Week 5: The VT Graduate Honor System, Part II

I really liked The Lab: Interactive Movie on Research Misconduct. It’s an interesting experience to see the same situation from different perspectives. And as for each person, there are a number of factors that interplay affecting  how they understand and react to the situations.

Another very interesting point is that the interactive video helps you understand the consequences of EACH choice along the way.  I appreciated the fact that Lab is not just “black and white”, showing that many times, even the right path is difficult to identify. Often, even with the best of intentions and sincerely seeking to do the right thing, it is not so clear which way to go.

I also like the fact that the video reinforces the importance of doing the best possible, according to the highest consciousness that it is possible to have at that moment – and not trying to find the easy shortcut.

It was a good learning experience for me. If only we could have second chances to change our choices like this in real life! 😉


Week 4: The VT Graduate Honors System, Part I

According to the VT Graduate Honor System webpage, one of the fundamental beliefs underlying and reflected in the Code is that “to trust in a person is a positive force in making a person worthy of trust”. For me, it seems to be the strongest motivation behind a person’s behavior. In other words, more than a system for punishing and correcting students’ behavior, the Honor System is meant to be an inspiring and purposeful commitment for people intending to be and behave at their highest standard.

Steve Wolk from Oberlin College discusses several aspects linked to the history and philosophy behind Honor Systems at Universities. The author brings fundamental aspects such the expectation of an “honorable behavior”, the fact that Honor Systems put full responsibility for academic integrity on students and the extent that the honor system has the potential to be an integral part of campus identity.

Wolk (2015) opens a discussion about an interesting topic as well: how the idea of cheating and plagiarism change in a culture that is shifting increasingly toward student collaboration? The author suggest that we could make advantages of that apparent contradiction to “talk about the value of collaboration in scholarly work is to engage our students in the heart of how knowledge is created” and move the discussion of the Honor Code towards a “more engaging conversation about epistemology, creativity, and the values of collaboration”. Another interesting idea proposed by Wolk (2015) in the blog is about universities adopting Honor Codes is completely student-run – he adds a good example coming from Haverford.

The RSA animate video “The (honest) truth about dishonest” (below) brings a very interesting talk from Dan Ariely. In the talk, the author recognize two conflicting motivations in people: we want to be seen and recognized as good people, but at the same time, we may be tempted to make advantage of small cheating. Our flexible cognitive psychology and the process of rationalization allows us to create very elaborate self-justifications and ‘reconcile’ these two contradictory motivations. The author states the grand majority of cheating is done by ‘good people’, and in small amounts. Several situations help to create a feeling that small cheating is not really cheating etc.

Ariely’s research (2012) found that one good strategy for fighting this effect would be taking the rationalization down, by reminding people of values, honors, responsibility, and trust. Those reminders would help by make us more alert in supervising ourselves and being “more thoughtful of our own actions”. Other important aspect for strategies in this field would include opportunities for people to “open a new page”: recognize their mistakes, assume the responsibilities, and “clean” the situations, so they can see themselves as good people again and tend to consciously seek for the honest attitudes. The author suggest the importance of changing the incentive structure (Ariely, 2012).

Those aspects reflect very well the importance of maintaining honors systems at Universities and striving to create student-led initiatives linked to the honor system.

Week 3: Defining Ethics & Integrity (Social Sciences)

This week, I was reflecting about the question: What is Ethics in the Social Sciences? Reading the Guidelines for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences, Law and the Humanities, several points got my attention:

The idea that researchers shall ensure their “willingness to accept their own fallibility”. In his book Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future, Edgar Morin (1999) states that:

Everything we know is subject to error and illusion. The greatest error would be to underestimate the problem of error, the greatest illusion to underestimate the problem of illusion. (…) Knowledge is not a mirror of things or of the outside world. (…) Knowledge, being translation and reconstruction, involves interpretation, introducing the risk of error within the subjectivity of the knower, his/her worldview, his/her principles of knowledge. This causes countless errors of conception and ideas that occur despite our rational controls. (Morin, 1999)

The author suggests, “we must recognize the principle of rational uncertainty; if rationality does not maintain constant self-critical vigilance it can turn into rationalizing illusion”.

In the same line, the Guidelines highlight the importance of scientific integrity (since the “ultimate responsibility of research is to seek the truth”), which includes more than ensuring “honest documentation and consistent reasoning regardless of scholars’ theoretical position”. It is also imperative that researchers consider (and be explicit about) how their choice of topics, data sources and possible interpretations are colored by their own attitudes and positions.

