WorldWide Education II

Listening to different perspectives of how education systems work in the different countries made me realized how much can one learn from being exposed to different environments. In my personal experience, being able to study in Australia helped me realized how mindfulness can be embrace by applying some techniques.

My academic/professional training has been shaped by different elements that helped me understand how the environment where you learn enhance either mindless or mindful learning. In this post, I elaborate on the different aspects that lead to one or the other, and the reflections I’ve got from experiencing for two years the Australian Academic system.

Prior to Virginia Tech, I got a bachelor in architecture from USFQ university in Quito, Ecuador; and studied a year abroad in Juniata College, PA. In both liberal arts universities, I experienced two types of classes: the very “technical” ones, and the “social/abstract” ones. The technical ones (such as structures, calculus and statistics) were the type of classes where you would sit in auditorium with 40 other students to learn from a lecture with very limited participation/interaction. The social/abstract ones (design studio, sustainable development, NGO managements) were the ones with all the interesting discussions and a lot of participation. These experiences, led me to the construct that it is difficult to overcome mindless learning in those very technical subjects, and that social/abstract subjects are the ones that usually promote mindfulness learning.

However, it was only until I studied my masters in Australia that I was able to break that paradigm I had mistakenly built. The University of Melbourne, as any other Australian university, has a completely different approach to learning. As a student, you are required to enroll in two different classes per each subject: a lecture and a tutorial. For instance, for a “3 credits” methodological class, I enrolled in a 1-hour lecture and in 2-hours tutorial. Lectures had the classical approach where you would sit in a classroom to receive all the information/material the professor prepared to facilitate your learning. Tutorials (which were usually run by T.A.s) in the other hand, were the space where you were expected to read articles so you can contribute to the class with opinions, arguments and discussions.

This experience helped me realize how achieving mindfulness learning, no matter what the subject is, is very possible when providing the right environment to allow students contribute to the learning process.

Ethics in Research

Lately, there has been so many scandals regarding unethical behavior I have heard about. And what shocks me the most is that all members from different roles are involved: students, staff members, and faculty members as well. One of the main components to take into account, as a junior academic, is ethics in research. Here I compile some considerations should get taken into account:

  • Make sure you don’t manipulate neither research design nor data collection to your own convenience. We usually make assumptions to prove our point.
    • One way to help to reduce this issue is open access data
  • Reach beyond the walls (service, commitment to professional societies and academic discipline associations)
  • Be informed on how to protect for intellectual property, what are the resources available?
  • Challenge professional and personal assumptions. Be a faculty committed to leading change, social responsibility.
  • Ethics require us to think deeply. What would you do if you find that one of your lab mates is mistreating data? You will face uncomfortable situations for sure, start thinking what would you do if you see anything like that.

Open Access

Open access is a topic that should be more socialized. We are part of an industry that is capitalizing knowledge and information and it is managed by very powerful entities. However, we, as students, can do a lot to contribute to the change that we want. By making sure that our work is accessible by other people we make sure we contribute to change the system we are part of.

Open access journals’ main objective is to make information more accessible to people, which means that the information will be more accessible to use it in both teaching and research. It is also an efficient way of building and transfer knowledge, and it also contributes to research integrity, because it means that there are more to focus in plagiarism.

Finally, it is important to take into account who are we writing for? Who is our audience? Perhaps our work’s impact will become real when we get to reach a broader audience. In order to grow, you have to talk to people that are different to you.

The Role of Higher Education in Human Development

Current literature has vastly recognized that the lack of accessibility to higher education promote segregation and the deterioration of human capabilities. However, one may wonder if current educational trends, specially within the higher education context, are actually emphasizing the elements that contribute to student’s empowerment and therefore to human development.

Higher education is intended to foster broad-based development of human development, talent and potentials. Empowerment is an essential part of human development. Consequently, current education systems may be interpreting empowerment from both the economic-growth approach and/or the capabilities approach. Those educational systems positioning empowerment as an essential part of development to the extent that it uses economic means to promote growth and economic proficiency exclusively, may be overseeing the potential of education as a process of expansion of the substantive freedom people enjoy in all the different spheres of life such as employment, family, health, academy, among others.

