Monday, October 14, 2013

What's on My Mind? Lamarckian Evolution (Blog 7)

On Friday, Claire had us watch what I thought was a riveting TED Talk by Vilayanur Ramachandran titled, "The Neurons that Shaped Civilization." The video explored the ways in which mirror neurons learn and adopt behaviors they both experience and see. To be perfectly honest, I think this video should be one of the first things shown to all students in the 3840/5840 class.

While I cannot claim to be skilled at scientific study or exploration, I am nonetheless drawn to science in how it explains the natural world and the nature of humankind. Essentially, all the tutor training theory we have gotten thus far can be traced back to this one seven minute video. The very first day of tutor training we did an activity where we could all experience an "Aha!" moment. The "Aha!" moment is explained by Ramachandran as a phenomenon of Lamarckian evolution. The child (student) can observe the parent (tutor/teacher) doing or demonstrating a particular action and then understand how to perform the same action themselves. This "Aha!" moment mimics the examples outlined above. We played a game where we observed peers giving several answers to a question until we understood their methods and then mimicked them for ourselves.

Similarly, the one-on-one tutoring methods we have been taught to enact also relate back to this one explanation. We point out an error in the students writing and demonstrate how to correct it one, maybe two, times. Then, we hand the skill over to the student who has been using their mirror neurons to adopt our actions. They then practice the skill for themselves thus cementing the action and observational reasoning in their brain for future use. In doing so, the Writing Center acts as an education hub of academic Lamarckian  evolution. The tutors act as the parent in evolving the necessary academic skill of writing among the student body. The organization of the Writing Center seems to have drawn on historical phenomena of growing evolutionary skill and adapted it to the world of higher education.

While I can understand how many people who find comfort in the Humanities may be intimidated by the language and subjects explored by Ramachandran, I can nonetheless stress the importance of this video on the psyche of the tutor. It gives scientific rather than statistical validation to the job we do. While I do not aim to undermine the statistics presented in the classroom, I find the seven minute video more compelling in examining and evolving my current and future teaching techniques.


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