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A sensible approach to learning environments.

A sensible approach to learning environments.

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  • 1. A PANOPTICAL BLINK OVER OUR PROGRAM An afternoon with Mauricio Aldana
  • 2. A SORT OF INTRODUCTION “ Remember jigsaw puzzles: They are much easier when you an see the whole picture first.” Gordon Dryder This paper will attempt to lay an improved approach to our professional context based on a palette of theories from different fields which represent a segment of the way I apprehend our changing reality. I found a really interesting set of overlapping theories that provide a refreshing view to our context. I made use of , The Polysystem Theory, Neuroscience, Multiple Intelligences Theory, the concept of habitus of Pierre Bourdieu, the Semiosphere of Juri Lotman, and, finally, the approach that creates a solid bedrock for my interpretation; the Hierarchy of Needs described by Abraham Maslow.
  • 3. By now, you will know you are about to read a non-linear paper due to the intrinsic structure of this sort of panoptical view derived from a varied range of scientific and epistemological lenses. From the vantage point provided by this eclectic method, it is easier to identify how the different elements that configure our system are interdependent. By considering the most important variables for the dynamic of our program, we can design better tools and behaviors in order to meet our personal and professional expectations. I hope you are willing to play the academic ride I created. I took it my own way and I invite you to do so. By the end, I think you will be able to identify a series of behaviors that can modify, in a positive way, the usual dynamic of the system we are part of. You are free to go over this paper in the order you feel convenient. By the end, all the elements will reveal its internal non-linear structure.
  • 4. POLYSYSTEMS IN OUR CONTEXT 5 and 6 Even Zohar is a well-known researcher of culture who has worked in the creation of epistemological tools to describe the dynamic of social systems. His fundamental work is described in the book “Polysystem Theory” where he explains how Classical Structuralism failed to illustrate the synchronic phenomena that affect any social system. While Structuralism advocated the existence of an independent deep structure, Zohar made evident that there is a constant interplay between the center and the periphery. In other words, the former plateau known as deep structure lost its independence due to the constant movement of the subsystems that compose it. There is an undeniable interdependency of the subsystems that constitute the dynamic parts of a polysystem. The well-being of the polysystem depends on the inclusion of the peripheral aspects that were once either ignored or neglected. This systemic approach validates the way each constituent element of a given system triggers its internal dynamic. By extrapolating that approach to our professional context, it is uncomplicated to identify the elements that constitute the peripheral aspects that create the dynamic of the program. If any of these elements is left behind, the whole system suffers the consequences of neglection. But which are those elements, you might be wandering.
  • 5. Well, we have, in no particular order, the teachers, the students, the administrative staff, the general services staff, and the security staff. The relevance or irrelevance of an element should not be taken for granted . Once we considered how these elements create the dynamic of the system, we can understand the level of interdepence that they have. The implicit problem of specialization is that it restricts the possibilities of a better study of its totality and the way it is affected by the subsystems that structure it. If we fail to understand this situation, the whole evolution of the program is put to the test. In my opinion, we should stress the social net that structures our program. A constant feedback loop should exist in order to keep the system going into higher orders of complexity. For that excellent plateau of communication to happen, the relationships among all members should be strengthened. It is my belief that if we pay close attention to this point, the efficiency of the system will be more evident.
  • 6. PIERRE BOURDIEU AND OUR CONTEXT 2 and 3 “ The source of historical action, that of the artist, the scientist, or the member of government just as much as that of the worker or the petty civil servant, is not an active subject confronting society as if that society were an object constituted externally. The source resides neither in consciousness nor in things but in the relationship between two stages of the social, that is, between the history objectified in things, in the form of institutions, and in the history incarnated in bodies, in the form of that system of enduring dispositions which I call habitus.” From the beautifully illustrated extract presented above, one can help but marvel at the impressive approached devised by Bourdieu. It is evident that the interdependence of elements in a system is what dynamizes its evolution. The interaction among the individuals who share a specific context keeps the strutucture flexible and growing. The clearer the feedback loop, the healthier the system.
  • 7. From the interaction between the individual and the social net where he belongs, a series of behavioral patterns is created. These patterns manifest themselves in every social interchange. When there is any kind of disruption in this interaction, the quality of communication makes it difficult to generate the free flow of information that prevents the system from falling apart. Bourdieu makes it clear for all members of a given context that by creating better communication webs, a steady feeling of positive transformation is at hand. If teachers, students and managers resolve to improve the different channels of communication, the objectives can be met by the majority of people since the possible obstacles in the form of misunderstandings are minimized.
  • 8. SEMIOSPHERE IN OUR CONTEXT 9 According to Lotman’s historical and epistemological approach, we are living in the postmodern semiotic space. This idea was a product of the observation of the dynamics of the ecosystems. They way they are structured, the way they evolve, the way they are interdependently structured and the role entropy plays in the constant movement of the system into higher levels of complexity. Lotman concluded that a parallel dynamic can be found in the sphere of human communication. He coined the term “semiosphere” to describe the way discourses interact, how these discourses obey to specific local management systems and how they are part an ongoing heterglossia.
