MIT’s New Master’s Program Admits Students Without College and High School Degrees … and Helps Solve the World’s Most Pressing Problems

One of the central problems of inequality is that it perpetuates itself by nature. The inherent social capital of those born in certain places and classes grants access to even more social capital. Questions of merit can seem marginal when the credentials required by elite institutions prove inaccessible to most people. In an admirable effort to break this cycle globally, MIT is now admitting students to a graduate program in economics, without GRE scores, without letters of recommendation, and without a college degree. 

Instead students begin with something called a "MicroMasters" program, which is like “a method used in medicine… randomized control trials,” reports WBUR. This entryway removes many of the usual barriers to access by allowing students to first "take rigorous courses online for credit, and if they perform well on exams, to apply for a master’s degree program on campus"—a degree in data, economics and development policy (DEDP), which focuses on methods for reducing global inequality.



Enrollment in the online MicroMasters courses began in February of last year (the next round starts on February 6, 2018), and the DEDP master's program will start in 2019. “The world of development policy has become more and more evidence-based over the past 10-15 years,” explains MIT professor of economics Ben Olken, who co-created the program with economics professors Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. “Development practitioners need to understand not just development issues, but how to analyze them rigorously using data. This program is designed to help fill that gap.”

Duflo, co-founder of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), explains the innovation of MicroMasters' radically open admissions. (For anyone with access to the internet, that is, still a huge barrier for millions worldwide): “Anybody could do that. At this point, you don’t need to have gone to college. For that matter, you don’t need to have gone to high school.” Students who are accepted after their initial online course work will move into a “blended” program that combines their prior work with a semester on MIT's campus.

MicroMasters courses are priced on a sliding scale (from $100 to $1,000), according to what students can afford, and costs are nowhere near what traditional students pay—after having already paid, or taken loans, for a four-year degree, various testing regimens, admissions costs, living expenses, etc. The current program might feasibly be scaled up to include other fields in the future. Thus far, over 8,000 students in the world have enrolled in the MicroMasters program. “In total,” Duflo says, “there are 182 countries represented,” including ten percent from China, a large group from India, and “even some from the U.S.”

Students enrolled in these courses design their own evaluations of initiatives around the globe that address disparities in healthcare, education, and other areas. Co-designed by the Poverty Action Lab and the Department of Economics, MicroMasters asks students to “grapple with some of the world’s most pressing problems," including the problem of access to higher education. You can view the requirements and enroll at the MITx MicroMasters’ site. Read frequently asked questions and learn about the instructors here. And here, listen to WBUR’s short segment on this fascinating educational experiment.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How the Fences & Railings Adorning London’s Buildings Doubled (by Design) as Civilian Stretchers in World War II

London is a particularly rich destination for visitors with an interest in World War II:

Winston Churchill’s underground War Rooms

The Royal Air Force Museum

Blitz-specific walking tours

…and the scabby steel fences/railings surrounding a number of South London housing estates?

These mesh-and-pipe barriers look utterly unremarkable until one hears their origin story—as emergency stretchers for bearing away civilian casualties from the rubble of Luftwaffe raids.

The no-frills design was intended less for patient comfort than easy clean up. Kinks in the long stretcher poles kept the injured off the ground, and allowed for easy pick up by volunteers from the Civil Defence Service.

Some 600,000 of these stretchers were produced in preparation for airborne attacks. The Blitz killed over 28,000 London civilians. The number of wounded was nearly as high. The manufacture of child-sized stretchers speaks to the citizens' awareness that the human price would be ghastly indeed.

''I am almost glad we have been bombed,'' Queen Elizabeth “the Queen Mum” told a friend after Buckingham Palace was strafed in 1940. ''Now I feel I can look the East End in the face.''

Born of community spirit, it’s fitting that the stretchers continue to serve the community, replacing more ornamental fences that had been uprooted for scrap metal as part of the war effort.

Few neighborhood residents, let alone tourists, seem aware of the fences’ history, as evidenced in the video above.

Perhaps the recently formed Stretcher Railing Society—for the promotion, protection and preservation of London's Air Raid Protection Stretcher Railings—will change that, or at the very least, put up some plaques.

