HippoCampus.org’s slogan is ‘Teaching with the Power of Digital Media’
There are many ways in which the web can be drawn upon in times of academic need. The seemingly infinite reserve of (somewhat spuriously sourced) information offered by Wikipedia goes without saying. However, some educational websites have collated their information more uniformly than others, and aimed it at a specific audience – namely, students. The website HippoCampus.org is one such organisation. Its name is derived from a key component of the human brain that is possessed by all vertebrates. Belonging to the limbic system – a group of brain parts that seem to organise emotion and motivation – the hippocampus is purported to be responsible for the conversion of short-term memory into long-term knowledge. It consolidates information, preventing it from escaping too quickly, and helping it to sink in.
Such a name sets quite a standard for a website to live up to, though it must be said that in the age of information overloads, any system hoping to cultivate a young person’s long-term memory would be much welcome. The website’s slogan is ‘Teaching with the Power of Digital Media’ and so complements recent contributions to the world of online education by institutions of higher learning. There are three facts about HippoCampus that make it one to watch for the future:
1) It has backing from high places
It’s supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a rather unimprovable source of funding. It is additionally backed by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The National Repository of Online Courses and Google Grants. One of the principal difficulties faced by online education is finding the means by which to be held afloat. Once removed from the monetary requirements engendered by a campus presence, education essentially becomes more of a public good – something from which many people profit but none wants to pay for. Without a real option of turning for-profit (demand would be likely to plummet), it often falls on the shoulders of big name philanthropists to pledge their financial support. With backing such as this, the site promises to have a bright future.
2) It’s Comprehensive
The homepage presents the four categories into which its areas of teaching are separated: Math, Natural Science, Social Science, and Humanities. These are each in turn split into subcategories, with Math being split into the four fields of Arithmetic, Algebra & Geometry, Calculus & Advanced Math, and Science & Probability. Natural Science is then predictably broken into Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and – slightly more obscurely – Earth Science. The Social Sciences comprise Economics, History & Government (a particularly American pairing), and Psychology, and the only subject presently available in the Humanities section is ‘Religion’. With the exception of this latter grouping, in which we may hope for there one day to be included the likes of literature and philosophy, the homepage offers a succinct breakdown of what might be called the fundamental categories of knowledge.
3) It’s Remarkably Simple
All that remains is to click on a section and choose from a plethora of subject titles within that field – explained and illustrated by means of panel discussions, debates, and presentations. Video tutorials are quickly becoming the most popular means of imparting knowledge on academic courses, and few websites collate different educational settings for the purpose of teaching a single topic as effectively as HippoCampus. Digital participation in seminars have occurred at leading universities for some time, but it has also become possible for students taking online courses, like Stanford’s Coursera, to take part in an interactive manner by means of comments, questions, and feedback. HippoCampus’ content is additionally useful, however, since it comes in a variety of formats, not just classroom instruction.
Information has always been readily available on the internet, but the process of learning by which knowledge is acquired has not, and it is therefore encouraging to see projects such as HippoCampus take such strong strides in this direction.