Tuesday, May 7, 2013

That I may serve~

Being a faculty in a university for me rhymes with the single concept of Service.


And, in service I uphold the service to students, university and to the community:

To students: As a faculty member, one embraces the choice to serve the students through inclusive, interested, and engaged pedagogy and involved mentoring. A faculty member is in a unique position to directly influence the future of our world and I uphold the service of allowing, encouraging, and helping growth of students as being the fundamental duty of any faculty member. 

To University: The university environment provides fertile ground for advancement of society and as a faculty member the service definitely includes service to university and its smooth functioning. As I have learnt with my interactions with Graduate Student Assembly at Virginia Tech, luncheons with Board of Visitors and interaction with Dean of Graduate School Dr. DePauw, the university officials and their motivation are quintessential for the university to thrive and create a learning environment. A faculty is obliged to serve the institution that serves, allows, and mentors the faculty itself.

To Community: Community through its million direct and indirect means affects and causes the university environment to exist and thrive. Service to presently existing community is as much as a faculty duty as is preparing the future community. Through her outreach efforts, her modeling of ideals that she upholds and respecting that she also represents the university, the faculty member is responsible for contributing to the society, from which the future springs,  and in where the present resides.

The three virtues that I would strive for as a faculty member wannabe are:


When I ascribe the duty and expectations on (me as) a faculty member to help prepare a sustainable tomorrow, as she serves the present, I fully comprehend the need of the faculty member to be at the leading edge of the latest developments in her field of expertise and interest. And, with this comes the responsibility of staying abreast and aware of latest research, advancement, tools, technologies, and ideas that can help her serve the students, university, and the community better. 
To me faculty member is a lot more than a long standing product and part of a legacy rich institution. She is in charge of being aware of the change, embracing and finding opportunities in change, instead of choosing the state of denial.


To me a faculty member epitomizes the term 'global citizen' and is a person who embraces, values, and respects diversity in all its forms. In doing so she actively models inclusive practices.  In an increasingly globalized economy and with increasing hopes of a truly globalized world, inclusion is an ideal worth striving for. 


A chief difference between an expert, scientist and a faculty member, in my mind, is that latter has strong intentions to disseminate knowledge and understanding. Outreach efforts, engaged pedagogy and mentoring are few very powerful tools through which a faculty member reaches out and participates in dissemination. Being a faculty member to me implies embracing that all sciences and human understanding is our collective property and whenever appropriate, it is faculty duty to disseminate the information and understanding. 

I believe that our society always has had the potential to live outside the very confined walls of awareness and understanding, best described by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in following lines:
"Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward ... into ever-widening thought and action" 

As a faculty member wannabe, I want to participate in building a world that the Rabindranath Tagore's lines above describe.
When I recognize a potential for good, I want to allow the potential bloom. And, this does include guiding it and nurturing it. And, when I see a change that is either inevitable or has potential for good of planet, I will allow the change to be, nurture it and help it be aware of its own value and potential.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Power of Teaching~

Reflecting back on the entire semester of GEDI and PFP classes at VT, I sense that my intention and attitude towards teaching have elevated from the desire to help others (students) find beauty in engineering in a way that I have found, to something even higher. And, that something higher is ineffable enough for me not find a noun suitable for it. I can try adding adjectives to what teaching means to me right now: a purpose for my awareness in this lifetime, something more akin to worship and the journey to higher self.

In My Past-Life

(Pre GEDI and PFP life): I have been a self-studying self-built person for most of my life. Most teachers in my undergraduate education to me were like the priest in a temple/church/mosque/anything-else to whom I pay respect and pretend to listen. My real spiritual development happened outside the holy-moly walls of the pious shrine/building. 

That is how most classes were for me- I attended them (mostly).  I tried not to sleep. I pretended to listen when awake. I tried not to read something else. (Facebook etc were not the thing yet.) I freaking tried all of that above. My real learning happened when I pored into books in my hostel room, in library, in the park, in our athletics stadium.

And, that is exactly the reason why for a long time I have held teaching as a pious profession. My belief has over time reinforced itself with the plethora of note-reading, no-eye-contact-please teachers that I have had. The more my teachers  performed  sadly in their theatrics and interest in teaching, the more convinced I became. 

The reason for this reverse reinforcement was this: It appalled me that the beauty I find in subjects is something that most of my class will probably never experience, because most of them need teachers to show them the beauty. 

So, I would take time and teach my classmates. And, the fire (and the zeal) built on itself.

This Life:

Now I am almost towards the end of this wonderful GEDI and PFP experience. My intention for teaching has risen over the desire to share the beauty as I perceive it to instead waking the genius in my students (and not transferring to them my genius image of the subject.)

I am thrilled. I am inspired. The power of teacher is not only in showing students what the subject is and how freaking exciting and beautiful it can be, but also in awakening the genius in our students. It is in helping them be more self-aware. To help them come vis-a-vis to their self-potential and self-inspirations.

Teachers are powerful. They have this magic wand that they can use to make the future stronger. They instill seeds in their students. (Seeds of what, everyone in the class chooses.) They sit in positions where they can make great service to society as they try to live with high ideals (/model them.) Think Henry L.I.V. Derozio.

Teach, Prey, Love:

In most Indian systems of philosophy the teacher (Guru) is often referred to as a blessing or someone above God. In fact there is a beautiful couplet translated as:

"Guru and God both are hereto whom should I first bow
All glory be unto the gurupath to God who did bestow"

Oh my gawdliness! I can not wait to get the chance for waving my wand in a formal setting! 

