All posts by bernardomesa

The Value of Education 

At some point, in good or bad situations, many of us have asked ourselves before: Why do we go to a university to learn undergraduate and graduate education? most people might first answer: to make more money! Other responses might be: to gain social and peer respect, to fit our social circle, to make our families happy, or I do not know… Given our current scenario in which every high school student is expected to complete undergraduate education, educators need to help students to find the answer to that important question.

Educators should provide students with more than facts related to their area of focus. We should promote and discuss the social role of the academic program. This can be achieved by providing a historical perspective of the profession and highlighting the importance of integrating personal feelings to the professional practice. Students will change their how they value education once they are guided to think about the non-academic contextual environment of their professions. This will help our students to be happier, be critical of institutions and systems, and perform better their professional duties in society. Ultimately, students might understand that getting education goes beyond making more money.quote-it-is-not-so-very-important-for-a-person-to-learn-facts-for-that-he-does-not-really-need-a-albert-einstein-365866

A digital world is not a dumber world

Digital technology (DT) has revolutionized learning environments in higher education with multiple resources that are easily accessible and relatively easy to implement. DT likely improves the amount of knowledge or skills that a student acquires, as well as, it might keep engagement of the students in the classroom. Yet, just by adopting DT in the classroom doesn’t guarantee that the outcome of the educational process is going to be effective.  Professors should consider the course learning objectives and reflect on the usefulness of DT tools to achieve those objectives. Education should not be determined by technology, but DT is part of the environment and we need to make the best use those tools to shape competent and critical professionals for the current needs in society. In fact, some of those needs are related to professionals being able to thrive in diverse environments. Thus, using many educational tools including the traditional techniques could assure that we are preparing capable individuals to be able to respond under different work-relate scenarios.

Multi-tasking and DT etiquette remains a challenge that professors and students face in a DT classroom. There is evidence that students engaged in multi-tasking such as attending to a lecture while simultaneously checking social media and other websites can decrease the learning performance of students (Wood et al. 2012).

Finally, DT might be changing our mental process compared to those thought processes developed by using non-digital educational tools. This doesn’t mean that we are becoming dumber, instead it means that we are shifting our mind to improve our abilities to perform in a digital world. These abilities might not be the same as the ones developed by non-digital tools, but they are promoting decision making and mental processes that are developing critical thinkers for a different era.vintagesocial


Wood, E., Zivcakova, L., Gentile, P., Archer, K., De Pasquale, D., Nosko, A. 2012. Examining the impact of off-task multi-tasking with technology on real-time classroom learning. Computers & Education 58: 365-374.

Pedagogy Has A Context Outside Of The Classroom

In the classroom, we tend to ignore, or forget, about the main roots of education, which are related to facilitating a progressive change in the world.

Effective pedagogy must be framed within social, economical, and by default, political contexts. Student learning can be more profound if we, pedagogists,  guide students to use their knowledge base, curiosity, and critical thinking to break limitations of our local community, countries, regions, and the world. This could be achieved by empowering students, through active learning, to take action to identify problems and propose solutions using the information shared inside and outside of the classroom.

Teaching must emphasize on the relevance and utility of information discussed in a course. Our ability to relate the utility of class content to solve tangible problems relates to the degree of engagement and critical skills of students.punch-magazine

Inclusive Pedagogy in Conservation Biology: My experience.

I approach inclusive pedagogy as a teaching policy that values human beings equally regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, socio-economical status, or political views. I am certain that education, at any level, must be designed to accommodate human diversity in the classroom. This is particularly true at a university, where the community can be highly enriched at different levels such as: discussion, schools of thought, creativity, problem solving, and thinking strategies.

My experience as a foreign graduate student in the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Department at Virginia Tech has been interesting in this aspect. I am a male student from South America, my ethnicity is mestizo, and have liberal political views. The field of Fish and Wildlife Conservation has been traditionally dominated by white males. However, in the past 15-20 years my field has evolved rapidly, problems have become more and more complex and conservation issues come from different parts of the globe, and in one way or another, they are interconnected. Therefore, the community of professors and students in my department has forgotten about the white male heavy-focus to turn to a diversity of people as an improved approach to educate the future professionals in conservation biology. We have professors, males and females, from: Asia, Africa, South America, and the US. This mix of professors has brought different approaches to education: we learn how to deal with different cultures, different ways to approach a problem, we become more familiarized with issues relevant to global conservation.

