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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.


 
 

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.


 

How to Stop Spreading False Information on Social Media

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As much as we don't like to admit it, we've probably have all spread fake news and false information via social media.

 

But it's Not Like This is Anything New

 

Despite what the comedic, political satire comic "The Birth of Fake News" might have said, the press hasn't been the best source of information for the past 600 years.  Fake news and the spread of false information in order to get readers to buy your paper has been a strategy for a very long time.  The term "Yellow Journalism" was coined back in the 1890s.  This term was a sweeping generalization of news that was not well-researched (if at all), and spread to make the headlines sell papers.  However, this was still a problem back in the 1400s.

 

According to Politico Magazine, back in 1400s there were similar problems.  There was a lack of journalistic ethics causing fake stories to pass in the newly-invented press and spread to the neighboring towns reading.

 

Fake news might be seen as more of an epidemic these days for the mere fact along that it can take minutes for false information to go viral.

 

The fact of the matter is -- fakes news will always be there.  False information will always be sprinkled about (if not completely obvious) in our media.  We have to be responsible.  We have to not share things that are not factual, especially when it comes to scientific discoveries or facts.  It can be easy to retweet something right off the back.  Something that makes it look like we're correct on some side of whatever debate we happen to be on.

 

But how can you stop the spreading?

 

1. Recognize You're Not Infallible Yourself

 

We have to face the facts -- we're probably going to spread something false. Even if we go into it with the best intentions, it's easy to spread something, and that can catch fire quickly.  If this happens, and you recognize it, just apologize.  Perhaps delete the post (though that won't always rid of the problem depending on how far it spread), but do so with an apology.  You'll look more reliable if you admit your wrongdoing rather than just sweeping the evidence underneath the rug.  A lot of times, people will find what dust you left behind if you try to hide it.

 

2.  Recognize That Science Journals Aren't Always Accurate

 

A journalist scammed the media into spreading the false information that chocolate was good for you.  He did this by submitting a fake scientific study to a scientific journal.  He has a Ph.D, and new exactly what he was doing as he created a junk article that was intended to catch fire and destroy everything in its pathway.  When Dr.Bohannon came out and said the study was false, he said:  "You have to know how to read a scientific paper — and actually bother to do it.  For far too long, the people who cover this beat have treated it like gossip, echoing whatever they find in press releases. Hopefully our little experiment will make reporters and readers alike more skeptical."

 

3.  Don't Hit the Retweet Button Until You're As Sure as You Can Be

 

Do your own research before you spread any information.  Especially if you're not an expert in the field yourself.  Create a check list of what to look out for before retweeting that article.

 

  • Does the article come from a reliable news source? One that's proven itself to be so?
  • Does the article have sources linked or written beneath it?
  • Do those sources come from reliable places?
  • Has there been conflicting articles or evidence? What did those have to say?

 

4. Be as Unbiased as Humanly Possible

 

This is probably the hardest one. Science has become a very polarized place, and it has mingled with politics whether you think it should have or not. Because of this, sides have been created. As a result, we have to be as careful as possible to not let our emotions get involved.  When emotions get involved, they can take over logic without much of a fight.  Since that is the case, everything else we talked about in this article wouldn't even matter; we got too far ahead of ourselves.  We felt so passionately, we already spread the false information.

 

You can't stop the spreading of fake news, but you can be more responsible yourself.

 

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

Teach Your Kids to Be Social Media Savvy: 3 Tips

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Originally Posted March 30, 2017

 

Social media is just a part of our lives now (for the most of us, anyway).  We use it to run our businesses, we use it to connect with family, and we use it to get in touch with friends.  And children are using social media, too.  In the form of everything; from Twitter to Snapchat, to Musical.ly.

But we cannot just let kids roam around on social media.  We need to teach them how.  Here are a few tips on how to teach your kids to be smart, and savvy, on social media.

 

1)  Do NOT Allow Your Children to Have Social Media Accounts if They’re Not Thirteen

 

This is illegal in most cases, believe it or not.  Some social media platforms, such as the deceased Vine or What’sApp, require that your children are at least 16 or 17 years of age before joining them.  This is for protective purposes.  For example, Twitter says that if parents become aware that their child under 13 has started an account, that they should inform Twitter right away so that the company can terminate the account.

This is this way for a number of reasons.  One is safety, as many internet trolls roam around the internet, wanting to harm your kids with words.  But also because of online predators who wish to do more than just bother your children.

This is also for security reasons.  Places like Twitter and Facebook are free services because they take your information and basically sell them to advertising companies.  They know your internet history, and what you’re interested in, and what your age (if you told them the truth), gender, race, and so on is.  They use all of this information to sell you products, but here’s the thing:

 

They aren’t allowed to take this information from children under the age of thirteen. 

 

Our Services are not directed to persons under 13. If you become aware that your child has provided us with personal information without your consent, please contact us at privacy@twitter.com. We do not knowingly collect personal information from children under 13. If we become aware that a child under 13 has provided us with personal information, we take steps to remove such information and terminate the child’s account. — Twitter’s Privacy Policy

 

2)  Remind and Teach Your Children to Not Be a Bully Themselves

 

A lot of heated debate takes place on all forms of social media.  These debates range anywhere from “who’s the best character on the Justice League” to politics.  It’s very easy for anyone, but especially for unexperienced children, to get caught up in these debates and get themselves, or someone else, hurt.  Mean words often come out, and so do bad names.

Encourage your kids to stay away from public forums and comments under YouTube videos.  Though sometimes comments can be engaging, discussion worthy, and educational, many times they are just filled with hate and people who are trying to seek attention.  These people just want you or your children to respond so that they can feel better about themselves, and the last thing you want is for your kids to fall into this bad spiral.

If your kids do see a comment or a forum with something that they don’t agree with, and they feel the urge to yell at users across the web, teach them to discuss it with you.  Teach them to go to you, as the parent, first before they respond.  Maybe they’ll decide it’s best not to respond at all.  Teach them to reason on the situation, instead of react to the situation.

 

3)  Teach Them the Difference Between a Real E-Mail and a Fake, Phishing E-Mail

 

This applies to many social media posts as well.  Many times there are key differences between a real email from a company and a fake one from someone pretending to be a company.

As an example, many fake Google emails will appear to have an old version of the Google logo located at the top of the email, rather than Google’s current logo.

 

REAL GOOGLE EMAIL I’VE RECIEVED

 

 
 
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EXAMPLE OF FAKE GOOGLE EMAIL

 

 
 
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Furthermore, if someone your children follow on social media suddenly starts to post advertising out of nowhere, and these posts have suspicious looking URLs tagged with them, they are more likely phishing posts, and that user has most likely been hacked.

 

These posts and emails steal information, try to sell you services you don’t need, or may even install viruses onto your computer.  Teaching your kids how to be shrewd, and how to avoid these, will keep them safe, as well as their computer, and their personal information.

 

There’s of course much more that you need to do in order to teach your kids how to be safe and smart online, but these tips should get you started in the right direction.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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