UC Berkeley Innovations


 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.

1. Innovative courses and pedagogy

 1.a 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)

Spanish 135. Globalization and the New Global Civil Society. 

Course Description: A new kind of civil society, organized around reshaping globalization is gradually emerging. It is embodied in powerful international NGOs — such as Food First, Global Exchange, the Rainforest Action Network for example — as well as in coalitions of hundreds of smaller organizations, all of which have become social actors in a new political environment. This course offers an introduction to such phenomena from an international and a local point of view. In a series of lectures, in Spanish, scholars, writers, researchers, and leaders from major organizations discuss with the students how globalization is affecting Latin America today. The course includes a component of service learning by which students have the opportunity to serve the community and get professional experience by giving 15 hours of volunteer service to an NGO of their choice. This direct experience helps students reflect on the concepts and issues discussed in the classroom and is the basis for their weekly journals, a team presentation, and a major individual report they write at the end of the semester reflecting on how their experience at the volunteering site helped to deepen their understanding of specific aspects of what was discussed in the course.

Required reading, two readers and these books: Alternativas a la Globalización Económica /Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible. (International Forum on Globalization) (2002) Natural Capitalism, Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins (2000)

* 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)

Spanish 135AC. Identity from the Margins. From Borges and Anzaldúa to Zapatism and Latino Conscious Hip Hop. 

Course Description: Where does identity reside? Who should determine it? Can it be (re)articulated from the margins? These questions are central not only to 20th century debates about literary and national identity in Latin America, but also to recent debates about the role of women and youth in generating cultural and social change, as well as to the claims for cultural and political representation for indigenous populations that are arising through the continent today. In this course we study how these questions are present in the work of Jorge Luis Borges and how they opened pathways for the writers of the Boom (Cortázar, Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, etc). We reflect on such inquiry in the context of current literary and social studies debates about the need for emerging voices to enunciate their own identity in our multicultural society. To discuss relevant examples of how identity is (re)articulated from the margins we study the work of biculturalism theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, conscious hip hop Latino in the USA and the Zapatist movement today. Essays by Antonio Cornejo Polar, Mabel Moraña, Benedict Anderson, Nestor García Canclini, subcomandante Marcos and bell hooks, among others, provide a critical frame from which to consider the question of identity. This course, taught in Spanish, is the first American Cultures course ever taught in a language other than English. It helped expand the boundaries of the AC requirement. You can now make an international comparison of what it means to be Latino globally by relating the experience of what it means to be Latino in America to other Latino experiences in cross-border movements.

* Contemplative practices in groundbreaking interdisciplinary course that integrates Art, Humanities and Science: Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science–2009–2017

Spanish 135W Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science.

Course Description: This course offers a new approach to understanding Borges’ artistic and philosophical inquiries about the workings of the mind, and is a practical example of applied cognitive science by including in its methodology contemplative practices across disciplines. We explore Borges’ interest in Buddhism from his childhood in Argentina to his adolescence in Europe during the First World War and discuss how that interest continues to be expressed in his famous short stories of Ficciones and in his book ¿Qué es el budismo? We also study the basic tenets of Buddhism to which Borges refers in his work, and discuss their deep connection with Cognitive Science principles.

This interdisciplinary course defines a new area of inquiry: that of the relationship between Borges’ evocative writings and metaphysical insights and his interest in the Buddhist principles (similar to those of Cognitive Science today) which inquire about the nature of the mind. Composition topics that we explore in this course are how meaning is created by the author’s use of language, and how students can create meaning in the written analysis of the literary texts and of the cognitive and philosophical theories discussed in class. Besides considering themes of structure, use of language and stylistic devices through our analysis of Borges’ work, specific classes in the course are dedicated to assist students on how to articulate ideas, formulate a thesis, and construct an argument. We reflect on how to write effective introductions, conclusions, transitions, and to consider the use of accurate and responsible citation process in the main text of the essays as well as on footnotes and bibliography. Last but not least, this course includes a lab component of critical inquiry and meditation.

For a more detailed explanation of the Foundational Theory and Methodology of the course please read the article “Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science”.

In a new iteration of the course (Spring 2016) we included new features that support collaborative and autonomous learning, such as the writing of a Constitution for the course, in which students reflected about how to best prepare individually and work together as teams in this interdisciplinary and multicultural course, as well as how could we contribute as a group to public knowledge.

These two websites, in English and Spanish, are an example of those contributions, by sharing the materials of the course and the work of the students, expressed in academic blogs and in their e-portfolios- -two other new digital dimensions of this course. It is all presented in the following websites. We hope you enjoy them!


* 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” (2013-2016)

Spanish 102C. Biographical and Autobiographical Writing. Telling the Stories of the Undocumented.

Course Description: The purpose of this course is to help students develop a critical literary approach to the biographical and autobiographical genre, as well as acquire tools to claim their own story. We analyze and write biographical and autobiographical poems and short stories by or about immigrants and undocumented students. Currently, many UC Berkeley students are in the process of obtaining legal papers that will allow them to study and work in the US. This course is part of the concerted effort of UC Berkeley to assist those students and raise awareness about their lives and those of their loved ones; as such it is open to all students, documented and undocumented alike. There is a Service Learning requirement–for a minimum total of 20 hours per semester–of volunteering at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and at similar NGOs that assist undocumented students and immigrants in their path to citizenship  A bilingual anthology Historias de Indocumentados/Stories of the Undocumented that compiles stories written in this course was published in April 2015. Seeing their work published, students experience how their work can contribute to change awareness in our society about the plight of the undocumented.

