company, Complexly. 

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Six years ago, YouTubers John and Hank Green came together with others to create innovation. A free, easily accessible, learning program. It taught you the basics of American History, World History, English Literature, and much more. This wasn’t the first time someone had made a channel or website that allowed free education. Khan Academy had been around since September of 2006, but at the time, they only taught math. John and Hank Green began to make what education was available online more accessible and more varied, proving that education can be completely free.

 

The business is mainly funded by voluntary donations. Through the service, Patreon, subscribers can give as much money as they want towards Crash Course, allowing the company to continue going. In late 2014, they also became partnered with PBS Digital Studios, allowing them a bigger budget, which then allowed for them to have more and more content as the years have gone on. As of the writing of this article, Crash Course has gathered over 5 million YouTube subscribers, and over 450 million views. They’ve also created Crash Course Kids, aimed at younger viewers.

 

As of 2018, Crash Course broke off from PBS Digital Studios and is not under the parent company Complexly, run by the Green Brothers themselves. 

 

The videos Crash Course provides are used in various schools around the world. They have also begun to create worksheets to go along with their curriculum, and those are slowly coming out to help schools teach along with their programming. Including the one show produced on Crash Course Kids, there have been twenty-one different seasons of Crash Course, all varying in topics.  

 

All of the aforementioned information explains just the beginnings of why Crash Course is so important in our day and age. It is using a medium of innovation, allowing free education to anyone who has access to the internet. With its colorful cast of hosts, it’s amazing graphics team, Thought Café, and its topics of huge interest, it makes learning fun, easy, and most importantly, available to nearly everyone. 

 

From public and private schools, to those who are homeschooled, to those who haven’t had a formal education in any form. Education, in many cases, can be very inaccessible. From public schools that are shutting down, to incredibly expensive colleges that put people into debt, to places in the developing world who don’t even have access to schools in some cases. Crash Course is doing what it can to provide for the needs of those who can have access to the internet. Of course, this doesn’t account for everyone, but it is a huge step in the right direction.

 

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So, if Crash Course has been going on for this long, why are we bringing it up now? The company was under a little bit of fire in 2016 (when this article was originally written). A course by the name Human Geography came out on the channel, and after two episodes were released, the season was promptly removed from YouTube. Why? Inaccuracy. Now — before you think I’m about to debunk everything written above, I’m not. In fact, this is another reason why Crash Course is so important in this digital age.  

 

In a small video released on October 31st, 2016, John Green addressed the controversy. He said that Crash Course was “hitting the pause button” on the Human Geography course in order to re-work it. Without hesitation, Green went on to explain how the company attempted to grow Crash Course’s video content, and curriculum, without raising their budget and without increasing their staff.  “That,”  John Green said, “was a mistake.”  

 

This lead to factual mistakes, poor editing, and rushed production. John Green also said that the tone of the episodes were “too strident”, or harsh. Green went on to mention some specific mistakes made in the episodes. This mistake resulted in a product that hadn’t been as good as Crash Course’s previous series. 

 

“Crash Course needs to have a point of view, but it also needs to be intellectually rigorous and to acknowledge the diversity of opinion and research within a field, and we didn’t do that.”  - John Green
 

John Green went further to explain how they would address the problem. They’d work with more experts on the courses, and spend more times on the scripts. He then acknowledged that this change would slow down their production — and then he said something I found key. “Ultimately, I think it will also improve our videos.” 

 

This is exactly why, in this world where education comes along with greed, Crash Course is so important. Green admits to the flaws within their system with no defense and no poor attitude. They brought down the videos and explained how they were going to fix the problems. They also say they’re going to take their time.  

 

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Assuming this rings true, and Green and the rest of the staff at Crash Course do just this, what we’re seeing is rare. An apology without an excuse, and without a political answer. If this is true, we’re seeing a company put their product before their profit, and more importantly, we’re seeing a company put education before profit. This is rare, which is sad and frankly sickening, but it seems to exist somewhere, at least. That somewhere is Crash Course.

 

I’ve been following Crash Course since day one. I have not watched all their series, but the ones I have, I have enjoyed thoroughly. I have gained much knowledge from their videos, and I am thankful for them, too. It’s more engaging than an expensive textbook, and it encourages me to learn more. I’m not learning to pass a test — I’m learning for the sake of learning.

 

One of the series I did not see was Crash Course Human Geography. However, I’m glad I’ve yet to view it. With Green and the Crash Course team re-working the series, I have faith that it will come back as factual and much better. It’s not a blind faith, either, from viewing their other series.  