Another important aspect to be aware of is the fact that research can disclose underlying power structures, help to “substantiate, disprove or review values, standards and institutions”. Scientific research in Social Sciences is never completely neutral or innocuous. This is why it is important that the researchers develop a “critical consciousness” (Freire, 1970) about the positionality and potential impacts of their project, striving to understand the socio-political context in which the research is embedded and the connections it traces with several stakeholders and audiences.

Ideally, we should work to nurture “a culture based on constructive discourse” around research which would include: ensuring the problems are illuminated from diverse sides; making the material available for verification and use by other researchers; showing willingness to revise opinions in the light of criticism. It seems to be an important goal for universities and programs in the light of the challenges for education and science in the interface with complex real-world problems.

Finally, it is never excessive to emphasize the need for research to respect human dignity in all levels, including among others: protecting privacy and close relationships; respecting values and motives of others; respecting posthumous reputations; ensuring participants are informed about the purpose of the research and about the roles, expectations and responsibilities of each part.

Image: Shutterstock

Week 2: The Purpose of the 21st Century University

Watching the video from the 2013 TIME Summit on Higher Education, one idea called my attention: the importance of universities to become more engaged with their mission regarding the students’ development as a whole. Instead of seeing the students as consumers, Higher Education should weight its important role in shaping the lives of these students in many levels. The proposal is for a much more engaged role to play including an “extreme student-centric approach in governance”.  This is one of my main interests as a scholar: how universities could intentionally embrace and assume their significant role in youth development.  Universities have great potential to constitute positive environments for students’ growth and empowerment, hence the importance of designing the college experience having in mind the perspective of youth development and their needs.

As a global citizen, I understand that universities have an important role also on promoting research, teaching and outreach that advance and support society in changes toward sustainable development. Stephens et al (2008) state that universities may facilitate social changes toward deliberate societal engagement and sustainable practices, since they are strategically positioned to encourage synthesis and integration of different types of knowledge and to enhance the application of knowledge to social change. With the potential to model sustainable practices for society and promote awareness and engagement among students and extended communities, universities may be in the forefront in the process of transition to sustainability.

This is particularly important for land-grant universities, within their mission to contribute to local development and support the community not only in relation to economic development, but also regarding social, cultural and human development as a whole.

Week 1: Getting to Know You

Hello, my name is Najla Mouchrek, I am a PhD candidate in the Individualized Interdisciplinary PhD. This is my 3rd year at Virginia Tech. My research interests are youth development, participatory design and culture of sustainability.

The Virginia Tech Principles of Community embody all the principles I would like to see in an educational institution, but more than that, all the values and practical action I would like to contribute to develop in the world. I truly believe that we live in a very special educational and social environment at VT, one that allows (and encourages) a deep, caring, committed engagement with social change in a way that our research work will actually improve people’s lives.

I look forward to interact with you all in this course. My best,


Dear Dr. Nelson,

The Contemporary Pedagogy course was a great and a very rewarding adventure! The more important aspect for me is that the course created a very strong sense of community – a welcoming place to discuss various themes, to express yourself, to listen to different perspectives and above all, to learn with you, the GEDI knights, and the other students. I am very glad because people here were so diverse – all kinds of diversity, but especially diversity of thought and experiences. At the end, I can say that this course has become for me not only a place of forward-thinking learning, but also a place of confidence and trust.

I really appreciate the thoughtfully curated selection of readings and how the subjects went unfolding – the ‘logical’ chain of development. The main themes that I most enjoyed to learn and work were: Connected learning / presence of technology as a promising resource; Applied learned-centered approaches; Learning as a source of freedom, consciousness and social change.

In my personal journey, the course was really reaffirming and had a great impact, since it has reinforced and grounded in the literature some of my personal beliefs about teaching and learning. I highlight the open and ‘libertarian’ ideas showing that being authentic as a teacher is possible and viable! The pathway we followed encouraged me to pursue my education and my aspiration to be a teacher in the future.

I think I have now more elements to answer the question I had in my very first blog post: What is a meaningful learning? Today, I would answer that a meaningful learning is one that includes mindfulness, diversity (of experience, of thought and of choice), creativity, authentic voices and that offers to the students, at the same time, freedom to walk their own learning path and references to guide them through the way.

Thank you all, Dr. Nelson and colleagues, very much for the opportunity.


social thinking, deep connection, intentionality

In the midst of the discussion about the impacts of the technology-connected life in our ways of thinking and living (we have this week 11 many brilliant insights and thoughts from both sides, negative and positive), I would like to pick up some interesting arguments that point some positive impacts of that transformation.

