UC Berkeley Innovation
Amelia Barili is dedicated to transforming education through her innovations as faculty at UC Berkeley. She has developed an innovative pedagogy that combines the findings of Neurobiology and Cognitive Science about the ways we learn, with nurturing in students the call to respond to the needs of the community through volunteering. Barili sees academic learning as process of personal and social transformation. She creates courses that foster lifelong learning for undergraduates and older adults. In her interdisciplinary, multicultural innovative courses students learn to transfer the knowledge and skills that they acquire in the classroom to real life situations through experiential learning and service learning. In the process of mastering the subject they are studying they are moved to more deeply know themselves and others, and they are motivated to bring forth a better world.
The range of Barili’s UC Berkeley innovations go from creating innovative courses and developing an innovative pedagogy to motivate undergraduates and older adults alike in the learning process, to actually bringing forth changes in the teaching process by working with colleagues in multicultural and interdisciplinary research groups that she has organized and facilitated around the subject of engaged scholarship and service learning.
Innovative courses and pedagogy
1. In Older Adult Education
at UC Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
1.a * Intergenerational, Multicultural Learning and Volunteering, beyond class and race.
First ever course on Neuroplasticity with practical laboratory of cultivating Positive Neuroplasticity in older adults, through Volunteering. Students in this bold innovation in older adults education, volunteer with one of four Local NGOs: Refugee Transitions, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant International House Hosting Program and English in Action. These courses/workshops are opening new doors for older adults to cultivate positive neuroplasticity using their talents to respond to the needs of the community. Many of them still volunteering today and meet monthly in a group they titled: “Pause One on One”, to reflect about what they are learning through volunteering and how to keep honing their skills and service to the community–
“Each One Helps One: Neuroplasticity in Action ” (2013); “Engaging with Life: Volunteering and Neuroplasticity” (2014-2016) and “Volunteering, Meditation and Neuroplasticity” (2017).
Volunteering, Meditation and Neuroplasticity (2017)
New course. Many recent scientific studies show that meditation and volunteering support good health for the heart, brain, and whole being. Combined, they foster positive neuroplasticity. In this course students study the science of neuroplasticity, and learn brief contemplative practices to calm and focus their mind and open their heart to new perspectives in relating to members of different cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. They also volunteer outside of class for one to two hours each week at English-inAction, International House, or Refugee Transitions, and Equal Opportunities Program at UCB. This experiential learning deepens their knowledge of other cultures as they assist international students, refugees, and immigrants in the often-challenging transition to American life.
Engaging with Life: Volunteering and Neuroplasticity (2014 to 2016)
Follow up course to “Each One Helps One”. This course integrates the most recent findings of Cognitive Science, and Neurobiology with Meditation and Service Learning. Participants study about the most recent findings on interpersonal neuroplasticity through video talks and readings. In class besides analyzing and discussing the readings and talks, they learn contemplative practices to develop greater awareness of self and others. They complement the intellectual discussion about neuroplasticity with the direct experience of assisting someone from a different culture by volunteering at Refugee Transitions, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, the International House I-Host Program, or the YWCA English-in-Action Program. To assist participants in their volunteering activities, we have in each class, small group discussions, where participants who volunteer with the same organization, share their experiences and reflections for that week of volunteering.
Each One Helps One: Neuroplasticity in Action (2013)
Recognizing the potential of older adults and the needs of the community, this course integrates the most recent findings of Cognitive Science, and Neurobiology with Meditation and Service Learning. Participants study about interpersonal neuroplasticity through video talks and readings. In class besides analyzing and discussing the readings and talks, they learn contemplative practices to develop greater awareness of self and others. They complement the intellectual discussion about neuroplasticity with the direct experience of assisting someone from a different culture by volunteering at Refugee Transitions, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, the International House I-Host Program, or the YWCA English-in-Action Program. To assist participants in their volunteering activities, we have in each class, small group discussions, where participants who volunteer with the same organization, share their experiences and reflections for that week, and reflect on the neuroplasticity that occurs while volunteering one-on-one. In the bigger group participants discuss those experiences relating them to what we are studying about neuroplasticity through our readings, video presentations by experts. Ted Talks and documentaries.
1b * Researching How to Foster Positive Neuroplasticity, through self-inquiry, meditation and art.
