NOTE: “Leadership Reflections” shares views of the different members of the University Leadership Council on matters related to campus life and the operations of the University. As well, it features opinions on issues of national and/or international relevance.

DSL in Entrainment:  The Becoming of the Whole Self
By Dr. Betsy Joy B. Tan, Vice President for Academic Affairs

In the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Transformative Education, two researchers from the University of Calgary and St. Mary’s University College in Canada, share the results of their study of professors in the Humanities:  that transformation among adult learners on the margins of society is only possible when the teacher’s underlying stance is mature authenticity as they create and sustain trusting relationships. 

Thus, in a developing country like the Philippines, teachers engaged in transformative teaching-learning should not only have a mature outlook in life but are also authentic in their relationships with students to bring them from disengagement to engagement in learning.  On an experiential level, when a teacher gives an example of a sentence by writing on the board – “The ant ate the carabao.” – the teacher is not  only being immature and irresponsible; but also,  untruthful and inauthentic. If the teacher were talking about a person, as in the sentence – “The aunt ate the carabao.” – his credibility would have been much better and his level of trust with his students would have been higher.

Exposed as our students are these days to TV and the internet – the dominant media that abound in homes and elsewhere – as learners, they have been conditioned to Philippine program fare that is sensational and melodramatic in delivery and packaging, as well as in ego-tripping messages that target the human frailty of vanity…addressing individuals’ narcissistic tendencies in the human psyche.  In the Philippines, Mezirow’s Theory of Transformative Learning then, where the ego plays a central role in perspective transformation, is the highly egocentric environment that both teachers and students have to learn to live with.  Thus, the Stanford University study in the January 2001 copy of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine is most significant for all of us:  that there is a relationship between media exposure and learner behavior. What saves the day for teachers is that, such behavior is modifiable – where the teacher’s role is crucial in this contemporary teaching-learning space.

Wasn’t it US president John F. Kennedy who said that our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education?

How do we hasten the progress of our nation through education?  More specifically, in our knowledge work at Silliman University, how do we change our learning landscape so as to contribute to the progress of our nation and move ourselves from always being a developing country to a developed one – and thus join the exclusive club of G20 countries?  How do we make ourselves and our students modify behavior to make our environment less harmful to us when scientists in a recent issue of the Philippine Star now report that the future holds more extreme weather for the world with more floods, more heat waves, more droughts and greater costs to deal with them?   

From the Quality of Life Research Unit at the University of Toronto, we learn of the three major domains in life: being, belonging, and becoming. 

Today, as we face the challenges in this Digital Age by looking into life skills for transformative learning, let me focus on our major domain of Becoming through Entrainment – the tenth essential life skill together with Self-Respect, Undivided Attention, Concentration, Memory, Listening, Imagination, Reasoning, Intuition and Breath.  Entrainment refers to the coordination between the head and the heart to become a Whole Self.  It is our ability to make the connection between our outer, physical self with our inner, spiritual self – the state of consciousness made possible with the practice of mental discipline just like Concentration and Undivided Attention.  The challenge to teaching in this Digital Age is therefore the reminder from Yale University behavioral economist, Dr. Robert Shiller in his 2009 revised and updated book, Irrational Exuberance, when he said:  The ability to focus attention on important things is one of the defining characteristics of intelligence … Failure to focus attention on proper things is also one of the most common characteristics of human judgment errors.  Isn’t it irrational exuberance when a nation gets enthralled by entertainment but lags behind in education?

To make our students ready for the challenges of the Digital Age, what then must we do in our classrooms, in our relationships with our students? 

You will agree with me that the first order of the day for us as teachers is to benchmark – to look around to investigate who and what draws away the undivided attention of our students from the proper attention they are supposed to devote to their learning?  To find out who our competitors are for our students’ attention…who have managed to be more influential and powerful with our students, who can capture their concentration that is due us in our classrooms? To uncover and discover what drives the passion and excitement of practitioners in the entertainment industry so that us, in the education industry, can borrow and be contaminated with such passion and excitement and be able to compete for the proper focus and concentration due us in our classrooms?

More soul-searching make us ready for our classroom gymnastics, for making our students focus on the important things in life – engaging them in our all-important  knowledge work of acquisition, assimilation, retention, retrieval, research, and expansion.

The 21st century is the Age of Electronic Mass Media – TVs, DVDs, computers, game boxes, smart phones, video and other streaming devices.  The 21st century is also the Digital Age; thus, to test our own literacy, can we speak DSL, Digital as Second Language? Have we ever attempted to learn DSL, the language that our students speak?  How do we teach to make our students acquire a high degree of digital literacy to be truly – in the language of author Nassbaum-Beach in his 2003 book, The Last Generation, A Tapestry of Knowledge – marketable in the 21st century?

In the relationship between the teacher and the students, do we still structure our classroom in the traditional design of how we learned through the analog teaching our own teachers gave us?  What happens now to our digital learners?  Because they speak DSL, what happens to the learning styles in our classrooms when our learning styles are different?  Whose learning style dominates in our knowledge work, our own or our students? 

Indeed, because we have been trained and educated in the traditional mold – and thus teach the way we learn – much can be said about the generational divide between our digital native students, the native speakers of technology who are fluent in the digital language of computers, video games, web conferencing, social networking, and internet and us, the digital immigrants who were born into the Agricultural-Industrial Age and who have been trained in linear, teacher-centered and lecture-based learning styles. 

When our students, as digital native learners, prefer random access to hyperlinked multimedia information, do we stay put with our usual style of providing information linearly, logically, and sequentially?  When they prefer instant gratification and instant rewards, do we stick to our style of deferred gratification and deferred rewards? As digital native learners prefer learning that is relevant, instantly useful and fun, do we stick to our curriculum guide and standardized exams?

And because we were born when electronics media was just emerging, we belong to the generation of learners who could not be trapped as yet into becoming a nation of “vidiots” – a  term coined by economics professor Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University who, by joining together the terms, video and idiot, has captured the essence of the dangers of the emotions brought about by the Digital Age highlighted by neuroscientists who warn of the mental-health effects of electronic media that can run deeper than addiction, consumerism, social fragmentation, political propaganda, cognitive impairment and other  brain development concerns.

When the national papers carried the story that the World Health Organization confirmed the decline of the breastfeeding culture in our country, the Philippines was placed on the global map not only because of doctor-influenced advertising that digital media has been aggressive about; it has also put the future of our country at stake by exposing Filipino babies, the future of our country, to fatal and debilitating illnesses.

As teachers then in this Knowledge Economy in this Digital Age, our responsibility lies in teaching and learning DSL in entrainment… for only then can our head and our heart provide the passion and excitement for our students to give us their undivided attention where it is due – in learning and  education as the most significant  events to happen in man’s drive to cultivate a quality of life that befits us, the caretakers of our Mother Earth!   Ultimately, it is learning together with our students in the faith molded in the tradition of Silliman character that makes us the digital bridges for the kind of knowledge work that we do for our students, the digital natives in this 21st century!  Lest we forget our responsibility and accountability as teachers, becoming digital refugees by choosing to flee our students’ digital native culture is also the ultimate failure not only of our educational system but also our progress as a nation! 

Let us then all stay put in teaching for entrainment not only to train and educate each Filipino as the whole person but also to be focused on our state of becoming… gifted with life skills to show that what we are is God’s gift to us; but what we make of it, is our gift to God!