I Drank the Kool-Aid…..



Minuets from our last Learning Processes class.

Catherine Bennett: I drank the Kool-Aid!

Dr.Plumb : I want to sell the Kool-Aid!

Catherine Bennett: But, you can’t sell the Kool-Aid!…

The above is a small exert from some of the conversation that took place during our last learning processes class. The meaning of “Drinking the Kool-Aid’ is a metaphor commonly used in the United States that refers to a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination” (San Francisco Chronicle, 1998). All-be-it an ironic joke, as our Learning Processes class taught its participants how to avoid drinking the preverbal Kool-Aid, this conversation initiated a lot of deep self-reflection in me.

Why did I take this master?…

I decided to dust off entry letter of intent and read what I wrote…

“I am applying to the non- thesis, Master of Education Degree Program with a particular interest in, Studies in Lifelong Learning, starting September 2010.  My reason for attaining this degree is to use the knowledge and skills I have gained to become a nurse educator and a professor of nursing. My future career path goals are dependent upon the acceptance to this program…”

Yes, the above exert was a part of why I want to obtain my masters of adult education, the other part of it was money. I had graduated like most Canadian undergrad students with massive debt. My goal of obtaining advanced nursing career positions, such as nurse educator and a professor of nursing, were fueled by key factors. The first was that I would feel enjoyment and fulfillment from the higher positions; the second reason was that they both represented a major pay bump. That’s right it meant a lot of money, money I could put towards my student loans. I had intended to get in and finish off my Masters as fast as possible while accruing as little debt as possible. That was the plan…and then something changed. I had, what I guess I would call a social awaking.

A social awakening can be defined as “social awareness; to be aware of the problems that different societies and communities face on a day-to-day basis; to be conscious of the difficulties and hardships of society. A subject with an acquired social consciousness derives his or her viewpoint from the mainstream culture. A subject with an awakened social consciousness explores alternatives to the dominant cultural viewpoint. Furthermore, a subject with an expanded social consciousness strongly identifies with their marginalized group.” (Memidex, 2012)

In other words… I drank the Kool-Aid

In this case, what is the Kool-Aid?

Well for me the ‘Kool-Aid’ consisted of unfiltered knowledge. I found the subjects that we were studying at a graduate level forced me to self-reflect and think critically. They pushed my boundaries and made me feel uncomfortable; they challenged my beliefs; thought archetypes and schemas. The subjects were important, relevant and usually represented points of view that differ from my own. Unlike the spoon feed ‘banking system of education’ that is dominant in the world of undergrad academia, the unfiltered knowledge being explored in my classes started to change me as a person. I began to experience a social awakening to transparency and civic reasonability. [Go ahead Dr. Plum…try to sell that 🙂

I guess the conception of my social awakening started in my Community Education & Development course. I started to understand the importance of informal learning and the marginalization of minority groups. I started to question the dominate cultures’ values, their actions and the motives that drive them. I also started to understand the value of grassroots movements that were politically or pro –socially driven and directed by the needs of a community. I came to recognize that every successful community project or movement was built on strong group cooperation.

My understanding, appreciations and value of human cooperation was deepened by the material that we studied during this Learning Processes course. I feel one of the most basic; but nevertheless profound topics we examined, was Michael Tomasello; theory of shared intent. Time and time again, I was astounded by the simple basic examples of shared intent that I have come across in my daily life.

Tomasello’s studies highlight how human beings through their developmental advances, become essential cooperative components of social groups. Dr. Tomasello’s work examines unique human skill sets, as well as motivating dynamics and drives for shared intentionality: joint intentions, collaboration, pro-social motives, and social norms (Tomasello, 2005)

            One of the most basic examples of shared intent that I recently encountered occurred the other night, when I was feeding my 14month old infant niece. I placed a piece of chicken on her highchair tray and then waited for her to pick it up. She was easily distracted (as most children her age are) and had not seen me giving her the food. I proceeded to say her name in order to draw her attention back to me. I then made a pointing gesture to the piece of chicken. I observed the infant following my finger’s indication to the morsel of food. The baby promptly picked it up and ate it. With that simple gesture we shared intent!

I must say, now that I know about the concept of shared intent, I see it everywhere. I see it in every type of human interaction. As I reflect on the concept of shared intent, I cannot help but wonder if shared intent is the ‘mother’ of language, writing and any or all other forms of communicating? I also could not help but reflect on the power of communication.

Our new found capacity to communication was so transformative thatTerence McKenna (ethno botanist and philosopher) wrote “the moment that human beings invented language, the biological evolution of humans ceased and evolution became an epigenetic, cultural phenomenon.” (McKenna,1989)

Has shared intent coupled with these other capacities to communicate caused an acceleration of our specie’s evolution over every other species that has ever existed on this planet?  Dr. David Christian believes this is definitely the case.

Dr. David Christian proposes that all animals have the capacity to learn in real time, but that their newly acquired knowledge dies with them. Christian implies that “what makes humans different is human language. Human language is so powerful and so precise that we can share what we have learned with such precision that it can accumulate in the collective memory. That means it can out last the individuals who learned the information; it can accumulate from generation to generation; that is why as a species we are so creative and so powerful and that is why we have a history. Christian calls this ability collective learning, he suggests that our collective learning was enhanced by the migration of our species into different continents and the inventions of shipping, trains, telegraph and internet; causing humans to link up internationally; giving birth to a single ‘human global brain’ made up of seven billion people.

I believe that shared intent, language and technology have combined and resulted in what is unquestionably humanities greatest invention, the internet. The internet provided humanity with unlimited avenues for shared intent and unending streams of informational exchange and knowledge.

