Call me Researchishmael

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

Having watched a recent film adaptation of a legendary Moby Dick  (“In the Heart of the Sea” by Ron Howard), I was absolutely awestruck with the twisted plot and a nail biting atmosphere of the film.

Saying that I was amazed and gripped till the very end of the film – is to say nothing. Except that in this story I didn’t see the adventure of a whaling ship… What I saw in the film was a perfect allusion to an everyday life of an academic.

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image source: pinterest.com

But what does a whaling ship have to do with academics? Who plays the role of a White Whale in this academic mise en scène? 

Apparently, the White Whale in this story is, of course, the R-E-S-E-A-R-C-H  itself. A colossal Leviathan, who, the academics, or, in this regard, the whalemen, are aspiring to catch and eviscerate.

Having equipped themselves with the necessary cordage and secure invincible vessel (which in the context of academics, is, of course, a professional literature review, nice conceptual framework and well-formulated research questions), our academics are getting ready to hunt and conquer this Monster.

It is important to bear in mind the fact, that hunting the White While is a very, very, serious undertaking. Thus, we should not underestimate the role of a crew – academics around you, whalemen like you, searching for the answer in the eyes of the Leviathan. Never forget about the power of interdependence, which was bequeathed to us by Dewey (1966) in another book, not about whales (paradoxically). If you get on well with your crew members, the chances are you can beat the White Whale together, in case your conceptual framework (or, sail) does not work well, or has some holes inside it. Having another academic’s back can bring other alternatives of conceptual framework useful to your study; in turn, your framework can help another fellow hunter, and so on. This cooperation finally can lead all the hunters to the right place.

BUT  you shouldn’t relax. Once you find the secret location  where the White Whale resides, you should make sure your harpoon is sharp enough to spear the Beast. In this vein, academics are strongly recommended to have really cogent and well-articulated arguments to get the answer to their research questions, otherwise, all the adventure is doomed from the start. Nevertheless, even if you have the best equipment and quick mind, there is still a jeopardy of not finding YOUR White Whale. Sometimes it happens that the Whale is already conquered by another hunter, just because he or she was luckier than you and could be ahead of time (implying that the research has already been conducted, and been sent to press to the very influential journal with a really high impact factor).

So, time is also an important ingredient in this academic enterprise. In the film, it took about two years for the whalemen to conduct their “hunting”. Nevertheless, don’t be fooled – sometimes, (**Spoiler Alert!**) the research may take years of unproductive, exhausting sailing, at the same time relentlessly taking your spare time, your sleep, your friends, and your good looks without any silver lining prognosis. Sometimes, the hunting may maroon you in the middle of nowhere place with an unpleasant name “No significant difference was found”, turning your whole adventure into a (tragi-?) comedy.

But what distinguishes a true and brave whaleman from an ordinary academic, is that nothing will stop a true academic from the pursue of adventure for a really Big Fish, for an ideal White Whale; instead, like in the film, the true adventure-seekers with a strong faith in their Research won’t be intimidated by bad weather conditions, or by the possibility of failure. A crybaby on a boat – is an omen. What you can do is to take the sharpest harpoon, construct the best vessel resistant to any sort of stress, and take the most faithful members into the crew (and some coffee, probably). All in all, the journey should be fun, and only the belief in oneself (and a nice APA formatting, of course) can attract the incredible White Whale .

“Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.”
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

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image source: pinterest.com

 

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Scent and sensibility: boost your cognitive performance!

“For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they couldn’t escape scent. For scent was a brother of breath <…> He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.” 

― Patrick SüskindPerfume: The Story of a Murderer

The warm scent of mother’s cinnamon rolls, the tender smell of a 2-year old niece, fresh odor of spring flowers, the smell of a new library book, or, probably the languid scent of Saint Laurent perfume – what is the fragrance of your life? As a matter of fact, smell is not only about sensing the world around you through your nostrils, nor it is about the latest fashionable redolent fragrances. Surprisingly, but smell can also serve as a huge weapon to manipulate our feelings, memory and cognitive abilities.

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Image source: http://i.timeout.ru/pix/resize/345/841/708×460.jpeg

Remember, how the smell of childhood toy can trigger the early memories, which you thought are long since fell into Oblivion? This happens because of the olfactory bulb, which belongs to the part of brain closely associated with memory and feeling so as it is even called the “emotional brain”. The olfactory bulb has close access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. And due to this function smells can call up the memories almost instantly (Dowdey, n.d.).

