Sunday, May 16, 2010

Remember Bucky?




Walking down memory lane makes you stumble on not just your lived life but also, that which is lived by others. Memories of being 18, of yearning for utopia, of being completely and utterly immersed in learning comes flashing back and Buckminster Fuller, the renaissance thinker, designer, innovator, and teacher, is very much part of this. His grand ideas of dome homes around the world may not have taken off the way he envisioned but it surely inspires! He instills play and humor in spaces of living, a rare feat!

Of course what's even more astonishing is how his geodesic design traveled to the most unexpected of places: I encountered the geodesic dome when I was on a work project in Pondicherry, India in 2004 (see pic 1). This "perfect geometric unity" design was used by Aurovilleans, an experimental community to create their space of "sacredness". Be it hippies in Marin, California to refugee camps or UN "tent cities," there's nothing like a loud reminder to us all that ideas get a life of their own once out in the wild!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Much to know about the Dutch!

It's been almost a year since I left New York for the Netherlands. In fact, almost 15 years since I left India for the "West" (San Francisco, New York and Boston...got addicted to paying high taxes but apparently not high enough as I decided after all to come to the Netherlands ;-)

So, what do I know about the Dutch by now? In danger of reinforcing stereotypes n all, I plunge in...

1) They surely love to smoke. Smoking and cycling seem to be the national commuting style, with no helmets on of course. And this picture comes in family size too- often, a couple of babies are packed in at the front and the back to celebrate the economics of cycling!

2) They do love their flowers although admittedly not the flower festival as much...I think they surrendered Keukenhof, their annual flower fest to the tourists, willingly might I add. Why on earth they wonder would they PAY to see flowers? Only the dumb tourists and expats like myself would do something so silly. Of course though they enjoy their flowers up close and personal; they have at least a few vases at home for different kinds of arrangements and for good reason..flowers here are cheap.

3) Believe it or not, the Dutch do go dutch when it comes to paying the bill!

4) If you're around my height then welcome to being the Alice in Wonderland...these guys and gals are some of the tallest in Europe. In fact, recently the campus photographer who came to make brochures of us faculty at Erasmus complained that I was bad for his knees as he had to bend down to take my photos..ah the poor guy..thank god for Dutch health insurance!

5) Biterballen (bitter ball) is the Twinkie of Holland..who knows what the hell is inside it but it sure tastes good! Besides, who wants to live long anyway?

Education today: Head in the sand?


In another recent book chapter, Global Education Greenhouse: Constructing and Organizing online Global knowledge, Karen and I delve into the possibility of online collaboration in the makings of global knowledge. We were really astounded by how insular our educational systems are in spite of so much talk on globalization! While companies are merging and partnerships across industries are happening across borders that were unthinkable even a decade ago, somehow our educational system continues to be very "local"...very nationalistic.

How do we make education globally relevant and applicable? Can we inspire students to think transnationally and cross-culturally? How is global thinking related to innovation?

We basically acknowledge that there is a crisis in our current educational system as we are poorly preparing our students for this global era. Tye states that "global awareness will become the first new basic skill of the twenty-first century, as computer literacy has so rapidly become a basic skill in the final decades of the twentieth century.” So true.

So Global Education Greenhouse (GEG) is one attempt to address this need - basically a portal or Google of curriculum if you may across cultures and nations. This is based on Karen's prior work on connecting cultures through online learning in her peace diaries initiative. After all, isn't it time we start to look at what's around us?

Plagiarism: Moral hazards or strategies for the 21st century?


My book chapter/ case study on academic plagiarism just recently came out - "Copycats of the Central Himalayas: Learning in the age of Information."

Basically, I spent about 8 months in Almora, a rur-town in Central Himalayas, investigating what people do with the Internet. Given that cybercafes had sprung up relatively recently, I volunteered to work for one in exchange of playing witness to internet usage. It was amazing as I really actually pictured people to be using it for the usual browsing and entertainment oriented stuff. Instead, I became an active accomplice to plagiarism by college students - open, active, ingenious plagiarism! Of course as soon as one says "plagiarism," academics and others get all hassled about it, frothing in the mouth about it immorality, the decline of this generation and more. Rather than focus on the "pathological" reasons why students do what they do, I thought it would be worth stopping and asking how on earth did these students learn to do what they do! To know where to look, how to look, how to assemble information strategically and create an entire thesis out of other people's material is a talent in itself..not trying to glorify plagiarism but am trying to emphasize the "learnings" that go on with new technology which begs us to question what is learning in this day and age!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Queens day: Happy cows are here again!

Will power...what a burden! We sweat the small stuff a lot. We have to constantly exercise our Will to abstain from that extra slice of pie, from being "uncool" by wanting to stay home on a Saturday night watching Youtube, or just calling home to check in. Individualism can suck sometimes. Blame is rarely distributed. There's a reason why we say "exercise" your will...it's pure and simple work. Sometimes, however, society orchestrates an opportunity to take a break. And BREAK it is!
Queens day in the Netherlands is one such moment in time! Thousands of people blind you with their orange glory as they sweep through Amsterdam. High on pot, techno and a vague reminder of being Dutch AND low on foot-estate, the mob has come to celebrate their Queen Beatrix and her conveniently timed birthday. (although born on January 31, the weather and her highness pushes this date to May 30th, allowing for orange neon bikinis, rave street parties and blood sporting bargaining at the freemarket!).

People have little choice but to be cattled around. And in that haze of second hand smoke, an idea dawns...cows have it good.

There's a reason they look so blissful. Someone is exercising their Will for them! Isn't that part of the appeal of voluntarily joining a mob of pushing and shoving people moving aimlessly around the city, (in)voluntarily subjected to a random set of sensory overload all in the name of the Queen? For a change, we have a legitimate excuse to let go of our Will.

Will is willingly let go of...moo to the queen!