Barili ‘s statement at the UC Berkeley Undocumented Student Program website: I was moved to create Spanish 102C Biographical and Autobiographical Writing: Telling the Stories of the Undocumented to assist students in developing their voices while at the university and make known the plight of the undocumented.  In the safe space of the course, students gave voice not only to their stories and those of their loved ones and acquaintances, but also to many others who are going through similar experiences of challenges in their path to citizenship, and are seeking hope. It is my hope that, through this course, we are contributing to help change the landscape of our social awareness and expanding the transformative role of our academic education.

* Educating Global Volunteers. Students volunteer locally and research how to volunteer internationally. “Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing”–2015-2018

Spanish 102C. Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing 

Course Description: This is a course to motivate students to hone their expository and argumentative writing, while at the same time engaging in serving the Latino community through Service Learning locally, and preparing themselves to volunteer internationally in Latin America. Students practice transferring knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to semi-professional work at the volunteering sites (East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and Oakland International High School), where they  volunteer for a total of 20 hours throughout the semester. Since reflection is a key component of life-long learning, students write weekly blogs in our b‐courses discussion site and a final paper, reflecting about their experiences volunteering locally and reaching out to NGOs in Latin America, and how those experiences deepen the understanding of the readings and research we are discussing in class.

From the third week on, students have the opportunity to apply those writing and oral skills in Spanish to other situations, like the search of a volunteering position in NGOs overseas. Students work in teams and individually researching NGOs in Spanish Speaking countries, interviewing their founders and returning volunteers who have worked there. Afterwards, students  write a web page on the NGO of their choice. As part of honing their writing skills, students are in charge of writing the emails presenting themselves to the NGOs and setting up Skype interviews with the selected NGOs to have team discussions with them about any questions and concerns the students have in preparing to work with those NGOs. Students compare and contrast the mission and work of various NGOs; discuss, in an argumentative form, advantages and disadvantages of global volunteering, and at the end of the semester write a letter presenting themselves to the NGO they like the most of all the ones interviewed. Students may choose whether or not to send the letter but, regardless of that final decision, it is my hope that throughout the course students will have learned how to sort out possible opportunities for working or volunteering locally or overseas. By its very nature and structure, this course provides practical opportunities to experience the living languages and cultures studied in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at UC Berkeley.

Throughout the course the students write a constitution for the course (modeled on the Mozilla manifesto and on Prof, Cathy Davidson’s manifesto for her class on 21st  Century Literacies), they learn to write academic blogs; build pages showing their research on specific Latin American NGOs and create innovative e-portfolios illustrating the knowledge and skills they developed in this Spanish 102C. Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing course.

These two links will take you to the two websites (in English and in Spanish) that showcase the work students did in this course, and will present to you how the course was born. Enjoy.



1.b In Older Adult Education

at UC Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

1.b.1* Intergenerational, Multicultural Service Learning, beyond class and race

Pioneer study of Neuroplasticity with practical laboratory of cultivating Positive Neuroplasticity  in older adults, through Volunteering. Students in these course 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” (2017-2019).

  • Volunteering, Meditation and Neuroplasticity (2017-2019)
  • 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 (2014-2016)
  • 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.
  • please see Testimonies page in this website. Blog on Helping Others has no Age Barriers, Conference of Contemplative Mind in Higher Ed. Seattle, 2014.
  • Each One Helps One: Neuroplasticity in Action (2013)
  • Recognizing the potential of university students 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.
  • 1.b.2 Researching How to Foster Positive Neuroplasticity, through self-inquiry, meditation and art

    • Nourishing the Soul with Pablo Neruda’s Poetry (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, a beautiful film that captures Neruda’s way of looking at the world and includes several of his poems that we are reading in class.
    • 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, that innate capacity of knowing ourselves and of introducing positive changes in our life. We then compare those recent scientific findings to what Classical yoga’s primary sources teach us about how–through observation and self-inquiry–we can familiarize ourselves with the workings of our mind and heart; and how we can harness that subtle energy to cultivate greater wisdom and compassion towards ourselves and others.
    • Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science (Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, 2015, 2016)
      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 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. Academy as Learning: Innovative Faculty Learning Communities

      * Pilot Faculty Learning Communities for Collaborative Service Learning, Interdisciplinary and Multicultural

      link to Blog on Lilly conference, Newport, and Milton Cox (2014-15) coming soon

      * Faculty Learning Community on Global Education–Multi-institutional collaborative project. Under the leadership of Prof. Rick Kern and Amelia Barili, who are coordinating research on international options for service learning in Spanish Speaking countries with faculty from Cornell, Harvard, Georgetown, etc. Meeting virtually (from different locations and on line). (2015-6)

      * Lecturer Teaching Fellows–Understanding by Design, Center for Teaching and Learning,  (2007 and 2014-15)

      * UC Berkeley Language Center research “Learning to Learn: Neurobiology and Cognitive Science as Basis for Autonomous Learning”

      *  BESI (2007)

      3. Awards

      UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Award for Public Service (2008)

      Nominated for UCB Distinguished Teaching Award (2009)

      UCB Chancellor Community Partnership Grant (2012)

    •  Nominated for UCB Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence (2015)
    • Fulbright Scholarship, Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987)