Nourishing the Soul with Pablo Neruda’s Poetry: Neuroplasticity and Poetry (Spring 2013)
A major question today is “How can we nourish our soul even in the midst of challenges?” Wisdom traditions teach us that happiness resides in being fully present by entering the Now with a new gaze of innocent discovery and total union. This course invites students to cultivate that inner stillness and to open up to the radiant presence that is already within us and around us. Our tools for inner cultivation are the tender poetry of Pablo Neruda combined with contemplative practices, and a quick view at recent findings on Neuroplasticity. Through Neruda’s poems we will reflect on our childhood, on the cycles of life, death and renewal, on the joy of laziness, and on how poetry call us from everywhere in our daily life. Our classes will begin with a brief meditation to let the poetry sink on us, blending our inner and outer worlds. In one of our sessions we will watch together Il Postino
Science and Spirituality: Secrets and Daily Practices (Fall 2012)
Recent scientific findings on how the way we think, feel, and act shapes our brain and nervous system confirm what the empirical sciences of India and China have said for thousands of years: that our mind and body are vastly interconnected. In this course students learn easy, effective daily practices to redirect their emotional energy toward greater flexibility in responding to all of life’s joys and challenges, while gaining wisdom and compassion toward themselves and others. In the first hour of class we discuss main concepts of the readings about neuroplasticity assigned for the day and explore questions about practical examples and applications (or testing) of those concepts in our daily life. In the second hour students learn practices from Classical Yoga, Qigong and Buddhism to focus the mind and cultivate clarity and creativity.
The Embodied Mind: Harnessing Neuroplasticity for Wisdom and Compassion (Spring 2012)
Traditionally the role of the university has been to cultivate the mind. Now neuroscience tells us that all learning is, in fact, embodied learning. A cutting edge question of our time is: “How to access the mind through the body and how can we harness neuroplasticity to bring forth a better world?” Through presentations on line by renowned neuroscientists who research and practice meditation, we learn about what is neuroplasticity
Borges, Buddhism, and Cognitive Science (Fall 2011)
To explore through the lenses of art, philosophy and science, two fundamental questions: “Who are we?” and “How do we create meaning for ourselves?” in this course we discuss the embodied bases of human understanding as presented in Cognitive Science, in Buddhist philosophy, and in Borges’ writings. We first study the main principles of Cognitive Science about how we bring forth worlds with our perception, interpretation and responses, and we compare them with the principles of Buddhism about how we influence and shape the realities we live in. Then, in essays and short stories by Jorge Luis Borges we explore the same themes evoked through a literary lens. To complete our study of the mind as embodied learning, we observe our minds in the process of creating meaning. This course includes a lab component of self-reflection, critical inquiry, and contemplative practices to focus the mind and foster discernment and inner knowing.
- Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science
Borges, Buddhism and Dreams (Spring 2011)
Jorge Luis Borges was fascinated with Buddhism and with dreams. In this course we explore the relation between these two themes, and their presence in Borges’ essays, poems and short stories. We read by him What is Buddhism?, “The South,” “Nightmares,” “The Ethnographer” and “Coleridge’s Dream.” Since both Borges and Buddhism sustain that we first need to know our mind (or minding) before we can know the world we perceive through it, we begin each class with brief contemplative practices to focus our mind and open ourselves to intuitive knowing.
Borges on Buddhism, Buddhism in Borges (Fall 2010)
Jorge Luis Borges’ fascination, since his early childhood, with Buddhism is not known to most of his readers. In this course we read lectures and essays he wrote Buddhism, learn basic Buddhist principles from classical sources, and trace the presence of those texts and principles in Borges’ short stories and essays. Central to both Borges and Buddhism is the question of how our minds create the realities we inhabit. To foster discernment and inner knowing, we begin each class with brief contemplative practices.
Borges, a Weaver of Dreams (Winter 2010)
In this introductory course we read a selection of Borges’ short stories, essays, and poems. Beginning with his brief essay “Borges and I”, and continuing with “The Other”, “Conjectural Poem”, “The South”, “The Secret Miracle”, etc, we explore how Borges interweaves a rich world of Argentine nuances and traditions, and of private longings and preferences, with his interest in oriental philosophies and in the world of dreams.
2. In Undergraduate Education
* Learning with/from the Community: Students research the new Global Civil Society by volunteering and developing projects at 14 local NGOs.
- “Globalization and the New Global Civil Society”– (2004)
* First American Cultures course ever to be taught in Spanish and focused on the Latino Community.
- “Identity from the Margins: From Borges and Anzaldúa to Latino Conscious Hip Hop” — (2007)
* Contemplative practices in groundbreaking interdisciplinary course that integrates Art, Humanities and Science
- Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science — (2009)
* Giving Voice to the Voiceless. Writing as game changer. Students write bilingual anthology of true stories about being undocumented.
- “Stories of Undocumented/ Historias de Indocumentados” — (2013)
* Educating Global Volunteers. Students volunteering locally and research how to volunteer internationally.
- “Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing” — (2015)