Apart from keeping the brightest memories in our brain, smells can boost our cognitive functioning, which is a really groundbreaking fact.  According to the enquiry of Hulshof (2013), individuals with a high education level comparing with those of low and medium education level tend to show better scores on a detail-oriented cognitive task in a meeting room aromatized with a stimulating scent. Therefore, what scents can provoke our brain work more productively? As Hulshof (2013) suggests, the scent of a peppermint had a huge stimulating effect on the brain alertness and concentration, also “Moss et al. (2008) and Raudenbosch et al. (2009) found that peppermint enhanced memory (p. 50)” (as cited in Hulshof, 2013). As Degel and Köster (1999) reveal in their study, the odors of lavender and cloves also bear an effect on three cognitive skills, such as memory, affective reaction and mood of college students. As the findings show, the odor of lavender diffused for1 week throughout the laboratory facilitated the productivity of students and boosted their mood, whereas the odor of clove only made them feel agitated and decreased their willingness to return back to the laboratory. Therefore, researchers came to the conclusion that lavender odor is physiologically relaxing, moreover, has a great impact on memory capacity and brain efficiency. Furthermore, Brooks (2012) in her study outlines the positive effect of rosemary odor on cognitive performance, more specifically, its impact on the way students handle the mental arithmetic task – as research shows, it improved significantly; thus, teachers of math should immediately take advantage of this research!

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Image source: weheartit.com

As for other teachers, I highly recommend you to use nice odors of peppermint or lavender (or any other redolent scents) during your lessons, so it would not only boost the mood of your students, but your lessons would be associated with something pleasant and the knowledge you give would be kept in their memory forever (until the first quiz, at least ;)).

References

Brooks, M. (2012). Scent of rosemary may boost cognitive performance. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/759506

Degel, J., & Köster, E. P. (1999). Odors: implicit memory and performance effects. Chemical Senses24(3), 317-325. Retrieved from http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/14/4/525.full.pdf+html

Dowdey, S. (n.d.). How smell works. Retrieved from health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/smell3.htm

Hulshof, B. (2013). The influence of colour and scent on people’s mood and cognitive performance in meeting rooms. Retrieved from http://essay.utwente.nl/63446/1/Hulshof_Bart_-s_1128353_scriptie.pdf

Ethnocentrism in education: to be or not to be?

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(photo by the author)

“Hey there. No sleep? Guess what I’m doing?” – It was my friend texting me from the US at late night. “No idea,” – I mumbled to myself and immediately received another message. “No classes today for me, since I am celebrating Shavuot!” Needless to imagine my face when I was reading this message: a Kazakh guy celebrating Jewish Holiday? Though, he quickly retorted: “Take it easy! Now I celebrate holidays of different religions as long as my professors give me a day-off!”

It turned out that my friend had such wonderful professors, who really respected the cultures of their students and even gave them day-off’s according to their national or cultural holidays and every time in order to get more sleep he pretended to be Jewish/Hindu/Christian/Buddhist/Muslim. As for me, I was like both totally thrilled from such a respectful attitude from the professors and angry at my friend (so reckless!). Later on, it made me think that unfortunately, such a piety to cultural beliefs is not a common thing to see in other universities around the world. Some universities don’t consider your culture or your national holidays and, moreover, think that it is their business to impose their own cultural traditions and standards. Thus, today we’re going to discuss this delicate, yet, important issue as ethnocentrism in comparative education and the possible ways of elucidating this problem.

Since we are living in the time of globalization, it is assumed that all the people should strive to the one heterogeneous and diverse society, free from the stereotypes and segregation. As Rotuno-Johnson (2010) points out, a democratic society’s cornerstone feature is pluralism, or, the difference, which we have to embrace in order to evolve as a better society. However, this idea stumbles upon such bane as “ethnocentrism”, making some social groups look down at other ones somewhat different from them, which serves as an epitome of XXI century world’s greatest fallacies.

The term “ethnocentrism” was defined by a sociologist William Sumner (1906) as following: “Ethnocentrism is the technical name for this view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it” (p. 13). In a nutshell, ethnocentrism is characterized by the inclination of one social group to see their culture superior to another, thereby imposing their own standards upon other indigenous societies.

Ebullient ethnocentrism nowadays is on no account only our hurdle. For good or ill, most people are prone to be ethnocentric, and usually it ends up blaming everything abroad and approving everything “home-made”, or vice versa. And the field of education is no exception, since developing countries are still looking up to get the diploma from a developed country, regardless of the quality of the university. The only fact that they have “American”, “British” or “French” diploma makes them feel  superior to their peers from their home countries, though it is not always reasonable. Since if all countries adopt one particular education system without taking into consideration their own culture beliefs and traditions, what will be left? It is like taking out all the species from the meal – bland and boring; so we should strive to maintain the balance between keeping our own ethnic beliefs in education and adopting modern methods from other progressive countries.

