This last week has been Innovative Learning Week, a block of five days where the entire university stops running classes and instead hosts a wide variety of different events from various faculties, schools, and societies that anyone can go to and promote learning new things in different ways. There were day trips, lectures, debates, film showings and plays to name just a few. Instead of explaining more, I’ll just tell you what I did!
After taking the day out to study on Monday, on Tuesday I had signed up for a trip to the Pentland Hills, just outside Edinburgh, for a fossil hunting expedition! As someone who was obsessed with dinosaurs and firmly set on becoming a palaeontologist as a child, naturally this appealed. So I got up extra early, and rode my bike the two kilometres or so to the science campus, which I hadn’t been to before. After a lengthy wait for the co-ordinator to realise he hadn’t booked the bus and then to sort it out, we all piled in and drove down into the park. It was quite a lengthy walk to the site, through what appeared to be various farms but was really the equivalent of a state park, and a lot of mud, but it was really beautiful. It happened to be a cold day, and that meant there was snow on the top of even these rather stumpy hills. I had no idea that the place was there, let alone planned to go there, so it was excellent.
Once we finally arrived at the first site, there was a short intro on the geological history and significance of the Pentlands (once an ocean floor next to a mountain range larger than the Himalayas was the part I really remember) and then we had a poke around. That first site didn’t yield much, though the ground was nice and hard so it was easier to break up the rocks and see what was inside, so we soon moved on to a second. This one was much better: a three-metre high wall of crumbling and cracked grey sandstone that you could easily pull bits off and have a look for fossils. And believe it or not, I actually found quite a few! There was a whole colony of brachiopods (basically the dirt-common beach shells of prehistory but still awesome) as well as a couple of well-preserved imprints, and then a stalk of a proto-coral. I also found an imprint of a trilobite’s back scales but one guy found a trilobite’s compound eye and another found a whole trilobite, which was definitely the coolest thing.
Upon our return, I had booked to go to a showing of the movie Memento in the neuropsychology department. It took me some time to find the somewhat dungeon room, but I really enjoyed the movie, especially seeing it in the light of its approach to working-memory loss (as well as the suspense and thrilleriness of it, and trying to work out what actually happens), and the ensuing discussion with a memory expert.
The following day, I again arrived for a day trip, this time to Northumberland, to learn about the Battle of Flodden in 1513. It turned out that the trip was run by the local military garrison, but they’d managed to hook up the head of the archaeological digs at Flodden to take us all around. This meant a wealth of information and access to sites that we never otherwise would have been able to get anywhere near – inside Norham Castle, which was built by the prince-bishops of Durham and captured by James IV on his way south and wasn’t open until April; and the hillside on which Scots stood to fight the English (EXTREMELY steep and wide, and people on the English side looked tiny while later standing on the English side the Scots would have seemed only a tiny bit higher). I enjoyed it immensely, and was from then on a complete convert to the concept of Innovative Learning Week. I never would otherwise have gone to Flodden, and I would never have myself managed to get so much out of it. And it was all for free! Pictures pictures pictures.
Norham Castle gatehouse
The Scots’ position
English position facing the Scots, plus our erstwhile tour guide
A bridge 10,000 English soldiers ambushed the Scots across
The following day, I had been asked by a fellow member of the Mikado to appear in an adaption of Antigone he had written called Kreon, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I agreed. Turns out all I had to do was sit on a stage and read for a while, while the narrator spoke, and then get up and walk out when my character’s name (Menoeikes) was said (apparently I’d died in an airstrike). After the introductory scene I was able to leave and watch the rest of the play from the audience, and it was splendid. Wonderfully written and excellently acted, and I was very glad to be a part of it. There were three other plays written and performed by various other theatre and classics societies (it was a competition) but I didn’t stay, for I had much more innovative learning to do!
Next up was a debate between Edinburgh and Glasgow universities on whether Scotland should allow the sale of organs and human tissues (where now you can only legally donate them). It was pretty interesting. Both teams acknowledged that there was a severe shortage of donor organs, and that the system needed to be changed somehow – the positive team advocating, naturally, the sale of organs, but only in the sense that the NHS would be buying them from people, not that they would be freely traded; and the opposition suggesting that Scotland switch from an ‘opt-in’ system to an ‘opt-out system’. They each presented essentially two main factual arguments, which were central to the argument (there was a lot of theoretical talk about personal choice and autonomy but they both defined each differently and it wasn’t really well debated, while the facts were). The positive team said that in fact if organs were available immediately the NHS would save over 150 million pounds a year on dialysis and life support for people with kidney failure alone – the problem with this was they didn’t account for the cost of buying the organs, which would be substantial and the NHS would be very keen on driving it down to save money (the 7,000 people, and growing, who need a new kidney every year would mean that even if every penny of the savings was spent people would be only getting something like 21,500 pounds, which, though a substantial amount of money isn’t really compensating you for having one less kidney; especially when you consider that the people most likely to sell organs are poor and/or young people, and they are far more likely to contract kidney failure and you can’t just take one kidney out when you’ve only got one left). The opposition’s fact was that 93% of Scots are in favour of organ donation but only 29% are signed up to donate when they die. This would suggest that in an opt-out system only 7% of people would be out, meaning about 3 times as many organs. Also in their system people would only be donating after they die, so there are no health risks for the population, plus it wouldn’t cost the NHS any more than it does now. I thought their argument was much more compelling. So yeah. Quite detailed explanation!
Today was the final day of the week, and I was pretty excited to have signed up for a TEDx event, with lots of talks from various academics and activists, a free lunch and a ceilidh. The speakers were engaging and varied, the lunch was gourmet and the ceilidh was a lot of fun and surprisingly similar to an Australian bush dance (I knew almost all the dances, albeit with slightly varied moves and different names). Now I am very tired indeed, and ready to sleep off my crazy week before I head out on another day trip tomorrow, to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle. Goodnight!