John Green: The nerd's guide to learning everything online (2)
And then, in 2006, I met that guy.
His name is Ze Frank. I didn't actually meet him, just on the Internet. Ze Frank was running, at the time, a show called "The Show with Ze Frank," and I discovered the show, and that was my way back into being a community learner again. Here's Ze talking about Las Vegas: (Video) Ze Frank: Las Vegas was built in the middle of a huge, hot desert.
Almost everything here was brought from somewhere else -- the sort of rocks, the trees, the waterfalls. These fish are almost as out of place as my pig that flew. Contrasted to the scorching desert that surrounds this place, so are these people. Things from all over the world have been rebuilt here, away from their histories, and away from the people that experience them differently. Sometimes improvements were made -- even the Sphinx got a nose job. Here, there's no reason to feel like you're missing anything. This New York means the same to me as it does to everyone else. Everything is out of context, and that means context allows for everything: Self Parking, Events Center, Shark Reef. This fabrication of place could be one of the world's greatest achievements, because no one belongs here; everyone does. As I walked around this morning, I noticed most of the buildings were huge mirrors reflecting the sun back into the desert. But unlike most mirrors, which present you with an outside view of yourself embedded in a place, these mirrors come back empty. John Green: Makes me nostalgic for the days when you could see the pixels in online video.
Ze isn't just a great public intellectual, he's also a brilliant community builder, and the community of people that built up around these videos was in many ways a community of learners.
So we played Ze Frank at chess collaboratively, and we beat him. We organized ourselves to take a young man on a road trip across the United States. We turned the Earth into a sandwich, by having one person hold a piece of bread at one point on the Earth, and on the exact opposite point of the Earth, have another person holding a piece of bread. I realize that these are silly ideas, but they are also "learny" ideas, and that was what was so exciting to me, and if you go online, you can find communities like this all over the place. Follow the calculus tag on Tumblr, and yes, you will see people complaining about calculus, but you'll also see people re-blogging those complaints, making the argument that calculus is interesting and beautiful, and here's a way in to thinking about the problem that you find unsolvable. You can go to places like Reddit, and find sub-Reddits, like "Ask a Historian" or "Ask Science," where you can ask people who are in these fields a wide range of questions, from very serious ones to very silly ones. But to me, the most interesting communities of learners that are growing up on the Internet right now are on YouTube, and admittedly, I am biased. But I think in a lot of ways, the YouTube page resembles a classroom. Look for instance at "Minute Physics," a guy who's teaching the world about physics: (Video) Let's cut to the chase.
As of July 4, 2012, the Higgs boson is the last fundamental piece of the standard model of particle physics to be discovered experimentally. But, you might ask, why was the Higgs boson included in the standard model, alongside well-known particles like electrons and photons and quarks, if it hadn't been discovered back then in the 1970s? Good question. There are two main reasons. First, just like the electron is an excitation in the electron field, the Higgs boson is simply a particle which is an excitation of the everywhere-permeating Higgs field. The Higgs field in turn plays an integral role in our model for the weak nuclear force. In particular, the Higgs field helps explain why it's so weak. We'll talk more about this in a later video, but even though weak nuclear theory was confirmed in the 1980s, in the equations, the Higgs field is so inextricably jumbled with the weak force, that until now we've been unable to confirm its actual and independent existence. JG: Or here's a video that I made as part of my show "Crash Course," talking about World War I:
(Video) The immediate cause was of course the assassination in Sarajevo of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, on June 28, 1914, by a Bosnian-Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip.
Quick aside: It's worth noting that the first big war of the twentieth century began with an act of terrorism. So Franz Ferdinand wasn't particularly well-liked by his uncle, the emperor Franz Joseph -- now that is a mustache! But even so, the assassination led Austria to issue an ultimatum to Serbia, whereupon Serbia accepted some, but not all, of Austria's demands, leading Austria to declare war against Serbia. And then Russia, due to its alliance with the Serbs, mobilized its army. Germany, because it had an alliance with Austria, told Russia to stop mobilizing, which Russia failed to do, so then Germany mobilized its own army, declared war on Russia, cemented an alliance with the Ottomans, and then declared war on France, because, you know, France. (Laughter)
And it's not just physics and world history that people are choosing to learn through YouTube.
