The Internet Archive Will Digitize & Preserve Millions of Academic Articles with Its New Database, “Internet Archive Scholar”

Open access publishing has, indeed, made academic research more accessible, but in “the move from physical academic journals to digitally-accessible papers,” Samantha Cole writes at Vice, it has also become “more precarious to preserve…. If an institution stops paying for web hosting or changes servers, the research within could disappear.” At least a couple hundred open access journals vanished in this way between 2000 and 2019, a new study published on arxiv found. Another 900 journals are in danger of meeting the same fate.

The journals in peril include scholarship in the humanities and sciences, though many publications may only be of interest to historians, given the speed at which scientific research tends to move. In any case, “there shouldn’t really be any decay or loss in scientific publications, particularly those that have been open on the web,” says study co-author Mikael Laasko, information scientist at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki. Yet, in digital publishing, there are no printed copies in university libraries, catalogued and maintained by librarians.

To fill the need, the Internet Archive has created its own scholarly search platform, a “fulltext search index” that includes “over 25 million research articles and other scholarly documents” preserved on its servers. These collections span digitized and original digital articles published from the 18th century to “the latest Open Access conference proceedings and pre-prints crawled from the World Wide Web." Content in this search index comes in one of three forms:

  • public web content in the Wayback Machine web archives (, either identified from historic collecting, crawled specifically to ensure long-term access to scholarly materials, or crawled at the direction of Archive-It partners
  • digitized print material from paper and microform collections purchased and scanned by Internet Archive or its partners
  • general materials on the collections, including content from partner organizations, uploads from the general public, and mirrors of other projects

The project is still in “alpha” and “has several bugs,” the site cautions, but it could, when it’s fully up and running, become part of a much-needed revolution in academic research—that is if the major academic publishers don’t find some legal pretext to shut it down.

Academic publishing boasts one of the most rapacious legal business models on the global market, and one of the most exploitative: a double standard in which scholars freely publish and review research for the public benefit (ostensibly) and very often on the public dime; while private intermediaries rake in astronomical sums for themselves with paywalls. The open access model has changed things, but the only way to truly serve the “best interests of researchers and the public,” neuroscientist Shaun Khoo argues, is through public infrastructure and fully non-profit publication.

Maybe Internet Archive Scholar can go some way toward bridging the gap, as a publicly accessible, non-profit search engine, digital catalogue, and library for research that is worth preserving, reading, and building upon even if it doesn't generate shareholder revenue. For a deeper dive into how the Archive built its formidable, still developing, new database, see the video presentation above from Jefferson Bailey, Director of Web Archiving & Data Services. And have a look at Internet Archive Scholar here. It currently lacks advanced search functions, but plug in any search term and prepare to be amazed by the incredible volume of archived full text articles you turn up.

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

Google Introduces 6-Month Career Certificates, Threatening to Disrupt Higher Education with “the Equivalent of a Four-Year Degree”

I used to make a point of asking every college-applying teenager I encountered why they wanted to go to college in the first place. Few had a ready answer; most, after a deer-in-the-headlights moment, said they wanted to be able to get a job — and in a tone implying it was too obvious to require articulation. But if one's goal is simply employment, doesn't it seem a bit excessive to move across the state, country, or world, spend four years taking tests and writing papers on a grab-bag of subjects, and spend (or borrow) a large and ever-inflating amount of money to do so? This, in any case, is one idea behind Google's Career Certificates, all of which can be completed from home in about six months.

Any such remote educational process looks more viable than ever at the moment due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a condition that also has today's college-applying teenagers wondering whether they'll ever see a campus at all. Nor is the broader economic harm lost on Google, whose Senior Vice President for Global Affairs Kent Walker frames their Career Certificates as part of a "digital jobs program to help America's economic recovery." He writes that "people need good jobs, and the broader economy needs their energy and skills to support our future growth." At the same time, "college degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn’t need a college diploma to have economic security."