Those higher education institutions that understand empowerment from the economic growth perspective exclusively, may lead to efforts to prioritize job acquisitions and economic stability only. While higher education institutions that understand empowerment from the capabilities approach could broadly lead to efforts that envision students not only as owners of their economic activities but also as owners and managers of all the different spheres of life. A holistic education system which positions empowerment as understood by the capabilities approach, will be a system that includes concepts of justice, diversity and inclusiveness as a core element of education. Incorporating these concepts within the diverse academic programs will promote a broader understanding of the world, a safer but challenging learning environment, and ultimately empower students.

A broader understanding of empowerment is what allows individuals to identify existing un-freedoms and social negative constructions, and to work towards their removal and the expansion of individuals own capabilities set by altering institutionalized attitudes and practices. Which is why, if we want to change the world through education, a holistic understanding and promotion of empowerment is essential when designing academic programs within higher education institutions.

Languages in Higher Education

As part of the European Union strategy, the bologna process was created and implemented in the late 80s and early 90s. It consisted in efforts to unify Higher Education in the area with the European Higher Ed Initiative. Switzerland is not part of it, although it subscribes to it. Because of the implementation of the bologna process, member countries had to incorporate multiple languages as part of the multiple graduate requirements (3 to 5 years). The main objective of this program is to allow students to easily mobilize within members’ countries, which is one of the reasons why most people in Europe are able to speak different languages.

This program, which sounds fascinated to me, help me realized on the importance of incorporating languages within curriculums in the different educational programs. In a globalized world, being able to speak different languages is a very useful tool in order to be able to embrace diversity and to put efforts together to address current global issues. And although this is a tool that can be very useful in higher education, it is a tool that should ideally get developed in individual early educational stages.

In the Latin American context, English as a second language has become a priority when designing educational programs, and this is a consequence of the existing need to get connected and emerged into the different opportunities that the English-speaking countries constantly offer. In my experience, I learned English since I was little and then I went to a “bilingual” high school so some of my classes where in English, which helped me access abroad opportunities when I was in college.

However, I often wonder if learning languages is promoted in the same way in English speaking countries such as in the U.S or any other country with English as its first language. Since English is a language with which you could easily communicate in most parts of the world, it may look like there is not a big need to learn other languages. However, addressing the need to be able to access opportunities in other countries should not be the only motivation to learn languages. Learning languages is also a way of understanding other cultures, promoting diversity, and generating peace around the world. And all those reasons should be socialized within society in order to make efforts to implement languages in educational programs stronger.

WorldWide Education – Globalization

Learning about many educational systems got me wondering about globalization versus addressing individual needs of the countries. I see that many universities are looking into global education, trying to integrate multiple educational institutes (for example, universities) around the world into one idea or philosophy of education. The technology development is allowing us to connect easier with other places in such short time, even real time, that we can integrate classrooms, lectures, projects, academic papers, and many other tasks of education into one whole-single classroom. For instance, in my department there is a class between universities from the US, the Netherlands, India, and South America. The course consists on a semester-long project where students make groups and each group must have a member from each university. They have to develop a 3D project, where each of them can do an Avatar, and they have to work it out, leadership styles, timezones, culture, etc. At the end of the semester they deliver a design project as their final delivery.

I can see the value of this projects, and how this integrates people from all over the globe, and this is good. However, I wonder if these approaches are making us bring people to think and learn in the Western particular way of thinking? Additionally, do these approaches help us address the issues or needs of a particular location and culture? Education should address the needs of the local community and should be aligned with the development plan of a country/region.

Technology have allowed us to get in closer with far away locations, however, we must remember that it does not mean the cultural differences, needs and potentialities have become the same.

The Importance of Diversity

Diversity in higher education is a strategy that has been used for several institutions to promote peace and social justice, and one great example is the worldwide “Bridge. Connect. Act” (BCA) program who have now extended to basically all the United States. BCA is a program that facilitates abroad experiences within college students all around the world. It has study abroad programs with countries in almost all continents, and it works in a way in which a student from the US goes to study abroad in a different country while a student from that country goes to study abroad in the US.

