Monday, July 21, 2008

Wind & Fire Dialogues - Getting Started

Lately, I've been calling Mike Scott, founder of ThoughtAudio and XLRQ, on the phone and capturing our dialogues with a digital recorder. We began in a "Zen" fashion - not knowing where the dialogue will take us; for, indeed, the quest for truth takes us where it will.

This podcast ("Getting Started") is under eight minutes long. It touches upon the following themes:

being real / special experience / birth of the church / why institutions distort reality / judgements & spiritual ego / "the right way" / the beginning of dogma / and more...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Marketplace Meditation

Saturday, July 13th, 2008. Thirteen people joined me for an hour of talk, focused conversation, and meditation at Elephant Pharmacy in Berkeley. We meditated, practiced inner silence right in the store - with all the sounds of the marketplace around us. The recording unfortunately could not pick up all the comments of participants.; nor could we record the "sound" of meditation! Here's the recording:

In my talk, I mention the "Ten Bulls" from the Zen Buddhist tradition - especially number ten, representing someone enlightened who has completed the spiritual journey finally return to the marketplace. Below is that the 10th drawing as the corresponding text. It's one of my favorites.

10. In the World
Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.
Comment: Inside my gate, a thousand sages do not know me. The beauty of my garden is invisible. Why should one search for the footprints of the patriarchs? I go to the market place with my wine bottle and return home with my staff. I visit the wineshop and the market, and everyone I look upon becomes enlightened.
from 10 Bullsby Kakuan
Transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps
Illustrated by Tomikichiro Tokuriki

Friday, July 11, 2008

Beyond objects

True meditation releases mind's identification with objects; mind turns toward the source light of awareness itself without objects.

The purpose of true meditation is to break the mind’s identification with objects – so that the mind simply turns toward the source light of awareness without object. This is the true spacious, skylight radiant quality of mind that we glimpse and sustain as we awaken. Like “being in love” when the whole world seems brighter, more real, more filled with love all around. The difference is that this awakened condition is not dependent upon any object or specific person. It just IS.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Building a Conversation with 500 Students

This article appeared as a Syllabus "Case Study", July 2001, page 10. Even after all these years, I find that it still holds up. It was exciting to create a multi-directional Socratic dialogue with a class of 500 students. What I did not know at the time is that it takes so much energy and attention from the lead instructor! I don't think I could do that now. It would require several well trained co-instructors to make this to work on a permanent basis.

Building a Conversation with 500 Students
Syllabus "Case Study", July 2001, page 10

Americ Azevedo has 500 students in his Introduction to Computers course at the University of California, Berkeley. Despite that, his teaching philosophy embodies the principles of the Socratic method. What makes this apparent contradiction possible is discussion software, a technology that enables him to “teach” and interact with his students outside of class in a flexible, dynamic way. Discussion software connects him, his students, and the TAs for the course, and allows them to communicate much more directly and frequently than they otherwise could.

Azevedo, who has taught courses in computers and human/computer interaction at several institutions, has always believed that the Socratic method is right approach to teaching. In courses with smaller enrollments, he has usually relied upon open-ended questions and in-class discussion while simultaneously tinkering with online discussion formats to supplement the ongoing Socratic dialogue. However, faced with the prospect of teaching hundreds of students in a large lecture hall three days a week for 50 minutes, Azevedo knew that in-class discussion would be nearly impossible and that he’d have to rely on online discussions to achieve his goals.

The immediate benefit of using discussion software has been an increase in participation by his students and a chance for him to get to know some of them quite well. “I can call up a list of all of their contributions to the course and see what they’re like quite easily.” Says Azevedo. “Through the use of the software I get a chance to hear the ideas and concerns of a large number of students. It also allows the shy students to participate as actively as the more outgoing ones.”

Flexibility was one of his primary concerns. “Most of the software that exists for course management is content-centered,” notes Azevedo. “It locks you into specific topics and doesn’t allow discussions to grow naturally.” Because it had many of the features he was looking for, Azevedo decided to try WebCrossing in the course. “What like about WebCrossing is that it’s discussion-centered and allows students to generate new topics, or threads, if they want to. It is really an experiment in developing a pattern language, a new way of submitting thoughts.”

