Culture

Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.           ~Albert Camus

 

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Concrete Jungle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wrote this blog a few weeks ago but didn’t publish it for some reason I can’t even remember, the top of culture came up again as discussed the book “Radical Pedagogy” by Mark Bracher. Bracher skilfully explored identity in his text, but I realized that I had to also read the book within context, as some of his examples may only be applicable to the “western” school system.

I believe that many in our society recognizes, and sometimes would advocate for the preservation of ones’ “culture”, and from personal experience, these same folks would seldom feel comfortable sharing a brief history about their “culture”. It is argued that Culture is a defining feature of a person’s identity, contributing to how they see themselves and the groups with which they identify, yet it baffles me as to why people would be more apt to talk about their ethnicity rather than culture.

Quite often, Society – “groups of interacting organisms” and Ethnicity – “the identity of groups based on shared characteristics such as language, culture, history or geographic origin”, is used interchangeably for culture to address group/personality identity questions. There is no simple/defining answer to the question, “What is Culture?” in fact, I’m talking about culture from a “behavioral scientific perspective, which see culture has the full range of learned human behavior patterns.

What is quite common today in our society is a multi-ethnic culture that comprises varying numbers of subcultures; just take a look at the Canadian foreign affairs website, though its definition of culture is broad; it gives a great sense of being a part of something grander, what I consider to be the formation of culture/subculture.

Is culture important?

I sat in a presentation for the Support Group for students of African Descent at MSVU, last month, and realized that the classroom was indeed like a mini “UN meeting”, as it had representation from all around the world, yet we don’t see any evidence of these rich cultures on our campus, even during African Heritage Month. What was quite evident, to me, is a group of people who have given up their “ethnic culture” to either create a new culture or to adapt the identity of the dominant culture.

We discussed, in a previous class, that culture is a way of life and that it is important in that it ties people of a region or community together and it also acts as a system of social control, wherein people shape their standards and behaviour. It is also through cultural values that a community gets an identity of its own. So why does culture matter? It makes each of us unique yet on our own we can’t create culture. (Elder-vas, 2012, p.54) argued that culture is produced by norm circles, and that culture and normativity are one and the same.

Let’s put it into context

WHY? Because the dominant cultures are written about, researched, reported on, you got the idea, it is however important to note this is practice is common in most cultures. In identifying the importance of one’s culture I can hear the cries of many writers, like SARA, to be heard and not have to be put into context to accommodate the less dominant cultures/sub-cultures.

More often what happens is a “US vs. THEM” when it we have to put things into context, as it requires the other party to find a similar norm/s to gain a better perspective of the situation. Lewis, (p.19) argues that “our previous values and unshakeable core beliefs take a battering when we venture abroad”, Lewis, (p.22) and pointed out that “our perception of reality may be assisted if we can wear someone else’s shoes for a moment”.

Lewis, (p.53) points out that “The worldviews held by different cultures vary widely, as do a multiplicity of concepts that constitute and represent a variegated outlook of the nature of reality… he used as an e.g. Time, in the western Hemisphere, the US & Mexico employ time in such diametrically opposing manners that it causes intense friction between the two peoples”.

Cultures change?                                

“Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.”                                                                                                             — Confucius

 

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Maasai Warrior calls home on his cellphone

Most of us are aware that “times have changed,” especially when we compare our lives with those of our parents/children. Some changes I found to be most obvious, would be changes in women’s roles, globalization and changes in technology. But such culture change is not unusual.

An article by Pearson higher education pointed out that “When you examine the history of a society, it is obvious that its culture has changed over time. Some of the shared behaviors and ideas that were common at one time are modified or replaced at another time. That is why, in describing a culture, it is important to understand that a description pertains to a particular time period.

I believe that it is this change in culture, with its two-fold effect, has been effective in creating a new culture/subculture. On the positive side, as people move around the world they exchange/trade ideas, knowledge, customs, etc that should allow both parties to benefit, on the other hand the issues of Ethnocentrism, racism, etc develops.

