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					Meaningful learning for Undergraduates

Abstract
Science and technology has rendered human mentality to a mere bunch of technical innovations and providing high-end solutions, without realizing the ultimate reality that encompasses the wholeness of this world. Hence it is imperative for the undergraduates of today and engineers of tomorrow to understand the true connotation of meaningful learning. Morals, ethics, values, wisdom, technology, innovation, research, art and nature are all interconnected and they are to be

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visualized in the same cognitive structure for the development of a learning society. This paper presents the correlation between the EE-CS undergraduate education and the spiritual objective guide of meaningful learning.

Who is an agnostic? Dictionary says that an agnostic is a person who is skeptical about the presence of God or an ultimate reality. A faith and belief as strong as the presence of God, though is questioned by some, very rarely do we question the basics of our “learning”. There are so many different ways of worship, so many different ways of reaching out to God and still it is questioned by some, that too quite logically and analytically. But how often do we think of questioning the basics we have been taught since childhood? And during our undergraduate study where many complex theories and concepts unfold in front of our eyes, rarely do we ever ponder upon our learning. And this brings me to a fundamental question - what is meaningful learning for undergraduates?

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Modern schooling has abandoned the essence of meaningful learning to some extent. Until the time one commences his undergraduate study, the individual has no idea of identifying the ways in which meaningful understanding of learning goes against the grain of typical schooling practices, and is instrumental in the development of a learning society. To start with, let us view learning in a broader aspect. Learning in a major sense is classified into two categories, viz. meaningful learning and rote learning. Meaningful learning as against rote learning, is a non-arbitrary, non-verbatim, substantive incorporation of new knowledge into a cognitive structure, wherein deliberate efforts to link new knowledge with higher order concepts and with prior learning are imperative. It encompasses distributed learning, lifelong learning, experiential learning, blended learning and spiritual learning [1].

From the perspective of an undergraduate student, the foundation step to understand meaningful learning is to think about the correlation between different courses or subjects as a whole [2]. In engineering, we study many subjects, which are basically different line of thoughts or perspectives to study what exists in the world. In fact every subject that exists is like a thread that drives and caters to the natural human curiosity to know “everything about everything”. And this dates back to a time even before the invention of the wheel. More threads evolve out of other threads when we question things. As an analogy, look at any new technology that evolves today. A new technology evolves to answer the questions posed by existing issues and problems. And all this is a natural process. Things evolve, growth and development continues only because there are questions, problems and the need to find solutions. Hence learning which doesn’t pose a question is incomplete learning. Questioning existing solutions, Questioning basics and Questioning questions in a new way, with a new perspective is and should always be a necessary outcome of learning for undergraduates. Galileo, Newton and Bose dared to question the basics and hence gave us wonderful gifts of Science.

This leads us to an emerging framework with the notions for meaningful learning. We begin by compressing the many connotations of meaningful learning into three words,

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viz. Meaning, Purpose and Connection [3]. Learning involves a quest for meaning, as the human brain is the naturally occurring eager search engine that builds new understanding of the world in relationship with the existing understandings. Preoccupation of the brain with data acquisition and data convertible to useful information, is not the search for meaning, but the very making of meaning stems out within the deeper processing units of the human brain free from any extrinsic motivation, of the likes of the threat of punishment or the promise of material reward. The purpose of learning has to be the growth and development of mankind. All living systems yearn to extend outward from a core identity by bringing out changes. So, as living systems, we must learn in a way that enhances our growth. The learning that serves no purpose in our lives needs to be resisted. Learning can never be individualistic. Learning is done in relationship with the other people and through our relationships with the world, the world that fragments with the manifestation of divine energy in multiple forms of life. The extrasensory perception inherent in all the humans provides a common ground between the mystics and the scientists of this world; the only need is to identify this tradition. The notions of the aforementioned framework need to be imbibed for the development of a learning society, the aim of meaningful learning.

