Care to Coverse? Join the Group on Hypothesis

I don’t know of a better way to do this, so I hope this works …


Care to do a bit of pre-class conversing about our last readings for #GEDI2017?

Both Dan Edelstein and Parker Palmer are worthy of some deep contemplation and discussion. And while our class discussions are often rich and rewarding, I think most of us have experienced how much more we can get learn and share when we meet in virtual space as well.

Join me, won’t you? I’ve created a Hypothesis Group called

VT #GEDI2017 Annotate!

Here’s a link to the group:

Looking forward to ‘seeing’ your thoughts, ideas and connections.

I found a short and helpful video on how to join or annotate in a group in Hypothesis.

p.s.  If you are interested in keeping the #GEDI conversations going beyond class, please leave a comment below and we’ll figure out how to do that over winter break.

If you’re interested in connecting with me, you can find me all over social media, but most easily via Twitter (@KgCulby) or Facebook (kgculbertson) – but I don’t post/look here more than once a day. I’m also on LinkedIn as, you guessed it, Kathryn Culbertson.

Week 14 — Connecting the Dots

As we race toward the end of the semester, please take some time to reflect on the readings for our final unit (week 14). The articles by Parker Palmer and Dan Edelstein are especially relevant, and if you are only going to read two more things for this class, please, please, please let these be the pieces you choose. Think about how you will connect the dots from this course and your broader curriculum to become the “New Professional” Parker Palmer invokes here:

The word “professional” originally meant someone who makes a “profession of faith” in the midst of a disheartening world. That root meaning became diminished as the centuries rolled by, and today it has all but disappeared. “Professional” now means someone who possesses knowledge and techniques too esoteric for the laity to understand, whose education is proudly proclaimed to be “value free.”

The notion of a “new professional” revives the root meaning of the word. This person can say, “In the midst of the powerful force-field of institutional life, where so much conspires to compromise the core values of my work, I have found firm ground on which to stand—the ground of personal and professional identity and integrity—and from which I can call myself, my colleagues, and my profession back to our true mission.”

Thank you all for sharing this semester with me and for your collective efforts to explore what teaching means in the changing landscape of the 21st-century higher education.  I look forward to reading your final set of posts.

Image: CC0 Public Domain

Diversity – yes . . . Statement – not easy

I understand that one should be able to articulate views, opinions and values in written form. But I’m having a really hard time “following the rules” (guidelines, standards, whatever they’re called) and framing how I think and behave towards others in a way that both articulates my core beliefs and how I uphold those on a daily basis, how I have in the past and how I will in the future.

It comes down to this:

I believe in the inherent dignity of every being on this planet. I seek to act in a manner that respects and honors the value of each life in relationship to each other. I seek to behave in a manner,  and uphold other’s behavior, that is just, equitable and compassionate. I am constantly seeking ways to grow and learn about others’ stories, responsibilities, perspectives and significance, and I share my own with others freely in hopes of providing them with a perspective they may not have otherwise encountered. I attempt to humble myself to others’ truths and seek meaning through understanding their culture, traditions, relationships, and conflicts. My intent is to connect with others through our commonalities and learn more than I knew prior. I attempt to be open to all perspectives and experiences, but stand firm again racism, bigotry and acts of aggression meant to diminish others’ sense of worth and value.  I champion the underdog, the ones who cannot speak for themselves, or those who have been victimized, taken advantage of and cast aside because they are devalued by others. I seek to educate others to the Truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that will enable us all to live a life of good and value, in service to one another and this planet we call home. I am imperfect and make mistakes regularly. When I recognize my errors, or they are pointed out to me, I seek to correct them in the most honorable way I know how.  I seek to express my personal respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are each a part.

That is the best I can do … right now.

(Lest you think that I just popped this off the top of my head: this ‘statement’ has been at least 15 years in the making and is based, in large part, on the beliefs and Principles of the Unitarian Universalist congregations. The UUC Beliefs and Principles have been refined by many scholars, theologians, and passionate minds over centuries. I simply seek to embody them as best I can in all that I do.)

My Diversity Statement

My interest in diversity and inclusion started when I was traveling 36 countries in Asia, Middle East, Europe, and Africa. It was a project that my friends and I planned together: having one and a half year off from our college, and moving toward the west by land from Tianjin, China. During this trip, I was fascinated that the students from other universities in various countries were studying the same thing to mine. We all looked different but shared the same thoughts. Also, the numerous travelers I met, including hippies or Japanese freeters, showed me non-stereotype lifestyle that could be as happy as another stereotype lifestyle. With this experience, I could throw away my prejudice and gain a wider view of life.