So, are there any ways to conquer ethnocentrism and personal bias? As Bereday (1961) put it, it is merely impossible, though we can minimize it. Fortunately, there is yet no common cultural denominator according to which the educational aspirations of different cultures could be accurately judged. Each country still has its own bond of particular criteria according to which they are capable to gauge foreign experiences and decide whether it is applicable for them or not.

To crown it all, although ethnocentrism is a rudiment in the modern world, one must remember, that discrimination should always take place within the globalized world of mixed cultures, though it should exist in a way better meaning. As Rüsen (2014) proposes, one should check every culture and tradition in order to make sure it contributes to the welfare of their own indigenous culture, and whether both cultures may profit from such a intertwining. All in all, we have to embrace cultural pluralism in order to become more broad-minded for the sake of the development of education.

References

Bereday, G. Z. (1961). Comparative education and ethnocentrism. International Review of Education7(1), 24-34.

Rotuno-Johnson, R. (2010). Democracy and Special Education Inclusion.

Rüsen, J. (2004). How to Overcome Ethnocentrism: Approaches to a Culture of Recognition by History in the Twenty‐First Century1. History and Theory43(4), 118-129.

Sumner, W. G. (1906). Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. Ginn.

The 10 weirdest things that have happened in TED Talks

TED Blog

Many unusual things have happened on the TED stage over the years. Our incredible speakers have done everything from perform magic tricks to attempt to set themselves on fire, all in the name of spreading their ideas. Although far from a complete list, here are some of the weirdest TED moments that we still haven’t stopped puzzling over. To many more in 2015.

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1. Hans Rosling: data genius and… sword swallower? He’s given 10 TED talks about global progress, so we thought we had seen everything Hans Rosling was capable of. But at TED 2007, we learned that Rosling had a few tricks left up his sleeve. In this talk, he presented new data about developing nations with his usual enthusiasm and awesome graphics … but then things took a turn. At the 17-minute mark, Rosling unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a sequined tank top. He said to an off-stage…

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Synesthesia Superpower – Embrace it!

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What color is letter “A” in your mind? How does green color sound in your head? – Are you able to answer these questions without hesitation?


So, if the letter A in your head is of a red color, or purple, or even white as snow and if green color sounds like the growl of a dog or like a heartbeat or if it doesn’t sound anyhow but smells like grandmamma’s baked bread, congratulations, you are a synesthete!

What does it mean? Don’t worry, synesthesia nor is the name of a sect, neither it is a new crossfit movement. Basically, synesthesia is a superpower ability to perceive the world through various senses. It is a condition, when the stimulation of one sense may arouse other senses at once due to the neuro-connectivity increase (Nunn, et al., 2002). That is, when figures, dates, sentences or music transform into personalities, colors or smells or anything else in your mind involuntarily. Literally, when you can feel the taste of Homer’s “Illiad” or the smell of the “Yellow Submarine” by Beatles in your head.

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The most popular synesthesia type is assumed to be coloured hearing, when sounds and music are perceived as colors. That is why, many famous musicians are appeared to be synesthetes, like talented Russian composer Nikolay Rimski-Korsakov, famous American composers Duke Ellington and Billy Joel, French composer Olivier Messiaen and classical pianist Hélène Grimaud and my favorite musician and singer Pharrel Williams. Likewise, such brilliant artists as Kandinsky and David Hockney had this ability along with an author of “Lolita”, Vladimir Nabokov, who perceived the letters of Russian alphabet as various tastes.


And referring to the learning theory, learning processes can be fostered by using multiple techniques, because it is more likely that the visual information supported with the sounds will be sent to the long-term memory, thus, improving the overall intellectual potential of a learner. In this case, being a synesthete can become an advantageous trait. However, in order to make maximum use of this opportunity, one must be aware of this condition and should recognize it. Because unless you are cognizant of your ability, colorful numbers and names in your head can make you feel befuddled or it can have more detrimental effect when colors of different digits create a dichotomy and become distracting during the exam, for instance. Also the incongruence between the digit’s color on the board (if the teacher used multicolored markers or chalk) and in the head make students feel nervous and diluted, which can result in a bad mark.

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Though it may seem as a very rare and unusual phenomenon, according to the statistics, about one in 2,000 people is a synesthete, and about one in 300 people is reported to have some variation of this condition (Carpenter, 2001). Having discovered the synesthesia condition, educators around the world help the students to embrace their ability and take advantage of it. Making students accept their unusual condition may increase their self-confidence, since they will not be shunning their uniqueness, and it will improve the general psychological development of the children.

All in all, there are so many synesthetes around you, and maybe they are not aware of their superpower, so give them a clue! Or, who knows, maybe you are the chosen one too =)