Monday, June 13, 2016

A publication in the recent few years I co-edited and partially wrote:

The following is the abstract of the sharing paper I presented at ASCILITE 2015, where I was also a reviewer.

Attention as skill: Contemplation in online learning environments
Dr Ratna Malar Selvaratnam
Taylors College, UWA Claremont Campus
ascilite 2015

This is an exploration of the need to cultivate attention as a skill in online learning ecosystems. Taylor’s College is an alternative pathway provider to the University of Western Australia. It is redesigning its diploma program delivery, equivalent to the first year of university, to include non-traditional spaces both online and physical. 
  • The HUB
  • Flexible learning pilots

One of the concerns of online spaces is in equipping the students with the skill of attention control. In online environments it is easy to have reactive attention to stimuli that is not always within one’s control. 
  • What does paying attention actually mean? We just assume that if we could fix our minds on the matter at hand and not let them wander, all will be well. Do we try to immoblize our minds and focus on a single subject? As early as 1898, William James noted that something attended to appears to change even as one attends to it. The most effective way to increase our ability to pay attention is to look for novelty within the stimulus situation. With soft vigilance, the mind, without detailed prescription, is open to take in more information.  (Langer, 1997)

I suggest having an internal locus of control for attention is a skill to be cultivated to ensure effective learning in online environments. This research looks at the field of contemplative education to see what is offered in this space. Contemplation involves attention and awareness. 

Technology is open for many unmindful uses. As an example, problems can emerge when we post content online, without first taking a breath and considering what the implications might be. Other issues of unmindful use of technology include online bullying, disconnection from face-to-face social relationships, developing a passive learning style, and literally training ourselves to be inattentive and unfocused (Hassed & Chambers, 2014). Today our attention is pulled in a multitude of directions through technology and the media. Miller (2014) argues that this results in fragmented consciousness, where we are pushed and pulled by the outside world. However, from contemplative awareness, we see things as they are now.

There are already several campus initiatives across America in the contemplative studies space including Brown University’s Contemplative Studies Initiative, Centre for New Designs and Scholarship at Georgetown, Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies, Mindful Awareness Research Centre at UCLA, The Center for compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, and UCSD Center for Mindfulness  (The Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, n.d.). In Australia There has been some work in UNSW in contemplative studies through a symposium on Contemplative Education at UNSW, May 15th, 2014   (University of New South Wales, n.d.). Additionally, Australia now has its first government accredited tertiary institution grounded in Buddhist values and wisdom. Incorporating the mindfulness arm of contemplation, it organised the International Conference on Mindfulness, Education and Transformation 2014   (Nan Tien Institute, n.d.). These are leading institutions which provide both face-to-face and online learning environments and have considerations for the students’ use of attention especially with regards to completion of the programs.

Digital learning ecosystems give rise to the need for enhanced digital contemplative methods (Bush, 2010) which in turn can assist in enhancing attention. There is some effort to outline ways in which the body, social isolation, identity and aesthetics in online education can be approached mindfully. Douglass (2007) suggests that a way to investigate whether the format really serves students or contributes to their isolation is by honestly assessing our own relationship with technology. Some have gone as far as referring to contemplation’s esoteric roots. In an asynchronous environment, where students can participate on their own schedules, it is possible to require every student to participate in each session, which is more difficult in synchronous settings (Coburn, 2013). 
  • Mindfulness software from Plum Village. We can program a bell of mindfulness on our computer, and every quarter of an hour (or as often as you like), the bell sounds and we have a chance to stop and go back to ourselves. Breathing in and out three times is enough to release the tension in the body and smile, then we can continue our work.  (Plum Village, 2015)
  • The premise behind Stillness Buddy, is that with very short but regular pauses, you can practice being still within and feel at peace, even during a busy work day. (Stillness Buddy, 2013)

In online learning, there is a built-in opportunity for reflectiveness, although that opportunity needs to be cultivated. Educators are seeking to increase attention, contemplation, wisdom, and compassion by using the very digital media that seems to be decreasing these capacities (Barbezat & Bush, 2014). 

Keywords: contemplation, mindfulness, online, tertiary education, learning, e-learning, digital.

Works Cited
Barbezat, D., & Bush, M. (2014). Contemplative Practices in Higher Education. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
Bush, M. (2010). Contemplative Higher Education in Contemporary America. Northampton: Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.
Coburn, T. (2013). Peak Oil, Peak Water, Peak Education. In L. Sanders (Ed.), Contemplative Studies in Higher Education (pp. 3-12). San Francisco: Wiley Subscription Services.
Douglass, L. (2007). Contemplative Online Learning Environments. Journal of Online Education.
Hassed, C., & Chambers, R. (2014). Mindful Learning. Wollombi: Exisle.
Langer, E. J. (1997). The Power of MIndful Learning. Cambridge: Da Capo Press.
Miller, J. (2014). The Contemplative Practitioner (Second ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Nan Tien Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2015, from
Plum Village. (2015). Mindfulness Software. Retrieved November 20, 2015, from Plum Village Mindfulness Practice Centre:
Stillness Buddy. (2013). Stillness Buddy. Retrieved November 20, 2015, from The Importance of Coming Back to the Present:
The Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2015, from