The interest in diversity and inclusion continued to my graduate student life. Last semester, I participated in Virginia Tech Diversity scholar program. In this program, the participating students each suggested an initiative to promote the climate of diversity and inclusion on campus. In my case, I noticed that international students did not have enough chances to socialize with others outside their community, such as international students with different nationalities or students from the US. There were some events for socialization, but students were not much engaged in the existing events. Based on the thoughts that students would be more engaged with self-directed activities, my initiative was a series of culinary classes for sharing various recipes in the world among the students. These were student-led classes, thus, any Virginia Tech student who volunteered could be the instructors. Although this project ended up with Asian Cooking Classes because only Asian students volunteered to be the instructors, the events were successful. Studying and cooking some dishes together, we had a great time. The photos of the events are found here:

This project provided an opportunity to explore different cultures and offered a common interest which could bind students with different backgrounds together. At the same time, the project led me to think about how to utilize my previous experiences in promoting diversity on campus.

‘Delicate Handling of Intellectual Diversity’

My sixteen months teaching experience in Bangladesh helped me in thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion in a classroom. I did not think about racial diversity as most of us looked the same in the classroom. However, I thought about religious diversity. Being grown up as a part of the dominant religion in Bangladesh, I never saw any prejudice in the classroom based on religion. Like the other places of the world, women are underrepresented in the STEM in my country. As a part of my commitment to the students, I always tried to choose two class representatives, one from the male student group and another from female students. Apart from that, there were students of different merit in every classroom. I made my lectures to make it understandable to everyone, which was the most challenging part. Test making was focused on all the groups of students with different merits.

At Virginia Tech, I have been working in a lab run by my Chinese professor. The majority of my labmates are Chinese, yet I never felt isolated from the team. We have American, Indian, European students in our lab, yet we thrived without any conflict. At one point, we had ten Ph.D. students in our lab. As it could be predicted, the quality and productivity differed from student to student. If you define it as “Intellectual Diversity”, I would say it requires delicate care and handling. My advisor expects different output from students with different productivity and never compares one with another. The division of workload in our lab depends on individual’s ability. I think this is something very valuable that I learned from my advisor.

Priority tasking

Priority tasking sounds simple in theory, but in reality, it is hard to implement. This type of ‘tasking’ allows you to identify how you should actually be spending your time, and where. A deep analytical look at your to do list will help you do this. One essential component of priority tasking is understanding that your to do list will never be achieved. This sounds hard to comprehend, but you should create a to do list that you know you can not complete or check off completely. However, I also recognize that I am human, and I hate having a to do list that is never completed. If you can not relate to me, take five minutes to write everything you CAN do the next day. Do not create a list that is achievable. The to do list must have at least 10 tasks. I will say that on average, your to do list might look somewhat similar to the one below:

A average to do list:

  1. Go to class
  2. Do Homework
  3. Assistantship/actual job, the required hours
  4. Asssistantship/actual job, unpaid hours(Lets be honest, we all work more than what we are supposed and are not paid for it)
  5. Cooking/ eating out
  6. Meeting (with your assistantship supervisor or advisor)
  7. Meeting with classmates
  8. Meet your friends
  9. Meeting (that could/should have been an e-mail)
  10. Netflix or another form of procrastination
  11. House (accommodation related) chores
  12. Run errands
  13. Housemate/ Family member duties or responsibilities (If you live alone, replace this with self-care or whatever is pertinent to you)

If your to do list looks different, please feel free to create one in the comments section. I would love to see how they differ.

Like most people, I believe that I am able to multi task at a relatively high rate. I believe that I am able to watch Netflix, listen to spotify, and complete my 15 page paper while having six tabs open with literature to read. This is multi-tasking at a rather modest term. I do recognize that I am also in denial. The article, Technology: Myth of Multitasking, identifies me to be a serial tasker. I will not deny this truth. Also, in reality, I usually have about 10 tabs open. However, I will be honest and say that this is how I used to think, that I was a multi-tasker. I now believe that it is far better to priority task.

Priority tasking is somewhat similar to multi tasking in the sense that we still have many tasks to complete. However, it takes the idea and motivation behind ‘single tasking’ and forces you to choose the most pressing task. Is it possible to do more tasks? Yes. As human beings that are thirsty for success, we always want to do more with our time. But should we? In addition, your supervisors will only remember the one important task you didn’t complete. It does not matter if you completed 98 other tasks, that one important task will be the one that is remembered. And at the end of the day, what do you want to be remembered for?

Presenting the Present State of Writing Statements

Our statements on diversity and inclusion focus too intently on the past and the future while neglecting the present moment completely. What I really want to know is what an educator is doing here and now, day by day, minute to minute, and second to second; to question and improve his or her own attitude toward diversity. I want to see more awareness of and challenge to the innate biases, the hidden prejudices that plague us all blindly and chronically taint the lens through which we see the world. What I have written below is the present tense version of Berkeley’s “Guidelines for Applicants Writing Statements” .