Here is a link to Jason Silva’s ‘ (2012) cinematic Espresso shots’ http://vimeo.com/38260970. I feel his philosophical artistic filmexpressionsreflect the true magic of this cultural triad. I consider Silva’s ‘Radical Openness’ to be a modern and profoundly poetic statement about the cultural evolution that is transpiring in our specie! The action that these new technologies will have in helping to fully awaken the social consciousness of humanity is quite possibly astounding. As author, Peter Russell puts it, “we are recognizing that we are a single species with a common destiny. An awakening global brain will play a critical role in our spiritual awakening—helping us make the transition from the predominately self-centered, materialist worldview which lies at the root of many aspects of our global crisis, to the more compassionate and holistic consciousness at the foundation of the world’s wisdom traditions.” (Russell,2012)

Although, all of these above ideas are old ones, they are new and fresh to me. As Silva put it “it’s huge. It’s a universe of possibility. It’s grey infused by color. It is the invisible revealed. It is the mundane blown away by awe” (Silva, 2012). And it fills me with hope…. So yes, I guess, I drank the Kool-Aid.






















Christian, D. (2011, April 11) Dr. David Christian: The history of our world in 18 minutes  [Video  file].Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqc9zX04DXs

McKenna, T. (1989) New Maps of Hyperspace. Retrieved from: http://www.erowid.org/culture/characters/mckenna_terence/mckenna_terence_maps_hyperspace.shtml

Memidex On-line dictionary.( 2012) Retrieved from:  http://www.memidex.com/social-conscience

Russell, P. (2012, December 3) Peter Russell: A Global Brain Awakens [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.greattransitionstories.org/wiki/Story:Global_Brain

San Francisco Chronicle. Hatfield, L,D. (1998, November 8th).Utopian nightmare. Jonestown: What did we learn? Retrieved from : http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Utopian-nightmare-3060346.php

Silva, J. (2012). Jason Silva :”RADICAL OPENNESS” TEDGlobal [Video  file].Retrieved from: http://vimeo.com/38260970

Tomasello, M (2010, November 14). Michael Tomasello: Origins of Human Collaboration and Shared Intentionality pt02 [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unyUyOBUxCw



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Generation Z and the Digital Future of Learning

‘Generation Z’ are comprised of children born in or after the year 1990(Grail Research, 2011). They were born in a time where school shootings, global terrorism, climate change and destruction and the international financial crisis were and still are ongoing events (Howe and Strauss, 2008).

These kids have grown up with the World Wide Web at their fingertips. They are constantly highly connected to the net. Z kids are the children of multimedia as they have 24 hour access to the Internet (Grail Research, 2011). Severing a Z generation child from their instant messaging, text messaging, smartphones, tablet computers and social networking sites is the same as severing off a limb. These technologies are part of their fibre; it is who they are and how they identify themselves. As a result, generation Z would rather text than talk. Z kids prefer to chat online (Grail Research, 2011). Furthermore, it is not unusual for generation Z to be communicating with friends they have not actually met. Generation Z kids do not spend much time outdoors, most of them are not familiar with the idea of coming home at night when the street lights turn on. Most Z’ers do not even like going outside to play unless adults force them. To Z’ers their Xbox, Wii-Fit and the net are much more appealing (USA TODAY,2012). I cannot understand this! It does not make sense to me. But then again and I am not from generation Z.

I’m a generation X child. X’ers were born anywhere from the early 1960s to the early 1980s (Grail Research, 2011). I always saw X’ers as the perfect generation, we loved the outdoors and had a complete grasp of the technological knowledge explosion that alienated our parents’ generation. We are the outdoor extremists, who can offer tech support to our parents when they need to know how to record a show on the T.V. I always thought of Generations X’ers as the perfect hybrid. Professor Christine Henseler summarizes X’ers as “a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS, a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all” (Henseler, 2012).

Wow, she makes us sound noble! So what’s wrong with Z kids? Are they afraid of fresh air and the sun?  I used to look down at this new generation, I used to pity them, I saw them as anti-social and agoraphobic;  but really how can I blame them? Maybe, I need to try to look at the world through the lens of a Z’er?

Author, Mark Braker states “Additionally the transmission occurs not just through the stories that are told to the young, but also through the non-verbal messages and non-verbal behaviour through which members of the older generation unconsciously externalize their wounded identities on the members of the later generations during their formative years, making the young into receptacles of unhealed identity wounds of their elders.” (Bracher, 2009. pg.98)

Nothing shapes a generation like its environment! X’ers like me grew up in homes where it was considered normal for both parents to work a 40- 60 hour week to bring home the bacon and giving birth to buzz terms such as ‘latch-key kid and yuppie’(Grail Research, 2011). Generation X’ers hated not having both parents at home and were determined that their own children would not have the same experience. Since X’ers are the parents of Z kids, is it any wonder we brought home schooling back with a vengeance?  Therefore, bringing new cultural terms such as ‘stay-at-home dad’ and ‘shared care’.Generation X’s family values;  coupled with funding cuts to public education and the horrific rise in school shootings has not only encouraged homeschooling it has popularized.Furthermore, hands on parental  tutoring aimed at creating an enriched learning environment in the home has also seen an explosion. Due to the fact that a large portion of generation Z ‘s schooling was tailor made; Z’ers will grow up with a self-learning, self-directed education  model.

Z kids are being raise by a generation that is distrustful of and has lost faith in the formal public school system. I see this sentiment reflected in all my friends! My friends entering their forties are still paying off their huge student loans while my youngest generation X’er friends are still struggling to find or keep  a menial job that they are overeducated for. These sentiments will not be lost on generation X’s children.

