by J. Aleta Villanueva
My Session 1: Artificial Life Forms
The first time I worked closely with Diego was in last year's Cultural Committee for the Sunduan 2008 of UP Open Universtiy. He really is a wonder boy. I honestly told him that I hope my children will grow up to be just like him: brilliant, tech savvy, caring and healthy. I find him to be a global Pinoy in the real sense of the word. I also admire the fact that he is gay: people who have a great capacity to be themselves despite the odds. They plunge themselves into the Arts and have the benefit of getting into all kinds of pants! Getting to know Diego through conversations about UPOU, life and love was a good peek into his brain and how he thinks. He would almost always expound on an idea by drawing from theories out there and fit it in beautifully through our exchanges ( all these as we fondly talk about our common topic of interest: xxx).
I learned that Diego was fortunate enough to be schooled abroad, not just any school but an IBO school, which fostered intercultural understanding and respect through a rigorous interdisciplinary, inquiry driven curriculum. Diego's gifts must have been honed well in an international school of that caliber. He does demonstrate attitudes of responsibility, tolerance, compassion and care ...all of which are part and parcel of student profiles and learning outcomes advocated by the IBO schools.
It wasn't a surprise that Diego worked with equally brilliant individuals from around the world. So the first time he mentioned something about Vermeulen (whom I fondly call "Verm" in my brain but say Angelo F2F). I just got kinda curious: http://www.angelovermeulen.net/ Uhmmm, good looking guy but so what? Interdisciplines + Verm. Interesting find as these are adults working collaboratively, perhaps products of schools such as IBO. Their works show evidence of criss crossing boundaries of disciplines. Imagine that: art + science + technology +ecology. What an interesting blend of perspectives and expertise! Moreso, what of the collaborative processes in the midst of all these.
My experience with interdisciplinary curriculum and integration is only at the basic education level in progressive schools I have worked with. My understanding of this educational idea evolved from my interest in doing Social Studies differently for school children. It all the more deepened as I was able to work in an IBO school in the Philippines for six years before getting into UP Open U. Alongside doing work for UPOU, I run a small school where I managed to transplant all these curriculum ideas from lessons learned over the years. Throughout my classroom practice and research, I have observed that programs grounded on these ideas genuinely work at the grade school level but I've always wondered how it can happen in a tertiary level class. This has also been a cause for concern as a parent-teacher-school owner. I need to make sure that my current investments with my school children will not be put to waste in some kind of traditional tertiary level institution. Working with UP Open University gave me a little hope that it will indeed be an institution of progressive and dynamic teachers who can accommodate, if not model these types of thinking and doing among students.
Hence when Diego opened invitations to attend a course set up by UPOU and the Bio Modd project, I grabbed the chance to actually see Diego at work...for how does a beautifully blended and interdisciplinary-brained person work and teach?
Consciously, when Diego was lecturing, I was wearing 2 kinds of thinking caps: that of a student and that of a teacher: a teacher’s cap to cull and outline the flow of ideas and discussions in my brain, and a student ‘s cap to think and engage with the rest of the group. There we were one afternoon at Diego’s cozy apartment: Sarah, Vanni, Julius, Habs, Be-an, Leo and I. I was pretty excited to learn anything scientific. or artistic and anything around it or beyond. Diego allowed us to state our purposes: I came out of sheer curiosity and the will to be inspired. I was curious about the group process and the manner through which Diego will facilitate this through a merging of ideas. Of course I didn't admit that I was a Diego fan.
Diego started with reviewing major concepts drawn from science and earlier lectures which tackle few issues concerning life vs. sentience vs intelligence. Apparently these were discussed I think in one of the earlier sessions with Verm: augmentation, simulation, mimicry, substitution, extraction, description. Once in while he would draw ideas from the group but mostly he allowed us to journey with him through ideas and thoughts pertaining to the emergence of life where we got a chance to review a few science theories and concepts related to the features of life. What I find amazing was how he used these as springboard, translate these into something else through samples from art and technology. He really is an instinctive teacher--teaching from perhaps the best way he was taught. There I was with my brain following all these in spirals. How I love thinking in spirals and the challenge of making all sorts of connections in moments of disequilibrium and uncertainty.
Then all of sudden Diego landed us into thinking about programming: when simple rules are laid out, we can actually mimick or simulate life in other forms: whether through 3D art, computer graphics and gaming! Woooonnnderful...lIke tadddaaaah, a bulb lights up my brain. What a fix! Some kind of wasabe through my nose up to my brain. Ooooohhhhhhh.
Of course, on the side I sketched/ scribbled a moving image of Diego in my brain, doing this lecture in his own special way. In between writing on th whiteboard and pressing on his laptop keys, he'd hum sweet sounding tunes. He would pause and pretend to accommodate our ideas but gently point out which ones are worth pursuing. I remember that he even laid out one essential rule: no stupid answers. He managed to pull a lecture which was relaxed yet substantive (at least to me).
Whew! Can Diego live and teach longer at UPOU so my children can learn from him?
I’m back on the ground as a student with these questions: What I'd like to find out in the end: How will the local culture and student ideas blend and contribute to the totalilty of the Biomodd installation which can perhaps represent a bit of who we are? How will the collaboration be like? How will Biomodd Philippines be similar to/different from previous versions Biomodd?
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