college has changed

I recently wrote about listening to an Open Yale course from iTunes on the New Testament. While the production values of iTunes U classes are not as polished as those for The Great Courses, they are interesting because you get to hear recordings of actual classroom sessions.

Yale campusWhen I was in college we didn’t have computers. Well, we had one DEC System 10 mainframe for all of the Claremont colleges that sat in basement of Scott Hall at Pitzer College. You could get access to it by going to a computer room on one of the campuses that had three or four terminals and you could either play one of a few games or do some basic programming if you had those skills. Few of us did much with that.

Today having a laptop is essential to academic life on campus. The professor spoke at the beginning of the course about access to course materials on the server. At the end of the course he stated that the final exam could be emailed to one’s teaching fellow.

Some things, perhaps, don’t change. Like students being lazy. At one point the professor said that he could tell that many of the students hadn’t downloaded and read a certain document that he was lecturing on by the blank looks on their faces.

The technology has certainly changed. Student attitudes, even at Yale, seem to have not.

Introduction to New Testament History and Literature

Introduction to New Testament History and LiteratureIntroduction to New Testament History and Literature
Dale B. Martin
Open Yale Courses
iTunes U

It has been a long time since I have listened to an iTunes U course, and much as changed in that time. iTunes U is no longer available on iTunes for the PC. For mobile devices it is a separate app and not part of iTunes. It appears to me that the number of available courses has been greatly reduced.

Compared to The Great Courses the production values on iTunes U courses are inferior. That’s because they are recordings of actual classroom lectures. In the case of this course recording quality varied across lectures.

Nonetheless, Introduction to New Testament History and Literature was quite enjoyable. I was familiar with much of the material, but it reinforced some of what I knew and also provided me with new material. The most interesting aspect of this course was the emphasis on the diversity of Christianity in the New testament period. Even within a single book, Acts, for example, different Christianities emerge, such as whether gentile converts need to be circumcised or not. Similarly, the later letters purported to be written Paul have a very different theology from the authentic letters. While the author of Revelation is virulently anti-Roman rule, some of the later epistles preach accommodation.

It was interesting stuff, all of it.

The Celtic World

The Celtic World coverThe Celtic World
Professor Jennifer Paxton, PhD
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back – the sale price will come around again

Jennifer Paxton is one of the most engaging lecturers at The Great Courses and the subject matter for this course is fascinating.

Paxton starts out by telling us that many of the conceptions that scholarship has had about the Celts have been proven wrong in recent years. She spends a good deal of time setting us straight. For example there was long a belief that the Celts of mainland Europe, the Gauls of Julius Caesar for example, were related to the Celts of Ireland and Scotland. Later evidence, including what we have learned from genetics, tells us that the peoples are not related. Paxton demonstrates that common culture and art does not necessarily mean a racial or genetic relationship.

Paxton busts other myths as well. She tells us that Celtic Christianity wasn’t that much different from mainline Christianity. She says that Sir William Wallace (of Bravehart fame) and his men would never have worn blue paint on their faces. She even disappoints aficionados of Scottish festivals by explaining that tartans originally varied by geographic region and not by clan. Assigning a specific tartan to a particular clan is only a couple of hundred years old and was a result of the Celtic revival of the nineteenth century.

If such material interests you, you will likely love this course. You might consider a video version, as I’m sure I missed a lot with respect to art and visual depictions of geographical locations.

The Higgs Boson and Beyond

The Higgs Boson and BeyondThe Higgs Boson and Beyond
Professor Sean Carroll, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
purchased audio download on sale for $17.95
If the course is not on sale, check back – a sale price will come around again

While most sets from The Great Courses are twenty-four or thirty-six lectures, this series is twelve lectures. But what a lot of information is packed into those twelve lectures.

You may recall when the announcement of the Higgs Boson was made in 2012. It was a major scientific breakthrough. The Higgs had been predicted by physicists working on the Standard Model of quantum physics as necessary to provide mass at the subatomic level. After the discovery, there were a lot of jokes floating around about the Higgs Boson. (The Higgs Boson walks into a church. The priest says, “Hey, get out of here!” The Higgs Boson replies, “But without me how can you have mass?”)

In this series of lectures Professor Carroll describes the theoretical background to the search for the Higgs Boson. He talks about the researchers who developed the theory and the creation of the Large Hadron Collider on the French-Swiss border, and how it was specifically designed to look for the Higgs. He explains how the phenomenon is actually a field and not a particle, but that it’s easier to talk about it as a particle. Carroll describes how the Higgs cannot be observed directly but must be deduced by the parts into which it decays.

You may know that I buy Great Courses in audio format because I listen to them on my walks. I will say for this course, however, that I believe I missed a great deal taking the audio-only route. If you’re interested in this material I would suggest you buy the DVD or video download.

What Einstein Got Wrong

EinsteinWhat Einstein Got Wrong
Professor Dan Hooper, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $19.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back– the sale price will come around again

I generally buy twenty-four and thirty-six lecture courses from The Great Courses, but the material in this course looked fascinating so I purchased this twelve lecture set.

Professor Hooper makes clear that he is not critical of Einstein nor does he in any way intend to diminish Einstein’s monumental accomplishments. His point is every scientist gets some things wrong: even Einstein.

Sometimes Einstein was just stubborn. He refused to believe that black holes could exist physically, even though his own theory of relativity and the mathematics predict they should. Unfortunately, the first black holes weren’t discovered until long after his death. His choices were sometimes based on philosophical or aesthetic preferences. For example, he simply preferred to believe that the universe was neither expanding or collapsing. However, when Edwin Hubble showed him solid evidence that the universe was expanding he accepted it.

Einstein never would accept the conclusions of quantum mechanics. Again, the mathematics could not be disputed, but Einstein preferred to believe that the theory was incomplete. He spent years trying to find a way to prove a deterministic subatomic universe rather than the random one that quantum theory predicts. He never did succeed.

If you enjoy science, physics, and astronomy you will find this course fascinating.

Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition

Great MindsGreat Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition
Professor Grant Hardy, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back– the sale price will come around again

This is an expansive course.

The series contains thirty-six lectures. Geographically it encompasses India, China, Japan, Korea, and even Persia. Professor Hardy looks at thought as early as the Vedas from somewhere around the 4th or 6th centuries A.D., and goes all the way up to Gandhi and Mao in the twentieth century, and then on to current customs and culture.

The fact that he covers a lot of material is made evident early in the course where the two earliest collections of sacred writing in India, the Vedas and the Upanishads, must share a single lecture. Hardy discusses people and works you might be familiar with and individuals and writings you’ve never heard of.

There is a lot of material here. I think this course is deserving of a second go round.

The History of Spain

History of SpainThe History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad
Professor Joyce E. Salisbury, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back– the sale price will come around again

This was a fascinating course that spans a vast amount of time. Professor Salisbury covers the history of the Iberian Peninsula from the stone age up until the modern day. She describes the Roman period, the coming of Christianity, the Islam conquest of the peninsula, and the Christian Reconquista which returned the peninsula to Christian control. She talks, all too briefly, about al-Andalus when Muslims, Christians, and Jews all co-existed peacefully. She discusses the Spanish empire and the various royal houses that ruled Spain. She discusses the wars of the twentieth century and on to the current decade.

As always I bought the audio version as I listen to these lectures on my walks. I could tell that I was missing a lot from not having the video, as there were lectures on the visual arts and architecture. Nonetheless, this course was well worth the price. Salisbury is an entertaining lecturer and I learned a great deal.