Tokyo blowpipe

You may be surprised (I certainly was!) to know that last week, while in Tokyo, I learned how to use a blowpipe. Yes, one of those long thin tubes that natives of South America use with poisoned darts to kill birds and small animals. Now I didn’t kill anything or anyone, but I did manage to hit a target (about 30 cm across) from 7 metres away, much to my surprise. Still don’t believe me – well, here’s the photographic proof:

I’d been doing a bit of wandering around, and somewhere near Shimbashi station was attracted by the sights and sounds emanating from a park in a backstreet. It appeared to have been temporarily set up for some kind of festival of older people, and included foodstalls, singing/dancing and market stalls (bought a nice plate for Marilyn).

But, fascinating as it is, what has this got to do with open learning or anything similar? Well, I could pick up on the theme of ‘learning by wandering around’ (serendipity – the origins of the word are fascinating) and what it means for online learning – e.g. should we craft our courses in closed or open environments? No, that’s too obvious, and been discussed aplenty elsewhere.

What I want to do is talk about physics, and surely the required skills of blowpiping (is that a word?) are dependent on some basic physics. You know, mechanics, Newton’s laws/equations and all that. To get to the point (too late for that, I hear you quip!), where on the internet would we find the best learning resources for basic undergraduate physics?

This also links for my reason for being in Tokyo, which was to be a presenter at the National Institute of Multimedia Education SymposiumLong-Term Strategic Visions of Effective e-Learning Implementations in Higher Education’. It was a great event, with a mix of local and overseas speakers, held at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, and superbly hosted by NIME staff.

A point that I made in my paper, that I didn’t have time to dwell on in my talk, concerns the task of helping staff/faculty/students to identify high quality online learning materials. And the example I used was physics, comparing contributions from MIT and UNSW. Why do this? Surely the MIT Open Courseware is the best on offer? Highly qualified staff, great lectures, prestigious name, etc. Well, yes, but most of it is just lectures, not material specially prepared for online presentation and interaction.

See for yourself: here’s one of MIT’s most popular courses – Classical Mechanics. Great stuff, presented by an excellent lecturer who has taken the time and effort to ensure that his lectures are clear and understandable. 

Now take a look at the UNSW contribution, PhysClips – the outcome of a government-funded (Australian Learning and Teaching Council) curriculum development project by the University’s School of Physics. It is a superior product – and it’s not just my opinion – it won a 2007 Pirelli Prize for Science Communication. The essential difference is of course that the MIT material comprises (for the most part) the ‘capturing’ of classroom materials and interaction, while the UNSW material was specifically designed and developed for online learning.

My only quibble with both sets of online materials is that there’s nothing about blowpipes!


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