See photos of the stretchers in action, then follow the Stretcher Railing Society’s map to their present locations.

via Twisted Sifter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Harry Potter Finally Gets Translated Into Scots: Hear & Read Passages from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stane

In something of a landmark, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone has just been translated into its 80th language--Scots, a language spoken by 1.5 million people in Scotland. Originally written by J.K. Rowling in Edinburgh, the first Harry Potter book was carefully translated by children’s author, writer, poet, editor and translator Matthew Fitt. You can see the first page of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stane above, and hear Fitt read samples of the text in the NPR interview below. Due out on March 1, the book can be pre-ordered now.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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via io9

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When Japan’s Top Animators Made a Thrilling Cyberpunk Commercial for Irish Beer: Watch Last Orders (1997)

When it came out in 1995, Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell showed the world what the art of Japanese animation could do with the kind of gritty, tech-saturated, globalized cyberpunk visions popularized in the previous decade by William Gibson and other writers. The film's particularly successful release in the United Kingdom got some culturally savvy marketers in Ireland thinking: why not use this sort of thing to sell beer?

But rather than ripping it off and watering it down — all too par for the course in advertising — they hired animators straight from Production I.G., Ghost in the Shell's studio, to create a whole new animated cyberpunk reality, the one in which Last Ordersthe minute-long spot above, takes place. The 1997 commercial tells the story of six samurai rushing through a cityscape that has everything we've now come to expect from this genre: forests of high-rises, bustling streets, mysterious women, artificial humanoids, the technological everywhere merged with the organic, and neon signs aplenty.

The samurai converge on their destination, a tavern, just in time to silently but firmly signal their demand for their drink of choice: Murphy's Irish Stout, a Heineken-distributed brew offered as a lighter, less bitter alternative to the market-dominating Guinness. But no matter of the steely determination of the samurai in Last Orders, the first anime-style commercial ever to air in the UK and Ireland, it seems that one challenges such an iconic brand at one's peril: Murphy's currently has only a five-percent share of the Irish stout market, and that mostly thanks to a 28-percent share in its native Cork.

The Japanese animators who worked on the commercial have fared rather better, going on to, among many other respected projects, Blood: The Last Vampire and Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. Though I've never encountered Murphy's on any tap, I'd gladly watch a movie or even an entire series set in its world. The stout market, the mighty Guinness included, may have been on the decline in recent years, but cyberpunk, in our own ever more globalized and tech-saturated reality, seems about due for a comeback.

via Kotaku

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear Ursula K. Le Guin’s Space Rock Opera Rigel 9: A Rare Recording from 1985

In her remembrance of recently departed sci-fi great Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood describes “an absurd vision” she drew from Le Guin’s fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea: “There was Ursula, moving calmly down a hill of whispering sand under the unchanging stars; and there was me, distraught and running after her and calling ‘No! Come Back! We need you here and now!’” Atwood longs for Le Guin’s responses to the crises of the present, the old hierarchies of power and privilege reasserting their cruel dominance over men, women, children, and an already overburdened environment.

The problem of power and its abuses is one Le Guin returned to over and over in her work. “As an anarchist,” writes Atwood,” she would have wanted a self-governing society, with gender and racial equality.” As a keen anthropological observer of human behavior, she saw how and why technologically-advanced, yet psychologically reactionary societies stray from these ideals, destabilizing the ecological balance they depend on to survive and thrive. Le Guin fought back in her way. She was a prolific builder of poetic new worlds. Through them, we will always have her wisdom, and in a few rare instances, we have her music.

No, Le Guin didn’t compose, but she did write librettos for three different collaborative projects. Above, we have her “most noteworthy melodic undertaking,” according to Locus magazine’s Jeff Berkwits, Rigel 9, a space opera with music by avant-garde composer David Bedford, recorded and released in 1985. (It's also streamable on Spotify. Listen below or here.) Rigel 9 “tells a pretty classic space story,” Cara Giaimo  writes at Atlas Obscura. “Three astronauts, named Anders, Kapper, and Lee, are sent to explore a strange world. After Anders goes off to collect plant samples and is kidnapped by extraterrestrials, Kapper and Lee argue over whether to rescue him or save themselves.”

