Monthly Archives: September 2017

6:30 pm: will you give me an A+?

Today is Sunday, according to the calendar we use to “track” the pass of time, and also based on my current location, because in Europe/Africa, Monday is already starting. Here in Blacksburg, VA, it is 5:15 pm, and I still have some time left to publish this post and make it available to the GEDI community to “make it count”, otherwise my efforts might not receive a corresponding grade. Previously, by this time, I would have already published something, or being close to finish, but this weekend was different. For multiple reasons I got derailed from reading and writing, and no, not because I can skip one post (apparently no more than one), simply because I did not feel like doing it, although I always had on mind to write before the deadline, which is why I finally started the readings and now trying to write. What time is it? It is 5:25 pm.

Ten minutes of my life have gone writing the introductory paragraph, and I have the option to erase it and lose the precious time, or leave it as it is and just keep writing, hoping that it was good to keep you reading… But if you decide to leave, then, I guess I am lucky that this post is not being assessed by the number of comments (or is it?), and there is no way to know how many people have read it (or is there a way?), in fact, I have no clue how it is graded at all. But if time spent writing could be a criterion in my grade, then let me share with you, it is 5:34 pm. Which means that I am writing a paragraph every 10 minutes more or less.

It is likely that time spent doing the assignment cannot be used to grade, and that is good, because each person takes different paths to accomplish something. For some it might take a long time, while others are able to convey a clear message really fast. Some might need to erase and erase until the desired product has been achieved, others might have a natural easiness and clear vision from the first time. I could go on and on with examples of how people learn differently or how tasks are done differently, and could potentially site research related to this, and yet, no matter how many situations have been described, all students are typically evaluated the same way: same test, same time limit, same grading scale, etc… is this fair? By the way, it is 5:44 pm.

Alfie Kohn, author of “The Case Against Grades” (2011) and other articles, provides a nice narrative to this case, and is striking that some of what he discusses is not new. Some of the thoughts that caught my attention in respect to the effects of grading are:

  • A danger in grading is that students would not take intellectual risks to avoid failing a class
  • The competition between classmates leading to fear of failure and cheating
  • No desire to learn, rather desire to simply pass…. There is no real motivation towards learning

It is 5:54 pm, and comparatively speaking, the lines immediately above kind of resemble a paragraph, so it seems I am being consistent in my writing speed, perhaps this could be a measure of assessment?

I have no idea what you might think is the reason for me sharing the time after each paragraph is completed, what I do know, is that whatever you think it is, you have a very high chance of being wrong. Therefore, if you were grading this post based on how much non-relevant details were included, you could not (or should not) take any deductions for me sharing the time… and that takes me to reflect how in previous grading that I have done, I used to scratch parts of lab reports written by students, with aside comments like: “this is not necessary”, “you are wasting paper” and even if I didn’t necessarily took points of from their assignment for “excessive” writing, I did truncate in a way their learning process. Likely, I framed future reports to be within certain constraints, and that could have resulted in future poor performance by avoiding key words with the fear of being too much. It is 6:05 pm.

So, to clarify the reason to keep writing the time, in case I could be judged for including non-relevant information: I felt like doing so. Liu and Noppe-Brandon (2009) point out to the value of “imagination first”. I have to admit that while writing this post, I never imagined that it would take me 10 minutes per paragraph, I did however, imagined how I wanted to share my thoughts on Kohn’s article and how I wanted to finish my last paragraph discussing the power of imagination. But, I have run into a problem, it is 6:15 pm, which means that the time I have allotted myself to write this post has come to an end. Will I be penalized for my honesty?

Ok, I didn’t want to just cut today’s journey like that, because I do have some more inquiries to share: Have teachers become “killers” of potential great student’s ideas? Is the education system promoting the assassination of imagination? Is the “job market/world” dictating how learning should occur? Sometimes it seems like that is the reality, and even though I believe that student’s performance, especially in engineering and medicine must be evaluated, to make sure that someone’s life will not be at risk. I do have to admit, that assigning numbers or letters, and ranking students by performance does not sound like the best alternative after all.

