At long last, we have completed our assignment and are able to publish a fabulous interview with Dr. Mario Núñez, done at the Tercer Encuentro de Educadores Puertorriqueños (Third Meeting of Puerto Rican Educators) at the Interamerican University in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The event was organized by educapr, during which both Mario and I participated in a panel. Mario’s interview presented a couple difficulties: first the sound quality was somewhat bad; and of course the interview was in Spanish. Thus, we decided to add English subtitles to the video, which complicated things. However, our awesome Ms. Gabriela Rivera Torrado managed to master some subtle subtitling techniques and voilá, the interview video is now available here in both languages. Gabriela’s work also included a full transcription and the summary article that is published here. Enjoy!

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Lately, Dr. Mario Nuñez has been interested in the concept of change, how we can stipulate it and the important factors needed in order to create change within the context of education at a scholastic and higher level. Changing conduct can be a difficult process and Nuñez asks: “ How do we make people change, and how do we make that change a permanent one?”. He recognizes that the necessary factor for change is motivation, which may be extrinsic or intrinsic. The educative system is oriented towards motivating people extrinsically, from the outside. According to Nuñez, it is a system in which “they give you strengths, they control you and they condition you” and this is why the student does what he does. The student studies because he has an exam, the student reads a book because it’s been assigned, not because he wants to read. Students are reinforced with grades and a system of merits in order to achieve a certain conduct.  One of the dangers of extrinsic motivations is that when the reinforcement is lost the conduct is lost as well. The problem then lies in trying to control an intrinsic motivation with extrinsic reinforcements, which is what Dr. Nuñez believes the educative system is doing currently.

Professor Nuñez believes that some students have yet to find what Kevin Robinson refers to as “the element”. “The element” is that which makes you feel passionate and which you are good at, and you’re good at it because you have the capacity to do so, as well. Other students are very motivated to study, but find that they don’t have the ability for their chosen career path. The role of the educator at a high school and university level is to help students find their “element”, this way the student can take full advantage of the experience that college offers them so that they may choose their ideal career path.

Dr. Nuñez would like to see faculty change their current pedagogic process to one that promotes communication with and between the students. Interestingly, Dr. Nuñez believes that although useful, technology is a non-essential when it comes to teaching. What is essential is that faculty reflect and evaluate what they are doing, they must ask themselves how effective they are as educators. In terms of effective teaching, the most important principle is communication. Fostering good communication between teachers and students is important and technology can be useful for this, but, there are other ways of doing it.

Professor Nuñez highlights the importance of instant feedback, and the face to face contact between teacher and student. He asks:

“What is more transformative within the process of education than the student knowing that the teacher went through the effort of learning their name?”.

In this way, the students know that they were important to the process of education. The second most important element is communication between the students. This can be achieved through collaborative learning, forming groups, group projects and exercises in the classroom and online that promote the students getting to know each other through forums. Through these forums, they can ask questions and answer one another’s doubts, interacting in a synergistic manner.

Although Nuñez states that technology is not essential to education, he does use it in the classroom. For example, in his “Psychology of the Internet” course, Nuñez holds debates where students Tweet their opinions and they are projected in the classroom. During this type of activity the professor can see the process of thought within the student’s minds and how they defend certain ideas. Nuñez notes that often, within these discussions, you find students that are too complacent and agreeable with everything. He would like to see students participate in more discussions at an online level because it is important for them to see that there are people who disagree with them, which is what occurs in the reality outside of the classroom.

In spite of the fact that Professor Mario Nuñez enjoys integrating technology within the classroom, he is somewhat resistant to the idea of courses that are completely online, and even more wary of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs): “But the impression one gets… and I mean even the name: “Massive Online…”, the whole “massive” thing, I don’t like that title. Because it has to do with just that, mass, a whole bunch of people. And then I think.. I mean my question is, how much of this goes against an individualized process?”

Not quite sure if his feelings are due to a certain nostalgia for traditional classroom teaching, Nuñez feels that these open, online courses are too impersonal and chaotic. Uncertainty seems to be recurring theme for Nuñez when discussing MOOCs, he prefers classes with a traditional structure.

These days, Mario Nuñez has a cautious attitude towards technology. Making reference to an article he read about  “Techno-realists, techno-optimists and techno-pessimists (…)”,  Nuñez says hes gone from being a “techno-optimist” to being a “techno-realist” . For Nuñez, it seems prudent to be realistic about what is happening now a days and the impact of technology in our way of living and our interpersonal relationships. He points out, mentioning Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together, that many of the technologies that can unite us with people far away can distance us from those closest to us. In order to prevent the constant connection to the internet from distancing adolescents and young adults from their parents and siblings, Dr.Nuñez reccomends taking “digital sabbaticals” to disconnect from the Web and reconnect with those closest to us.

Mario Nuñez has worked in the Science Department of the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez Campus since 1987. He has a Harvard doctorate in “Counseling and Consulting Psychology”. Since 1998, Nuñez has been working on and studying the integration of technology in teaching and learning. A pioneer in blogging, Nuñez’s blog DigiZen is one of the first and foremost academic blogs in Puerto Rico: http://www.vidadigital.net/blog/.

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Antonio Vantaggiato
antonio-vantaggiato@blogs.netedu.info