 

Green also thanked everyone who gave him and the team constructive criticism.  “You make the channel better for us and for all those who watch it,” Green said. “Snarky or abusive comments that don’t come from a place of generosity are really hard to respond to with anything but defensiveness, but we’ve been really lucky at Crash Course that there are so many kind and careful critiques, and we’re very grateful for them.”

 

It’s also worth noting that John Green only blamed himself. He said that if we’re mad at anyone, we should be mad at him. He didn’t blame anyone else for his mistake, and made sure to note that the presenter of Human Geography was not blamed for his misstep.

 

You can check out Crash Course on their YouTube Channel, here.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 
 

Science Communication: Consider the Source

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Previously Published in 2017

 

SCIENCE COMMUNICATION -- We've all seen health products, mental health products, or other services claim that what they're doing is backed by real science.  Whether they're making wild claims about how much weight you're going to lose, or saying how much better they're going to make your life in general, they often times say that they're backed up by science.  Even dating websites claim they have science behind them.

 

These claims may do one of two things to you:

1) They may make you more skeptical about the product or service.

2) They may make you trust the product or service more than you might have originally.

 

Obviously, for the company trying to take your money, the latter option is more ideal.  But the average consumer needs to be more skeptical.  Just because some science is behind a product, that doesn't necessarily mean it's trustworthy.  You have to consider the source.  How do you go about considering the source of a scientific study, though?  How do you know what to look for?

 

Considering the Source: Where Did the Study Come From?

 

In 2017, Vox Media produced an article showing how companies like OceanSpray got away with saying that their cranberry juice could reduce urinary tract infections by 40%.  However, that study that OceanSpray boasted was co-funded by the company themselves.  On top of that, the study was co-authored by OceanSpray.  And the study and similar ones like it have had a lot of people fooled.  Doctors have gone as far as to suggest to their patients that they drink cranberry juice when suffering from an UTI.  The author of this article knows this from personal experience.

 

It wasn't as though the study was completely lying, either, which helped boost their supposed credibility.  Cranberries do have compounds that fight off bacteria, but you'd have to drink a LOT of cranberry juice to see any kind of result whatsoever. "People would have to continuously drink the juice twice a day in serving of 150 mL for an indefinite period of time."

 

When looking at a study, was it funded by the company promoting the product?  Was it authored by the company promoting the product?  Is the study helping promote the product at all?  All of these things should raise red flags when looking at a study.

 

Considering the Source: Is a Celebrity Talking About it?

 

The average person take celebrity opinions far too seriously.  Let's just admit that right off the bat.  This can be a huge problem, unfortunately.  It's lead to countless people attempting detox teas because Kylie Jenner posted them on instagram (and got massively paid to do it, too). Detox teas have unwanted side effects, and will mostly help you lose water weight more than anything else as they are a diuretic.  They're not the miracle weight loss product that celebrities and instagram influencers claim they are.

 

And the Kardashian-Jenner family aren't the only ones at fault here.  People like Gwyneth Paltrow have made a business surrounding products that supposedly have science backings.  However, Paltrow's website GOOP is being investigated for at least 51 deceptive health claims.  These claims hurt people on the regular, because if their favorite celebrity is doing it -- they should too!  It means it must work!  In reality, we have to remember that these people are not scientists and are getting paid to promote these products.

 

Considering the Source: Did you Find it on Social Media?

 

Social media is similar to the aforementioned celebrity point.  They may not be getting paid to promote these tweets, but they are getting the instant gratification of likes and retweets.  This was a an issue to Megan Lynch, a student of Economic Botany herself.  When I asked about what other ways we need to consider the source of scientific claims, she said she watched a lot of scientists retweet "spammy" tweets without questioning the fact that these tweets didn't have a source associated with them.  We're all susceptible to this kind of behavior, too, so we have to be aware of that and realize what we're doing before we do it.

 

Considering the Material: Peer Reviewed Articles

 

It's not just the sources of articles and "facts" we need to be wary of.  Even the articles we find we can trust the sources from have faults, flaws, and can be misleading.

 

Dr. Emma Yhnell brought this up to me when asked, saying "articles are often changed depending on reviewer comments".   And it's true.  On top of this, peer reviewed articles have other flaws such as the competition factor.  "Academic competition for funding, positions, publication space and credits has increased along with the growth of the number of researchers," Says a New Republic article written by Stefano Belietti.  "Science is a winner-take-all enterprise, where whoever makes the decisive discovery first gets all the fame and credit, whereas all the remaining researchers are forgotten. The competition can be fierce and the stakes high. In such a competitive environment, experiencing an erroneous rejection, or simply a delayed publication, might have huge costs to bear."