Most researchers recognize the damaging effects that the issues of ethnocentrism, racism, etc can bring to a culture and would advocate for the preservation of that culture, for example, African Heritage Month. It was quite evident to me and many other MSVU Students of African Descent, that our understanding of African culture was not the same.

The article by Pearson higher education also pointed out that “Cognitive anthropologists are most likely to say that culture refers to rules and ideas behind behavior, and therefore that culture resides in people’s heads.” A statement I don’t entirely agree with and will explain why shortly, but instead would advocate somewhat for culture preservation.

I’ve had many personal conversations with international students, students of African descent and Native/First Nations here at MSVU and have heard this time and time again, and it matters not if the student was native to Nova Scotia or from a different country, they are expected to be ambassadors for their ethnic group and be ready and willing to answer when asked about things “Native” or “African”, you get the point.

My convection for the recognition of the changes in culture is personal, but I’m also reminded that no one culture is better than the other, but has the ability to, especially in education, transfer/share unique skills and knowledge that would benefit all.

Reference

Lewis, R. (2006). When Cultures Collide. LEADING ACROSS CULTURES , 18-54. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_change http://anthro.palomar.edu/change/change_2.htm http://www.micsem.org/pubs/counselor/frames/cult_lossfr.htm http://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/hip/us/hip_us_pearsonhighered/samplechapter/0205711200.pdf

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What really motivates you?

 “Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.”                                                              

                                                             ― Zig Ziglar

 

For many students, including me, in pursuit of higher education decisions must be made that will alter the course of our lives, one such question for me was whether or not I should go the thesis or project route. A vast majority of you, my classmates, may have already made a decision, or are still have time to make that decision, but I’m just at that point where I must choose.

Many would understand the dilemma I’m in and would understand that the quote by Ziglar above is just not a quote, it’s a reality. The type of motivation I will be describing is not the ones I had while doing my undergraduate or the ones that drives someone to succeed at their job, (take a look at the following YouTube video that provides a brief synopsis about a study on what motivates motivation individuals) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc, the motivation I’ll be talking about was brought to my attention in our last class.

We were asked “What makes you angry?” Our answers were not for a class discussion, and for us to decide whether this thing that angers us is enough to cause us to want to make a change. I can say, and thanks to Scott, that this was probably the first time I’ve looked at motivation from this angle.

Royale Scuderi described six types of motivation in her article that are all so common to us, especially motivation for achievement and Murphy and Alexander notes that the area with the greatest proliferation of categories and subcategories is research on goals and goal orientations. Dan Ariely (TED) made reference to this form of motivation as well and the misconception of people being motivated by financial gains only.

food-drink-business-offices-boss-workers-employees-mbcn384lCoincidentally, I was asked a similar question by Darlene Laurence a few weeks ago, “are students motivated by anything else that to get their degree?” Darleen argued that she believes not all students were motivated by grades and the degree, at that time I disagreed with her based on the numerous personal experiences I had with potential students, my view was that there are probably no student at MSVU taking a degree just for the sake of taking a degree, but have come to realize there are many other factors that could motivate someone for being in school besides “the degree”.

Freud is associated with the idea that human beings have many unconscious motivations that cause them to make important decisions because of these unconscious forces. This unconscious motivation was aroused and as such, motivated me to take action. I believe the motivation was unconscious because I’m now able to reflect on the effects of these unconscious thoughts.

Comparing others position

I realize that it is very difficult to defined unconscious motivation; it is also equally difficult to describe something that you’re unaware of. It is the unconscious desires, instincts, and needs of humans. Some researchers believe that our unconscious motivates only get acted on when we are stressed and anxious (Archard, 1984; Freud, 1961/2004; Reason, 2000). While other researchers believe we have total control over them (Weston, 1999).

According to, Archard & Freud a large amount of human behaviour is stimulated by unconscious motives (e.g. Freud believed that the majority of all human behaviour is a result of their desires, impulses, and memories that had been repressed into an unconscious state). According to Maslow, the average person is more often unconscious than conscious. He believed unconscious motives take central roles in determining the way in which people behave (Archard, 1984).

