To start with, let us define the meaning of these two keywords: mindfulness and mindlessness. According to “Mindful Learning” by Ellen Langer, “mindfulness is a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engages in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context”. On the other hand, when we are mindless we rely on decisions made in the past. As the result, “we are stuck in a single, rigid perspective and oblivious to alternative ways of knowing”.
When it comes to learning, mindful learning is interpreted as an interactive communication between the students and teachers, which engages the students actively thinking about the topic, answering questions, and most importantly asking questions. In contrast, mindless learning pictures teaching as a way to delivering information; therefore, the emphasis is more on what is taught rather than how it is taught. In other words, “mindful learning=active learning”, whereas “mindless learning=passive learning”.
Honestly, I have been a fan of mindless learning for a long while! In particular, when I volunteered to teach an undergraduate course to the computer science major students in summer 2017, I scheduled the semester very heavily to make sure that all the topics are covered and nothing is missed. Although there is nothing wrong with this approach at the first glance, you can imagine how my priorities were geared towards the delivery of information rather than teaching less but more effectively. Interestingly, students did not reflect any issues regarding this approach in their SPOT surveys! This perhaps implies that this attitude has become a common teaching philosophy, so that students did not recognize it as a drawback.
This semester, I am privileged to develop a graduate course in math/computer science with my advisor. As opposed to me, he put his emphasis on the engagement of students through several lab sessions, projects and presentations. In the beginning, I frowned upon his proposed syllabus, which was very different than the standard ones– those basically cover the major sections of a textbook. Instead, he selected fewer topics but added more hands-on projects and Q&A sessions. Furthermore, his presentations are often made of a few slides containing methodologies and formulas followed by several slides on the real-world examples. Expectedly, students are more involved during the class and follow the topics enthusiastically.
One may argue that an undergraduate course is significantly different than a graduate course in terms of the of the opportunities that the instructor have to customize the syllabus. This is a vey legitimate argument. But, what I am willing to accentuate is the paradigm shift from the conventional easy way of passive teaching to the new and challenging way of active teaching. In my opinion, once this philosophy is set, the courseware to make it happen will flourish accordingly.