Category Archives: Education

Cultivating Humanity: a Value Re-boot

Now half way the first academic semester, I’m reaching the end of the course I’m teaching on Sociology of Development. Where the concept of development and changing patterns in society are being explored from different angles. We have just started with the part where we creatively think about different futures. Yes, plural! because that is one of the main messages of this course, social change is about the pluralities of futures, we deal with a lot of the “what if’s”…and we have choices, we are agents of change and can choose wisely.

I named one of the themes the course deals with “Cultivating Humanity: a value re-boot”. The title of this particular theme was inspired by Martha Nussbaum‘s notion of  “Cultivating Humanity” and the unique challenges we as human beings face in our contemporary realities.

Martha Nussbaum

 Cultivating humanity: 3 capabilities

Nussbaum herself, a philosopher, delved into what it means to be human during different times in history and focuses on the meaning of humanity and its challenges in the 21st century, she explores the (crucial) role education plays in cultivating “humanity” and in specific the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. The roots of the notion of cultivating humanity stems from the stoic philosopher Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD). Seneca contemplates the capacities that makes us, according to him, human beings. Cultivating Humanity is seen through Seneca’s eyes as a true civilization project. Both philosophers -the classical Seneca and the more contemporary Nussbaum- explore what the particular role of education is in contributing to the ideal of humanity. In Seneca’s vision liberal education plays a crucial role, it not only helps to cultivate individuals with the capacity of critical self-reflection, but most importantly, with a “sense of belonging” to something larger than ourselves. Nussbaum, from a more humanistic liberalism perspective, weaves further on this notion and translates these “required” capacities in 3 golden capabilities for what is needed to become a true citizen of the world:

  1. Sympathetic imagination/empathy
  2. The Critical examination of one self/reflection
  3. The authentic feeling of belonging to humanity/solidarity.

The following short film entitled “Page 23” was made during The 48 hour Film Project 2011 in Utrecht. The film captured my attention as it radically contrasts Nussbaum’s capabilities for the cultivation of humanity. Page 23 not only refers to a page in the well known catalog of the Swedish IKEA, but illustrates the perpetual hedonistic emptiness of trying to buy life-fulfillment, the consuming of life. Relationships are shallow and individuals are being portrayed here as replaceable, just as products in the catalog.

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Awakening the Digital Imagination: Virtual Worlds #nmfs_f11

After participating successfully this summer in the Digital Methods summer school “Big Data”  in Amsterdam at the University of Amsterdam (UVA) lead by professor Richard Rogers and his wonderful team (a post on the theme and the experience will follow soon), I’m so excited to continue digging the theme of New Media in interesting and innovative ways…

This fall I’m participating in another innovative seminar #nmfs_f11. I was invited by one of the organizers of one of the groups, Liz Dorland from Washington University to participate this fall in the Virtual Worlds New Media Faculty Staff Seminar 2011. This seminar is very special since it not only contributes to the exploration of fundamental themes in new media but we translate the discussions and findings in the context of education: what implications do these developments have on education. I’m loving the readings, the syllabus for this course is The New Media Reader, by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. This collection of timeless essays is very popular and an often used reference work, for it lays the history, developments and applications in the field of new media. Since I live in Aruba, it would be geographically impossible for me to leave the island and my work behind for a whole semester in order to follow the seminar, but my SL avatar nadiagabriela kroll will “teleport” (I’ve always wanted to do what that verb implies) weekly to meetings at the NMFS campus, in the beautiful park Ars Simulacra under the starry sky, sit around a campfire and interact with interesting individuals from different countries on interesting topics. I hope to write more on some of the topics. The first topic I’ve experienced with the group is on Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics and Licklider’s Man-Computer Symbiosis.

The #nmfs_f11 is a networked seminar. The seminar is being held in different groups in the United States. The seminar is the idea of Gardner Campbell who works at Virginia Tech. Our group is special because we meet in Second Life, making it possible for people like me -who live abroad- to participate. Here you can read more on the background and logistics of #nmfs_f11 and especially on our specific group. We also have a blog were participants can post their thoughts on the topics and the questions that emerge from the interactions. All the blogposts, links and tweets from the other groups will be sindicated in a sort of mothership blogroll by professor Campbell.