Clive Thompson think  that, through technology, we are thinking more socially, in a very transformative way: developing the ability to externalize our thoughts and compare them with other people  in a public way (see his interview to NYT). About memory, Thompson states that we are not losing our memories  as
far as we rely on computer and search engines like Google. Otherwise,  he thinks that, also on this matter, it is important to understand that we are social thinkers and memory has always been social – so, in order to remember what is important, we use our social connections. Therefore, nowadays, we still use our friends, partners, co-workers and other people around us – and have the augmented support of the Net and other technological devices.

Other interesting aspect he highlights is about the relationship between digital technologies and our social life: today is more and more possible to know what´s going on on other people lives (and heads!). This is what Thompson calls “ambient awareness”.

In his article “The myth of the Disconnected Life”, Jason Farman shows another very interesting aspect: our mobile devices are being used in complex ways that not only can work to make our thinking and our connections more superficial (as explored by Nicholas Carr), but could also work for the opposite goal: gaining depth and fostering a deeper sense of connection to people and places. Farman gives excellent examples of projects that are working in this way. He makes the point that mobile devices are really good in promoting way of deeper context about a place and its community, besides the deep connection with the people in our lives. I think this is really about be smart to use the technology to enable us to perform some activities, in order to attain goals – but we are still in charge of defining the goals and take care of what we value and how we want to live in regard to our values!

Douglas Rushkoff (in his comments to Carr’s article)  put the question in a pretty straight-forward way:

It’s less a matter of “is this a good thing or a bad thing”—than it is an issue of how conscious we are of each medium’s strengths, and how consciously we move from one to another.

Rushkoff also states the possibility that the presence of the digital media in our lives can be exploited positively,”if we take the time and energy to honestly survey the characteristics and opportunities” it offers. I agree that the medium itself is not negative or positive – and the important is what we are going to do within this medium and with the possibilities it allows. It is a matter of awareness and growing consciousness about it – and learn how to use it more intentionally.

about controversy on Freire’s influence, in Brazil

The readings about Paulo Freire have really been present for me these days. Beyond the great concepts, practices and theories themselves, there are other specific questions that are on my mind — more about the historical, political and economical context in which his ideas have emerged, but especially about the current moment in Brazil and a controversial fact that happened there this year.

During the protests of March 15, 2015 in Brazil (anti-government protests in the streets of several Brazilian capitals, especially coming from middle class following a new-conservative trend), there was a banner reading “No more Marxist indoctrination. Enough of Paulo Freire”. The subject were spread through the social media and networks, with opinions of both sides. Some of the widespread comments were really offensive (a journalist in a mainstream magazine wrote that: “You have to put Paulo Freire in place, which is the dustbin of history”). These are some analysis of brazilian scholars about the controversial issue:

Why Freire’s work is so criticized?

Paulo Freire was the best teacher that denounced the ideological indoctrination in schools. He explains the extent to which education is fraught with ideologies and shows that the best way to handle this is freedom, respect, loyalty, rigor in the studies and encouraging diversity so that students have resources to exercise their intellectual autonomy. So we did not define those sayings as a criticism, it is clear that it is just a prejudice played by people who have not read and do not know his pedagogy. It is not a criticism, but a verbal assault. Most of the time, I see people accusing Paulo Freire to be the exact opposite of what he is! The word “indoctrination” is the exact opposite of the pedagogy of autonomy. It’s what he is most critical of! And the mistake is even greater because Freire’s pedagogy rarely appears in Brazilian schools, which generally still holds firm in authoritarian principles he denounces. In schools that incorporate values ​​such as ethics, solidarity and democratic principles is that we see the presence of Freire. I see that those prejudices are played in a set of influencers with a very aggressive conservative discourse that defends the view that education is a commodity that students are customers and that the school’s goal is to train children for the entrance exam and adapt them for the labor market. Paulo Freire disagrees with that model because it notes that the school has a broader role in order to foster creativity, autonomy, critical and humanization of students.
André Fonseca – interview to Nova Escola magazine – article in portuguese

Professor Paulo Freire is a harbinger of citizenship, human rights and the recovery of identity, ethical and pedagogical project he leaves the story. It is a libertarian, democratic work, which prioritizes dialogue, including accepting the contradictions. This type of event is the result of a thought that does not accept differing opinions, something that the very work of Freire defended. He believed in the contradictory, the counter-opinion, the exchange of experiences with the ideas and ideals of each. A banner like this reflect, at least, ignorance.
Maria Stela Graciani, in interview to Forum magazine – article in portuguese

