Opinion: Core Classes Could Learn Something from YouTube

Last week, I sat alone in my own little corner of the oppressively lit basement of Bapst, wasting all three and a half hours I had previously allotted to studying for a Chemistry midterm watching Youtube videos that answered all my burning questions, from "What the Heck is Gluten?" to "What if the Moon was a Disco Ball?" Yes, those are real videos, and yes, I really did spend 10 minutes of my life watching a discussion on the hypothetical repercussions of the moon suddenly being covered with massive mirrors without taking one second to concede just how ridiculous the situation was. 

Photo courtesy of YouTube

Photo courtesy of YouTube

The point of the video is not just to simply answer the question of "What if the Moon was a Disco Ball" but to discuss the concepts that go into answering this hypothetical question, such as the effects of the Moon on the Earth, as well as the physics of light; the question is simply the theme that ties the information vomit of the video together. That is the formula that has made Youtube channels like ASAPscience and Vsauce so unbelievably popular, with over 11 million subscribers between them both.

But why is it that I would rather spend my three and a half hours learning about the physics of a black hole instead of the chemistry on my upcoming midterm, especially when the chemistry is actually relevant to my life in the form of tests, while I will most likely never encounter a black hole in my entire life?

These channels, and others like them post short, informative and interesting videos on a variety of topics, usually with a scientific background that help a viewer understand and appreciate the subject. However, the beauty is that the viewer needs no prior knowledge or scientific training to understand complex concepts, such as the chemistry of gluten or the physics of light because the video does a fantastic job of explaining in lay terms the basics you'll need to know before you can understand the larger concept. These videos make a whole wealth of information significantly more accessible than it ever has been before, and it is causing some questions to be raised about the effectiveness of the traditional classroom model.

"When on earth would I ever need to use this in real life?" is certainly a common thought in most college lecture halls today. Regardless of the subject, college learning, especially our liberal arts core here at BC, rarely translates into actual, practical knowledge that will be utilized often by students in their future careers. This has lead to many universities choosing to phase out the traditional liberal arts college education in favor of a more practical one that allows students to begin study in their major much earlier and with less unrelated work.

I am not here to argue the detriments of the liberal arts system. Most of us would not be at BC if we did not believe it enriched us in some way, shape or form. On the contrary, I am here to raise a question. If our liberal arts core is in place to enrich and educate us, in addition to broadening our horizons to help us set the world aflame, or whatever, why does it have to be so painful?

Gif courtesy of Tumblr

The sheer amount of complains I have personally heard about how dreadful a literature core corse may be is frightening, and that goes for many of the other core subjects as well. Their purpose is to ensure a BC graduate is knowledgable about certain subjects deemed "essential" by our board, and they know that no finance major will ever need to know how to analyze "Ode to a Grecian Urn" while on the trade floor.

Photo courtesy of AsapSCIENCE / Facebook

Photo courtesy of AsapSCIENCE / Facebook

Instead, our board should be concerned with giving that finance major an appreciation for the art of poetry, as opposed to providing someone with hours of specific information to memorize that the student will forget as soon as they walk out of the classroom. A distinction should be made, from core classes and major classes so that a core class educates a person to appreciate the subject.

Core courses could follow the example set by the Youtube channels and strip away unessential specific knowledge that would be irrelevant outside of a lab or a bar trivia contest and focus more on an understanding of concepts and application into the real world. That way, when a student graduates from BC, instead of having fuzzy memories of dreadful poetry freshman year, they might have an understanding of the art of poetry and will leave with an appreciation for the subjects he or she might have been forced to sit through early in their college careers.

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Ian Patterson