Ok, it is 6:25 pm, time to choose a title for this post, publish and move on…

Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep educating. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep asking WHY. Let’s continue to be more MINDFUL… give me an A+ 🙂 … and then let’s discuss how to remove grades from the education system… 6:30 pm

Carlos F. Mantilla P.

Disclaimer: the content of the class blog posts is not actually graded, but felt like the allusion to it being graded was important to better convey my thoughts and frame some of my questions/concerns

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Should Humans be MINDFUL?… Am I insane for asking this?

If by any chance you are confused about this post’s title, be confident that probably you are not alone. Before reading the next lines, I would be confused too, maybe except for the fact that I chose the title. If you read Langer’s “The Power of Mindful Learning”1 and “Mindful Learning”2, you might be thinking: it seems insane to even ask the question after going through them. If you are in fact thinking this, then respectfully I say to you that perhaps you were mindless while reading about the power of mindfulness. So, why am I asking: “Should Humans be MINDFUL?” The answer is quite simple. No, not to my question, but to why am I asking it: I tried to be mindful while reading.

I truly hope that my introductory paragraph was good enough to encourage you to keep reading. Well, seems the previous sentence was written under the influence of mindlessness. Now that I reflect about it, if you managed to read it, then it means I was successful to engage you, and therefore that sentence is meaningless. On the contrary, had you not read it, then probably I would have failed to gain your attention, or maybe not? But since I kept you interested, which may or may not be measured by you leaving a comment to this post, then travel with me, while I attempt to share with you my answer to the perhaps confusing title of this post.

So, was I mindful while writing the previous two paragraphs? Where you mindful while reading them? Like Langer mentioned, many times we think of being mindful when actually we are not. For instance, an answer to the first question could be that I just wanted to play with your mind, engage you in this reading and then confuse you as much as possible, with the purpose of making you agree with me that I am being mindful about my writing. After all, there is also power in confusing people. But, it is possible that you have another suitable answer to conclude that I was not mindful. And that response, will likely be correct too. Mainly, and this is a fact, because I have no idea of what you think being mindful is, and your definition might be different to mine. Remember, we don’t have the power of reading minds.

Professors must be alert to distinguish if the students are engage and following the topic being discussed, and be open to consider a different approach if needed. Students, will likely maximize their learning experience when their minds are open to process, not just receive, new information. An alert student, will likely be better prepared to apply learned skills under different scenarios, as long as the professor left the door open for such alternate context, in comparison to the student that sits and repeatedly copies what is being told. The previous thoughts that remained with me from Langer’s reflections, probably to some degree, a mere paraphrasing of what being in a mindful state could mean. To continue in the same line of thought, just imagine the infinite possibilities that collaboration between a mindful student and a mindful teacher could potentially bring. A classroom environment where all players are being creative, discovering together, discussing and giving alternatives, rather than, as Langer puts it: taking the facts as the only truth in the absence of context. Certainly, one cannot just 100% agree with the content of Langer’s writing. Otherwise, like I previously expressed, that would mean that we read under a state of mindlessness.

If you have read my previous posts under GEDI F17, I hope you are wondering: where is the personal story? Well, I don’t want to leave you with that uncertainty. Although leaving in uncertainty might be actually better. The post you just read is my personal story about how hard being MINDFUL can be. Writing this post I tried to carefully choose which words to use and what message I wanted to pass. I wanted to try another writing style. I tried to give you options, I tried to transmit a message with confidence, but still leaving you open doors for other possibilities, rather than presenting my thoughts about being MINDFUL as absolute certainties. I tried to explain to you what being MINDFUL is to me, and why humans should be MINDFUL, without directly telling you why. At the end, what I can tell you, as a fact, is that it was not an easy task, but it was an enjoyable one.

Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep educating. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep asking WHY. Let’s start to be more MINDFUL and less mindlessness about who we are, and alternatives to improve our education system.

Carlos F. Mantilla P.

  1. Langer, Ellen J. The Power of Mindful Learning. Book.
  2. Langer, Ellen J. Mindful Learning. Current Directions in Psychological Science. Vol 9, No 6 (Dec. 2000), pp. 220-223

 

 

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Two Institutions, Two Missions, Two Countries

As part of the Future Professoriate class assignment, students were asked to find and comment on the mission statements of two higher education institutes. I chose The Universidad Nacional de Colombia, UNAL (Colombia) and Johns Hopkins University, JHU (USA).

