My name is Shyam Sharma, and this is my personal blog alongside a professional portfolio. Linked on top and left are portfolio pages, and on right are links to some of my professional networks. Blog posts are below, with the latest entry on top. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments through any of the venues. Thank you.
The increasing distance between how we learn, work, and communicate in the world outside and how we do so in academe has many implications. One of them is that our current educational models may become less relevant and useful in preparing our students for the world/professions outside. Another one is that our students will continue to be educated on the basis of local models that fail to take advantage of ideas, people, and cultures/communities in the broader world. I will try to revisit the issues more extensively some time in the future.
In this post, I share some thoughts and reflections about the concept of “community as curriculum” as I am using it in a graduate course here in SUNY Stony Brook. I borrow the idea from David Cormier (some of you may know him as the person who gave the original MOOCs their name and continues to add truly inspiring intellectual substance to the idea of “open learning”). You can read more about the concept from Dave’s blog here and here.
I normally design courses using an idea as the framework, to undergird the assignments and objectives. In this case, I wanted to experiment a “from x to y” approach to implementing a good idea. Let me explain why after sharing a little about the course itself.
Read full post on the class blog here…
I had drafted this post back when the Sugata Mitra scandal was raging a few months ago (I think it’s a scandal, because I grew up in places like the ones where Mitra put up his computers on the wall, and I find the whole story and his interpretation of it utterly problematic). The main idea still seems worth sharing.
I taught in Nepal for more than a decade before I came to the US for further studies, and especially back home, it always took very thoughtful implementation, adaptation, testing, and constant fine-tuning of the teaching/learning principles, methods, and strategies that scholars like you have provided. The challenge of engaging students, helping them overcome barriers of language, motivation, learning challenges was never easy, but all the effort that I made as a teacher was worth it. I saw in every student tremendous potential, and I tried my best to help them realize it. Technology (whatever was available back then, and whatever it is available today) has always “helped”–sometimes more, sometimes less. I call myself a (frankly) savvy user of technology in the classroom, and among the models of technology use that I like best is the TPACK model (developed by two scholars, one with a similar name, Mishra; the other Kohler). As a fellow graduate student here in the United States and I tried to adapt and experiment that model in classrooms where we teach language and writing skills (a poster version here), technologies work best when teachers take a deliberate approach to selecting, adapting, and integrating particular technologies to particular teaching/learning contexts/purposes.
The idea of simply setting up the technology and watching how students learn/explore something sounds great, but as Maha Bali noted above, some educated and professionally trained adult has to design the curriculum and course, set up learning activities and use a means of assessment provide continuous feedback, teach students how and why they should use what technologies. . . . After he took his teacher-bashing (essentially) way too far, Mitra has started saying that his hole in the wall project was a “controlled” educational experiment. If that’s the case, what’s the difference in principle between what millions of teachers do on a daily basis and what he’s suggesting? As you said, “What good teachers know is that the precise nature of teacher intervention is crucial.” And what we need is better support for teachers. Unfortunately, teachers are having to collectively defend what they value in their teaching in the first place—even when they are doing the same things that the machines, corporate hacks, and dishonest people are being introduced into the system! How sad!
There seems to be a cultural shift where people like Mitra don’t hesitate a moment to say that students will find all the knowledge (even for those who consider the goal of education) on their own if we provide them the right tools/environment. Fewer people seem to point out that that argument is ludicrous because no one would be willing to consider that kind of education for their own children. When I teach my five and three year old children, I guide them (and I will do so even when they are 15) by helping them to navigate and make sense of the information that they find—technologically, in terms of the objective of learning, in terms of being safe in the jungle on the web, etc, etc, etc. I teach them not just how to find answers but also how to ask questions in the first place, use what they find and make connections–to elaborate on what Maha has indicated above again. The way Mitra talks about redesigning education for others’ children (I don’t think he ever imagines his own children being subjected to the hole in the wall) in the way that he does is offensive.
When people like Sugata Mitra say that we don’t need teachers, I start thinking that they’re NOT talking about teachers of their children or grandchildren! That is why, in my “book,” most of them are listed in the chapter titled “less-than-honest hackademics.”
The first MOOC–the original concept, that is–originated in an authentic educational experiment in Canada in 2008. That model has been connecting educators, helping them generate a whole host of new ideas around the world.