 

Because of the competition of science just to get into a journal, let alone have your study make it big, this can cause biases to be formed that could negatively effect the article.  Science should be neutral and unbiased, but it's not infallible by any means.

 

Considering the Material:  What was the Sample Size?

 

Is the article hiding important information from you?  Seeing how large the sample size was and how the variables were controlled is extremely important.  And a lot of times, the sample sizes to articles are small.  They're small enough that they can't really say for sure that the conclusions they came can be considered a scientific fact now.  But often times, despite this, that's how the conclusions from the research comes off, especially when being reported on by the mainstream media.  If the study doesn't even tell you how big a sample size was, or hides from you how the variables were controlled, that should be a warning sign for you to be more skeptical towards the study.

 

Science needs skepticism.  Without it, there would be no science at all really.  Without questioning things, finding sources, and doing your own research, you're blindly trusting in fallible humans.  And the bottom line is that we will realize that we made mistakes in our research, or made mistakes in promoting that research.  However, the more aware of it we are, and the more cautious we make ourselves, the more we can avoid promoting pseudoscience and faulty science as absolute fact.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 

STEM GEMS: A Review of a Book about Women in STEM

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    When kids think of the modern scientist — who do they think of?  Usually, Bill Nye the Science Guy will come to mind (and why not? His catchy theme song has infected the minds of all American kids since 1993).  That …may be it.  Some kids may know of Stephen Hawking, Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Michio Kaku.  

 

    The pattern?  All of these modern day scientists have one thing in common: they are all men.

 

    Stephanie Espy set out to change that.

 

 
 

    Stephanie Espy is a Chemical Engineer and author who decided to shine a light on 44 of today’s modern women scientists.  “I have always been passionate about STEM,”  She writes on her website about why she wrote the book to begin with.  “and I’m equally passionate about getting more girls and young women excited about STEM too. I wrote this book with a mission: to help girls and young women to see their future selves as scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, and to show them the many diverse options that exist in STEM.”

 

    With this book, she reached her goal and did it spectacularly.

 

    Out of graciousness, I was sent a copy of this book.  Because my life was so hectic, it took me a while to actually get around to reading it, but when I did — I had a hard time putting it down when real life called me to get some work done.  

 

    My first thought was: “Why is this not in every school library?”  

 

 

    These short biographies of these women in STEM give a fun look to their lives, their positions, and their passions.  However, not only did Espy provide 44 role models in STEM from all sorts of walks of life — she does something else for the readers, too. Past all of the bios is advice that Espy has written specifically for the girls who pick up this book.  Advice towards who to get started in STEM, and how to keep up with your goals in these fields.  Taking the stories from the 44 gems, and creating practical guidance from them.

 

    This books is excellently written on top of it all.  It kept my attention, and it taught me about these women effectively.  It’s bound to keep the attention of children in class, and it really should be required reading, or at least suggested reading for science classes.  It would also be an excellent choice for a book report.  

 

    I keep mentioning children reading this, but really, it’s fantastic for all ages.  The writing doesn’t talk down to the reader in the least, and everyone can learn something from it.  My guess is that most people who pick up this book haven’t heard of all of these women — if they’ve heard of any of them to begin with.

 

    Consider supporting Stephanie Espy in her efforts buy purchasing her book here.  You won’t be sorry you did it.  

 

*Mariah was given a copy of this book to read and review for free. This post is otherwise non-sponosered.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.



Opinion: What We Can Take Away From the Instagram OP-ED

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Disclaimer: In the interest of not being hypocritical, FemSTEM will NOT link the article in question (though the title will be mentioned), nor mention the author by name.  That information has gone around enough within the science community, and we do not want to unintentionally promote attacking the article and, more importantly, the author in question.

 

A lot of anger, confusion, and debate was stirred up in the science community on March 15th, 2018 when Science Magazine published an article entitled: “Why I Don’t use Instagram for Science Outreach”.  While the title sounded as though it would be a thoughtful opinion piece on why Instagram may not be the best avenue for science communication, the article instead read as a bitter attack peace for many.

 

It’s easy to see why this article was read that way.  The article compared women and suggested that one method of science communication was more valuable to another’s.  It also had bitter sentences throughout the paragraphs.  