Alternative and enriched schooling, independent self-directed learning and unlimited access to educational information will result in generation Z being highly adaptable employees. Generation Z will be able to assess what skills they need to  learn next to make them more desirable to an employer and they will use all their multimedia tools to acquire that vital information. My own job interview experiences are forerunners of this trend. Last summer, I wished to advance my nursing career and land a position on an IMCU/organ transplant unit and although I knew very little about the nursingfield of organ transplant; that was a non-issue for me. I had the World Wide Web at my fingertips, a source of unlimited cutting edge information for any field. I used multi-media resources to intensely research all topics that I felt may be relevant to the interview. This resulted in me being awarded the position over nurses with more seniority. This example is just a taste of what Z’ers will do with the net.

“They have access to an unprecedented amount of knowledge. They network with people from around the world. They create and share content truly like never before, and . . . well, they’re on a roll. And in case there’s any doubt, the Gen Z roll is fuelled by the Internet. Students can follow any passion that they have with or without our help. The knowledge, the models, the exemplars, the networks, the funding, the mentoring all can be found online. Gen Zs write books, create comics, make medical breakthroughs, launch start-ups, create apps, lead causes, and show others how to maximize their lives (life hackers), and if they don’t have an avenue to do this at school, they can do it (and are doing it) on their own after school.” (Renfro, 2013).Perhaps what is most impressive about these accomplishments is that some Z kids are doing all this and more before graduating high school.

That being said the old proverb ‘you can only run so far from your roots’ will influence generation Z future life choices. Bracher, proposes that “it has become the child’s task to mourn, to reverse the humiliation and feelings of helplessness pertaining to the trauma of his forbearers.” (Bracher, 2009. pg.98) Tailor made grade school education, multimedia information and economic concerns may cause generation Z to forgo formal university.

Talking to a lot of my friends and cohorts, I’ve come to realize that our own negative experiences with education, unemployment/ underemployment and debt may in fact foster support for this way of thinking. For example my husband, myself and a group of our friends were all sitting around one night discussing our children ( actual and envisioned) and university education. It was shocking that most of us came to the realization that we would rather our children secure a trade and then enter into university. Trade school would offer our children jobs that are in demand without being buried by debt like their parents.For example “The unemployment rate for Canada’s youth is nearly twice as high as the national average. Being young and having a university education means you’re on average, twice as likely to be unemployed as the average Canadian…The result is a generation struggling to make ends meet in low-paying service jobs while holding advanced degrees.”  (O.Canada.com, 2013)

Generation Z will be the first education DIY’ers and many will opt out of Ivy League schools (Business News Daily, 2013). Z’ers will look at educational opportunities like no other generation: home school, community college, ivy league universities, trade school and online degrees will just be some of their options. Other generation Z’ers will choose to start their businesses. “Creating small businesses, pitching projects to larger companies, moving from contract to contract, will all become important parts of the modern labour market” for generation Z (CBC, 2013). View CBC’s amazing documentary

To meet generation Z’s unique educational needs, other options may be waiting in the wings. Z’ers who fears the crushing debt of ivy league universities may have a future option of completing a super diploma (Renfro, 2013). What is a ‘super diploma’ you ask? “The super diploma isn’t just a merger of the college prep and technical diplomas, but it isn’t revolutionary either. This is just an evolution that better reflects where we are. The super diploma will be awarded to Gen Zs who are producers, innovators, and creators, which the Internet has empowered them to become. Right now most of them are creating their own individualized learning paths.” (Renfro, 2013). Renfro outlines how super diplomas are being created , and what communities, school boards and corporations can do to foster and promote them.

Another option North American governments can explore to help generation Z is to utilize Switzerland’s  educational /apprenticeship program model (CBC, 2013). The youth unemployment rate in Switzerland is 2.8%, the lowest in the developed world(CBC, 2013).In Switzerland, youth unemployment is unheard of (CBC, 2013). At 15 years of ages, Swiss youths in high school are given a list of 230 apprenticeship choices(CBC, 2013).  The youths are streamed into the workforce and apprenticed in their chosen field for three years while attending high school (CBC, 2013).  After that 3 year period , the youths can either select a different apprenticeship or continue on to university studies (CBC, 2013). This educational/apprenticeship program is very popular and well received by the Swiss adolescents (CBC, 2013).  No current platforms to date that resemble the Swiss educational/apprenticeship model are available for Canada’s Z generation. I believe that given Switzerland’s thriving youth employment rates; Canada may want to start developing such  program choices for  Z’ers.

What will all the current choices mean for generation Z? How will their radically different upbringing change society, formal education and lifelong learning? I don’t know…but we are about to find out.


