- A question: Is this mindfulness as I know it?
- A class I’ve just started: Communicating Science
These two things were on my mind because I have quite a bit of experience with the concepts of mindfulness from practicing yoga in some capacity for the last 14 years of my life and because the course, which first met on Thursday, actively asked us to be mindful of our bodies, thoughts, and feelings during class.
The way mindfulness is being employed in Communicating Science (coincidentally, the third class of the same certificate I’ve been blogging in classes for so far) is certainly mindfulness as I know it. It is taking stock of your condition mentally and physically to engage fully in the activities of the class. This was facilitated in our first meeting by writing out these checks on an index card throughout class when we did new activities and when we were informed we’d be on the spot to speak to the whole class about our research. I found this application of mindfulness in a learning environment very pleasant and helpful, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on whether this application of mindfulness fits into the concept of mindful learning discussed in our readings.
I think that what Langer and the others mean by “mindful learning” was a bit different, but fits well with mindfulness as I know it. The idea of mindfulness in learning here is, essentially, enhancing the learning experience by stimulating questioning. In many of Langer’s studies, the research team sought to avoid absolutes and encourage students to actively consider “exceptions to the rules” in the content they were consuming.
The herbivory example, block quoted below, stuck with me because this is so common in biology. I recall in Comparative Chordate Anatomy in undergrad (a ridiculously fun class) we talked about mammalian vertebral counts, and a statement along the lines of ‘almost all mammals have 7 cervical vertebrae’ grabbed my attention. I immediately wanted to know which ones DON’T have seven, and can say with some considerable certainty that most of them have 7 years later (yes, this includes humans AND giraffes). This certainty of a possibly hard to remember little fact becomes much simpler because of manatees flooping about with only 6 and sloths not being able to make up their minds for the world on how many they should have.
So mindfulness in a learning environment seems to be managing the environment so that curiosity is roused.
“Facts are typically presented as closed packages, without attention to perspective. Scientists know that research results in findings that are probably true given the context in which the work was tested (e.g., most of the time, under the stated circumstances, horses are herbivorous). When these findings are reported by teachers or in textbooks, they are translated from probabilities into absolute statements (e.g., horses are herbivorous) that hide the uncertainty.”
– Langer, E.J. 2000. “Mindful Learning.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 220–223. (JSTOR link above)