GRAD 5114 – Engaging Mindfulness in Learning Environments

Two main things were on my mind while I read this week’s written works (here’s the link to Langer 2000) and watched Ken Robinson’s TED talk on Mindful Learning throughout this week.

  1. A question: Is this mindfulness as I know it?
  2. A class I’ve just started: Communicating Science

These two things were on my mind because I have quite a bit of experience with the concepts of mindfulness from practicing yoga in some capacity for the last 14 years of my life and because the course, which first met on Thursday, actively asked us to be mindful of our bodies, thoughts, and feelings during class.

In a classic mindfulness activity “paying attention” is taking note of distractions, discomforts, and unrelated thoughts and then letting them go, like watching a passing train.

The way mindfulness is being employed in Communicating Science (coincidentally, the third class of the same certificate I’ve been blogging in classes for so far) is certainly mindfulness as I know it. It is taking stock of your condition mentally and physically to engage fully in the activities of the class. This was facilitated in our first meeting by writing out these checks on an index card throughout class when we did new activities and when we were informed we’d be on the spot to speak to the whole class about our research. I found this application of mindfulness in a learning environment very pleasant and helpful, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on whether this application of mindfulness fits into the concept of mindful learning discussed in our readings.

I think that what Langer and the others mean by “mindful learning” was a bit different, but fits well with mindfulness as I know it. The idea of mindfulness in learning here is, essentially, enhancing the learning experience by stimulating questioning. In many of Langer’s studies, the research team sought to avoid absolutes and encourage students to actively consider “exceptions to the rules” in the content they were consuming.

The herbivory example, block quoted below, stuck with me because this is so common in biology. I recall in Comparative Chordate Anatomy in undergrad (a ridiculously fun class) we talked about mammalian vertebral counts, and a statement along the lines of ‘almost all mammals have 7 cervical vertebrae’ grabbed my attention. I immediately wanted to know which ones DON’T have seven, and can say with some considerable certainty that most of them have 7 years later (yes, this includes humans AND giraffes). This certainty of a possibly hard to remember little fact becomes much simpler because of manatees flooping about with only 6 and sloths not being able to make up their minds for the world on how many they should have.

So mindfulness in a learning environment seems to be managing the environment so that curiosity is roused.

“Facts are typically presented as closed packages, without attention to perspective. Scientists know that research results in findings that are probably true given the context in which the work was tested (e.g., most of the time, under the stated circumstances, horses are herbivorous). When these findings are reported by teachers or in textbooks, they are translated from probabilities into absolute statements (e.g., horses are herbivorous) that hide the uncertainty.”
 – Langer, E.J. 2000. “Mindful Learning.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 220–223. (JSTOR link above)

Grad 5114 – What Should Learning Look like in 2051?

A common element in science fiction / speculative fiction is an advanced form of learning – the matrix has its super fast virtual reality programs and 2001 has a similar accelerated information transfer system which allows David Bowman to have the knowledge of three “modern” (re. 1968) specialists. These advances all speak to what is treated in our readings (look under 9/5) as an obsolete concept of what learning is – per “New Culture”‘s second chapter, “A tale of two cultures”: “The ultimate endpoint of a mechanistic perspective is efficiency: The goal is to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can.” – Thomas & Brown If this is obsolete, what is the new form of advanced learning? If any of the authors we’re reading this week were to write an idealistic novella, novel, short story, &c. set in the future, how would their characters be learning? The year is 2051. Zawadi Bowman (obviously, the future is female but it still has to be as American as possible, so we’re keeping Bowman) is embarking on an Odyssey and she has the experience of . . . what? The focus of our readings is essentially on massive cooperative chatrooms – technologically facilitated places for conversation. Does Zawadi literally have the experiences of 3 or even 3,000 specialists at her neural fingertips? Perhaps she hosts the consciousnesses of a massive diverse team of highly experienced individuals in her bionically modified super-mind. Her strength and general physical rigor along with her own exceptionally varied life experiences and personal perspectives have contributed to her designation as Captain of this cloud. She can delegate subsets of her team of consciousnesses to very dexterous robots when more “hands” are needed on her vessel. The access is what matters. Her education is instantaneous and also the result of many lifetimes of experiences. Oh, and no-longer-baby-Dave is somewhere out there detonating warheads at will and floofing about as a cloud. Is this the future? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ps. Did anyone notice how WoW took heat from Carnes as essentially beer pong but its concept was widely celebrated or it was explicitly celebrated elsewhere in the readings?

GRAD 5114 – Online Presence

Since this is the first post in a series which will run the length of this semester I will start with a short introduction of what Grad 5114 is and why I am writing blogs for it. Grad 5114 is a course called Contemporary Pedagogy which I am taking as part of the “Preparing for the Future Professoriate” certificate I am pursuing along with my masters degree in paleontology. As with the title course of the certificate, this class will utilize blogging to promote communication between the students on the topics we’re discussing. In addition to this, the course presents us the opportunity to put together teaching statements, diversity statements, and other useful pieces of writing for the future when we start to look for employment in academia.

This first week was left very open. Other weeks there will be prompts, but a series of media were provided for this week’s blog entry and next week’s discussion. The theme which stood out to me was use of social media and blogs to promote an online presence as a researcher. I recently joined “science twitter” so this was, of course, at the top of my mind as I read the thoughts of Tim Hitchcock on the social media and blogs and a short list of rules for engaging on the web.

(Additional media provided here and here)

I am, as evidenced by the fact that I joined twitter at all, aware of the outreach potential of social media. It is a very low energy input high potential output way to publicize your work and your field. Twitter gives paleontologists a weekly opportunity to share what’s so cool about our field (the fossils, obviously) through the #FossilFriday hashtag each week. Another area where social media could benefit scientists is in promoting transparency in how research works – what does a scientist do day to day? Letting the non-scientists of the world see us spend days writing – grants, talks, abstracts, papers – provides a window into a part of our job that isn’t discussed widely in press releases on new research. The cover photo is taken at our lab bench, not at our rock-strewn paper-scattered desks.

My non-scientist partner frequently says “science is nothing like I thought it would be in school.” Work-related activities of mine that have elicited this include cleaning the bones of the duck we had for dinner in our kitchen sink and baking volatiles off tin foil in our oven. Our social media allows us to share this experience outside our families by sharing some of the unexpected parts of our job; it lets the world into our actual labs and into other spaces of science, like our kitchens.

Most of my teaching experience has been in a very low-tech environment, so I’ll look forward to seeing what pedagogy-related thoughts my colleagues have. I also look forward to picking up on how to get more utility out of this website and the media it makes available to me in terms of visibility of research and outreach. One measurable outcome: this week got me to finally link my twitter feed up to this website, so feel free to check out my and many other paleontologists’ #FossilFriday from around the world.