Universidad Nacional De Colombia (Colombia)

The UNAL is the largest public University in Colombia, it was first established in Bogota (Colombia’s capital city) in 1867. Currently it has seven more campuses across the country. Their Mission and Vision statements were easy to find under “The University” main menu. The fact that they have Spanish and English versions of their website was actually a great surprise. Although not all the pages are in English, those identifying the University’s core principles and history are. The Mission of the UNAL taken directly from their website on 9/11/2017 is:

The Universidad Nacional de Colombia promotes equal access to the Colombian education system; it provides the largest offering of academic programs and trains competent and socially responsible professionals. It contributes to the development and re-significance of the Nation project; it studies and enriches the cultural, natural and environmental country’s heritage. As it, assists to the scientific, technological, cultural and artistic order, with academic and research autonomy

What I like about the UNAL’s mission is its emphasis on contributing to the project of Colombia, as a nation. Through the multiple academic programs offered, this institution could truly play an important role in the development of the country’s policies and help to shape Colombia’s future. The mission speaks of an interdisciplinary institution, even if the word itself is not included, the UNAL acknowledges the importance of scientific, technological, cultural and artistic contributions.

Johns Hopkins University (USA)

JHU is a research University established in 1876 in the United States. It is a private institution which main campus is in Baltimore, MD, but has spread to three continents with a campus in Italy and another one in China. JHU’s mission has been preserved since it’s foundation in 1876, it reads:

To educate its students and cultivate their capacity for lifelong learning, to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world

In contrast to the UNAL’s mission, JHU’s is “shorter and simpler”, and yet it sounds more powerful and deep. Probably this simplicity is what makes it more easy to assimilate and understand to me. Thinking about it, and without having look at mission statements from other institutions in both countries. The way these statements are written seem to resemble aspects of each culture. To be clear, the UNAL’s mission is very detailed, which is something that I often see in a Colombian. From my perspective, we tend to provide reasons for almost everything. My long explanation here can be taken as an example. On the other side, I have found that people from the United States tend to be more direct, are not use to give explanations and don’t require them either.

So, although my original intent was not to compare them, I have to say that JHU’s mission really embraces what Trout and Rivkin illustrate in their book “The Power of Simplicity: A Management Guide…“, simple solutions and direct messages tend to work better.

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Grandma, why can’t I ask why?

Yes, true story. I used to be one of those kids that was always asking why…apparently so much, that grandma told me to stop asking her “why” about everything. To which I reply: “grandma, why can’t I ask why“. Well at least my mom told me that this happened, and I totally believe her. I do remember, however, a total stranger giving me a popsicle during a soccer game, with the condition that I would stop asking so many questions to my uncle about the game…and yes, I asked my uncle why this stranger was giving me a popsicle…ok maybe the last part of the story did not happen, but it is not the point, what matters is that from the beginning the curiosity has been always there. And even though in multiple times the adults tried to crush it down, I am still asking: why?

Questioning, as Thomas and Brown pointed out in their book1, is essential to the creation of knowledge. Asking leads to new discoveries, it allows to those with curious minds to embrace themselves in new adventures, in a new journey, that at the end will likely benefit the entire society. But, if asking is so important, then why so many times are questions being ignored in classes? Why are some students afraid of asking? Why class duration often prohibits for longer discussions? Or is it how classes are designed that really prohibits the discussion? The latter would probably happen in what Thomas and Brown discussed as the culture of teaching, where the role of the instructor is to pass “valuable” information to the students.

Old style lectures (i.e. instructor just passing information), like Robert Talbert suggests in “Four things lecture is good for “, need to be combined with dynamic experiences to move into a culture of learning. Although there are fundamental theorems that stay the same through time, the most relevant information is constantly changing. Therefore, an evolving environment, where discussions are shaped by all participating members is needed; where creativity, imagination, curiosity, invention, and team work are fully integrated, without fixed teaching structures or boundaries hurting the networked learning. This means that we need to ask another important question: how do we get there? My best guess is through experiments, taking chances, making changes, and hope for the best outcome … and if anything, something would have still been learned along the way.