Azevedo’s class site had topics that he’s generated, where he can post course information, posit questions, and link to other useful sites. It also includes many student-generated threads. In addition, the course is supported by the full array of UC Berkeley’s technology tools. For instance, through the Berkeley Internet Broadcasting Network, Azevedo has captured streaming video of all of his lectures. Students can link to these from the class site. Coupled with dynamic lecture notes, PowerPoint slides, and online assignments, the site is a rich resource for both discussion and study. “With these resources in place,” he notes, “we could expand the enrollment of the course to a distance learning situation with twice or four times as many students.”

e-mail is a part of Azevedo’s package as well. He is experimenting with the use of e-mail to communicate with his students, posting information about upcoming lectures to a listserv. Based on student responses, he can tailor the lecture to address the material they need specific help with, and skip what they’ve already absorbed. This has led to some interesting student-contributed material. “I asked them to define some terms that are used in the computer industry,” he says. “The students generated some very interesting metaphors that I used in lecture.”

Azevedo’s Introduction to Computers also has a lab requirement. “With 18 sections of labs 4 hours a week, we’re using all the available lab space,” he says. In the future, he hopes to use discussion software to enhance the laboratory experience, allowing the students in each lab section to communicate with each other and with the TA on projects. He’s also planning to experiment with a CyberLab that would replace some of the lab sections.

According to Azevedo, discussion software can enhance not only large lecture courses, but smaller enrollment courses as well. “When I used it with small classes, it generated a lot of excitement,” he notes. “There was more personal engagement than you get with a large course. My students generated hundreds of pages of text, and the themes just grew and expanded organically.”

In his large course, Azevedo has found that students don’t necessarily participate as much, but he has been surprised by the level of response at times. “I started a debate about participation credits: should students get credit for participating in these large lecture courses? This produced a raging debate on WebCrossing. It was a level of expression that you would normally never get in a large class. Students contributed ideas about how the course should be graded, some of which I incorporated into the course.”

He adds, “My co-teachers, Nicholas Cravotta, quickly adopted the new environment. For instance, he was able to give quick public feedback to a discussion topic led by student-generated questions. Normally, students would never get this kind of feedback in a large class.”

Friday, July 04, 2008

Computers Don't Teach -- People Teach

I wrote this paper in 1998. The internet was exploding. Many schools, including mine, where throwing themselves into online education. It was a time of revolution. But, at the same time I saw a dark side and a great opportunity. Today, looking at it again - it still rings true. -Americ

Computers Don't Teach -- People Teach:
The Socrates Online Method
By Americ Azevedo


When movies first came into existence, producers created motion pictures that duplicated the look of live theater. They failed to see the possibilities inherent in the new medium of film. Likewise, faced with the revolutionary possibilities of online education, many educators still think in terms of converting their lectures into static web pages and relegating their own teaching rule to grading online quizzes and taking online attendance.
Meanwhile students are eager to embrace online education. Not having to commute and having a flexible schedule are such powerful motivators that investors like Michael Milken are crawling over themselves to corner an online education market which promises to be extremely lucrative. Financially stressed administrators, businessmen/educators, and excited investors are lured by the prospects. Online education has been hyped as a way of reaching a worldwide pool of students, paying fewer teachers, having relatively lower overhead, and tapping into the concept of "cradle-to-grave" learning.

The financial and marketing advantages are obvious. Unfortunately the spirit of online education has often been reduced to page after page of linked web materials that the instructor has put together - constituting about the most boring "slide show" you can possibly imagine. Some of these online lecture sites have as many as 40 pages of content. Perhaps that's impressive to people who aren't taking the course. But imagine a student sitting in front of the monitor reading all that. Since reading from a monitor is harder on the eyes than reading from a printed page students often print these pages out to read them . As one of my students told me, "I used up a lot of ink jet cartridges printing out those so-called lectures!"