I’ve missed the first two sessions, but I’m getting on track with the readings of these and I can’t wait for the next meeting. I also look forward for the keynote we will have in SL on october the 10th of Howard Gardner, known for his theories on multiply intelligences.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Liz, for her passion that is contagious, her patience in teaching me some basic skills in SL (I’m kind of a late adopter of SL) and for giving me the chance to experience this great journey where I learn and connect with others. I know Liz from twitter and I follow her interesting curated page on Visualization in Science and Education

I see a lot of opportunities for Aruban students and my colleagues at the University of Aruba in Virtual Worlds. Teleporting is ideal for islands 😀

around the campfire @Ars Simulacra

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Goodbye Perfectionism! ‘not perfect’ is the new black (part 3 of 3)

This post is a reflection (part 3 of 3) on my participation in the course entitled ‘Transforming education for the 21st century’ .

After the classes Tito gave at the UA, I asked myself, why is it that I love to write, but sometimes have difficulty posting on my blog. The answer is: the sometimes agonizing believe that ‘it isn’t good enough’ to post yet that scares away all the inspirational creative energy I have. The underlying message is here: everything is good enough. The fear of not being good enough to go public (internet is a public place) paralyzes creation. Tito taught us that participation and trying  new things is better than having everything in a perfect way. For instance, when designing courses with the help of technology, the fear of  not doing it right away, can stop you of trying. I want to refer to my first post in this series of reflection on the course: Transforming education for the 21st century. I wrote that the education system has to be fluid, our minds and hearts have to be fluid, in order to create space for learning. This space will give the process of learning the freedom for it to emerge in its own unique way. Fluidity, self-adaptable, everything is just perfect as it is…

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A little on Technology, a lot on Pedagogy (part 2 of 3)

This post is a reflection (part 2 of 3) on my participation in the course entitled ‘Transforming education for the 21st century’ .
The course has been going on for three days already. I will first sum up all the applications we have used during  this course (this is the technology review) in order to get that out of my internal hard drive (brains) 😀

With professor Tito Melendez; Transforming Education for the 21st century

We started by creating concept maps with ; This application is very user-friendly and in my experience it can capture the inituitive aspect of our brains very well, when our brains start their spectacular reasoning and creative thinking process. I myself, are accustumed with mindmapping applications such as mindjet (not free) and mindmeister (free) and once I tried freemind (free) but found it not really user-friendly. But since mindmapping starts with a central concept as departure, gives you freedom to start with several concepts and relations emerge in their own pace. So I loved that, my mind is always a myrad of associations. So what then do I experience as user-friendlieness?  I experience user-friendlieness as the degree to which technology can mirror natural human behaviour. In other words what you would do inituively can be manifested without technological barierrs of the application (in other words, the application doesn’t interupt the natural flow of natural human behaviour).

We learned to work with a leaning management system (LMS). The course was focussed on Edu 2.0 is an open-source LMS, compabarable to and blackboard (commercial). edu 2.0 rocks! I love the rubrics you can make as a teacher to grade your assignments etc. The University of Aruba (UA) is contemplating the LMS issue for a while already, we are still in the progress of deciding which type of LMS will suit the UA better, since we are a small university. As a student I have experienced the workings of Blackboard during my whole student carreer. I have so say all the open-source versions you have available do the ‘magic’, even better than blackboard. The whole concept of open-source appeals to me. Open-source is the future! It is based on reciprocity, collaboration and open access to learning for everybody. The fact that ‘we’ all are responsible for the workings of the system, makes the system one that is in ongoing progress (constant flow of feedback and self-organization based on a non-profit aim).

We learned to translate other Web 2.0 tools in the classroom setting (blogs, wikis, digital conference, video-making,  etc). For me the added-value was when Tito taught us how to use these in a pedagogical way. I really enjoyed the dynamic collision between technology and course content. I’m looking forward to implement more tools in the classroom.

I’m used at building wikis to support my classes (e.g.  Critical Literacies and Caribbean Sociology), but I’ve always had the impression that my students didn’t really understand the ‘collaboration’ opportunities that the wiki platform had to offer. As a teacher you need to explain the added-value of the technological application to the students and let them experience this. Next time I will  incorporate this opportunity and skill more explicitly in my courses.

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Welcome to the liquid 21st century (part 1 of 3)

This post is a reflection (part 1 of 3) on my participation in the course entitled ‘Transforming education for the 21st century’ .

Light shades in the Aula of the University of Aruba: All that is solid melts into air, or becomes liquid

Most of the teachers at the University of Aruba were invited to participate in the above mentioned course. We are honored to have dr. Juan Melendez, who is a full professor at the Department of Art, Technology and Innovation at the College of Education in the Rio Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico. What an excitement, this time I get to be the student. (okay in a formal way. that’s the beauty of being a teacher, you are always a lifelong student 😀 with major responsibilities).