Bracher, M. (2009). Social Symptoms of Identity Needs: Why We Have Failed to Solve Our Social Problems and What to do About It. Retrieved from: http://books.google.ca/books?id=IGeFPGcHw1oC&pg=PA299&lpg=PA299&dq=Social+Symptoms+of+Identity+Needs:+Why+We+Have+Failed+to+Solve+Our+Social+Problems+and+What+to+do+About+It+pg+98&source=bl&ots=nZASeQ5E8A&sig=dtZnMK3e2lmIsSjxfTV59JT7jkk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gVJnUcH4L8mzyQHuw4HQBg&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Social%20Symptoms%20of%20Identity%20Needs%3A%20Why%20We%20Have%20Failed%20to%20Solve%20Our%20Social%20Problems%20and%20What%20to%20do%20About%20It%20pg%2098&f=false

Business News Daily. ( 2013). Mielach, D .’Gen Z’ Already Concerned About Finances

  Retrieved from : http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2717-younger-generation-attitude.html

Canadian Broadcasting Centre( CBC) Generation Jobless. (2013,  January 31).Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/episode/generation-jobless.html

Grail Research. (2011, November). Consumers of Tomorrow Insights and Observations About Generation Z. Retrieved from: http://www.grailresearch.com/pdf/ContenPodsPdf/Consumers_of_Tomorrow_Insights_and_Observations_About_Generation_Z.pdf

Henseler, C. Ed.(2012,August) .Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion. Retrieved from: http://www.generationxgoesglobal.com/index.html

Howe, N,. and Strauss, W.(2008). Millennials & K-12 Schools. LifeCourse Associates. pp. 109–111. ISBN 0971260656.

O.Canada.com. (2013) Wolfe-Wylie, W.  Why Canada’s universities are failing to prepare students for life. Retrieved from : http://o.canada.com/2013/01/28/why-canadas-universities-are-failing-to-prepare-students-for-life/

Renfro, A. (2013, March 4). Getting Smart Blog Series, Learning, PreK-12, Smart Teachers ; The Super Diploma. Retrieved from : http://gettingsmart.com/2013/03/the-super-diploma/

USA TODAY (2012, March 3rd)Horovitz, B. After Gen X, Millennials, what should next generation be? Retrieved from: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/advertising/story/2012-05-03/naming-the-next-generation/54737518/1

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Gallons of Light

A few weeks ago I watched the documentary ‘I am’ by director Tom Shadyac. This movie resonated deeply in the core of my being. In the last five years, many of the things that I had thought of as important have changed greatly. Not long ago, acquiring the latest styles in fashion and jewellery, where I was going to vacation next, and what everyone was buying and wearing, had seemed terribly important.

I thought of individuals who spoke out against multinational corporations, as “granola crunchers”. I saw older people who chastised me about not voting as “old-hippies”. In reality, I was apathetic. I was blind. The truth of the matter was, like Tom Shadyac, I was sick.

But, slowly I got better. Perhaps it was due to becoming a nurse and caring for the ill and dying? Possibly it was my discovery of Buddhism? Maybe, it was my self-awaking to the things that I truly valued?  Honouring and cherishing love, health, family, friends, nature and the environment are what now drive my daily existence.

Like Tom, I have great concerns over how humans are living in this world. Western values are spreading globally. Money, wealth and the accumulation of possessions are now synonymous with success and happiness. Yet, we never seem to make enough money or have enough things.  I feel as though this need for instant gratification becomes worse with every generation. Many times, I have felt that humanity is like a cancer on this earth. This movie clip from ‘The Matrix’ comes to mind when I am feeling particularly saddened by the atrocities I see in the news each day.

A prime example of the need for instant gratification is easily seen on Facebook. On Facebook, acquaintances show off their newest purchases. Whether it be a trip , a home, a car, the most cutting-edge phone or a luxury watch; the latest custom in our society is to flaunt your newest acquisition on Facebook.  In fact, there is a new application called pin-terest , where you share all the latest objects you are intending to purchase in the future. I feel it is all just fuel for the fire. It reminded me of a quote from the book the Hobbit , where a dwarf king’s greed gets so out of control that it is described as an illness.

“Thror’s love of gold had grown too fierce, and a sickness had begun to grow within him. It was a sickness of the mind, and where sickness thrives, bad things will follow.” (Tolkien, J.R.R, 1937)

Wouldn’t it be amazing, if that was how our society saw aggressively competitive co-workers and millionaires? All of a sudden they would not be seen as ambitious intelligent go-getters, but un-civilised greedy sociopaths.

There is a documentary film, ‘I am Fishead’, that compares high powered successful CEO’s to sociopaths. I feel that is a very accurate comparison. In the 2010 study, ‘Corporate Psychopathy: Talking the Walk’, researchers discovered that “3 to 6 percent of corporate employees may be responsible for the majority of ethical breaches in corporations, with corporate psychopathy tending to be concentrated at the higher levels of organisations” (Babiak, Neumann& Hare, 2010. p187)

Corporate psychopaths often display outstanding communication skills, ingenuity and strong strategic thinking (Babiak, Neumann& Hare, 2010). Coupled with charismatic, confident facades and manipulative personalities they are seen as great leaders; many effectively exploit these traits to rise quickly through the ranks and assume senior positions (Babiak, Neumann& Hare, 2010).  Psychopaths are so well adapted to certain positions, such as Chief Executive Officer, some companies deliberately seek them out.  One banking executive reported that the bank he worked for “used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles”(The Daily Kos, 2012).

Given the chance most oil company CEOs would not hesitate to drill in the middle of a national park. The destruction of theses natural environments would deprive future generations the gift of knowing their pristine beauty.  For these executives, the reward of harvesting huge amounts of oil or natural gas is worth the risk of any possible pollution disasters. This almost happened in Canada. Here is a link to a Ted-talk publicizing Shell Oil’s future venture.

If there had not been a social outcry to prevent it, national park of Klappan Valley would have been ruined. It is this example and many like it that give me hope that we are changing for the better as a people.  I do feel that the positive choices we make for the earth and our fellow sentient beings are like wooden twigs, alone they are week and easily broken, together they are strong and cause great impact. I feel that my individual lifestyle choices, although small, will eventually have a larger impact. Here is a list of things I am doing or plan on doing that will impact those around me to change their ways.

1)      Recycling

2)      Buying local

3)      Installing an off-the-grid solar panel energy system to run my home in the next 5 years.