On the contrary, what is popularly known as “MOOC” by the general public today was created out of fundamental misunderstanding of the concept and/or dishonesty by venture capitalists and megalomaniac altruists. Replicated in all sorts of, and increasingly, absurd ways, some of these pretend MOOCs continue to baffle the heck out of journalists and other professionals, as well as educators who work hard and explore new technologies and adapt them to their contexts and needs in the real world of of teaching and learning.
One of the absurd models, custom designed by the most famous online education outlets, recently reached a refugee camp in the Kenya-Somalia border. And crashed. Pathetically. The story about it, published this week by the Chronicle of Higher Education is absolutely worth reading.
Serious educators have been saying it when all the imitators and pretenders started chattering too loud and crazy about “educating the world” with evidently little clue about vastly different contexts and realities beyond their little, cozy world made largely of an unconsciously colonial mentality about the world. They started calling their bluff when the poor copycats coopted the powerful emerging concepts of connectivism as the basis of new explorations in learning/teaching by using essentially offering the world YouTube videos (canned and delivered slightly differently) and packaged with discussion boards. We started laughing at the stupidity of not understanding that even the concepts of connectivism haven’t accounted for contextual differences (of technology, of culture, of needs and desires and values vis-a-vis the world-educating materials and methods developed in one or two particular regions in the world).
It isn’t too hard for the regular teachers and educational scholars anywhere in the world to realize that learners in Nigeria and Nepal and New Zealand will learn from one another when “they” are connected, when they have the reason/incentive, when what they learn has meaning and value and relevance to their local lives and societies. It is also easy to see how learners from vastly different backgrounds can learn something even when the MOOC is designed and taught by professors in any place in the world–just that there are too many challenges and complexities and variables that undermine the effectiveness and meaningfulness and relevance and significance of that learning. So, for instance when a “star” professor from Nebraska, US tries to “educate the world” with his canned lectures plus discussion boards, that mission only works for the motivated, already proficient, already connected, already ahead few in Nepal and Nigeria and New Zealand. That teaching/learning can be something new but it can’t be a replacement for learning from real educators on the ground–forget about being an improvement.
In fact, the above are issues that serious educators know from the history of distance education in at least the last hundred years. People tried radio-based courses, TV-based degrees, professional training through VHS tapes, university education through floppy disks, and whatever it is with CDs. . . .
Flash drives are lighter and can carry more data. And, of course, the internet also adds speed and allows interaction. Indeed, for the thoughtful educator and highly motivated minority of students, it also adds all the potentials that the original connectivists had been experimenting.
But in terms of understanding and appreciating the challenging of crossing contexts, if the refugee camp MOOC is what the poor imitators have, then that’s a pathetic level of understanding about what education and learning and teaching and community and knowledge-sharing mean across contexts. Sorry, that’s harsh but after a long time of listening to the world-changing megalomanic chatter from the advocates of poorly imitated MOOCs, I can’t just help it.
Yes, MOOCs (of any kind) can achieve some goals of learning/teaching in almost any situation, and they all deserve to be explored and improved as emerging modes of education.
However, when those who push any particular model (however fancy-looking at first) start by disregarding contexts, realities, limitations, needs, desires, and incentives of the learners–when they go as far as refusing to identify the backgrounds and proficiencies and objectives and motivation of specific groups of learners–this is what happens. In the refugee camp MOOC, an education expert on the ground tried and failed to effectively mediate a MOOC for two specially privileged members of the community. Forget about general members of that community being able to follow and complete a course designed to serve all humanity, ranging from refugees in all contexts to royals around the world.
Good thing is: people with the worst educational ideas ride the wrong train. All you need to do is to wait until those who itch too much to change the world get lost outside refugee camp in Kenya, mountains of Nepal, or even the countryside in Kansas. It’s just a matter of time.
I can’t stop laughing about yet another funny-looking MOOC train that just went upside down in Kenya.
I was having so much fun with a Facebook community this afternoon that I thought some of what I was saying there bears elaborating in a blog post. The context was this TED talk given by the founder of University of the People, an online education company that touts a “free” (just $4,000, that is) model of university education for those who are “qualified” and proficient in “English” and can read/discuss the material and pass exams without local teachers. Hm, maybe you can stop reading already, but if you can spare time on how people are making interesting cocktails of fancy ideas and snake oil, let me explain. Continue reading
Another post about #clmooc. Last week, I followed other colleagues’ work with great interest but couldn’t create anything myself. But building on that spirit, I’d like to start this post by sharing my main idea through an illumination.