As already said that the necessary outcome of learning is putting forward questions to every little thing, it must be understood that it’s always possible to question everything that exists and this very thing forms the basis of a continuously learning society. But then "what exists" is quite subjective and not all that is visible, exists in that very form and not all that isn’t visible is "non-existent". As an EE-CS undergraduate, one might question that how does Programming – the concept of Object Orientation, structured and declarative paradigms; Data structure, Database Management System, Operating system, software engineering contribute to our life. How has Communication, Signal processing, hardware design and simulation changed the way we think? These various subjects, to an undergraduate exist in the form that is generally presented to him, but beyond that, there lies a need for exploring the extrasensory perception that causes one to question even the inherent aspects of these subjects that seem invisible. We say that the dark matter is invisible, mysterious and hence perhaps nonexistent. But still the progressive scientists

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argue that there must be a bunch of unseen dark matter lurking in every galaxy, as the galaxies themselves don’t have enough regular matter to keep them from flying apart. We all know about the Moore’s law and the availability of cheaper computers and generally, one questions about the visible aspects of the emerging high-speed processors and their usability in vivid areas. But how often one questions the relation of the Chaos Theory with the Moore’s Law - very rarely, simply because it is invisible. But it is not nonexistent. Thus, besides questioning the existent, the meaningful learning can be considered complete for an undergraduate if he possesses an insatiate desire to think about the invisible that might seem nonexistent, and to question the existent that might seem less visible. So keep your eyes and ears open and the moment the spirit of inquisitiveness provokes you to question something, go for it. That constitutes an important part of meaningful learning.

When we say that meaningful learning aims to build a learning society, the need to identify and understand the responsibilities, as an engineer becomes an important constituent of meaningful learning. An engineer’s responsibility is to take innovation, inventions and discoveries to the people and for the betterment of the society, i.e. to learn with a purpose. The innovation that takes place today and holds the key to the future wants undergraduates to appreciate other domains also. Interdisciplinary research is being carried out today to find the solution of many serious and intriguing problems. And for that it’s necessary to be able to correlate the knowledge one has gained with the real world and build one’s value system.

It is said that knowledge helps in building ones character, contributes to ones values, perceptions, and wisdom in a positive way. This is the notion for spiritual learning. Spirituality is transcendence that refers to moving beyond our own psychological walls to experience more clearly the true nature of things. By exploring meaning beyond meaning, spirituality takes a step forward towards a luminous darkness [4,5].

We program and compare the expected outputs with the actual output. A mismatch belies our expectations. But honesty and good programming are strongly related. Unless we are

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honest with the platform, the user, fellow team members, our design, and ourselves, we cannot produce good applications. From declaring variables to calling functions to the interface design, there has to be honesty everywhere. That’s what software engineering teaches us- honesty. And it also wants us to write clean, uncluttered code i.e. be systematic. A closing brace for every opening brace, correct indentation practices, timestorage trade-off; all these make us more methodical, logical and analytical in our approach. UML diagrams are a way of expressing the different perspectives in the designing phase by identifying all the components, active or passive, in the system. Whether it’s the actors in a system, the events, the entities, the hardware components or the time stamped interaction between entities and the different states in the system, every diagram from the use-case diagram to the component and deployment diagram is an important part contributing to the system and playing an important role.

A common observation is that in a system the entities change less frequently than functionalities. To model a farm where vegetables are grown, the stress will be on entities like tomatoes, potatoes and the likes. The method of growing each type of vegetable will be the functionalities of these entities. This can be modeled with the help of object orientation. But to find a solution to a problem in finite steps and to address the “how” of a problem rather than “what” or “which” warrants the use of structured paradigm. The applicability of the paradigms to address or solve a problem is quite subjective but the explanation given above can be a useful guide to many. This type of approach helps us in developing the skill of analyzing an issue from many angles and developing tolerance to evaluate and accept others views. This helps an individual to understand the value of peaceful coexistence.

If we think about the scope of developing the different kind of perspectives after going through signal processing, every transform is simply a different perspective to view the information available. What Fourier cannot "show", Wavelet can. And no wonder that in data mining, we see many signal processing techniques being used. After all to find hidden useful data one may have to use different viewpoints to analyze data.

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With so much data available to us, how does a computer store the information in the space available, systematically and efficiently? This is where data structures come in. One of the main learning outcomes of data structures is to be able to evaluate all the options and make the best choice. The rigorous practice of arriving at the best data structure to store some data, by finding the complexity of some atomic operations like insertion, deletion and search, helps in developing the skill of managing resources. We store data, a part of data, logic or the seed of the logic to address the problem. Management of available resources by evaluating all the options, addressing the needs and still coming up with the most optimized solution is the most important skill of every undergraduate. And even here honesty plays an important role, in handling the resources and striving for the best solution.