Amidst this drama of tiny red aliens, a double sun, air that smells of cinnamon and yellow and orange trees, we learn a few unsettling facts about what has happened back on Earth. “The Earth has no more forests,” sings Anders, “no wilderness, no still places.” Evoking a Sartrean horror on a planetary scale, he gives us an image of “only human faces, only human voices…. The Earth has no more silence.” The resources we need to replenish not only air and water, but also weary minds have disappeared. These revelations set up Anders’ seduction by the lushness and quiet of Rigel 9, and the gorgeous soprano voices of its inhabitants.

Bedford’s music is transporting, with “Bowie-esque synth sweeps” and saxophones, thrilling choral movements, and a pounding rhythm section that puts one in mind of Queen. Scottish New Wave duo Strawberry Switchblade make an appearance, as the lead voices of an alien funeral procession (top). The dialogue and spoken performances can be a bit corny, but the space rock opera has never been suited for subtlety, and Le Guin and Bedford purposefully created the drama as a radio play of sorts. “We had talked about the composition as ‘opera for ear,” she explained, “That is, a ‘radio opera… We liked the idea of being able to imagine the scenery, and then putting that scenery into the words and the music.”

That same year, Le Guin released another musical effort, teaming with musician Todd Barton for a cassette-only production called Music and Poetry of Kesh, released together with her novel Always Coming Home. And ten years later, she worked with classical composer Elinor Armer on Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts. This eight-movement work features Le Guin herself, narrating a text about “a fantastical realm,” Berkwits writes, “the Uttermost Archipelago in the fifth quarter of Island Earth—where sound literally sustains life.” Just above, hear one movement, “The Seasons of Oling,” a further reminder that Le Guin, who never shrank from the violence of our world, could always imagine enthralling alternatives.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Robert Reich Makes His UC Berkeley Course on Wealth and Inequality in America Available on Facebook

Robert B. Reich served as Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and was later named one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century by TIME Magazine. Nowadays, Reich teaches courses on public policy at UC Berkeley, and uses his popular Facebook page to discuss policy questions with a much broader audience. So here's the next the logical step: This semester, Reich is teaching a Berkeley course on wealth and inequality in America, and he's making the lectures themselves available on Facebook too. Watch the opening lecture above, and then check back in for new installments.

Note: Once you start playing the video, you might need to enable the audio in the lower right hand corner of the video player.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Read the Shortest Academic Article Ever Written: “The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of ‘Writer’s Block'”

We've featured impressively short academic papers here on Open Culture before, like John Nash's 26-page PhD thesis and this two-sentence "Counterexample to Euler's Conjecture on Sums and Like Powers," but if you've set your sights on writing one shorter still, don't get your hopes up. The almost certainly unbeatable example of a short academic paper appeared more than forty years ago, in the fall 1974 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analyses, its main text coming in at exactly zero words. You can read it, if indeed "read" is the word, above or at the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Written, or at least thought up, by psychologist Dennis Upper, "The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of 'Writer's Block'" has nothing but its title, one footnote (indicating that "portions of this paper were not presented at the 81st annual American Psychological Association Convention"), and the fulsome comments of a reviewer: "I have studied this manuscript very carefully with lemon juice and X-rays and have not detected a single flaw in either design or writing style. I suggest it be published without revision. Clearly it is the most concise manuscript I have ever seen — yet it contains sufficient detail to allow other investigators to replicate Dr. Upper's failure. In comparison with the other manuscripts I get from you containing all that complicated detail, this one was a pleasure to examine."

Some describe writer's block, whether in science or literature or any other field requiring the proper arrangement of words, as a fear of the blank page. If looking at Upper's void-like paper frightens you, consider having a look at the Louisiana Channel series we featured in 2016 wherein writers like Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, and David Mitchell talk about how they deal with the blank page themselves. Atwood finds that it "beckons you in to write something on it," that "it must be filled,” but if you don't hear the same call, you'll have to come up with an approach of your own. Just don't try titling, footnoting, and turning in the empty sheet — it's been done.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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