Images can be relatively universal, but because their imitation or representation of the world or ideas are mediated by selection, perspective, perception, and interpretation, even the seemingly most universal images create room for complex conversations.
When I come across colleagues or friends/family getting excited about a new technology or a functionality added to an existing one, I feel extremely ambivalent.
On the one hand, as someone whose ability to keep in touch with friends and family and also to pursue professional success depend quite heavily on emerging information and communication technologies, I want to join them in the excitement.
But on the other hand, I am also keenly aware of how the same technologies are helping to reinforce inequalities and divides, how they are causing people to leave behind and disregard diverse forms of knowledge practices and social/cultural engagements, and most significantly, how they are allowing people to mask or gloss over deeply disturbing resurgence of colonial worldviews and hegemony. I want to reflect on the last phenomenon in this post. Continue reading
A quick, fun post.
Since I read about a dozen books when writing a seminar paper in a popular culture course during graduate school (around 2009)—-including Dan Tapscott’s Growing Up Digital and others that categorized and generalized younger generations—-I had been itching, fretting, impatiently waiting to learn what would come after generation “Y.” I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about different possibilities.
Finally, there it is: it is called the Generation Z (the now young people born around 1995). We’ve started seeing a plethora of articles (books are coming) about this group of humans, most of the writers first generalizing up to their necks and then more or less quickly cautioning readers against generalization, most of them painting the new generation as distinct, some going uber optimistic, and others essentially focusing on how to monetize our understanding of the new human species.
Exactly what I was waiting for. Continue reading
Disruption, reinvention, and even hacking have become very common themes in the discourse of higher education lately. As I sit down to write this post on the theme of hacking (for the fourth week of #clmooc, a connected learning community/course), I am thinking about how buzzwords tend to carry truckloads of irony and how often those who jump on the bandwagons of buzzwords with the most excitement don’t realize (or care about) the complexity of their words’ meanings, origins, uses, and effects. As a teacher, I am fascinated by the educational potential of irony and paradox in buzzwords, grand narratives, and over-sized belief systems. So, I often ask students to unpack the irony/paradox of overly popular words and their collocations. The intersection of the word “hack” and “education” seems so rich that I want to write an essay on it myself.
Assignment X: “Pick a word or phrase that has become unusually popular in the field of education (or another broad subject/context of your interest), study its meanings, origins, uses, etc, and write an essay in between 1000 and 2000 words.” Continue reading
As I sit down to share some thoughts in the third, gaming-focused week of conversation in the connected learning course, #clmooc, I want to once again start with the friendly Philosoraptor for making my first point. Imagine that you jumped off a spacecraft using a parachute, aiming to return “down” to earth, but then you start wondering if you are falling “toward” or away from or tangentially in relation to the earth. That’s how I often feel about the increasingly hi-tech modes of living and learning.
When I first learned about massive open online courses, the truly massive xMOOC types, I thought, OMG, now I too can finally educate the world from the convenience of my laptop and the high speed internet that I have. In fact, I had just bought a new MacBook Air at the time. And, being a writing teacher, I wanted to teach writing, because, you know, everyone in the world needs to “write better.” Perfect.
What I needed in order to get started was a course banner, especially an image that would represent the kind of writing that I teach, “academic” writing.
“Academics” has to do with wisely thinking through existing knowledge and generating new ideas, so I thought the best image to represent it would be, oh, yes, the “owl”!
However, before I settled on the owl and slapped a big wise owl image at the top of the screen, I wanted to take a quick moment to ensure that most (if not all) students/ participants from around the world would get my point when they see my course banner.
Five minutes of Googling led to another five, then an hour, and finally after three full hours of reading what I found about the owl as a symbol, I was discouraged. I lost my confidence in the power of my laptop, as well as my years of experience teaching while tethered to one particular context at a time. I sat there, face-in-palms, somewhat glad that I didn’t use a local metaphor to claim to convey a particular meaning universally. I was glad I knew how to Google.