The idea that human beings are rational and human behaviour is guided by reason is an old one. However, recent research has significantly undermined the idea of homo economicus or of perfect rationality in favour of a more bounded rationality. The field of behavioural economics is particularly concerned with the limits of rationality in economic agents.

What angers me?

Freud believed that different styles of thinking were associated with different levels of consciousness; Freud’s theory was support by research done by Henk, Ruud, & Hans and others.

As I alluded to earlier, and in reference to Royale Scuderi’s six types of motivations for achievement, one would believe that all motivation is triggered by a reward, Freud idea of consciousness presents the idea of intentionality.

I work in an organization that, I believe, unconsciously discriminates against segments of its clientele in many ways, but believes it is providing the best service that caters to the needs of all. Just using one example, I’ve attended numerous workshops on “Diversity Issues” that was sponsored by the university, only to find its being facilitated by someone from the dominant group who really just touch on the surface of the issues that affects minorities.

The idea of what angers me then ask the question “so what are you going to do about it?” for almost a year I’ve been unconsciously doing something about this situation. Some of my ideas have become conscious ones that have yielded great rewards, while others still lingers somewhere in my unconscious mind.

Scott asked us to think of that one thing that makes us angry and fix it, let that issue be a thesis topic; finding out what really makes you angry might have you explore your unconscious mind but in the end it will be worthwhile.

In conclusion, I would like to point your attention to Paulo Freire’s work. Freier stated that poverty and hunger severely affected his ability to learn. This influenced his decision to dedicate his life to improving the lives of the poor: “I didn’t understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t lack of interest. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education. Experience showed me once again the relationship between social class and knowledge” (Freire as quoted in Stevens, 2002).

REFERENCES:

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Debate and/or Discourse?

A few weeks ago a discussion developed on the topic of evolution vs. creation but was quickly diverted to “what constitute a good debate”, since a debate about evolution vs. Creation was aired the previous night on CBC. Within that discussion the issue of debate vs. discourse was discussed and some conclusions were drawn, recommendations were made and a decision to honour discourse as the more mundane method to institute truths was accepted.

In reading this blog, I expect you to bring your own ideas/memories of what a “true” debate or discourse looks like and to be very critical in deciding which of the two methods is likely to produce truths that would create effective change. The aim is not to discredit any method, but to look at them in their context for applicability.

It’s very hard to ignore the truths revealed in a public debate when it is understood that the information is well researched and defended as an idealistic position by an individual, just take a look at the 2007 film “The Great Debaters”, in the film we see that a debate might not always what we envision, my memories of debates would be from high school, in which debates was used to enhance students ability to do public speaking but would seldomly enact the debated facts. Discourse, on the other hand, seems to be the polar opposite of debate in terms of aggression and agreeability, according to our class discussion, but can be very useful method to communicate facts.

I’m going to take you back to a similar situation that might have sparked a discussion on whether debate or discourse was the best method to communicate truth by using the following clip from CBC (Creation vs. Evolution: the debate continues). It somewhat reminded me of our class setting, which was such that neither creation nor evolution was entirely accepted by the class, hence the reason for understanding what a good debate entails.

Debate is described as a broader form, which only examines whether a conclusion is a consequence of premises, and factual argument, which only examines what is or isn’t the imagescase, or rhetoric, which is a technique of persuasion. Though logical consistency, factual accuracy and some degree of emotional appeal to the audience are important elements of the art of persuasion, in debating, one side often prevails over the other side by presenting a superior “context” and/or framework of the issue, which is far more subtle and strategic.

The outcome of a debate depends upon consensus or some formal way of reaching a resolution, rather than the objective facts as such. In a formal debating contest, there are rules for participants to discuss and decide on differences, within a framework defining how they will interact.

”The term discourse describes a formal way of thinking that can be expressed through language, a social boundary that defines what can be said about a specific topic; as Judith Butler said, “the limits of acceptable speech”, the limits of possible truth.”

Where should one stand?

Both debate and discourse has a place and time, and in determining the place and time, I believe one must take into consideration some important factors e.g. culture, images1demographics, politics etc., which might have significant influence on the tone of the conversation. In of itself, discourse is debate according to a Google definition, and henceforth I will spend most of my time on the topic of “Debate”.  Debate, is then a necessary evil in most circumstances and should therefore proceed under a set of predetermined rules surrounding the current circumstance.