4)       Owning a car, with in the next 3 years, that runs on battery power harvested from the sun.

Yes, these are all small things, but as you know we have great impact on our friends and family. Sometimes small things make big differences.   Enjoy this clip,  “gallons of light”


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Old School vs. New School Learning

I recently read some passages from Etienne Wenger’s “Communities of Practice”. I found Wenger’s writing and social theory of learning very thought provoking. I find I can easily relate to and identify with Wegner’s ideas. Perhaps one of the reasons behind this easy familiarity is that I am a perpetual student. I have literally been participating in formal education for over 28 years,  12 of which have been undergraduate studies. I feel that my last four years of undergraduate nursing school has transformed me as a person. Nursing has changed my way of thinking. As a result, it is through a nurse’s lens that I examine Wenger’s theories.

A lens can be understood as   “One’s own culture provides the “lens” through which we view the world; the “logic”… by which we order it; the “grammar” … by which it makes sense. In other words, culture is central to what we see, how we make sense of what we see, and how we express ourselves.”(PBS,1997)

A nurse’s lens is how I see and understand my role and experiences as a health care provider.  My  nurse’s lens helps me comprehend the station of a nurse from the perspective of a female in a traditionally male dominated environment. Furthermore, this viewpoint impacts how I view my rights as an employee of an institution; how I interact with my patients, their families, my co-workers and superiors.

I found Wenger’s ideas about the two main axes of intellectual traditions fascinating. It reminded me of the two vastly different ways nursing has been taught over the years, and the tension that still exist between them. Wenger states that “theories of social structure” give an acknowledged importance to institutions, accepted norms and rules. As a result, our culture places greater value on knowledge that has been attained  in a formal setting. For example, a degree or certificate from a recognized institution would carry more value than knowledge that has been acquired though the experience of  an individual. Whereas, the “theories of situational experience” places the greatest value on the “dynamic of everyday existence, improvisation, coordination and interactional choreography…They mostly address the interactive relations of people with their environment” (Wenger p. 12) In this theory, personal experience is viewed as valuable learning.

As Wenger describes these two theories, I feel he is describing oil and water and their inability to mix. Sadly, this has been my experience in regards to learning in the nursing world. Not too long ago nursing evolved from a two year program to a four year bachelor’s degree. The profession of nursing used to be taught exclusively in the hospital. Becoming a certified registered nurse required two years of hands-on clinical training as well as examinations for certification. The classes were small, predominantly made up of female students, and taught by female registered nurses. It was not uncommon for these teachers to be nuns. During this two year program the students were continuously learning and practicing nursing skills, while simultaneously caring for sick patients.

In today’s world, to become a registered nurse, one needs four years of undergraduate nursing education. Unfortunately, the majority of this learning is theory, with very little patient interaction. Only a small percentage of the degree is dedicated to in-hospital, hands-on patient care. From my personal experience, this theory-centered higher learning leaves a novice nurse feeling overwhelmed and completely uneducated in regards to patient care. This may seem like an exaggerated  situation, but this sentiment is common among novice RN’s. So much so, that there are hundreds,  if not thousands, of scientific journals and  laymans’ blogs  discussing it. This has made me question why nursing school was taken out of the hospital?

I also wonder where the shame attached to being hospital educated came from? Many nurses who have participated in the two year registered nurse certification program, regard it as a thing of embarrassment. I have often overheard seasoned nurses commenting, that they “only have their RN’s”. Yet, in my experience, these coworkers are some of the best nurses I have come across.  Their knowledge in regards to wound care, intravenous management and critical thinking is vast and rich, yet their education is trivialized. This is reflected in their lower salary allotment in comparison to university educated nurses. Furthermore, nurses who are hospital educated are not employed in preceptor roles for nursing students. I feel that this is a reflection of our society’s educational elitism. It is this kind of elitism that is causing shortages for student nurses looking for crucial in-hospital training preceptors. In fact, this crisis is not just a national problem, but a global one.

“Educating the next generation of qualified nurses in sufficient numbers is paramount to addressing the current nursing shortage. However, the current educational infrastructure in nursing schools inhibits workforce growth. While schools are struggling with such barriers as limited classroom space, insufficient clinical sites, and overall budget constraints, it is the shortage of nurse faculty that is the major obstacle to increasing student capacity. If not addressed, the shortage of nurse educators will continue to hinder further progress in reversing the national nursing shortage.” (Guillen, 2010, pg 3.)

To use Wenger’s words, university BSCN programs are denying  “agency or knowledgeability to individual actors”, by placing little or no value on RN certified educators (Wenger p. 12). Could we as a society be cutting off our nose to spite our face?


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Work, Sex and Social Norms

In the last class we touched on Michael Tomasello’s work. Dr. Tomasello is an American developmental psychologist. His body of work focuses on identifying the distinctive cognitive and cultural processes that differentiate humans from our closest cousins, the great apes. Tomasello’s research highlights how humans through their development, become essential cooperative components of cultural groups. Dr. Tomasello’s work examines uniquely human skill sets, as well as motivating factors and drives for shared intentionality: joint intentions, collaboration, pro-social motives, and social norms (Tomasello, 2005)

Dr. Tomasello theorizes that it is our capacity to cooperate that makes human’s different in comparison to our nearest primate relatives. The ability to put our heads together and collaborate defines our specie and its evolutional development. Dr. Tomasello’s current research focuses on  how children form joint goals; how they plan together which enables them to form something collaborative and lasting and how they divide the rewards of their efforts amicably. Interestingly enough our cousins the chimpanzees are able to cooperate; but they are unable to successfully maintain their collaborative bond.  Chimpanzees are incapable of fairly distributing the spoils of their collaborative venture.