 

The author even admits to her bitterness in the article by saying: “Instead of cheering on Instagram’s dynamic and vibrant #scicomm women, I felt an increasing bitterness with each post I came across […] I realized that I am not bitter toward the authors of these posts […]  I am annoyed that the majority of the posts seem to celebrate a very narrow representation of femininity, my real bitterness comes from the systemic challenges that these posts are working to address …”

 

As of March 17th, both the author and Science Magazine came out with statements apologizing for the article, though the article can still be readily found.  

 

With that said, there are things we can learn from the article and the surrounding controversy; it just might not be what the article initially intended.

 

 

Don’t Pit Women Against One Another

 

 

As mentioned previously, the article directly compared two women.  It compared popular online science communicator Samantha Yammine to an unnamed professor the author knew in person.  

 

“I liken the many hours that Science Sam spends on her Instagram content to the volunteer work a female professor in my department put into organizing a summer program to introduce teens from underrepresented communities to biomedical engineering.” — Direct Quote from Article

 

As far as any reader can tell, these women have similar mindsets and goals — they just go about their science outreach in different ways.  Even if this was not the case — there is nothing healthy about comparing two people and their achievements.  

 

 
 

Dr. Deborah Carr, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, said in an article for Psychology Today: “If we use others as a benchmark to evaluate ourselves, that creeping twinge of jealousy may undermine our ability to truly cherish the good things that come to others.”  

 

Carr then goes on to remind her readers: “Over time, things may even out, and a friend’s success may enable him or her to support and make opportunities for others (including you).”

 

We want to remember that, instead of bringing someone else down, we want to raise one another up.  In the long run, that will provide better, more positive, and longer lasting effects in the community.  We want to remember, too, that this is all of our community.  Tearing someone down, intentionally or not, disrupts the system of the entire collective.  This was clear in the reaction to the Instagram op-ed on Twitter.  It created anger.

 

It is important to note, though, that out of that anger did come some good.  Many fellow scientists and science communicators came to Yammine’s defense and support in the wake of the article. 

 

 

It’s Okay To Have an Opinion, but How You Present it is Extremely Important

 

It is, by no means, a bad thing to have a negative opinion on Instagram or social media in general.  It can be argued (and has been) that social media can be bad for the general state of human health.  Of course, however, everyone reacts to social media differently, and everyone interacts with social media differently.  

 

There is no fault with the author for not thinking that social media is not an effective or good way to go about science communication.  The fault lies with how it was presented.

 

Samantha Yammine was used as an example of science communication through social media from the very first sentence of the Science article.  Afterwards, Yammine was mentioned by her social media persona three more times in the short, 600-word article.  The entire time, Yammine seemed to be presented in a negative light.  

 

Because this article portrayed a negative opinion of a harmless activity, the usage of one example, and outright naming that example, read as an attack.  If the article was otherwise well-written and thought out, it was overcast by what came across as an attack.  

 

On another note, the article never had evidence that backed any of the author’s claims.  There are no links to studies or sources, and there was no research conducted to see if the act of science communication on Instagram could produce positive effects on the public.  It came across as completely baseless, and as a result, purely pessimistic and assaulting to those who enjoy and find good results from their social media usage. 

 

The world needs differing opinions, but those opinions must have structure and foundations, and they must be presented in a professional way.

 

 

We Can Learn From Our Faulty Judgment and From Other’s Errors

 

The reality is that a reputable online magazine should never have posted this piece.  The reality is that this op-ed never should have been penned the way it was.  To call it a ‘mistake’ may be being generous, as the article had been thought out by the author, and then read and edited several times by the employees of Science Magazine.

 

However,  with every negative experience can come a lesson.  That doesn’t make this okay — none of it was.  With that said, us — as the readers, the reviewers, and the critics — can use this to help ourselves become more aware of our own actions.  To use this as an example of what NOT to do.  To look at this and examine ourselves, our own motives, and use this to teach us how to lift someone up rather than to take them down.

 

Hopefully, Science Magazine will do as they say and will “examine [their] editorial process for these pieces moving forward” in a thoughtful and profound way.  We cannot count on that, however.  The only thing we can count on is how we react to situations like this, and how we move past this.

 

Samantha Yammine, who says she will be writing and submitting her rebuttal to an unknown magazine, has taken the entire situation in stride.  

 

 
 

 

Let’s all look at this as an opportunity to learn, and let the science community as a whole become stronger as a result.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.