An evolutionary psychology approach to deconstructing bias

The reading I did for this week’s discussions covered many topics, of which, I liked Shankar Vendantam’s hidden brain post best. ( S.V is currently producing a podcast for NPR covering social sciences). The main point S.V raises is that bias is traceable to a cognitive process where our mind is trained to see patterns in repeated inputs it receives. So, our first reactions to meeting people who are considerably different from us is fear, suspicion and in general involuntary but  negative judgement.

I think there is more to this argument, as I will try to explain, and back up my thoughts with a few sources. What evolution has done to our minds is that it has wired it so that the tools for detecting confirmation are far more powerful than tools for logical thinking, especially if it requires going against our already re-inforced convictions ( This is the main argument here, and the examples are fascinating!). To make things worse, human beings’ cognitive apparatus is evolved to to scream danger when we find ourselves in new environments. This has been vital for our survival for many years, but is not helping us now, living in a cosmopolitan era. The solution (until our bodies find time to catch up) is to identify and resist and diffuse these misconceptions.

Between a rock and a hard place: are authenticity and control contradicting factors in a class ?

Reading Shelli Fowler’s  “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills“, I think of the complex nature of two teaching dilemmas: There is a performance element to teaching, where “acting” skills –vocal training and effective use of movement and gesture — are encouraged to help engage with students. On the other hand, “posturing” and “edu-tainment” are discouraged as distractions from the ultimate goal of a classroom:  facilitating learning. These are reasonable cautions in my opinion. We keep the form in check to let the substance flow.

Another challenging conundrum is being in control of the classroom without being controlling. To assert enough authority to shape a learning environment, weeding out distractions and making sure progress is made towards course goals. At the same time, the power relations should allow the audience to keep their individuality, their actively engaging inquisitive selves. This is to make sure the students are not treated as recording devices needing to be filled with information.

The challenge, however, is to keeping the authority in balance, without falling into the realm of hypocrisy.‌ Here is an idea: As educators, whenever we are in charge of a class, it is better to publicly acknowledge it. It is helpful to point out to the structure that gives meaning to our relations as teachers and students, the one that has placed us in a physical or digital space envisioned for learning. In other words, let us recognize the fact that we are working on a local level, hoping to reform a set of educational practices, from within the system.

The relevant metaphor here is a building. A building, through its existence, defines and enforces meaning to entities such as rooms, hallways, stairs and so on. When we talk about spaciousness, coziness, dullness or joyfulness of a place we are implicitly acknowledging the existence of a building. When I am developing my teaching philosophy and practicing new pedagogical ideas, I will strive to remember the building.

Otherwise, I  could be acting as if we are subverting the whole education system, but as the students leave for their next class, they will undoubtedly notice the disparity between their reality and mine. In simple words, it is better to play it straight, consciously acknowledge that we are motivated by our authentic selves as well as a paycheck, and that we ( the student-teacher collective) are bound, by time and contract. And finally, to keep one eye on every possible improvement and another one on the limitations inherent to structure of the system.

It’s not the Machines, it’s Us.

The question of what role should digital technologies play in pedagogy resulted in a wave of wonderful/thoughtful commentaries last week during class discussion. As the reading assignments for this week suggest, the subject is still relevant. I want to jot a few thoughts:

It seems to me that what is sounding the alarms is not the dizzying rate at which our modern relationship with information is evolving. It is the side effects that are consequential : Students — in the broadest meaning of the term, all who aspire to learn, but specifically learners of the younger generation — spend less time and effort in recognizing and utilizing human-interaction a learning tool.

For the first generation fully immersed in technology, having access to unlimited information through an electronic device, strengthens the enlightenment notion that knowledge, much like a commodity, can be acquired from an all-knowing all-powerful source. This is in contrast with a more relativistic view that knowledge is multitude, constructed often through team-work and collaboration.


ideas to add to this post:

Identifying Fake News, critical thinking


peril due to lack of understanding of the impact of the … information on even adults. Our picture is nit clear, yet we have to start setting the rules for the children




GEDI – Arash's Academic Blog 2018-01-21 22:48:34

 Yes, the digital revolution that was supposed to transform our intellectual lives, through constructing a public global square for sharing ideas and facilitating dissemination of information, did actually happen. But the changes it brought about were, to say the least, underwhelming.

And Reading through one of this week’s readings (Tim Hitchcock’s 2014 blog post), I sense a great deal of optimism in the passionate calls of the academic for better use of web technologies and social media. Being in 2017, it is obvious to me that the transformation has not taken place. The “American scholar” is still struggling to find its broader audience while the masses vehemently reject “taking life advice from Elites.”

While I am being deliberately cynical here to make a point , It is only fair to point out some of the positive changes: MOOCs have indeed democratized access to some levels of higher education. Open text-books are finding their place, although their growth is disproportional in STEM fields and the open-access frameworks allows free of charge access to academic research.

Nonetheless, our diminishing attention spans and the changes in our information consumption habits (from text to audio to visual content) is in direct contrast with blogging. It is also true that I prefer long-form content over fast-food style provocation-delivery services of tweeter. A successful contrasting example that comes to my mind is Vlogging. It is a form of content making that allows engagement with all sensory abilities. (some examples: + , + , +). And many video sharing platforms such as Youtube support discussion groups. It is still an open question where comprehensive, meaningful and constructive conversation can taking place online.