  • 9. From this perspective, every single human being represents a specific semiotic niche that has been configured by the number and quality of discourses he has been subject to. We all share at least one general niche; otherwise, it would be impossible to celebrate social contracts. The constant interaction among social niches is what constitutes the semiosphere. What is important about this view is that the existence of a system depends on the social niches, the individual niches and vice versa. You are the one whom I call you and I am the one for whom you are you. Depending on our intellectual curiosity, our semiotic niche allows us to make more assertive remarks. I think we have an excellent pool of teachers and managers who have their personal niche. The idea is to improve the way we relate to one another in order to maximize the general accomplishments of the program
  • 10. SELF-ORGANIZING SOCIAL SYSTEMS AND OUR CONTEXT 12 "All groups of people self-organize. The possibilities are limited only by the integrative abilities of the members.” Ilya Prigogine made his way to the Science Hall of Fame for this description of dissipative structures in the area of thermodynamics. Basically, he described the behavior of systems on the edge of chaos. Former scientists used to despise entropy as decay, a transitive condition of a system that leads to its obliteration. Prigogine decided against accepting this description and created a new approach where entropy, instead of serving as the tool for destruction, takes a relevant role in the evolution of the system into higher orders of complexity. Prigogine described a very interesting dynamic that prevents a system from falling apart into chaos. In order to keep annihilation at bay, every system should have some degree of order. This order should be flexible enough to allow the free flow of information that keeps the system integrated with the changing conditions of its environment.
  • 11. Extrapolating this situation to our context, it is easy to perceive that in order to keep our program healthy, we should embrace a whole set of theories from different fields. By doing so, we are going to be better prepared to respond to the changing conditions of the social systems. In our changing times, we should favor a more systemic approach where different formulations are taken into account in order to increase the adaptability of the program. By having the ability to integrate the conclusions reached by diverse disciplines, the evolution of the program into higher orders of success and accomplishment is guaranteed. One of the most important characteristics a manager or supervisor should have is that of fostering and encouraging the use of a systemic approach where a feedback loop of communication provides the necessary tools to identify target areas to be worked on.
  • 12. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND OUR CONTEXT 8 “ Until now, the term intelligence has been largely limited to linguistic and logical capacities, although (as I've argued) humans can process other elements as diverse as the contents of space, music, or their own and others' psyches. Like the elastic band, conceptions of intelligence need to encompass these diverse contents--and stretch even more. We must move beyond solving existing problems and look more at the capacities of human beings to fashion products (like works of art, scientific experiments, classroom lessons, organization plans) that draw on one or more intelligences.” Gardner, Howard (1999) One of the most important aspects of multiple intelligences is that of empathy. By having the ability to really perceive what another person is going through, one has the privilege to exercise our influence. If one’s personal interests point towards a set of objectives shared by a community, the positive influence over others will create what is known as synergy. This particular state is the one we should pursue in order to achieve higher and higher goals. It is important to mention that Gardner typified this particular intrapersonal ability as emotional sensitivity, and recognized the undeniable importance it has when it comes to improving the quality of the feedback loop that should exist in any social system.
  • 13. AN ECCLECTIC APPROACH TO OUR CONTEXT 10 “ A faculty gets smarter and better at its tasks by systematically collecting feedback, reflecting on it, and using the resulting understanding to enact next cycles of work.” Theodore Marchese It does not take a rocket scientist to understand we are living a very hectic stage in human evolution. Our responsability as teachers is to keep up to date with the rapid changes that are taking place in the semiosphere and are transforming the way we percieve reality. This exponential growth is an undeniable fact; however, it is not sensible to try to hold back as if we were trying to stay in the present epsitemological and ontological womb. We are supposed to be contemporary with our present to prevent us from becoming obsolete. Every one of us was endowed with the most complex configuration in the known universe: the human brain. Current studies in Neuroscience have been able to partially describe the way our brains work. From these studies, it has been possible to determine different variables that are present in the learning process. Previous theories have either become obsolete or have evolved into more complex systems. Learning, as currently stated by neuroscientist, is a whole person-whole brain activity. This plural activity represents the unity of body, mind and brain. Any element that affects the harmony in this system affects the totality.
  • 14. Neuroscientist have arrived to a series of enlightening conclusions that, if taken into account, can improve the way we develop our work: Body, mind, and brain exist in dynamic unity; Our brain is a social brain; the search for meaning is innate. The brain establishes meaning through patterning. Emotions are crucial to patterning. Emotional well-being is essential to intellectual functioning, indeed to survival. Learning involves conscious and unconscious processes. Complex learning is enhanced by challenge, inhibited by threat. Every brain is uniquely organized, with resulting differences of talent and preference. What I like about these findings is that by adopting theories from different fields we can approach every single element described above.