Furthermore, there is some diversity in the group of graduate students: about 50/50 split of males and females, some from rural areas, others from cities, and some from other places in the world, like Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. Our department has become more international mixed because of that. In class, we are able to discuss personal experiences about the same conservation issue, but most of the time, the approach differs by cultural background or place where we grew up. Because of this diverse interaction, we now consider other approaches to solve issues that we would have never contemplated before. I have further my understanding of global socio-economical drivers that affect wildlife conservation. I am aware of the needs of some countries to extract natural resources and why other countries need to buy those resources in order to function. I have learned about unique ecological interactions that my professors and classmates use to illustrate wildlife conservation examples. My department and advisor have also allowed me to guide undergraduate students, of different backgrounds, though teaching assistance and helping them developing technical skills. I feel like at the end of my degree I would acquire special skills, other than the “classic” knowledge base of the field, that will allow me to be a successful wildlife conservation professional for the world.  And that is how education should be approached.


Picture caption: the author interacting with female and male undergraduate students in a field where white males used to be the majority in the field of wildlife conservation.

Me, Myself, and Teaching.


In the past few years at Virginia Tech I have been fortunate to be a teaching assistant in a great diversity of classes. I started assisting in the general biology laboratory sessions, in which I presented a short introduction to a topic and then moved to practical component. Then I assisted in a physiology class which was lecture based. Thereafter, I assisted in an introductory class, in the Fish and Wildlife Department, composed of over 100 students; the instructor had a lecture system composed of a PowerPoint presentation and then we would break into groups where I facilitated student discussions within and between groups. Lately, I have been working with a group of undergraduate students that volunteer at Virginia Tech’s Black Bear Research Center (BBRC). I designed a series of workshops to educate students about different procedures and techniques that we use at the BBRC. In these workshops, I use different teaching techniques that allow me to show students the purpose of techniques and applicability and finally guide students while performing such techniques.

I have found that my teaching skills have changed over time since the first lab session I directed in biology. I am more approachable, I tend to listen to students more often and frequently consider their ideas to implement in class. I tend to frame the content in a “big picture” rather than focusing on details. I am now accepting of students making mistakes; I actually welcome those to introduce further explanations or spark curiosity in students. Even though I wanted to be a professor since I was an undergrad, I have found myself enjoining more and more my pedagogical activities because of my interactions with students. I feel more comfortable and energized while teaching. I want to walk around the room if I am in a classroom or I want challenge students performing an activity. My dry humor flourishes, very often under the radar on students.

My experiences, the professors I have taken class from, the classes I am taking for the graduate  teaching certificate, and professors I have worked with in teaching have made me realize that the art of teaching is not a static process. I have come a long way, but there is a lot more to go to improve my teaching skills, because I believe that I need to learn much more and do my best to excel as a future professor. I have also learn that teaching techniques are context dependent, and I need to refine the appropriate timing for when they should be uses to adequately stimulate students during the learning process.


Information Exploration in the Appropriate Environment is Crucial for Learning

I find our current standard teaching system and learning environment both counterproductive and mind numbing. Our world (e.g., culture, environment, and technology) has changed drastically in the last 1000 years, yet it appears that our typical classrooms got stuck in that era. Currently, there is a person in the front of the classroom delivering information or “important facts” to a group of people, students, facing that person to “receive knowledge”. Yes, it sounds like ancient times in monasteries of the catholic church, where there was a lector, of course reading a lesson or “important facts”, in a room with the best acoustics so the audience could hear well (remember, no electricity back then).

Information is no longer transcribed and no longer kept in monasteries. Much has happened particularly in the last 200 years; printing became available, many libraries are public, science is done outside of religious affiliations, information is shared in public media, nowadays most of the world can access the internet, most people have personal electronic devices, or can access a public one, to search information with in seconds. Then, why are we using the same “teaching” strategy today?

Limited access to information in the past determined that people needed skills to memorize facts; so a person with those skills where considered smart and “knowledgeable”. Our current teaching model still makes emphasis on memorization, whether it is for a test, or just because that is the way that our instructors learned the topic. Now, we have access to vast amounts of information that are impossible to memorize, therefore the skills that we need to develop today are related to critical thinking and creativity to facilitate learning in our students. Then, why are we using the same “teaching” strategy today?

The environment in which any biological activity happens is a limiting factor that determines an outcome, and learning is not an exception here. As acoustics where really important in those auditoriums back in the monasteries for other monks to acquire information; today we need to use different environments to engage our students in the learning process. Our societies have widely adopted digital technology and we can use that technology to develop learning exercises. These learning exercises should stimulate students to explore information, share it with the class and the world. However, these learning exercises require to break the traditional layout of a classroom. Instead, an engaging environment requires multiple projectors, not only for the typical lecture slide show, but also for students to connect their own devices to share with the class what they have just created or new information they just found. Perfectly arranged students seats are a big NO. Instead easy to move tables are ideal to rearrange the space as different activities demand. Then, why are we using the same “teaching” strategy today?

In conclusion, we are not the same as we were 1000 years ago and that includes our students. Then, why do we complain about what is wrong with our students today? Well, instructors teaching in an ancient format might be what it is wrong with our students today.