Database management system gives a kind of perspective which helps us realize the importance of tightening the loose ends, managing relevant information and obviously optimization. Removing redundancy and normalizing the database is like organizing relevant information and tightening the loose ends. Having dealt with practical applications in detail one should understand that whether it’s a Database management system, a search engine or any other software or hardware, the correlation between theory of computation, compiler design and construction, hardware simulation techniques and Software engineering is quite natural and it is this combination that has helped Electronics Engineering and Computer Science reach the masses.

Abstract visualization and theory are relevant and very important to solve serious problems. Unless we have governing laws, theorems and proofs we can’t think of modeling or simulating complex systems and entities, something very important for an undergraduate. While mathematical equations are still the most relevant expressions to express and show complex physical entities, there are some things like intuition, classification of musical tastes and preferences, modeling metaphysical entities that call for the convergence of many disciplines other than computer science, mathematics, psychology, music cognition. Meaningful learning helps an individual to identify and correlate with the roots of a musical genre. Every musical genre and dance form in itself

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is a manifestation of the existence of different perceptions and line of thoughts that exist. And a higher cognitive evaluation leads one to understand and marvel at the beauty of the correlation between nature, art and technology. This again roots back to the importance of connection in meaningful learning – connection in thoughts, connection in viewpoints and connection in theories [6]. The connection that learners must find between the different courses subject to the relationships within this world, finds an illuminating analogy with spirituality. The interdisciplinary research possible by finding the interconnection between diversified areas of immense research leads to high-end solutions serving a purpose for this world, but deriving out the meaning beyond meaning from the various subjects and correlating them is the foundation stone for a self-serving learning society. Just preparing high-end solutions might seem the end of learning, but in effect, it leaves the connective tissue of reality open-ended. The fragrance of learning must be such that it implicates us in the web of life, with the knower and the known being wrapped in compassion and in a bond of awesome responsibility. The connective tissue only then can identify its ends. Learning is living, with your senses in control of yourselves [7]. Give your senses the maximum freedom possible, live your passion and you will learn more than what books can teach you. One thing that these subjects teach you is to be organized, the precondition of which is to be systematic and optimize the time and resources. Optimization is not confined to the realm of technical subjects or perspectives listed above. This has to be incorporated in life. As engineers we have to learn to optimize everything in our life, be systematic and organized in our activities.

The time has arrived when as an undergraduate we must easily recognize the objective guide to the development of values. The objective guide to the development of science and this physical world is identified through the advent of latest technologies, but the enormous power and the wisdom inherent within us to correlate the technological innovations with the development of spirituality is not realized [8]. We as undergraduates need to correlate the nature of the physical world and the nature of the internal stream of our consciousness. This fundamental correlation leads to a Totality Axiom that connects

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the structure and essence of every little thing in a unified worldview. This axiom if realized in its real sense will lay the groundwork for an objective spirituality and will make the correlation auto correlated within human vistas of mind. The need of auto correlation lies in the fact that this soft virtue is not a fuzzy feeling, but a spiritual tradition emanating from the curiosity and control within the dimensions of knowledge.

To conclude, as undergraduates, we must have in our shelves the purest divine ingredients that can cause an unbounded evolution of consciousness, foster creativity and imagination, facilitate connection and can make us aware of the significance of meaning and purpose in our lives. The divine ingredients need to be processed by our mind and soul, as slowly and steadily shall we sweetly smell the fragrance of meaningful learning.

References:

1)

Palmer, P. (1999). The grace of great things: Reclaiming the sacred in knowing, teaching, and learning. In Glazer, S. (Ed.), The heart of learning: Spirituality in education (pp. 13-32). New York: Tarcher/Putnam.

2)

Palmer, P. (2004). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

3)

Meaning, Purpose, and Connection: Spirituality in a Learning Society by Vachel Miller.

4)

Tisdell, E. J. (2003). Exploring spirituality and culture in adult and higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

5)

Palmer, P., To Know as We Are Known: Education as Spiritual Journey. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1983.

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6)

Kessler, R. (2000). The soul of education: Helping students find connection, compassion, and character at school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Ray Kurzweil. The Material World: “Is That All Their Is?” Response to George Gilder and Jay Richards. In Jay W. Richards, editor, Are We Spiritual Machines. Discovery Institute Press, Seattle, 2002. Nash, R. J. (2002). Spirituality, ethics, religions, and teaching: A professor’s journey. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

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