Debate is “critical advocacy.” It is advocacy in that the debater must advocate, propose, and defend ideas. It is critical because the debater must not ignore the advocacy of others, but must engage them and use the tools of critical thinking to evaluate the ideas of others. To engage in a debate, I believe that debaters must be open to the ideas of their opponents to further strengthen their arguments.

According to Snider “the use of debating to deal with complex ideas and competing advocacy is emerging as a successful educational tool. While long recognized as an important part of government affairs, academic deliberations, negotiations, philosophy and citizenship, in the United States and around the world the use of open debate as an educational and training tool is increasing.”

Many writers including Snider, advocates for set rules/ general guidelines that must be met in order for a debate to be official; this is slightly different to the procedure endorsed by the House of Congress in the United States where each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, and one that I support.

Within our class discussion, many believed that debaters must come prepared to accept the opponents findings, but Parcher alluded to the fact that “A debate by its very nature is filled with conflicting viewpoints. The participants are forced to deal with a plethora of oppositional facts, research, arguments, perspectives and assumptions.”

Parcher also mentioned that “the debater by definition must listen carefully to her opponent in order to achieve the objective of refutation.” This I believe holds greater merits as it allows the debaters to become versatile in their strategy in debating, and as Ambrose (p195) pointed out “…there is still a question of how well prepared they are to meet the task at hand”,  in reference to evaluating one’s own strength and weakness in preparation for a debate.

Debaters and the act of debating warrants some form of change to its audience, sometimes in small increments other times it seems somewhat instantaneous, just think on the various climate change debates over the last decade or so. Within our context, it is therefore important for adult learners to be aware of this change that occur within the classroom, on our own, we may find the answer to a problem, but debate/collaborating  may provide an alternative to what we already know. We are motivated to know more/ to find alternatives.

Adult education is a great advocate for critical thinking as opposed to regurgitating knowledge, Gokhale states that “Employers value employees who can solve complex problems, communicate effectively, and think critically.” Walker and Warhust (2000) claimed that debates in the classroom have been effective in increasing critical thinking by helping students to connect as they learn subject knowledge.

Thus, I believe that when the opportunity arises, debate/ discourse play a very important role in our efforts to collaborate/formulate knowledge and as such should not be compromised in any way. Now, without a rebuttal, this debate would be incomplete. I do believe that in order to generate new knowledge we must be able to expose what we know and believe, to be contested.

Reference:

Ambrose, S. et al (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Gokhale, A, A (1995). Collaborate learning enhances critical thinking. Journal of       Technology Education. 7(1).

Walker, M. & Warhurst, C. (2000). “In most classes you sit around very quietly at a table   and get lec-tured at…”: Debates, assessment and student learning. Teaching in Higher   Education 5(1). 33-49.

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What you don’t know can hurt you: the role of prior applicable knowledge

When my son was just two years old he considered any shape with four sides to be a square and any shape that looks like an “O” was called a circle, he was not only confident of his answers, but looked for a reward for getting it “right”. As parents, we just wanted to encourage him to keep thinking about shapes and hoped that he’d see the difference soon enough. His perception of shapes was quickly changed during playing, when his knowledge of shapes needed to be applied.

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Who decides what valuable knowledge is?

The idea that knowledge has value is ancient. In the 1st century AD, Juvenal (55-130) stated “All wish to know but none wish to pay the price. In 1775, Samuel Johnson wrote: “All knowledge is, of itself of some value.”  Not undermining the value of knowledge, Albert Einstein found that “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

In understanding the value in knowledge we must also know that not all knowledge is good/useful and necessary, and as developed by Frederick Taylor, the theory of scientific management, which ensures that economic efficiency was of paramount importance and was maintained, we see that knowledge can indeed be useless, and sometimes just not needed.

Another important concept put forward by Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed describes banking education as “fundamentally narrative (in) character”, p.57, with the teacher as the Subject (that is, the active participant) and the students as passive objects.”

Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits.