Blogs and Tweets in Science: the Solution to My Struggle

As a scientist, in training, I have always struggled with making people understand the relevance of the animal research that I participate in. When I converse with the general public I feel like the final conclusion at the other end of the conservation is usually: “oh nice so you work with animals, that is so cool”. But I was actually trying to communicate more than that. I want people to know the type of work I do with those animals and why it is useful for animal conservation and possibly humans. Therefore, I have asked myself… How to can I break that barrier? and How to do it effectively?

Last semester I found one answer to this problem in the Preparing for Future Professoriate class… to communicate science effectively, I need to make my story personal and eliminate any jargon from the conversation.

More recently, I have been finding other pieces that help answer my questions… I have been in graduate school for several years and probably people, who are not trained in science, can not grasp what I am trying to say in a quick conversation. So, how about I start communicating with people in a written media that is free, readily accessible in most countries, and I can explain in a few words what I do. In other words I am talking about blogging. Blogging would allow me to share, with anybody exploring the web, in simple terms what I do. It does not have to be only words; a short video illustrating an example or something similar could be added to the post.

At the same time, for the audience that likes to be more connected, other social media such as twitter, could be even a better fit for me. Through twitter, I can answer quick questions and direct people to other links to find more information. Furthermore, I can use pictures to accentuate a point or further engage the audience.

I am planning on creating a new blog and start twitting more about my research to let the world know what I do. I hope to update you all on my journey to the current trend of blogging and twitting about science and my profession.

Hello GEDIVT F15!!

I am looking forward to share thoughts with this class (Pedagogical Practices in Contemporary Contexts) to build our pedagogical skills. I hope we can all improve, sooner or later, how things work in the current higher education model.

Good luck  to of all of us, and will see you weakly!

*GEDI stands for Graduate Education Development Institute at Virginia Tech.

Social Media in Medical Education

Social media could be of great use in higher education by creating a dynamic environment in the classroom. Social media has been used as a teaching instrument by educators in diverse institutions and a wide variate of subjects.

For instance, professors George and Dellasega, from the Penn State Hersey College of Medicine in Hershey, USA, developed two graduate-level medical humanities education classes, in which Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Skype and Facebook were regularly used as educational tools.

The first course, Creative Writing for Medicine, used Twitter to share writing prompts from the instructor, students were able to expand their thoughts about the prompt in a class-wide shared blog. At the end of the class students were asked to summarize some of their thoughts in a letter, to teach how to capture ideas online to transfer them in paper. Skype was also used in this class to allow student interaction with the author of a book.

The second course, The Narratives if Aging: Exploring Creative Approaches to Dementia Care, used YouTube to expose students to different cultural perceptions of Alzheimer’s disease. YouTube allowed students to see people with dementia engaging in therapeutical psychosocial activities. Moreover, students visited assisted living facilities and interacted with residents and staff. Students took pictures during their visits. The final project for the class involved the use of Flickr to create a scrapbook that was shared with the class and residents.

For more detailed information refer to: George and Dellasega. 2011. Use of social media in graduate-level medical humanities education: Two pilot studies from Penn State College of Medicine. Medical teacher, 33: e429-434.  DOI: 10.3109/0142159X.2011.586749

Conservation Physiology an Open Access Journal

Conservation Physiology, a fully open access journal (authors  and readers can publish and access the content for free), is published on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology and it is part of the Oxford University press in the UK.

The purpose of Conservation Physiology is to publish research on all taxa related to how organisms, populations, and ecosystems respond physiologically  to environmental changes. Research related to restoration of populations and ecosystems including policy and management is also suitable for this journal.

Even though this journal does not address directly open access, they have a link offering information about open access from the publishing company, Oxford University Press (OUP). The mission of the OUP, on open access, is to facilitate the widest possible dissemination of high quality research, while embracing both green and gold open access.

The OUP has adopted publishing open access journals since 2004, and has accomplished it in different ways. For instance, the journal of Nucleic Acids Research, a former subscription publication, was moved to an open access model in 2005; thereafter in 2013 it achieved its highest impact factor ever. The OUP has also launched new, fully open access journals, such as Conservation Physiology.

The OUP recognizes economical constrains of offering fully open access for all journals. In fact, they identify publication expenses such as article processing charges.  Although, they highlight the importance of scholarly societies and associations to cover those charges in fully open access journals. In the near future the OUP expects the publishing industry to be mixed; some areas of research might fit fully open access better, while others might require optional open access (i.e. authors pay extra for this feature).

Conservation Physiology fits the model of the OUP by partnering with the Society for Experimental Biology to cover publishing expenses. My guess is that the professional society obtains funds to cover the journal expenses from both membership and meeting registration fees. In the end, researchers, universities and institutes appear to still be paying, indirectly, to be able to publish. Nevertheless, the benefit to the general community of open access is that everyone is able to attain the information for free.