What is most interesting about this program is that its vision goes beyond promoting diversity, but is is about changing the world with these types of experiences. It is a program that recognize that exposure to diversity enriches the educational experience, but it also aims that from those experiences, students get to understand other’s people’s beliefs, perspectives and even different lifestyles. And it is this understanding, according to BCA, that will help students to challenge stereotypes and preconceptions, to encourage critical thinking, and to become better citizens in an increasingly complex overall.

         “BCA Study Abroad facilitates opportunities for growth in intercultural understanding and global awareness through educational programs that foster scholarship, community engagement and guided reflective learning.” (

BCA is a great illustration of how incorporating and promoting diversity in higher education can lead to build professionals with high values of mutual respect, tolerance and teamwork capacity. Which will contribute, ultimately, to build a better world.

Reflections on Ethics

Learning about ethics was very unexpected because I thought it was simpler than what it really is. Ethics in academia seems to be a trivial topic because it can be seen as a matter of doing the right or the wrong thing. However, life is not that simple. In some aspects, yes; particularly about core values and individual beliefs. However, when it comes to many other situations of life, and that it may involve many people, doing the right versus doing the wrong thing can fall into a more grey area.  After learning and reading about ethics, now I cannot stop finding multiple challenges or situations where unformed academics can act within this “grey area”.

Getting stronger education and information about academic integrity is essential to reduce the problem. Because a lot of the problem can be reduced when someone “innocent” report the issues he/she sees. Informing people about the available resources to report any situation that is necessary is a great way of reducing the problem. It is not only necessary to do things right, but it is also our responsibility to make sure we are not mute witnesses of others unethical behaviors.

Communication and the Production of Ideas

In this week, I was able to reflect on the importance of being able to communicate your ideas appropriately. Being able to achieve knowledge and to build on ideas is essential when applying what we have learned in our education, however, without appropriate communicational tools, we may be missing from a lot of “sharing”.

Sharing ideas is essential for knowledge development as well. Especially when we are living in a world in which global problems should be address in a multidisciplinary way. Additionally, it is only when we talk with people different than us that our ideas grow and evolve. So, the interaction regarding our different research projects with our colleagues is not only useful but it should be encouraged by our mentors and our institutions.

With that context, some of the main aspects that I have been able to reflect on are the 1) importance of listening, 2) celebrating failure and mistakes, and 3) promoting a safe space but also a brave and challenging one. These three components are essential when analyzing how good are we to communicate our ideas.

For this, it is important to first start analyzing on our own communication skills, and then to work on how to remove the barriers that are preventing us to successfully communicate with other. However, it is important to mention that despite the communication skills one can have, it is also important to have the desire and determination to start creating opportunities to facilitate that communication.

Higher Ed for Human Development?

Current literature has vastly recognized that the lack of accessibility to education exclude population and promote the deterioration of their human capabilities. However, one may wonder if current educational trends, specially in the higher education context, are actually emphasizing the elements that contribute to student’s empowerment and therefore human development.

Traditionally, development is a concept that has been measured in terms of the metric of income or access to material goods as with the economic growth approach (Fraser & Naples, 2004; Sen, 1985). Human development, however, “is a process of expanding the real freedom of persons to lead the kind of lives they value and have reason to value” (Keleher, 2007; Sen, 1997). The capabilities approach assess human development as an alternative to the traditional economic growth-centered development theory (Nussbaum, 2011). It also recognizes that individuals are free to employ their own agency as they chose to achieve certain functionings/capabilities (Keleher, 2007) Sen/Nussbaum describe, such as education, employment, among others.

It follows from this understanding that human development is assessed within the capabilities approach in terms of what capabilities a person is free to achieve (Keleher, 2007). I operationalize capability as the several alternate functionings combinations a person is free to achieve to live a valued lifestyle (Keleher, 2014). With this context, it is important to recognize if current educational systems are actually promoting the expansion of capabilities and freedom of their students. Is it within our educational curriculums that we learn about the injustices in the world, and the available tools to overcome them? If it is not the case, one may question current education to human development.