Sharing and Caring in Quality Education

In the Media Lab Helsinki we are this week presenting and evaluating the Master thesis works of the spring graduates. Our two MA programs are relatively selective (we take about 20% of the applicants) and small (22 and 8 students). The small number of students makes it possible to have an event where our MA candidates are resenting and “defending” their thesis for evaluators and general public.

This is, of course, very time consuming and expensive. After the first day with seven presentations and following discussion I am sure that it is worth of the investment. It is “quality assurance”, but much more it is an event of sharing and caring. And why would sharing and caring be important in education? It pays off as quality. It is not only assuring quality: it itself produces quality results.

Sharing in the case of education (and science) of course means that everyone’s work will help other people working in a same field, doing studies or research from some topic close. Seminars, presentations, conferences, journals, coffee breaks, lunches and dinners …and final thesis presentations are all there for one reason: to share.

To be honest, what it comes to “web publishing” we are not “very good” in it in the Media Lab. For instance we do not webcast the final thesis presentations. One may claim this to be a paradox and totally contradicted to the idea of “sharing”. I don’t think so.

I have some pedagogical reasons to keep some discussions – if not private – open only for people who care to come over physically (the events are open for public). The request of physical present is related to caring. By being present you physically communicate that you care. You show with the most powerful methods of communication – presence and touch (we shake hands, hug, some people even kiss each other) – that you care, that you are part of the community.

Now one may ask what about people who can’t come? What about people who live outside Helsinki? Why they can’t participate from distance – via Internet?

The problems related to communicate the caring is one reason. The other reason is respect of people’s sensitiveness and limitations. Some people are simply not great “public speakers” or may be afraid of “large audiences” or “recordings of their performances”. Some other people may suffer from stuttering, speech defects, or have problems with language in general. Especially when our community is multi-cultural and most people are communicating with a foreign language this is a real issue. Keeping events open but limited for people who care to come we respect the people and their diversity.

Among the people who care to come over physically we may assume that they will get enough contextual information to make a right interpretation about the people’s “weaknesses”.

The caring aspect of education is not discussed that much. The “emotional intelligence” and “emotional learning” are not new ideas. From some part these are related to caring. Showing caring of someone is always emotional. It means that there is a connection that makes it a community.

Caring in quality education is manifested as tough but fair critique and praises when deserved. Neither of them – critique or praises – should attack the person. The value of the person is not questioned. It is untouchable. It is sacred.

“You gotta love everybody, make ‘em feel good about themselves”

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