Hence Google's new Career Certificates in "the high-paying, high-growth career fields of Data Analytics, Project Management, and User Experience (UX) Design," which join their existing IT Support and IT Automation in Python Certificates. Hosted on the online education platform Coursera, these programs (which run about $300-$400) are developed in-house and taught by Google employees and require no previous experience. To help cover their cost Google will also fund 100,000 "need-based scholarships" and offer students "hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities" at the company "to provide real on-the-job training." None of this guarantees any given student a job at Google, of course, but as Walker emphasizes, "we will consider our new career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree."

Technology-and-education pundit Scott Galloway calls that bachelor's-degree equivalence the biggest story in his field of recent weeks. It's perhaps the beginning of a trend where tech companies disrupt higher education, creating affordable and scalable educational programs that will train the workforce for 21st century jobs. This could conceivably mean that universities lose their monopoly on the training and vetting of students, or at least find that they'll increasingly share that responsibility with big tech.

This past spring Galloway gave an interview to New York magazine predicting that "ultimately, universities are going to partner with companies to help them expand." He adds: "I think that partnership will look something like MIT and Google partnering. Microsoft and Berkeley. Big-tech companies are about to enter education and health care in a big way, not because they want to but because they have to." Whether such university partnerships will emerge as falling enrollments put the strain on certain segments of the university system remains to be seen, but so far Google seems confident about going it alone. And where Google goes, as we've all seen before, other institutions often follow.

Note: You can listen to Galloway elaborate on how Google may lead to the unbundling of higher ed here. Listen to the episode "State of Play: The Sharing Economy" from his Prof G podcast:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

What Made Richard Feynman One of the Most Admired Educators in the World

If Richard Feynman had only ever published his work in theoretical physics, his name would still be known far and wide. As it is, Feynman remains famous more than thirty years after his death in large part for the way he engaged with the public. From his popular textbook The Feynman Lectures on Physics (which you can read free online here) to his bestselling conversational essay collections like Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman to the classes he taught at Cornell (now available online) to his demonstration of what went wrong with the Space Shuttle Challenger, he kept in conversation all his life with humanity outside the realm of professional science. This explains, in part, why Feynman became what Bill Gates calls, in the video above, "the best teacher I never had."

Gates points to Feynman's lecture series "The Character of Physical Law," previously featured here on Open Culture, as "a great example of how he could explain things in a fun and interesting way to everyone. And he was very funny."

That sense of humor complemented a sense of rigor: "Dr. Feynman used a tough process on himself, where if he didn't really understand something, he would push himself," asking questions like "Do I understand this boundary case?" and "Do I understand why we don't do it this other way?" Such an effort to find the gaps in and failures of one's own understanding may sound familiar, fundamental as it is to Feynman's "notebook" technique of learning that we've posted about more than once before.

You only know how well you understand something when you explain it to someone else; many of us realize this, but Feynman lived it. The depth of his own understanding allowed him never to be boring: "Feynman made science so fascinating," Gates says, "He reminded us how much fun it is," and in so doing emphasized that "everybody can have a pretty full understanding. He's such a joyful example of how we'd all like to learn and think about things." Though the term "science communicator" wasn't in wide use during Feynman's lifetime, he played the role to near-perfection. And in the kind of materials highlighted here, he continues to convey not just knowledge but, as he liked to put it, the pleasure of finding things out.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Explore an Interactive, Online Version of the Beautifully Illustrated, 200-Year-Old British & Exotic Mineralogy

What if I said the problem with STEM education is that it doesn’t include nearly enough art? For one thing, I would only echo what STEAM proponents have said for years. This doesn't only mean that students should study the arts with the same seriousness as they do the sciences. But that science should be taught through the arts, as it was in the 19th century when Naturalists relied on fine art illustration.

Maybe increasing complexity demands charts and graphs, but there are reasons other than hip antiquarianism to cherish 19th century scientific art, and to aim for something close to its high aesthetic standards. Humans seem to find nature far more awe-inspiring when it’s mediated by painting, poetry, narrative, music, fine art photography, etc. We want to be emotionally moved by science. As such, few guides to the natural world have elevated their subjects as highly as British & Exotic Mineralogy, a multivolume reference work for… well, rocks, to put it vulgarly, published between 1802 and 1817.