Historically it was believed that our primate relatives did not have the capacity to understand the mental states of other primates. Current research has contradicted this theory. Studies are now suggesting that the great apes do in fact have the capacity to understand the goals and motives of their peers; but that these drives are fuelled by the desire to compete more successfully with one another. Humans differ from the great apes in that they aspire to put their heads together to collaborate and cooperate to accomplish a goal as a unit, that was unattainable for a lone individual.

Tomasello proposes that this quality is unique to human cognition and refers to it as Social-Cognitive Based Co-operation. In addition to the goal orientated social cognition skills that apes possess to compete with others, humans have cognitively developed additional skills and motivations that enable us to cooperate with others. These acquired skills of shared intentionality, joint goals and mutual knowledge enables human collaboration and perpetuates corporation.

It is these mutually benevolent alliances that Tomasello believes produced group minded cultural products such as social conventions, norms and institutions. Could it be that our ability to work well with others, gave us evolutionary advantages over our extinct cousins the Neanderthals?

In 2006, an article titled “What’s a Mother to Do? The Division of Labour among Neanderthals and Modern Humans in Eurasia” was published. The authors of the paper theorize that Neanderthals had no division of labour roles between the sexes. They proposed that both male and female Neanderthals’ single main occupation was focused on hunting big game. The article suggested the Neanderthal’s deficit of labour division result in their inadequate usage and extraction of resources from the environment. It was this lack of labour division which is believed to have played a key role in their demise.

Interestingly enough, it is believed that Homo sapiens’ drive to collaborate and cooperatively promoted the adoption of sex linked labour division roles. These labour division roles helped drive the population explosion our ancestors enjoyed as the Neanderthals’ numbers dwindled.

Could Tomasello’s beliefs that our capacities to cooperate and drive to collaborate were not only the catalyst for group minded cultural products such as social conventions, norms and institutions; but they may have also secured the continuation of our species? Could ancient man’s ability to successfully split labour roles according to gender still be affecting the way we are thinking and acting today?

Zoologist, ethnologist and human socio-biology author, Desmond Morris thinks so. Morris proposes that when our ancient ancestors adopted the hunting/gathering labour division life style; it had profound effects upon the role of the human sexes. Human females became food gatherers, males became specialised as hunters. This type of pair-bonding does not exist among our close relatives, the monkeys and apes.

Ancient man’s newly acquired gender roles meant that males in family/social units had to leave their females behind at their camp site, while they worked in highly cooperative hunting parties. Morris states that in order to take part in the hunts, “males were to leave the females behind, without their protection. It became important that the two sexes should have some powerful bonds of attachment for one another. And if the males were to co-operate actively on the hunt, there could be no conflict in the group.”

These demands unavoidably lead to pair-bonding, resulting in each male having his own female, eliminating socially destructive competition between males. For ancient females, the benefits of pair-bonds meant the males would return to the campsite with the sought after pray and share the spoils with them and their offspring. The females would return the generosity by sharing their resources of gathered foods. Ancient humans came to understand that this gender governed labour division was extremely efficient and led to the “evolution of a powerful, biologically based pairing urge in the rapidly spreading tribes of primeval humans. Each adult became programmed to stay with a breeding partner long enough to jointly rear a ‘serial litter’ of young.  It is because these young were not all born together but one at a time over a number of years, the pair-bond had to be more than just seasonal or annual. It had to be long-lasting.”

Tomasello and Morris’s theories in regards to human evolutionary cooperation are provocative to me. If group cooperation is such a culturally essential catalytic learning tool, why aren’t our institutions of higher learning utilizing it to full capacity?

Cooperative/collaborative learning is an educational process that promotes positive group interdependence. Students labour in groups to complete learning tasks collectively. Learners cooperatively benefit from one another’s ideas, experiences and skills. Participants of a collaborative learning experience succeed only when the group as a whole succeeds; this eliminates the need for intergroup competition. Highly effective cooperative learning groups promote open-ended intellectually demanding discussions, creativity and usually involve higher order thinking tasks. This is fundamentally the complete opposite of today’s formal learning environments.

Currently education systems focus on the individual learner. Test, exams and marks are used as rating tools. Teachers go through their syllabi at brake neck speeds, educating and exploring topics in a shallow time constrained manner. North American educational institutes exclusively focus on the success or failure of an individual’s ability to learn in relation to their peers.

As I a lifelong learner, I have found these methods poor and ineffective. Could it be that out ancestors had stumbled upon a highly efficient problem solving tool that amplifies learning? Could something as simple as promoting the capacity to effectively cooperate, share intent and knowledge be the key to overhauling our education system to encourage the success of many over the success of the few?  Perhaps being at the top of one’s class is not so much a personal achievement, but a failure to help one’s peers in succeeding also?

Are we under using cooperative learning in our education system? As basic as cooperative/collaborative learning is; in all of my 28 years of structured education, I find myself straining to think of a time where I actually experienced it.

Yes, I have worked in groups in school. Once in a blue moon, a small group of us were put together for a mini project or assignment. In my experience, what usually occurred in this so called group work was the most extroverted individuals spoke frequently and the shy ones nodded along; or the more aggressive personalities pushed their ideas on others and for fear of rocking the boat no one disagreed.

I cannot recall actually experiencing the magical collective synergy that group work is totted to be. I wondered why this was. Could it be that group work is like every other skill or talent? Does practise make perfect? Are teachers in schools misusing collaborative learning? Is it employed too infrequently and for inadequate time increments? Perhaps we need to re-evaluate this essential cognitive catalyst’s use, after all look what it did for our ancestors….