University of New South Wales. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2015, from

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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

My vocation (to use the poet's term) is the spiritual life, the quest for God, which relies on the eye of the heart. My avocation is education, the quest for knowledge, which relies on the eye of the mind. I have seen life through both of these eyes as long as I can remember- but the two images have not always coincided... I have been forced to find ways for my eyes to work together, to find a common focus for my spirit-seeking heart and my knowledge seeking mind that embraces reality in all its amazing dimensions.
- Parker Palmer

With this, begins the resurgence of The Peace Cafe writings.


Friday, October 02, 2009

I am the Academic Coordinator of a school being launched in January 2010. It is an initiative of The Center for Hindu Studies, Persatuan Kebajikan Arutperunjothi Maargam and The Peace Cafe. See for more information.

Sadhana Visionary Academy


The Vision of Sadhana Visionary Academy...

... is to give disadvantaged students a chance for a better future through an innovative post primary educational programme. SVA aims to develop graduates who are independent, dynamic and compassionate contributors to their community and the world at large.

The Peace Cafe has been having many productive months of late. The following are some highlights.

June: Wustrow and Berlin, Germany

I participated in the international training by Kurve Wustow on non-violence in siuations of armed conflict. There were wonderful partcipants from around the world including Serbia, Colombia, Palestine, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Germany. The picture above was at a peaceful demonstration in the streets to bring awareness to climate change.

August: Pretoria, South Africa

At the values education workshop conducted with UNESCO and the University of Pretoria at the Mpumalanga district school.


At the University of South Africa's Graduate School of Business where we gave a talk on Values in Social Innovations: A Business guide to Sustainability.

September: Aceh, Indonesia

In Aceh, we observed a mental health awareness program in Biruen which Azhaire will potentially find funding matches for. As the academic advisor, I also evaluated a business pitch for Azhaire which seeks to pioneer a poverty alleviation intervention through direct investments with individuals to launch their own businesses.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Peace Cafe has been ISBN-ed and published!


This Toolkit, appropriately titled First Steps, is the first of its kind
in Malaysia. It is a resource book to bring gender mainstreaming to
biodiversity management – a subject that is becoming increasingly
vital with the current emphasis on sustainable development.

This publication by Malaysian Environmental Non-Governmental
Organisations (MENGO) is a useful and handy guide to enable
implementers, project coordinators, community organisers and
facilitators to present workshops and conduct sessions on gender
mainstreaming in biodiversity management in Malaysia.

First Steps contains background materials, support modules and
simple activities that could be used by groups to build a heightened
awareness of gender. This reader-friendly book with a graphic-
design format includes materials on Values, Confict Resolution
and Biodiversity.

The Peace Cafe in the news!!!

Regional collaboration in mainstreaming gender and peace in biodiversity conservation promoted at Curtin-MENGO Symposium

Miri – 12 May, 2009 – Biodiversity experts from Malaysia and Australia who gathered for the Curtin-MENGO Symposium 2009 at Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) on 28 and 29 April 2009 have pledged to heighten regional collaboration in mainstreaming gender and peace in biodiversity conservation.

The symposium was co-organised by Curtin University’s Australian and Sarawak staff with Malaysian Environment NGOs (MENGO) and The Peace Café to develop a cross-cultural approach of peace that represents both female and male values in biodiversity conservation.

According to Beena Giridharan, Curtin Sarawak’s Dean of Foundation and Continuing Studies and on-campus coordinator of the symposium, the event brought together practitioners of diverse cultures and backgrounds including indigenous leaders, representatives of non-governmental organisations and university researchers.

MENGO Project Leader Dr Sundari Ramakrishna, meanwhile, said the event raised the importance of sharing knowledge through broad participation in planning and implementing management approaches.

The symposium was launched by Professor Joan Gribble, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor of Curtin Sarawak, who highlighted the need to pay urgent attention to the global environmental situation, saying that it would require active participation by both women and men.

Peace ecologist Dr Ratna Malar Selvaratnam said the focus on peace helps people understand the different voices that need to work together to conserve our biodiversity heritage. She also outlined the importance of understanding the power of values in determining the success of biodiversity conservation. ... read more

Monday, April 06, 2009

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.

- Oscar Wilde

Monday, March 16, 2009

It doesn’t matter what the state of the world currently is- chaotic or calm, irrational or lucid, happy or sad. There is always a need to recreate our planet and ourselves to move onto a higher plane of existence. The key component to this is control over ourselves, and letting our external circumstances take their course. Peace seems to be a value we all seek, yet it is one of the most elusive states of the human mind.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Respect yourself and others will respect you.

- Confucius