The Metric System and “How to Change the World”

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

Coursera offers free online classes on lots of topics by big-name institutions.

A number of weeks ago I started a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) through Coursera. Its title was “How to Change the World” and was taught by the president of Wesleyan University, Michael Roth.

Briefly, for this class each week you had to watch several videos that included Roth both addressing the camera with the material he wanted to impart as well as interviews he had with people at Wesleyan and elsewhere. There were also readings for each week provided through links from the course’s webpages. (There was quite a lot of reading for this course and each week you also needed to write and submit a 500-word (max) essay on the current topic (poverty, economic development, world health, etc.).

Peer review   

Given that Roth had (as he indicated) more than 20,000 people around the world enrolled in the class, grading papers might be a huge burden. The way around that: peer review. Each week three other students in the class reviewed and graded your work using some clearly spelled out requirements. In turn, you graded the work of three other students.

Given the word limitation, it was a little tough to build cogent responses to one of the two topics offered to write about each week. The only time I received full points was when I mentioned this documentary project. The assignment that week was on “Global disease and health.” Given the medical implications of metric system use, including the misuse of using eating utensils for dosing liquid medicine, it made sense to me to mention it.

While peer reviewers can just assign just a numerical grade they also have the opportunity to include comments.

Interestingly, one reviewer commented on my essay regarding metric adoption:

Thank you for including information about the work you are doing. You are right about dosages not being accurate using teaspoons from your silverware drawer. I remember our doctor making a big point of that fact when our children were young. I had forgotten and now you reminded me how important that is.

No on should use "silverware" as substitutes for measuring teaspoons and tablespoons for medicine to avoid dosing errors.

People should not use “silverware” as substitutes for measuring spoons for medicine if they want to avoid dosing errors. This is particularly important for small children.

All in all, the class was very time consuming but valuable. Maybe less in terms of supporting my attempt to change my part of the world but by broadening my understanding the of problems we face globally and to help me become more sensitive to the fact that suffering anywhere in the world impacts us all.

New Coursera courses

There was no way I was going to be able to follow this level of detail on image processing!

There was no way I was going to be able to follow this level of detail on image processing!

As I mentioned last time, I just started a new class on video and image processing. Having finished watching the third set of videos, I can say that monitoring this class is going to be the best I’m going to be able to do. When the instructor started talking about logarithms and cosines, I realized my most of it was going to be incomprehensible given my background.

I’ve also started another course called “Time to Reorganize! Understand Organizations, Act, and Build a Meaningful World.” I’m taking it in connection with this project since it looks like it might contain some helpful information. The description says, in part,

It explains that organizations can act strategically to protect and renew the sense of membership and attachment of individuals. So doing, organizations that survive and thrive impose their logics of action onto society, thereby influencing what is legitimate or not.

Metric adoption, not to mention the documentary I’m working on, will need the support of multiple organizations to succeed. If I have a better understanding of how organizations operate on an elemental level it could help with my outreach.

I’ll keep you informed. Thanks for reading to the end.