Kuhn, S. L and Stiner, M.C., (2006) What’s a Mother to Do? The Division of Labor among Neandertals and Modern Humans in Eurasia, Current Anthropology, Volume 47, Number 6, December doi:10.1086/507197 Retrieved from http://jsarf.free.fr/palanthsci/CA_Kuhn_Stiner.pdf

Tomasello, M (2010, November 14). Michael Tomasello: Origins of Human Collaboration and Shared Intentionality pt02 [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unyUyOBUxCw

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The Human-Dog Connection: Evolutionary Catalyst(s) for each Other?

In last week’s class we discussed the decent of man, as well as the evolution of the other great apes (living and extinct). During that class, we also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Donavan’s dog. Together as a group, we contemplated canine development vs. that of a humans and how the dog perceives his environment. As we watched the dog romp around the class room, sniffing everything and anyone in his path; we pondered together why our ancestors survived and thrived, whereas our distant cousins, the Neanderthals and the Denisovans, dwindled and died off.  Although all three hominin species cohabited in the same geographical areas of Europe and Asia, it was only anatomically modern humans (AMH), or Homo sapiens, that has survived to modern times.

I found this extremely interesting as we contemplated the fact that Neanderthals’ brains were just as large as or larger than Homo sapiens’, and in the case of bone and muscle mass, they were superior to Homo sapiens. Despite these physical attributes, some scientists write off Neanderthals as intellectually retarded in comparison to homo spines. Scientists on the Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) TV special suggest that we are underestimating the Neanderthals. Furthermore, we may be failing to appreciate Neanderthals’ intelligence, skills and abilities in weapon and tool creation, communication and use of symbols, as well as their art and culture. (PBS: Nova, 2013)

In fact, ancient Homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals and  Denisovans (Scientific America, 2012). Between 1-4% of modern human DNA was inherited from these hominids in certain races of modern man (Scientific America, 2012). If Neanderthals we so close to homo sapiens in terms of size, strength, skill and intellect, what advantage(s) could have lead to our prosperity and their demise? In a mere 10,000 years after our arrival Homo sapiens had taken over. Why did this happen?

Many theories have been batted around from climate change to parasites. Some scientists propose that competition with humans probably contributed to Neanderthal extinction, Homo sapiens may have had better weapons? What if it wasn’t a better weapon that gave ancient man the edge? What if it was a better friend? Could it be that Man’s Best Friend tipped the balance of the evolutionary arms race, in our favour?

One article by Pat Shipman, in American Scientist web Magazine, suggests that “the bond between humans and dogs must have grown close very fast, as dogs took part in hunting by spotting prey animals, carrying bags and equipment, and, in return, sharing in the spoils”(Shipman, 2012). All of these fabulous benefits of our Human-Canine teamwork would have enabled Homo sapiens to maintain larger families and reproduce at faster rates with healthier offspring, which would have led to the speedy outnumbering of the Neanderthals (Shipman, 2012). During the 10,000-year Human-Neanderthal overlap period, human populations increased tenfold (Shipman, 2012). In this span, “all dog bones found so far have been exclusively in Homo sapiens sites. If Neanderthals did not have domestic dogs and anatomically modern humans did, these hunting companions could have made all the difference in the modern human–Neanderthal competition” (Shipman, 2012).

Although we no longer have mammoth hunts today, a research team from Finland compared the success of hunting moose with and without dogs, and discovered that using man’s best friend increased the yield of carcass weight by an average of 56 percent for each hunter ” (Koster & Tankersley, 2012).

A study by Ruusila and Pesonen (2004), demonstrated that 85 percent of the pray brought down in the observed hunts employed the use of dogs.  Dogs are essential for locating pray, the hunters that participated in the study were six to nine times more likely to find pray using dogs and hunts were 57 percent faster when dogs were on the trail (Ruusila & Pesonen,2004)

Furthermore, it has been purposed that that proto dogs and ancient man friendship was so crucial that both spices may have evolved interactively (Shipman, 2012). Dogs have developed the capability to follow the gaze of their human owner – “meaning that when we look toward something without pointing or nodding toward it, dogs have learned to recognize that we’re directing their attention toward it” (Shipman, 2012).

Most other animals, even our closet living relative the primates, lack the important ability to fallow a human gaze, or the gesture of physically pointing to an object. Since humans are the only species that utilize pointing to objects as a form of communication, it is quite remarkable that any other spices could understand it (BBC 2010). Dogs have highly tuned abilities to follow and understand verbal and non verbal cues with tremendous accuracy: being able to follow a human gaze would be very helpful during a hunt.

This information would come of little shock to most canine aficionados, but what may surprise them, is dogs interpret human expressions in the same manner as humans! Humans have what is called a left side bias (BBC 2010). We utilize the right side of the face when attempting to gage emotions on a human subject, as it is a more faithful representation of our emotion (BBC 2010).  It had previously been believed that shifting our gaze to the left was a uniquely human trait, this turned out to be false (BBC 2010). Dogs are the only other animal that utilizes the left gaze bias to read human faces (BBC 2010).  No other animal has this relationship with the human face; furthermore, dogs do not do this with other dogs or animals (BBC 2010). This ability to correctly “read” human emotion gives the dog a biological advantage. Being able to understand if a human is angry or potentially harmful, or that it is safe to approach a human that is smiling would help lay the foundation for a very powerful bond (BBC 2010).