Education is thus seen as a process of depositing knowledge into passive students. Teachers are the epistemological authority in this system; students’ pre-existing knowledge is ignored, aside from what was expected to be ‘deposited’ into them earlier.

These theories all have one thing in common; that I believe might even be common in most societies today, a system deciding what knowledge is useful, what knowledge is needed or what knowledge is good. With this standard in mind, one cannot independently generate new knowledge, to be implemented into our society, without the systems’ consent.

 The importance of prior knowledge

Consider what happens when children learn about fractions for the first time. Many children have trouble accepting the fact that one-fourth is larger than one-eighth because according to their previous knowledge, eight is larger than four (Natl. Research Council, p.15). In chapter 1 of How learning works, Ambrose, et al discussed the importance of teachers to recognize that students bring with them prior knowledge acquired naturally through daily life activities or in prior courses they have studied. The authors when on discussing the relevancy of the prior knowledge the student might bring.

Serious misconceptions/ inaccurate understanding of key principles can affect what the student learns next, as in the example above, a student knows that 2<1, but if you add that 1 above the 2 (1/2) it suddenly becomes less than 1. Ambrose et al emphasized the importance of connecting the prior knowledge with new knowledge in order for effective learning to take place.

In his report Robert J. Marzano said “…although it is true that the extent to which students will learn this new content is dependent on factors such as the skill of the teacher, the interest of the student, and the complexity of the content, the research literature supports one compelling fact: what students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they will learn new information relative to the content.” Ambrose et al emphasized the importance of connecting the prior knowledge with the new knowledge in order for effective learning to take place.

I believe the importance lies in skilfully leading a student to access prior knowledge and to show the important connection of gaining new knowledge for future use. In the case of my son, well, let’s just say that he figured out that a rectangle, diamond and a square are different shapes and are generally used for different reasons. Teaching him where these shapes can be used has created a learning opportunity for “Lego Building”.

Reference:

Freire, P. (1986). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

National Research Council. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School.
Washington: Natl. Acad., 2000.

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Is shared intentionality reserved only for humans?

Shared intentionality, sometimes called ‘we’ intentionality, refers to collaborative interactions in which participants share psychological states with one another (Gilbert, 1989; Searle, 1995; Tuomela, 1995). The term also implies that the collaborators’ psychological processes are jointly directed at something and take place within a joint attentional frame (Hurford 2007: 320, Tomasello et al. 2005).

Pet lovers will be, and for obvious reasons, in opposition to this theory, as it also suggests that though animals are smart enough to perform many tasks, they are unable to collaborate within a joint attentional frame.

Please see the following link: Dogs communicating that their intentions are not aggression but play – a form of metacommunication.

In the study of the mental capacities of animals, research has examined animal cognition in mammals (especially primates, cetaceans, elephants, dogs, cats, horses, raccoons and rodents), birds (including parrots, corvids and pigeons), reptiles (lizards and snakes), fish and invertebrates (including cephalopods, spiders and insects).

The behavior of non-human animals has captivated human imagination from antiquity, and over the centuries many writers have speculated about the animal mind, or its absence, as Descartes would have it. Speculation about animal intelligence gradually yielded to scientific study after Darwin placed humans and animals on a continuum, although Darwin’s largely anecdotal approach to the topic would not pass scientific muster later on”.

Many would readily challenge the concept of shared intentionality, whether or not they’re animal lovers or pay that close attention to what animals do or how they communicate, but it is important to understand how Tomasello and others came to their conclusion that to be a part of the shared intentional club you must be human.

We understood, from our last class, that Tomasello did many tests/research to come to his conclusion and did welcome feedback from credible researchers, but many in our class applied practicality and our knowledge of the world around us, to ensue a somewhat credible discussion. There’re some obvious questions to ask about Tomasello’s proposal, namely: are we the only ones capable of knowingly work together to achieve a set goal? Are we able/capable of understanding the intentions of other animals or their shared intentions without triggering or manipulating their environment?