Thomas’s experimental approach with his class must have been an incredible journey, especially for Star Wars fans. In case you have no clue what I am talking about, just imagine going to a class where the professor gives you the opportunity to play computer games as part of the class meetings (actually, I really suggest you read it). Weird, fascinating, fun, right? Well if you don’t like gaming then probably not only weird to you, but also likely to appear as a waste of time. Probably, that is how the parents of the students saw it at the time. Being completely honest, if I was Thomas’s boss, I would have call that idea a recipe for disaster. A very risky approach, even if some sort of lecture and discussion were still included within the three-hour class duration. What would have been my reaction to such class approach, A RECIPE FOR DISASTER, tells me that before technology, internet, networked learning, community learning, etc., can fully develop, a cultural shift is required. A new mindset to approach the learning process as a journey, needs to be cultivated and harvested. Maybe then actions like my grandma’s (sorry grandma) and the popsicle stranger will not happen again, and instead we will all play the game, like when we were kids.

I do have to ask myself, wouldn’t I have done the same and give an annoying kid a popsicle to watch the game in peace? Yeah, adult me will do it. So let’s keep learning, let’s keep educating, let’s keep asking WHY? but not during a soccer game, there is a proper time and place for everything.

– Carlos F. Mantilla P.

1. “A New Culture of Learning – Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change” – Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

 

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Networked Learning: Moving Forward, Going Backwards

Hello readers, today I am embarking in my second-ever official blog post. The first one was about how certain pigeons were populating the high buildings in Colombia due to deforestation destroying their natural habit, but that post never flew like I was hoping (blogging Going Backwards), similar to how the pigeons did not fly from my balcony. But eventually they did. So here I am giving it another try (blogging Moving Forward). Thanks to the GEDI (Graduate Education Development Institute) team at VT for “awakening” my blogging desires again.

After the related/not-so-much-related introduction, it is time to move Forward into the core of this post: Networked Learning and the need of enhancing Internet use in today’s education.

In his article “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning“, Gardner Campbell conveys an interesting message regarding higher education in 2008: having a career and being competent at whatever chosen field was being more important than asking questions and understanding the real human capacity. To a certain degree, that same context can still be applied today. Internships, study abroad programs and undergraduate research (where possible) have certainly gained popularity, and allowed undergraduate students to apply the theoretical knowledge outside the classroom. However, the use of the Internet, as a medium for even greater interactions, still appears to be missing after all these years of having a “connected world”.

It is like technology and communication possibilities are advancing (Moving Forward), but the share and spread of knowledge in higher education environments, mainly at the undergraduate level, is somewhat stagnant or even Going Backwards. In multiple occasions assignments written by students are read only by the instructor or a GTA, they are not shared even with their classmates to generate collective improvement, and ultimately end up in recycle or forgotten in an archive. At least in the past, in the times of the ancient Greeks, there was more discussion and collective learning was being developed.

Plenty of people interact today through the web, either by just exchanging emails or by being more active in platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Sharing ideas/experiences through YouTube videos and blogging have become quite popular; some people even live from doing it. Yet, the integration of these tools to higher education is still in its infancy. There are plenty of reasons/excuses for this disconnect between education and high-impact communication tools, to name a few: cybersecurity risks, professors’ teaching preferences, students’ learning possibilities (not all have equal access to these tools, not even today), cellphones being a distraction in the classroom, etc. However, just as the pigeons flew away after the balcony was no longer suitable, due to some drastic/non-lethal aesthetic renovations, the gaps that apparently separate classrooms from the connected digital world can be also overcome with some creative/innovative/collective team work. Something a member of the GEDI community should be prepared for and eager to contribute with.

Like in all journeys, being well prepared is fundamental to potentially be successful, and in this journey of enhancing the “Networked Learning” professors and students, and possibly other stakeholders, must be ready to talk in the right language (human and machine).

Let’s keep learning, let’s keep educating, let’s keep moving forward.

– Carlos F. Mantilla P.

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