  • 15. MASLOW’S HIERARQHY OF NEEDS IN OUR CONTEXT 11
    • One theory I find particularly useful when it comes to improving the well-being of any social system is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This theory describes important features in personal experience that lead to the enhancement of any system as a whole. Maslow designed a hierarchy of five basic needs organized in a bottom up fashion. This specific organization has a remarkable sequential logic; once the first need is fulfilled, an individual can move to the second and not the other way around.
    • The basic needs described by Maslow are:
    • Physiological needs
    • Safety needs
    • Social needs
    • Esteem needs
    • Self-actualization needs
    • What I pretend to do now is describing the original elements he included in each need and the way they are connected with our work.
  • 16. The physiological needs refer to the satisfaction of our biological needs such as food, water, sleep, exercise and so on. I think we have no major problems when it comes to this stage. Anyway, I think the programs designed to ensure the physical well-being of our staff can be enhanced by having mandatory check-ups to prevent absenteeism due to physical ailments. The workshops designed to minimize work-related ailments should be developed more often and carried out more effectively. The safety needs refer to physical safety, economic security, protection, stability and so on. By providing a welcoming, non-threatening environment which fulfills the characteristics described above, the individual won’t feel alienated and will be able to focus his energy on happily accomplishing the objectives he is expected to.
  • 17. The social needs refer to the feedback loop of love, affection and belongingness that should exist in an effective and harmonious social system. I think we need to fortify this stage by strengthening the social dynamic present in our program. We should feel we are part of community with common objectives. We should understand that by improving the communication channels, we will be able to better the health of the program. We should have the possibility of being part of successful teams where our professional objectives and the program objective can meet in the same ground. I have been able to become a better professional by working with like-minded co-workers like Carlos Celis and Carolina Rodriguez. By allowing teachers organize their own work teams, the results of our finding will benefit in a higher degree the quality of our program.
  • 18. The esteem needs refer to the sense of achievement, status, responsibility, recognition, reputation and so on. We should feel we are part of an important project where are work is fully recognized. Sometimes I feel there is too much stress on the negative things that happen inside the program and the positive things are left behind. The feedback we receive from the work we have done has a sort of impersonal fashion that can be considered disencouraging. By organizing like-minded teams and creating a better channel to share our findings, we can improve the quality of this stage. We should feel that what we do in the area of professional development has a real purpose and has an evident reward in the form of recognition. We should consider the performance evaluation is not a coercive tool to make teachers feel they are on the spot, but a tool that can help us achieve higher level of excellence.
  • 19. The self-actualization needs refer to personal growth, self-fulfillment, creativity, opportunity for self-development and so on. This is the stage I like the most because it allows individuals to answer their calling. Once you have identified the way want to you relate to the semiosphere, the social context in which you are is going to be positively influenced by your findings. Somehow I can be considered a right-brained person whose approach to reality has some specific characteristics that are not as linear as the ones most people have, but it does not mean I can not provide important feedback on subjects I care about. This paper is just an example of it. Considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be an excellent strategy to improve the way our program works. It provides not only good pointers on management but also on teaching by considering the human being as a fully functional unity whose full development depends on the harmony of his needs.
  • 20. This humanistic approach allows each member of the program to become a self-actualized individual. By establishing this kind of flexible stability in the dynamic of our program, we will be able to generate higher levels of quality, accomplishment, effectiveness where everybody will feel proud of and satisfied with belonging to a community project.
  • 21. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1.Barsade, S. (1998). The ripple effect: Emotional contagion in groups (Working paper ). New Haven, CT: Yale University School of Management. 2.Bourdieu, P.(1990). In Other Words. Essays Toward a Reflexive Sociology EE.UU Stanford University Press 3.Bourdieu,P. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice . England: Cambridge University Press. 4.Dryden, G. (1999). The Learning Revolution. In http://www.thelearningweb.net/page011summ.html 5.Even-Zohar, I. (1979). Polysystem Theory .In Poetics Today 1(1-2, Autumn) pp. 287-310. 6.Even-Zohar, I. (1997). Factors and Dependencies in Culture: A Revised Draft for Polysystem Culture Research .In Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée XXIV(1, March), pp. 15-34. 7.Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century , New York: Basic Books. Chapter 12 from Intelligence Reframed . 8.Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence . New York: Bantam. 9.Lotman, J. (1990). Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture . (Translated by Ann Shukman, introduction by Umberto Eco.) London & New York: I. B. Tauris & Co Ltd.
  • 22. 10. Marchese, T. The New Conversations About Learning: Insights from Neuroscience and Antropology, Cognitive Science and Workplace Studies. In http://www.newhorizons.org/lifelong/higher_ed/marchese.htm 11.Maslow, A. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. In http://www.advancedhiring.com/docs/theory_of_human_motivation.pdf 12.Prigogine, I; Stengers, I. (1984). Order out of chaos: man’s new dialog with nature. Toronto: Bantam Books. 13.Wechsler, D. (1940). Non-intellective factors in general intelligence. Psychological Bulletin, 37, 444-445.