According to one of Tomasello’s experiment “At 14 months of age for example, human children are able to successfully pass an object-choice task. In this task, children are presented with two upside-down buckets, one of which contains a toy, and the experimenter points toward the bucket where the toy is hidden. The child then turns to the right bucket and retrieves the toy. Although this task may appear simple, it is remarkable that chimpanzees fail it. In contrast to children, they fail to see the pointing gesture as a relevant cooperative signal within a shared attentional frame. Instead chimpanzees seem to think something along the lines of: “‘A bucket. So what? Now where’s the food?’ They do not understand that the pointing is intended to be ‘relevant’ to the searching as a shared activity (see Sperber & Wilson, 1986)” (Tomasello & Carpenter 2007: 122)”.

I like many of you, questioned whether or not the methods used to retrieve data in the above experiment produced accurate results. It’s well-established that living in unchanging, inescapable environments induces boredom in humans, including prisoners who report that they are highly motivated to seek stimulation. “But we cannot rely on verbal self-reports from non-humans, so motivation to obtain general stimulation must form the basis of any objective measure of boredom in animals,” said Prof. Georgia Mason, who holds the Canada Research Chair in animal welfare in Guelph’s Department of Animal and Poultry Science.

Can we then assume that the environment in which these animals are kept/ researched is not their natural environment and hence would influence the results of Tomasello’s experiment? I believe many would agree with me if I recommend that either both subjects be placed in their natural environment or both in their unnatural environment, this, I believe, would provide a definitive explanation for their results.

I’m not advocating for or against the results of Tomasello’s theory, as I’m in no position to determine whether or not the results would change if the subjects were  placed in their natural environment, but would like to know the “what if”. Is it really safe to say that animals cannot intentionally help one another, or work with each other to accomplish a set goal.

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Who are we?

George Santayana is known for the famous saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and above the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado is inscribed, “Who Knows only his own Generation remains always a child.” You see these scholars may have been making these quotes in a different context, but for the purpose of our last class, you can clearly understand the applicability of these quotes.

How did the world come into existence?

What was the past like?

What kind of social activities existed?

What did the people eat, where did they sleep?

What does it means to be “human”?

These were some of the questions that were asked, and I have to say, it reminded me of my Geology 101 class. In a sense I’m really happy to explore the past, it is fascinating, even to a child, hence the reason for shows such as “dinosaur train”, on the other hand, there is a battle to find absolute truth, and to prove once and for all that science, not religion or religion, not science is right.

Taking you back to my first undergraduate degree (Geology), the Prof. walked into the first class and announced that he was atheist and that religion will have a hard time in his class, so according to the theory of transformative learning put forward by Mezirow, I have to say my experience for the next 3 years caused me to think very deeply about our existence as humans and why we are here. So, if I’m a bit bias, please understand my perspective.

What many paleontologists did for us was put prehistoric life into prospective by recreating bones/stones into what they believe the conditions to be at that time; do they get it wrong? Absolutely, we cannot expect them to be 100% sure about the events of the past, though the reports they provide might assume the contrary.

What Tomasello brings to the table, as a developmental psychologist, is the comprehensive study in the area of human cognition and his continuous work in this area of study. This has proven to be a great tool in our last class, as we explored the various time periods and human cognitive capacities.

In “Concepts: Where cognitive science went wrong. Oxford cognitive science series.” Fodor, J., suggests that the heart of a cognitive science is its theory of concepts, and that cognitive scientists have gone badly wrong in many areas because their assumptions about concepts have been seriously mistaken. Fodor argues for an atomistic theory of concepts, and maintains that future work on human cognition should build upon new foundations.

In relation to adult education, what fascinated me most is our ability to, to a certain extent; account for what life must have been in the past, based on the information presented to us. I believe exploring what it means to be human and our origin cannot be done in one class, because of the overwhelming amount of information and research done in this area, I also believe that in order for us to grasp a good sense of which we are a systematical approach must be taken. 

What I took away from our group discussion came in the form of a question we explored, taken into consideration the cogitative abilities of the various time periods we’ve explored, what were some of the things we inherited from then (primates of the various time periods) and what cause them to go extinct. It seemed to me that human kinds tend to adapt themselves to the environment by forming a community/culture.