I have nothing against UC Berkeley. I was actually at Berkeley this past weekend while out in the Bay area for a conference and I have to say it is one of the most forward thinking, progressive campuses I have ever visited. There is an overwhelming sense of pride in acceptance of diversity and you can outwardly sense it not just in the students and the faculty but also in the youth that grow up in the area. Diversity is boldly embraced and exalted all around. But the intro of the statement shared in the schedule for this week mentions the past and the future and planning five times without referring to the present moment even once. It is a reflection of how these types of statements are written and reviewed not just at Berkeley but at universities across the country and the world. They encourage the have done’s and will do’s much more than the grounded, active am doing’s of potential candidates.


“The Contributions to Diversity Statement should describe your past experience and activities, and future plans to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, in alignment with UC Berkeley’s mission to reflect the diversity of California and to meet the educational needs and interests of its diverse population. Some faculty candidates may not have substantial past activities. If that is the case, we recommend focusing on future plans in your statement. A more developed and substantial plan is expected for senior candidates.”

My statement would look more like this:

Present Experience:
In each moment when teaching a class I remain as aware as possible of each individual student’s needs. This is why smaller class sizes are so crucial. The ability to dynamically cater to different learning styles and different backgrounds is what I find to be both the most difficult and the most rewarding element of teaching. I believe there is a certain improvisation required in good education. I know that classes rarely go according to the scheduled syllabus, and I pride myself on my ability to adapt in the moment. Though I recognize the potential distraction that computers constantly pose to students, I also believe that they can be used intentionally as powerful tools to assist human ingenuity. Much like chess masters consult computers and merge with them to become “centaurs”, or doctors use electronic medical records (EMRs) to distinguish each patient’s unique medical history, I believe electronic educational records (EERs) can give teachers a more constant awareness of student learning preference, educational history, and active, real-time, engagement in any given course material. Computers also connect us with people all over the world- making education accessible for billions of the world’s poor and breeding a new opportunity to empathize with different cultures and customs. The key is that students meditate on each task- serial mono-tasking rather than distractedly multitasking- and only engage with their screens when it is appropriate to do so.

  • Research Activities: I research the meditative mind in an effort to better understand consciousness and the physiological processes of learning and emotion. A person sitting in meditation becomes the perfect research subject. Static and still, meditators can often use newer mobile sensing techniques without generating too much noise. Global Vitals, for example, offers a respiration rate tracker that works by using a smart phone’s accelerometer to track the rising and falling motion of the abdomen. It would be nearly impossible to capture this data cleanly on a moving subject, but the steadiness of the meditation allows for these less intrusive methods of data capture. Since Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is typically done in a lying down position, it can be recreated in a functional MRI scanner (fMRI) without fundamentally altering the experience for the participant. This allows me to capture detailed 3D images of the brain as a fly on the wall, without the documentation itself significantly altering the practice and therefore the physiological state of the subject. The main hypothesis of this research is to prove the possibility of learning and retaining information when in the deeply focused, subconscious state of yogic sleep.
  • Other Activities: I am the active founder of an immersive mindfulness collective whose mission it is to make the benefits of meditation more accessible to those that need it most. works with inner city youth from Southeast Washington DC and other unprivileged areas to take real ambient sounds and turn them into soundtracks for guided meditations. We travel to different cities to exchange creative energy and experience, connecting people from different places together in the present moment. We use social media and technology as both an educational tool for STEM programming as well as for connective empathy generation. We are actually in the middle of an event as I speak on the National Mall- and we always stream our sessions live to increase immediate accessibility. See video from the experience below.



Weekly Pessimism: Carr’s Nightmare & Google’s Perfection

Of all the readings Carr’s piece really hit home. This specific problem has plagued me for years. I need my information delivered in bursts. I am totally addicted to the instant gratification that a smartphone and Google provides, and I have no more use for specifics. I skim almost everything I read. I’ll Google answers to questions I have while trying to fall asleep, even if that wakes me up again. I lack the patience for detail, in most cases I can’t even tolerate it.

It is an incredible disadvantage in graduate school. After all we’re supposed to read a few papers per day, right? I don’t think I’ve thoroughly read one in years, I usually skim my own proof-reading. So how am I supposed to finish a PhD, when the entire point is becoming an expert in the mundane details of one highly specific area. You can’t be a jack-of-all trades PhD who specializes in nothing. Honestly, I’ve been worried this lack of mental discipline would tank my career for years, yet I can’t fight it. In the middle of reading Carr’s piece I was truly hoping he’d offer some brilliant solution I hadn’t thought of, while simultaneously hoping he wrap it up soon, because come on dude it’s been like 15 paragraphs, cut to the chase…

Frighteningly, this piece was written in 2008, just a year after the first modern smart phone was released, and years before anything resembling modern social media. I would suspect the effect is even more profound today when Facebook is considered too detail heavy, and most of us have moved on to image sharing services and single sentence tweets. I suspect that no matter how pessimistic Carr was feeling as he typed out that article, he probably didn’t really comprehend how bad it would get for some.