The skill of deciphering your best friend’s emotions is not solely a talent that our canine counterparts possess. There are common claims made by dog owners that they can understand what their dog’s barks signify. Could it be possible, they have domesticated us while we were domesticating them? Studies revealed that humans are amazingly accurate when it comes to interpreting our dogs’ barks! Humans are able to discriminate six different barks, by utilizing qualities such as frequency, tonality and the intervals of the barks, (BBC 2010). Being able to decipher what proto-dog was trying to tell ancient man, could have been a matter of life and death for our ancestors!

Perhaps what is most amazing is that scientists today believe that our best friend is still evolving in step with us. Certain dogs are beginning to develop enhanced intellects. What is perhaps even more amazing is that we humans may not be cluing in to it.

There has been at least two canines studied for their superior cognitive abilities (Chaser and another unnamed dog, both are Border Collies) (PBS:NOVA; 2011, 2013) “Researchers studying dog genomes found a gene that may be responsible” for this new enhanced intelligence. (PBS:NOVA; 2011)  “It’s called CTNND2, in humans this gene is responsible for normal cognitive development, the border collie genome shows selective breeding for this gene!” (PBS:NOVA; 2011). Throughout our evolution humans have bred our best friend for intelligence and skill, and then things changed.

 Around the time of the Victorian era, humans had become obsessed with how our dogs looked and if they were a pure breed. The value placed on intelligence and skill has fallen to the wayside. But what if we just bred for intelligence? What if the CTNND2 gene and other types of genes related to cognitive enhancements and emotional intellect were selectively bred for, in lieu of looks? Just how much more amazing could our best friend potentially become!?

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Yes folks, as I have mentioned in my introduction, I have had a lot of past experience in formal educational settings, which is why I found our last week’s class, so very interesting. Listening to Dr Plumb discussing neuroscience in conjunction with some contemporary theories on learning as well as the 2 Ted talks we watched, started stirring up memories. My knowledge of brain anatomy and physiology (that I had thought had been long forgotten, since I had studied this material over ten years ago) started to come back to me. Clever and amusing lectures and anecdotes that I remembered about neuroscience and psychology started to pop up in my head. Words like Corpus Callosum and the names of the major gyri started to surface into my consciousness like a submarine emerging from the depths of the ocean.

So like Dr Sebastian Seung suggests maybe we can weed out or bring forth certain memories that are storied in the brain (Seung, 2010). He theorised, that if we discover a way to activate the first neurons in a chain of neurons that hold a specific memory: such as how to play a song on a piano we can stimulate that memory (Seung, 2010). Dr Seung proposes this occurs through the order of the activation of specific neural synapses (Seung, 2010). If we can understand the sequence of neuron activation, it is possible to potentially predict the pattern of neural activity, thus predicting a memory (Seung, 2010).

I started wondering to myself, on a more basic level, what other triggers can bring forth memory? If a teacher were able use these triggers would students be able to learn more efficiently?

From experience, one trigger that helped me learn was recopying my notes for an under grad anthropology class. I had had a 2 hour gap right after an anthropology lecture; since I had time on my hands, I ended up entertaining myself by going to the library and re-coping my notes by hand in order to make them legible to myself down the road . When exam time rolled around, I discovered that I had no need to even study this information as I could remember every lecture with the greatest of ease. So, I ask you? Is how we learn just as important as what we learn? What helped lock in the knowledge and made it simple for me to recall? Was it the physical act of me writing the lecture out word for word?  Studies highlighted in this Wall Street Journal article support that theory, the Scientist featured in the article proposes that the physical act of “handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key” (Bound, 2010).

She explains that her MRI images of the brain have shown that chronological finger movements used in printing and cursive had writing activated massive areas of the brain; “involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information” (Bound, 2010). Furthermore, one study of hers established that kids in grades two, four and six, kids “wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard” (Bound, 2010).

These last findings I found fascinating, as presently I have been hearing that daycares and elementary schools are now being flooded with computers, such as touch pads which required little to no manual dexterity or psychomotor skills. I can’t help but wonder if we are dampening future generations learning abilities with our computer technology?

Then again, perhaps it was the repetition of rereading my anthropology notes as I was copying them? Is studying a piece of information over and over again, similar to rising a dumbbell in a bicep curl? Is the brain another version of a muscle, that we can bulk it up with knowledge work-outs?

Eleanor Maguire from University College London believes so when she examined the brain, or more accurately; the hippocampus of London cabbies (Discover Magazine, 2011) In order to become a cabdriver in London, cabbies have to pass an extreme intellectual exam known as “The Knowledge” (Discover Magazine, 2011). Potential drivers must learn “25,000 of the capital’s arteries, veins and capillaries” as well as “20,000 landmarks – museums, police stations, theatres, clubs, and more – and 320 routes that connect everything up.” (Discover Magazine, 2011) The only map they can use in their verbal route exam is the one in their head (Discover Magazine, 2011). This ordeal results in their learning experience physically transforming the brain, the hippocampus in London’s cabdrivers becomes bigger than the average persons.

Some neuroscientist propose that in order to turn short term memory into long term memory, as in the case of the cabbies, the brain has to repeatedly be exposed the material (Cherry, 2013). If this is the case shouldn’t teachers be doing frequent short material review sessions with kids every week through their formal education years? Would those short review classes, like Ambrose suggest make the material that much more accessible when trying to recall it years later? (Ambrose,Bridges,Dipietro, Lovett & Norman,2010). Would these short reviews prevent knowledge from becoming lost, fragmented, distorted or permanently forgotten? Could something as simple and basic as frequent review sessions change formal education forever?

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