I have to say, I was a bit skeptical in the beginning (now I feel what my students feel at the beginning of each course). I had mixed expectations, I hoped this course was not meant for people who are new to the discovery of the so-called wonders of technology. I hoped deep in my heart that this course would be on education, more than on the wonders technology can bring in the classroom. And I was blessed,  the first thing  Tito (Juan told us to call him Tito) told us was that this course is about education , and to be more concrete: on the transition of education as a practice of the 20th century reality to the 21st century realities. And that is not a typo, as a child of post-modernism, I want to underline that: ‘realities’. I was relieved 😀  (first lesson: aligning expectations at the beginning of a course, gives peace to the student’s heart and makes room in their mind for openness to the new, teacher and student clear together assumptions out of the air!) Tito cleared all the assumptions and readjusted all the expectations at the beginning of the class.

The first half of the first day was a philosophical dialogue on the practice of education and its role in the 21st century. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I’ve been contemplating this subject for a while already as a teacher of new literacies, but what really deepened the experience is having this conversation with my colleagues for the first time. (second lesson: we as teachers have to keep coming together to have conversations about things that matter). I learned so much of the way my peers view this transition. I want to share this video by Sir Ken Robinson. He talks about changing paradigms in education. He has really inspire me in seeing education not as one-size fits it all practice:

In my opinion the education system has to be a place that provides space for learning. Unique individuals have unique ways of learning. Technology as a tool provides diversity as a platform for learning, the teacher as facilitator navigates together with the students, the real explorers. New skills required for the 21st century are: attention (this has become a commodity), authentic participation and collaboration. Learning is no longer an individual process, but a social process catalyzed by reciprocity.  The education system of the 21st century is fluid, not solid. It has to be adaptable for and emerging from the needs of the students and the 21st century. I chose the above picture I took once in the Aula of the University of Aruba because of its symbolism. The solid glass window becomes fluid when struck by sunbeams. The fluid light-shades symbolizes the emerging natural process of learning.

Click on the concept map to view how I played with the concepts of education, learning and technology.

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The red pill, the humanization process and critical literacy

Morpheus explains in the movie ” The Matrix” (1999) to Neo by means of the analogy of the blue & the red pill what it means to be critical literate. He says to Neo:

“You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes”

take the red or the blue pill?

In a way ‘Morpheus’ (in Greek mythology: the God of dreams, he who shapes, the molder, the fashioner) plays an archetypal prophetic role, he starts explaining to ‘Neo’ (meaning: the new, a new form or a revival of  an old one, but also to spin, to interweave) what it means to ‘awaken’  from the dream, the illusion or what he refers to in the film as the enslavery of the Matrix.
To me, this scene describes in a fictional way the start of the process Paulo Freire calls the humanization process. Freire describes this process in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (first published in 1970) as one where “men and women develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality but as a reality in the process of transformation“.
What makes us humans, is our essence to give meaning to our existence in the broadest sense of the word. We are meaning makers and meaning generators. When we forget, or are not conscious of this fundamental notion of being an active agent in giving meaning to our reality, we ‘dehumanize’, in terms of Freire. We become enslaved by the Matrix, in terms of above mentioned fiction, The Matrix, would then be in terms of Freire the dehumanization process. Freire explains what this is and how this contrasts with the above explained humanization process by using the metaphor of the banking concept. Meaning is being here deposit to us in our minds, we are in this process passive consumers of ideas of others, we don’t question, we just accept. In a way Morpheus is reminding Neo of his ability to shape his reality, to be the creator of his own transformation. This awakenings-process Neo goes through is what transforms the old form in the new form (the symbolic meaning of his name).
Freire says that in order to humanize, we have to be conscious of how ideologies are reproduced in society, how power is played and maintained by means of the ‘word’ . One essential element of his pedagogy of liberation is that we have to be aware that we “read the world by reading the word”. When we become aware of this we enter the realm of critical literacy. This is an ongoing  state and an important way to put our humanization process in practice. We begin to embrace our human capabilities. We approach the ‘word’ as vessel where meaning has been deposit into. We take a critical approach to the ‘how’, the ‘why’ and the more discursive ‘what’ that words carry. No wonder Morpheus and morphology (the study of the word) have a common etymological origin. “The one who shapes”, the meaning generating power of words. The mediation of experience happens in the conscious act of choosing the right words. For ages, we have been enslaved (using the terminology of Morpheus) by this Matrix: Ongoing critical literacy as a human empowering  process sets us free.
I invite you to join me in my journey through the rabbit hole, it feels like taking a plunge into the unknown, but it’s safe: I carry a flashlight with me!
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