Here's a video about abstract mathematics. (Video) So you're me, and you're in math class yet again, because they make you go every single day.
And you're learning about, I don't know, the sums of infinite series. That's a high school topic, right? Which is odd, because it's a cool topic, but they somehow manage to ruin it anyway. So I guess that's why they allow infinite series in the curriculum. So, in a quite understandable need for distraction, you're doodling and thinking more about what the plural of "series" should be than about the topic at hand: "serieses," "seriese," "seriesen," and "serii?" Or is it that the singular should be changed: one "serie," or "serum," just like the singular of "sheep" should be "shoop." But the whole concept of things like 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 and so on approaches one, is useful if, say, you want to draw a line of elephants, each holding the tail of the next one: normal elephant, young elephant, baby elephant, dog-sized elephant, puppy-sized elephant, all the way down to Mr. Tusks and beyond. Which is at least a tiny bit awesome, because you can get an infinite number of elephants in a line, and still have it fit across a single notebook page. JG: And lastly, here's Destin, from "Smarter Every Day," talking about the conservation of angular momentum, and, since it's YouTube, cats:
(Video) Hey, it's me, Destin.
Welcome back to "Smarter Every Day." So you've probably observed that cats almost always land on their feet. Today's question is: why? Like most simple questions, there's a very complex answer. For instance, let me reword this question: How does a cat go from feet-up to feet-down in a falling reference frame, without violating the conservation of angular momentum? (Laughter)
JG: So, here's something all four of these videos have in common: They all have more than half a million views on YouTube.
And those are people watching not in classrooms, but because they are part of the communities of learning that are being set up by these channels. And I said earlier that YouTube is like a classroom to me, and in many ways it is, because here is the instructor -- it's like the old-fashioned classroom: here's the instructor, and then beneath the instructor are the students, and they're all having a conversation. And I know that YouTube comments have a very bad reputation in the world of the Internet, but in fact, if you go on comments for these channels, what you'll find is people engaging the subject matter, asking difficult, complicated questions that are about the subject matter, and then other people answering those questions. And because the YouTube page is set up so that the page in which I'm talking to you is on the exact -- the place where I'm talking to you is on the exact same page as your comments, you are participating in a live and real and active way in the conversation. And because I'm in comments usually, I get to participate with you. And you find this whether it's world history, or mathematics, or science, or whatever it is. You also see young people using the tools and the sort of genres of the Internet in order to create places for intellectual engagement, instead of the ironic detachment that maybe most of us associate with memes and other Internet conventions -- you know, "Got bored.
Invented calculus." Or, here's Honey Boo Boo criticizing industrial capitalism: ["Liberal capitalism is not at all the Good of humanity.
Quite the contrary; it is the vehicle of savage, destructive nihilism. In case you can't see what she says ... yeah.
I really believe that these spaces, these communities, have become for a new generation of learners, the kind of communities, the kind of cartographic communities that I had when I was in high school, and then again when I was in college.
And as an adult, re-finding these communities has re-introduced me to a community of learners, and has encouraged me to continue to be a learner even in my adulthood, so that I no longer feel like learning is something reserved for the young. Vi Hart and "Minute Physics" introduced me to all kinds of things that I didn't know before. And I know that we all hearken back to the days of the Parisian salon in the Enlightenment, or to the Algonquin Round Table, and wish, "Oh, I wish I could have been a part of that, I wish I could have laughed at Dorothy Parker's jokes." But I'm here to tell you that these places exist, they still exist. They exist in corners of the Internet, where old men fear to tread. (Laughter)
And I truly, truly believe that when we invented Agloe, New York, in the 1960s, when we made Agloe real, we were just getting started.