I must admit that I am an addict myself, and the 2008 version of me would never have predicted how bad it would get. According to an app called Quality Time, which measures phone use, I unlock my phone about 300 times a day, and spend between 4-5 hours on it, with roughly 2/3rds of that on social media. Every day, I spend hours training myself to consume nothing but tidbits of novel information, without any substance at all. How could I expect to suddenly be able to read 15 pages about obscure spatial statistics.

What’s worse, I had the good fortune of getting most of my education prior to the rise of Google and social media. What concerns me most is that the students we’ll be teaching in another 5-10 years will have grown up on it. While the rest of us may be able to return to the high-detail “scuba-diving” version thinking (hopefully), perhaps that skill is entirely foreign to the younger generation. What will the kids who got their first iPhone in fourth grade be like when they get to college? Taking away their electronics won’t help them, it’ll just disengage them further. I keep thinking, perhaps we should embrace this and give them bursts of low-detail novel information, but at some point, they’ll need detail if they are to be professionals in their field.

As usual, I honestly have no idea how to solve this problem, and expect it to be exacerbated in the following years. Salzberg’s advice seems like a Band-Aid on a broken bone; medication not meditation is what I need, and I didn’t grow up reading Instagram on the school-bus. Perhaps we older folk can retrain ourselves by abstaining from instant gratification sources of knowledge, and forcing ourselves to read more. I have heard some folks have luck with completely disengaging from social media and going back to flip phones, but I have yet to try it. Maybe I’ll start with a few good books of the paper variety. As for the younger folks, they may be out of luck. Perhaps the world will have to adapt to them instead.

On a side-note, the comments on Carr’s article are completely missing the danger of perfect silicon memory. To greatly paraphrase the work of Dr. Nicholas Christakis (one of the fathers of my field), there is incredible utility in imperfection. To steal an example he uses frequently, consider designing an algorithm for a small robot to find the top of a hill. You program it to always go in the direction of the highest slope, and set it loose. Eventually it finds the top of the highest hill, right? Not quite, it finds the local maxima, but there could be a much taller hill next door. If the robot isn’t allowed to make mistakes and go downhill sometimes, it’ll get stuck on the local maxima and never leave. The same goes for Googling answers. How many times have you gone looking for something and stumbled upon a better solution? If you cannot ever make that mistake, if you always find exactly what you need, you’re greatly limiting innovation.

People that are willing to give this up for perfect recall are giving up far more than they know.

Multitasking does not exist


So Don’t even try –

You’re basically short-circuiting your brain’s ability to focus and attend to either (or any) of the tasks you are attempting to do simultaneously (but not) –

You’re actually engaged in ‘serial tasking’

There are designated areas of the brain that do specific things. And, sometimes you can seemingly do two things at once (like walk and talk or chew gum), but that does not translate into multi-tasking, according to neuroscientists –

And in trying to “multi-task” we are likely doing physical damage to ourselves –

I can’t believe I’m saying this: before you were born there was a great deal of value placed on doing one thing at a time and doing it to the best of your ability. When I was in my 20’s, I fell prey to the myth of believing that I could do two (or even three) things at once: I felt powerful, in control and like I had conquered the time-space continuum. I also didn’t learn to establish reasonable boundaries for myself or conserve my energy, so by the time I was 40, I was exhausted and realized the whole notion of do multiple things well at the same time was all an illusion.

There’s a better chance that one could live in two separate dimensions at the same time than do two things at the same time in one dimension. Chew on that for a moment.

Moral of this story: heed the example of your predecessors’ failures (as well as their successes), understand the scientific explanations of how the brain works/processes information, and make good choices so that you don’t burn out in the future (and pass this wisdom on to your students, please). Do one thing at a time, and do it well. Then the dopamine rush will carry you on to the next task, and the next, and the next.

Live long and prosper, my friends.









Other References  – from Cognitive Processes Course @ VT

Junco, R. (2012). In-class multitasking and academic performance. Computers in Human Behavior28(6), 2236-2243. VText*

Sana, F., Weston, T., & Cepeda, N. J. (2013). Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education62, 24-31.

Carrier, L. M., Rosen, L. D., Cheever, N. A., & Lim, A. F. (2015). Causes, effects, and practicalities of everyday multitasking. Developmental Review35, 64-78. VText*

*you will need to be logged in to the VT Network in order to access these documents via the link provided.

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