Undergraduate Education

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.

  • Spanish 135. Globalization and the New Global Civil Society. (2004)

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.

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

  • Spanish 135AC. Identity from the Margins. From Borges and Anzaldúa to Zapatism and Latino Conscious Hip Hop (2007)


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.

Pioneering perspectives on the continuity between the work of Gloria Anzaldua and Jorge Luis Borges, are developed by Amelia Barili in the article “De brújulas y nepantlas: identidad y fronteras en Borges y Anzaldúa.” It was published in Itinerarios. Revista de Estudios Lingüísticos, Literarios, Históricos y Antropológicos 9 (2009):  921. Department of Hispanic and Hispano-American Studies. Faculty of Modern Languages and Literatures.  University of Warsaw. 


* Contemplative practices in groundbreaking interdisciplinary course that integrates Art, Humanities and Science.

  • Spanish 135W Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science (2009-2017)

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.

  • Spanish 102C. Biographical and Autobiographical Writing. Telling the Stories of the Undocumented (2013-2016)

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 UCB 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 UCB 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.


* Educating Global Volunteers. Students volunteering locally and research how to volunteer internationally.

  • Spanish 102C. Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing (2015-2020) Fundamental course for the new minor of the Global Poverty and Practice Program with specialization in Latin America

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.



“Spanish 102C Cities as Texts: from Buenos Aires to San Juan de Puerto Rico and Berkeley”, elective course for the new UCB certificate on Global Urban Humanities. In this course students analyze the ways in which Buenos Aires at the beginning of XX century is present in the essays, poems and short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, and the ways in which today’s San Juan de Puerto Rico is depicted in the multimedia works of Eduardo Lalo. They study the social context in which these works where produced and analyze the textual, visual and auditory strategies these two authors use to convey the subject of inclusion and exclusion of immigrants and of local inhabitants along socio-economic divides. Students then research continuities and ruptures from the social movements in the Berkeley of the sixties and the city/campus of today, and reflect about their own experience as inhabitants and flaneurs in Berkeley. Students use an array of multimedia expressions to present their research about each of the cities. Here is a link to one of the e-portfolios from that course. https://erinbanksrusby.weebly.com/