Looking back at what made and makes species become extinct, we can see the importance of culture to the survival of humans, even though we can become extinct by way of ”natural selection”, many would argue that we can survive without culture, but I believe it is important for meaningful collaboration and the exchange of valid knowledge to develop.

What do you think?

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What is learning, exactly?

Two weeks ago we discussed the concept of learning in our classes, and I was motivated to enquire about “Learning and its’ effect on the brain”, and especially, in relation to adult learning.

We all can agree that learning constitutes some change to the brain, yes, when we learn something, it affects us whether long or short term, our brain decides where the information is stored and for how long.

Hilgard, E., found that “The science of learning remains in a state of flux, in part because we have not yet reached agreement upon the most appropriate concepts to use in stating our problems and in interpreting our data. Learning takes many forms, though most societies create a one-size-fits-all educational system, that starts from as early as preschool, we’ve seen evidence that showed that people learn differently and, hence, be given the opportunity to  be unique.

Like many of you, I find it very difficult to explain subtly and especially in this one case I’ve experienced, to understand how two brothers, identical twins and also inseparable, having being taught in the same environment portrays polar opposite learning capabilities, one, the country’s scholar and the other a high school dropout. Without proper research we will never get close to understanding the learning pattern of an individual, and since the economic cost of individualized learning may very well outweigh the benefits society will receive from an individual, we may never be able to know the “what if”.

I believe it is important for educators to be able to understand the fundamental differences in individual learning styles and to avoid setting standards for learning based on their current environment. In all instances I believe it is also important to consider other factors that might influence learning and teaching.

As I get older the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” seems to be mentioned in my circle more often, maybe some have given up on wanting to learn, but Prof Paula Romano often said, in class, “I’ll stop learning when I die” and hence the reason for this new field of studies “Lifelong Learning”. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Absolutely, but I’m no expert to explain how exactly this works.

The following post by Dr. Pascale Michelon gives a greater insight into how the brain works in relation to learning, most to this information was discussed in our last class, but using the word “plasticity” to explain the moldable characteristic of our brain, gives it clarity.

 “Did you know that when you become an expert in a spe­cific domain, the areas in your brain that deal with this type of skill will grow?

For instance, Lon­don taxi dri­vers have a larger hip­pocam­pus (in the pos­te­rior region) than Lon­don bus dri­vers (Maguire, Wool­lett, Spiers, 2006). Why is that? It is because this region of the hip­pocam­pus is spe­cial­ized in acquir­ing and using com­plex spa­tial infor­ma­tion in order to nav­i­gate effi­ciently. Taxi dri­vers have to nav­i­gate around Lon­don whereas bus dri­vers fol­low a lim­ited set of routes.

Plas­tic­ity can also be observed in the brains of bilin­guals (Mechelli et al., 2004). It looks like learn­ing a sec­ond lan­guage is pos­si­ble through func­tional changes in the brain: the left infe­rior pari­etal cor­tex is larger in bilin­gual brains than in mono­lin­gual brains.

Plas­tic changes also occur in musi­cians brains com­pared to non-musicians. Gaser and Schlaug (2003) com­pared pro­fes­sional musi­cians (who prac­tice at least 1hour per day) to ama­teur musi­cians and non-musicians. They found that gray mat­ter (cor­tex) vol­ume was high­est in pro­fes­sional musi­cians, inter­me­di­ate in ama­teur musi­cians, and low­est in non-musicians in sev­eral brain areas involved in play­ing music: motor regions, ante­rior supe­rior pari­etal areas and infe­rior tem­po­ral areas.

Finally, Dra­gan­ski and col­leagues (2006) recently showed that exten­sive learn­ing of abstract infor­ma­tion can also trig­ger some plas­tic changes in the brain. They imaged the brains of Ger­man med­ical stu­dents 3 months before their med­ical exam and right after the exam and com­pared them to brains of stu­dents who were not study­ing for exam at this time. Med­ical stu­dents’ brains showed learning-induced changes in regions of the pari­etal cor­tex as well as in the pos­te­rior hip­pocam­pus. These regions of the brains are known to be involved in memory retrieval and learning.”

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