About a year ago, I undertook a Faculty Development Institute (FDI) course on Strategies for Mindful Learning that planted the seed for my current project using Google Glass. With the fall 2013 semester approaching, I decided to revisit Ellen Langer’s book entitled The Power of Mindful Learning that accompanied the FDI course in search of mindful learning strategies.
My challenge this coming semester is how to effectively use Glass to augment my seminar on Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development. My initial idea is to record videos that will enable students to follow my thought process in creating the seminar as we go – i.e., to hear me narrate about why I included or excluded certain subjects or material, what advice I was given by mentors/colleagues in the design of the seminar (including, for example, how their facial expressions added weight to the subject matter selected), capturing conversations with guest speakers about what they could cover before they speak in the seminar about a narrower subject matter, etc. The basic idea is to capture the “behind the scenes” aspect of the seminar, which is often where much of my insight and learning occurs.
While the students will not have access to the Glass device, I will challenge them to capture in a blog post (or something similar) how they approached an assignment and what ideas/thoughts came to their mind when crafting their response. The purpose of this reflexive writing is to help students better understand their perspective on the subject matter and provide me with some insight into their frames of reference.
As Langer (1997, p. 138) writes, “When we are mindful, we recognize that the way in which we tend to construct our world is only one construction among many.” For me, this sentence captures the essence of what Langer is writing about. Being mindful is about being open to new information and to new ways of thinking or categorizing information, and recognizing that multiple perspectives are possible. As I reread Langer’s text, it reminded me of a productive interaction I once held with Peter Söderbaum about his notion of Positional Analysis (PA) and the importance of conditional conclusions. Any conclusion (or policy, strategy, program, etc.) is conditional in relation to the ideological orientation (i.e., perspective) from which it is considered. Put simply, a conclusion may look promising from one perspective, but have major drawbacks when considered from a different perspective. Peter’s idea is to promote learning by recognizing that there is no best or optional solution, but rather a range of solutions that look quite different depending on one’s ideological orientation.
My challenge this fall will be to mindfully explore with students one of the most important and complex subjects facing humanity – sustainable development. Langer’s strategies to promote mindful learning will surely assist in this task. One of the first discussions I will have with students will consider how our automatic organization of perception/information (see Langer 1997, p. 103) may limit our ability to see potential solutions to the problems we face. [I will also link this discussion to the problem of source amnesia (see Langer 1997, p. 86).] One could argue that our need to simplify or box issues into silos results in the single-purpose design of policies that fail to comprehensively address unsustainable development. In response to this challenge, Nicholas Ashford and I have called for the multi-purpose design of policies that integrate issues such as industrial policy, meaningful employment, environmental protection, competiveness, and trade initiatives into long-lasting sustainable development. It will be interesting to see whether adopting a mindful learning strategy throughout the semester will lead to new insights that can help advance sustainable development. I’m looking forward to the possibilities. In the words of Langer (1997, p. 5), “Everything is the same until it is not.”