Friday, May 3, 2013

PBL: Open ended and close ended~

Having done the PBL and watched the presentations of other groups, I am Thrilled!
Wow! What amazing topics! How amazing ethical, social, financial dilemmas! How very unique structure of the PBLs and layout for assessments. Congrats fellow GEDIs! I am impressed and hopeful that we will all go ahead to become truly the teachers of our students, for our students, and by our students.

Open-ended and Not so open ended PBLs:

I want to broach the topic of PBLs being open ended or close ended. Which is better? Probably this in itself is an open ended question :)
So, I will just focus on what I understood from our presentations (not including the readings) on advantages of both kinds of PBL.

Advantages of Close-ended PBL:
Subjects that need to train students in at least in part finding the right answers can benefit from close-ended PBL. We ofcourse dont want bridges and airplanes with faulty designs. In disciplines where right answer does exist, close ended PBL serve the dual purpose of engaging students through its story and thereby guiding students to arrive at the right answer.
Advantages of Open-ended PBL: 
Oh! And yes when I want to fire students' creative thinking, and imagination, and I want to encourage them to 'push the envelope', of course I will choose an open-ended PBL. Because sorry ma'am and sir, there is no correct answer! It is a continuum with no ends. It is often conflict of interests, ethics, engineering challenges, public welfare, and arts! 
It is beautiful! And we certainly need more of such PBLs in our class rooms!

And, I want to end this blog with the picture below that reinforces the abilities of our students and our future! Great job GEDIs! It was a pleasure to be in same class as you all!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Contemplative Practices Part 3 (Engineering and Science Higher Ed)

Last weekend, we had a wonderful conference at Virginia Tech, 'Contemplative Practices for a Technological Society'. Here is summary of my notes that pertain to including contemplative practices in higher ed (engineering and science only) from that conference:

(Note: I am in process of writing down all my notes from this conference in a separate blog and will share it here in this post, in this space, as soon as it is ready. This conference was indeed an overload of wisdom, precious tools and experiences!  Bliss!)

In Engineering Curricula:

1. Dr. David Levy, Univ. of Washington, of  "You're distracted! This professor can help" fame was one of the invited speakers and panelist for this conference. He is incorporating mindfulness in his students by helping them be more aware of their behaviour and efficiency as they multi-task through a course that he offers.

( Fellow GEDIs, remember the test that Dr. SF made us do in our GEDI class on multi-tasking? 'write series of unusual numbers {subtract 7 from 100 and so on...} and answer questions based on what she was reading at the same time?)

Well, when Dr. Levy realized the subtlety of multi-tasking and task-switching, he plunged into researching ways to increase productivity and wellness as we continue to switch tasks rapidly. He found his answer in using techniques like meditation, being mindful, having more self-awareness. 

He shared his story that when he left his thinking-intensive job and came over to academia, he realized that he was not really thinking deeply, (the way he did in his previous job.) Thereupon, started his journey onto finding task-switching as a challenge and mindfulness as a tool. 

He designed and conducted a study (snapshot on left) that showed subjects were more efficient/productive, less stressed, happier at doing a secretary-sort of high-stress work, which was designed to demand intense task-switching, when they were trained in mindfulness.
Here was a scientific proof for what many people already preached and practiced  Dr. Levy then went ahead and devised a course for helping students become more mindful of their activities. (More about this course, and its story here. It is definitely worth reading + I am ensuring that I do not reiterate what has already been written there, despite being talked about at the coference.) They observed that when people are mindful, they are less likely to be distracted by interrupting emails, focus longer, are happier with their work, and more productive.

2. Dr. Roop Mahajan, Virginia Tech, held out a visionary challenge to engineering education
system. He emphasized on the role that contemplative practices play talked about completely transforming engineering education by offering degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mindfulness, or XYZ engineering and Mindfulness. He took the example of Mechanical Engineering and laid out a curricula for Mechanical Engineering that was actually in compliance with ABET and was flexible to accomodate each student's interest. Wooh! Imagine Department of Civil Engineering and Mindfulness!

He emphasized how companies too realize that there productivity depends a lot on how focussed and well their employees are. He justified that such an engineering degree would be a cutting edge sword for any university that takes the lead and starts offering them.
The discussion then went onto stress that Univs offer experience that MOOCs dont. And, it is high time that mindfulness is added that experience!! 

3. Diann Brei, Design Science, Univ of Michigan: Dr. Diann started with admission that she wears too many hats and believes that she does not practice mindfulness. However, she is convinced that Tree of Contemplative Practices and practice it.
mindfulness is important and has the potential to be very useful for her students, and so she does introduce her students to contemplative practices and infact, one of the assignments they have is to pick one activity from the tree and practice it.
As Program Chair of Design Science centre at University of Michigan, she ensures that mindfulness is practiced in there. 
One extremely striking practice that she talked about and is proud of is bringing in liberal arts and science together. She talked about how every science/engr. based research group under the wing of Design Science has at least one 'arts' graduate student. This has to her experience blown off the perceived limits of creativity and has enriched the experience of everyone in Design Science!

This is all for now! In Part 2, I will share my notes of contemplative practices in higher ed that are not limited to science and engineering!


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wish we had a shout-out forum~

Twitter style or FB style for our PFP class!

Here is a conference/workshop thingy that I found and I want to share with our awesome PFP and GEDI classmates! (Following our energy-filled discussion in last PFP class.)
This workshop also introduces the full-of-mind techniques into and for higher-ed and other professions.


Disclaimer: This is not a blog entry. It is just me shouting-out from my isolated (and connected) satellite tower. The view from here is beautiful btw! (Wherefrom is it not?)