This canned type of approach is often used to represent what online learning is all about, but I think it has nothing to do with a true teaching experience. Interactive textbooks on the web are valuable, but they have distinct limitations. For instance, there are no human beings on the other end to interact with, no one to explain a difficult concept or engage a student's interest and creativity. Let's remember that without interaction institutions that take up the banner of online education are really only championing a poor variety of correspondence course. A March 1998 article in the New York Times chastised the University of Phoenix for the "drive-thru" flavor of its online curriculum. The concept of online education is here to stay, but in order to sustain its momentum we need to examine the quality interaction between a student, a teacher , and course material - not just technological innovation.
There are some very expensive distance education systems out there that run on pure technological power -- teachers hardly have to check in on their classes. Quizzes are graded and stored automatically. Students respond with less attention because they are getting no attention from living teachers or from each other. Many of these quick-fix systems seem to provide conferences and chat features as an after thought. The primary focus being on creating large amounts of text materials to simulate a lecture. Even when translated into beautiful multimedia web pages, you can't disguise the fact that something is missing. In fact, the more multimedia bells and whistles that are added, the further the shift away from teacher interaction.
The rules in cyberspace are the same as real life. Its easy to fall asleep when you are being lectured at. No one pays much attention. However, when a teacher and other students can engage you online, or in person, there is a creative tension that makes you think and grow intellectually.


Education means, "to draw out." Socrates, in his great dialogues, worked with the idea of drawing out the knowledge that people had within them. Computers don't necessarily do this. A talented teacher, coaching and guiding a student, is the essence of real education.
The Internet and Web have created new environments for talented teachers to thrive. Dialogue, research results, information, and resources are vast. Once I believed that I wanted to rid myself of the books. A paperless classroom, so to speak. I just wanted to post content on the web and link to online resources. But, I've experienced a turnaround. Books are great, few classes should be without them. Books give the class depth, and a common footing. In addition to a class book the addition of Internet resources make for a very rich and accessible environment. Other instructors have told me that web-savvy students in their classes have contributed a great deal to their fellow students. Those students that can immediately find leads to deeper sources are quick to share their tips. The web encourages them and they eagerly communicate that enthusiasm. That is using the medium for what it really is.
I've developed a method that I call the Socrates Online Method to help harness student enthusiasm in a virtual classroom. My technique is not software dependent like many other distance learning systems. Rather, the heart of the teaching method is an ancient, time-honored, and deceptively simple technique: dialogue. Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, recognized dialogue as the best way to maximize the learning process.
One-on-one communication between student and teacher is emphasized in this method. Socrates Online is NOT a means of quickly throwing up web pages and canned materials onto the Internet. The shortsightedness of the "convert all your text materials into web pages" approach misses the whole dynamism of online learning, it fails to see this exciting medium as something completely new. Students who simply read lectures and assignments from a screen are not actively and personally engaged by their teachers. Students in this stultified environment will quickly tire of reading dated materials from a computer terminal and long for the social interplay of a traditional classroom.
This method fosters a rich exchange between student and teacher, between student and student, and between the online class and the vast resources of the Internet which are immediately on hand.

Asynchronous dialogue allows students and their teachers to manage their own learning times. Students who previously could not take classes due to busy career and family schedules are now freed to enrich themselves and their careers. And, unlike traditional classrooms, where students may be hesitant to participate or are hampered by one or two outspoken students online conferencing allows all students to provide input.
Another advantage to online communication is that it allows all students equal time to express themselves. No one interrupts another; postings in this dialogue format can be simultaneous. Responses and questions can be written thoughtfully, since the student is able to take his or her time. Since online conversations are, at present, text-based this medium increases the development of writing skills.


The World Wide Web can be a medium for conversational teaching software that benefits both students and teachers. Teaching dialogues can also occur asynchronously around the world and around the clock since people do not have to be on at the same time zone or on the same schedule. The skills and education necessary to succeed come within the reach of busy working adults and parents. And with the second-by-second advances in job-critical technologies, learning to stay competitive will be an ongoing process for an ever-growing group of people.

In online learning sessions, which are structured around dialogue, the computers don't eliminate teachers. Talented teachers are needed more than before. For example, with classes in Tax Law at Golden Gate University, we found that online students with a good teacher actually performed better than their counterparts in traditional classes.
Attractive, easy to read and navigate web pages are extremely important entryways into the virtual classroom, but once you are in the class, the web-based conferencing is the heart of the online classroom. Good online teaching means person to person interaction. Just like real life. Human attention is the currency of quality.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Legend of the eagle and the condor

Don Alverto Taxo, a Quichua elder and Iachak (community leader/healer), speaks of the ancient prophecy of the eagle and the condor meeting to bring a new harmony into the world. Don Alverto invites us all to trust the universal human intuition to bring greater harmony into our lives, and to seek after life's deeper meaning.

For more related videos, biography, and links; please go to An Invitation.
Concept Acknowledgment: Marianne Henry