During these years, “notable naturalist, illustrator, and mineralogist James Sowerby drew intricate pictures of minerals in an effort to illustrate the topographic mineralogy of Great Britain and minerals not yet known to it,” writes Nicholas Rougeux. “These illustrations were some of the finest on the subject and are still considered by some to be to this day.” Though he was surely compensated for his work, Sowerby’s detailed drawings come across as labors of devotion.

Rather than just printing them on postcards or tote bags (though he does sell posters), Rougeux has done for Sowerby’s minerals what he had previously done for other classic textbooks and taxonomies from the past, such as the 200-year-old Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours and Euclid’s Elements from 1847. Digitizing the 718 illustrations on one sprawling interactive page allows him to retain their educational value: click on any individual mineral and you’ll bring up an enlarged image followed by excerpts from the text.

You have never seen such rocks as these, no matter how many uncut gems you’ve held in your hand. Because these illustrations turn them into something else—crystalline palaces, alien organs, petrified explosions, moldy loaves of bread... all the many shapes that time can take in rock form. They aren’t all beautiful rocks, but they are each beautifully-rendered with lines that might remind us of the most skilled comic artists, who are perhaps some of the last inheritors of this kind of graphic style. Sowerby himself illustrated several other scientific works, including series on biology, mycology, and a color system of his own devising.

“We feel much pleasure in presenting our friends with a figure and account of the most perfect and rare specimen yet found of this substance,” begins the text accompanying Hydrargillite, above, which resembles a small, misshapen moon or asteroid. Rougeux also takes quite a bit of pleasure in his work of recovering these reference books and making them beautifully useful once again for 21st century readers. You can read his detailed account of the original illustrations and his adaptation of them for use on the web here.

While appreciating the finer points of color, line, and composition in Rougeux's tapestry of vintage mineral illustrations, you might just inadvertently expand your knowledge and appreciation of mineralogy. You can also read the entire British & Exotic Mineralogy, if you’ve got the time and inclination, at the Internet Archive.

via Kottke

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

A Free Stanford Course on How to Teach Online: Watch the Lectures Online

Earlier this month, Stanford's Online High School offered (in partnership with Stanford Continuing Studies) a free, five-day course "Teach Your Class Online: The Essentials." With many schools starting the next academic year online, this course found a large audience. 7,000 teachers signed up. Aimed at middle and high school teachers, the course covered "general guidelines for adapting your course to an online format, best practices for varied situations, common pitfalls in online course design, and how to troubleshoot student issues online."

The videos from "Teach Your Class Online: The Essentials" are all now available online. You can watch them in sequential order, moving from top to bottom, here. Or watch them on this Stanford hosted page. Day 1 (above) provides a general introduction to teaching online. See topics covered in Days 2-5 below.

Please feel free to share these videos with any teachers. And if anyone watches these lectures and takes good class notes (ones other teachers can use), please let us know. We would be happy to help share them with other teachers.

Finally, just to give you a little background, Stanford's Online High School has operated as a fully-online, independent, accredited high school since 2006. Stanford Continuing Studies provides open enrollment courses to adults worldwide. All of its courses are currently online. For anyone interested, Coursera also offers a specialization (a series of five courses) on online learning called the Virtual Teacher. It can be explored here.


Day 2

  • Getting Specific: Situations and Tools
  • Science: Labs in Online Pedagogy


Day 3

  • Online Classroom Example Clips
  • Building and Maintaining a Classroom


Day 4

  • Review of Submitted Sample Lesson Drafts
  • Troubleshooting Obstacles to Success in the Online Environment


Day 5

  • Math: Using Writing Tablets and Whiteboards
  • Modern Languages: Tips for Highly Interactive Class During Which Students Actively Speak and Write in the Target Language
  • Humanities: Productive Classroom Conversations About Challenging Subjects
  • Closing Thoughts


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Emma Willard, the First Woman Mapmaker in America, Creates Pioneering Maps of Time to Teach Students about Democracy (Circa 1851)

We all know Marshall McLuhan’s pithy, endlessly quotable line “the medium is the message,” but rarely do we stop to ask which one comes first. The development of communication technologies may genuinely present us with a chicken or egg scenario. After all, only a culture that already prized constant visual stimuli but grossly undervalued physical movement would have invented and adopted television.

In Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord ties the tendency toward passive visual consumption to “commodity fetishism, the domination of society by ‘intangible as well as tangible things,’ which reaches its absolute fulfillment in the spectacle, where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence.” It seems an apt description of a screen-addicted culture.

What can we say, then, of a culture addicted to charts and graphs? Earliest examples of the form were often more elaborate than we're used to seeing, hand-drawn with care and attention. They were also not coy about their ambitions: to condense the vast dimensions of space and time into a two-dimensional, color-coded format. To tidily sum up all human and natural history in easy-to-read visual metaphors.

This was as much a religious project as it was a philosophical, scientific, historical, political, and pedagogical one. The domains are hopelessly entwined in 18th and 19th century. We should not be surprised to see them freely mingle  the earliest infographics. The creators of such images were polymaths, and deeply devout. Joseph Priestly, English chemist, philosopher, theologian, political theorist and grammarian, made several visual chronologies representing “the lives of two thousand men between 1200 BC and 1750 AD” (conveying a clear message about the sole importance of men).

“After Priestly,” writes the Public Domain Review, “timelines flourished, but they generally lacked any sense of the dimensionality of time, representing the past as a uniform march from left to right.” Emma Willard, “one of the century’s most influential educators” set out to update the technology, “to invest chronology with a sense of perspective.” In her 1836 Picture of Nations; or Perspective Sketch of the Course of Empire, above (view and download high resolution images here), she presents “the biblical Creation as the apex of a triangle that then flowed forward in time and space toward the viewer.”

The perspective is also a forced point of view about origins and history. But that was exactly the point: these are didactic tools meant for textbooks and classrooms. Willard, “America’s first professional female mapmaker,” writes Maria Popova, was also a “pioneering educator,” who founded “the first women’s higher education institution in the United States when she was still in her thirties…. In her early forties, she set about composing and publishing a series of history textbooks that raised the standards and sensibilities of scholarship.”

Willard recognized that linear graphs of time did not accurately do justice to a three-dimensional experience of the world. Humans are “embodied creatures who yearn to locate themselves in space and time.” The illusion of space and time on the flat page was an essential feature of Willard’s underlying purpose: “laying out the ground-plan of the intellect, so far as the whole range of history is concerned.” A proper understanding of a Great Man (and at least one Great Woman, Hypatia) version of history—easily condensed, since there were only around 6,000 years from the creation of the universe—would lead to “enlightened and judicious supporters” of democracy.

History is represented literally as a sacred space in Willard’s 1846 Temple of Time, its providential beginnings formally balanced in equal proportion to its every monumental stage. Willard’s intent was expressly patriotic, her trappings self-consciously classical. Her maps of time were ways of situating the nation as a natural successor to the empires of old, which flowed from the divine act of creation. They show a progressive widening of the world.

“Half a century before W.E.B. Du Bois… created his modernist data visualizations for the 1900 World’s Fair,” Popova writes, The Temple of Time “won a medal at the 1851 World’s Fair in London.” Willard accompanied the infographic with a statement of intent, articulating a media theory, over a hundred years before McLuhan, that sounds strangely anticipatory of his famous dictum.

The poetic idea of “the vista of departed years” is made an object of sight; and when the eye is the medium, the picture will, by frequent inspection, be formed within, and forever remain, wrought into the living texture of the mind.

Learn more about Emma Willard’s infographic revolution at the Public Domain Review and Brain Pickings.

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

A Free Stanford Course on How to Teach Online: Designed for Middle & High School Teachers (July 13 – 17)

This fall, many teachers (across the country and the world) will be asked to teach online--something most teachers have never done before. To assist with that transition, the Stanford Online High School and Stanford Continuing Studies have teamed up to offer a free online course called Teaching Your Class Online: The Essentials. Taught by veteran instructors at Stanford Online High School (OHS), this course "will help middle and high school instructors move from general concepts for teaching online to the practical details of adapting your class for your students." The course is free and runs from 1-3 pm California time, July 13 - 17. You can sign up here.

For anyone interested, Stanford will also offer additional courses that give teachers the chance to practice teaching their material online and get feedback from Stanford Online High School instructors. Offered from July 20 - July 24, those courses cost $95. Click to this page, and scroll down to enroll.

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