The current demonstrations against the educator only show that the conservative sectors remain as reactionary as during the dictatorship. And it comes at a time when the political party in power was elected overwhelmingly by the poor citizens. The rejection of Freire, in my view, reveals a pressing issue in our history to recognize or not the people as a subject of rights. One of the most radical and politically advanced points of Freire is the appreciation of culture, memories, values, knowledge, rationality and cultural and intellectual matrices of the people, in opposition to the logic that it was necessary to have the inferiority of one to ensure the domination of others. In education, above all, this implies radical confrontations. There is the idea that “we (educated, rational, conscious) will educate the people”; for Freire it was not educate them, moralize them. He stands for the alternative action: recognize them as subjects of another pedagogy, capable of dealing with these cultures, identities and stories.
Miguel Arroyo, in interview to Educação Integral website – article in portuguese

Just some contextual aspects: It is important to say that the current government, originally from left-wing orientation (that has come to power 13 years ago, carrying strong hope of citizens), have failed with the people who elected them in many aspects — especially in changing its own original purposes towards social and economical justice. Today it is not anymore a real left-wing government. The conservative and liberal side are not satisfied also — and there is a new trend going through ways of really conservative politics on the lawmakers’ side. We have a crescent economical crisis and some sectors are affirming the possibility of impeachment of the president.

conformity vs. freedom | education through the eyes of Paulo Freire

There is no neutral education process.  Education either functions as an instrument which is used to  facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of  the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it  becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and  women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate  in the transformation of their world. Paulo Freire in: ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.

Among the richness of concepts and ideas of Paulo Freire, one has called my attention this week: Education is never neutral nor impartial — it will be used or to foster conformity or to promote freedom.

It is either domesticating or liberating. In its domesticating form, the banking approach is used and it is based on cultural invasion. In the liberating form, educators who are committed to liberating people will work to provide opportunities for students to value  their experience, history and culture in curious, creative and questioning ways, creating / restoring confidence and giving them voice (great explanation found in Margaret Lewitt’s book).

Education is always directive in its attempt to teach students to inhabit a particular mode of agency, enable them to “understand the larger world and one’s role in it in a specific way, define their relationship, if not responsibility, to diverse others, and experience some sort of understanding of a more just, imaginative, and democratic life” (as stated by Henri Giroux on his article on Paulo Freire’s ideas).

Therefore, as a practice for freedom, Education must expand the capacities necessary for human agency. In the words of José Eustáquio Romão (here), the core of Freire’s thought is exactly the dissatisfaction that drives human beings to “be more.”

Consciousness plays an important role, since the Education that liberates the individual must be a conscious act — being aware of the implications of our choices regarding our discourse and our practices on Education; understanding and analyzing the context in which the learning is taking place and the individuals and groups concerned; and finally, creating ways to transcend the dichotomy  that exists between teacher and student.

As teachers, we have the choice to invest in foster conformity or freedom. How could we transform our practices and infusing them with consciousness and promotes agency in both students an teachers?

You may want to check it out a very interesting board on Pinterest about Critical Pedagogy, with some works of Paulo Freire and also from Henri Giroux.

rethinking about concepts and rules in brave spaces

This week’s reading about Inclusive Pedagogy really made me think about the importance of thoughtfully choose and apply concepts in the classroom. I am talking about “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces“, a very honest, mindful and well-constructed essay about the experiences and reflections of Brian Arao and Kristi Clements with facilitation in Diversity and Social Justice learning activities.

First of all, I really appreciate the shift form “safe places” to “brave spaces”, since it is a much more honest approach and could really prepare every actors on the process to deal with the complex situations that could arise in these environments.

After, I want to highlight their approach on “rethinking” the establishment of the common ground rules on these social justice learning environments. Even those rules that seemed more “näive” and well-intentioned could lead to more exclusion and inequality — if they are not subject of a living and thoughtful reflection.

As in other realms, we are so used to talk and apply concepts as if they have truth and authority by themselves and could be useful and positive no matter the context they are applied. Many times, this could be a MAJOR trap and undermine own very sincere attempts to build inclusive environments.

I strongly support the process that Arao and Clements propose as a fundamental step in developing real inclusive learning environments, not only for Social Justice but also for other collaborative subjects. Reflecting on the real meaning (and potential effects!) of the words we use, the hidden bias under the rules we set and how could we set an environment that is collaborative and pull from different perspectives in a positive way –this a challenging but much needed process to go through.