Pragmatics of Global Citizenship

Undergraduate Education and the “Pragmatics” of Global Citizenship—or, What I Look Forward to Learning at the Annual Meeting

Reblogged post, written for the Association of American Colleges and Universities blog on Jan 25, 2012

Shyam Sharma, University of Louisville

When I look at the description of events in the schedule of the AAC&U Annual Meeting this year, images of my undergraduate students cross my mind. I begin to think about what use my students from the English 101 class in fall 2007 (my first semester of teaching college writing) made of the “critical thinking skills” that I taught after they left my classroom. I wonder if my students from the advanced writing course that focused on global citizenship last year continued to “pause to look at two more perspectives” before beginning to argue and defend their own positions. The events in the schedule represent big and often abstract ideas emerging from the experience and wisdom of scholars who are intellectual leaders in higher education. But when browsing the themes and descriptions in the schedule, my mind turns toward the students from the past and students I will teach in years to come. Has my teaching helped them become productive citizens in their communities and work? How much am I helping them become the digital and global citizens that they need to be today? What else do I need to do in order to shoulder the responsibilities of an effective educator of the twenty-first century—and what does it mean to be an effective teacher today in light of the changes, challenges, and opportunities that are created or complicated by the forces of economic crises around the world, advancements in information technologies, and the growing interdependence of knowledge (and other) markets around the world? I will be seeking answers to these questions in the many exciting discussions that I look forward to attending at the AAC&U Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
read full post…


My name is Shyam Sharma, and this is my blogfolio.

Linked on top are pages about my work, and on right are links to some of my professional networks. Blog posts are below, starting with some of my favorite posts. I write about international education and students, new media in writing studies, cross-cultural rhetoric and communication, and critical pedagogy (which can be filtered by theme from the right). I will appreciate any comments/feedback on blog posts.

Thank you.


Last book — just published (Routledge) 

Using qualitative data collected from more than twenty universities across the US, Writing Support for International Graduate Students describes and theorizes agency- and advocacy-driven practices, programs, and policies that are most effective in helping international students learn graduate-level writing and communication skills. It uses compelling narratives and cases to illustrate a variety of program models and support practices that fostered the students’ process of academic transition and success. Employing an ecological framework, the book seeks to advance academic conversation about how writing scholars/instructors and program administrators, as well as other academic service professionals working with this student body, can formulate policies, develop programs, and implement practices that best help these students grow as writers and scholars in their disciplines.

I share a few notes about the book here.


Helping International Students Transition and Succeed – II

Part II: Specific Suggestions

In the first part of this post, I highlighted some general difficulties that international students face during their academic transition, focusing on the challenge of understanding/implementing new ideas, assumptions, and approaches about learning and teaching in a new academic system/culture. In this follow up entry, I list some specific suggestions for helping int’l students with writing in particular and their academic transition and success in general.

Here’s a 2-page .pdf version — feel free to share.

Encouraging International Students to Learn about the Big Picture  read full post…

Helping International Students Transition and Succeed – I

This is a reblog of a post that I wrote for RhetComp@StonyBrook, a blog that I started and facilitated for a year (2013-14) for the Program in Writing in Rhetoric at my university.

Part I: The Big Picture

Moving from one academic context into another, including in the case of academic disciplines and even levels, can be challenging for any student. But transitioning from the educational culture of one country to that of another altogether can add a whole new set of difficulties. In this post, I would like to highlight how significantly difference in educational practices affect international students’ academic transition and success. read full post…

Dangling Degrees — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on Jan. 25, 2018.

“I am yet to make it,” said a scholar at a regional public university, referring to the doctoral dissertation he wanted to complete. “It’s very difficult to find time.” The word “banaune” in his sentence struck me because one doesn’t really sit down to somehow “make” a dissertation. It also reminded me of various recent conversations—and questions—about the “production” of scholars with advanced degrees, or dangling the “Dr.” title in front of their names, as many scholars themselves cite as the reason to get the degree.

Advanced degrees require extensive research, such as for the master’s and doctoral theses, and these projects demand extensive review of current and relevant knowledge in the discipline, intellectual positioning and proposition of new ideas on the topic of choice, collection and analysis of primary and/or secondary data, and problem-solving or theorization from the research. Some disciplines also require the presentation of new models or methods, designs or products, as modes of advancing new knowledge. As such, while graduate degrees are a means for advancing new knowledge, they also require institutions to provide their students and scholars the foundation of skills for problem-solving, presenting new ideas, and learning through experience and experimentation at the undergraduate level. Unfortunately, we have neither the foundation nor structure we need as yet. read full post…

Scale what?

I was recently participating in a webinar about a MOOC-style first-year writing course, and a few words kept confusing me. Content. Delivery. Scale. . . .  If you’re a teacher and have thought about these terms, here’s my humble attempt to think through the confusion.

What is the “content” of a writing course? Whatever text its instructor assigns students, right? How about the basic knowledge of terms and concepts, skills and conventions that students need to acquire? Citation guidelines, punctuation rules, rhetorical terms, knowledge about genres and conventions of writing, strategies for analyzing texts or engaging sources. I spend about ten percent of my class time teaching them. And I have often created videos, encouraging students to watch them, so we can use class time for more discussion and practice. But students didn’t like it. I hated using the “content” from one year to the next; I want to cover new issues, approach them differently, and so on. I would rather find the ten percent class time and integrate content within interaction and practice more seamlessly. read full post…

Some Notes on IGS Book

For any colleagues who can spare a few minutes about my first major field research-based book project, which is about how American universities support international graduate students with their academic transition and success, here are a few notes.

First, here is the brief blurb that I sent to the publisher:

Using qualitative data collected from more than twenty universities across the US, Writing Support for International Graduate Students describes and theorizes agency- and advocacy-driven practices, programs, and policies that are most effective in helping international students learn graduate-level writing and communication skills. It uses compelling narratives and cases to illustrate a variety of program models and support practices that fostered the students’ process of academic transition and success. Employing an ecological framework, the book seeks to advance academic conversation about how writing scholars/instructors and program administrators, as well as other academic service professionals working with this student body, can formulate policies, develop programs, and implement practices that best help these students grow as writers and scholars in their disciplines.

Here is a brief excerpt from proof copy.

To share a little bit about my experience writing the book, I took a lot longer to complete the research and writing than I had planned. The project evolved. I started the research planning to focus on STEM students, but I quickly realized that international graduate students across the disciplines face similar challenges (with some variations that I could explore later). I had also planned to spend a semester or two for collecting data, but I ended up spending more than three years gathering interviews and field notes at universities across the country (plus at a few conferences), including a variety of institutions with a variety of support programs. Here is a little more about the background to this work.

I learned a lot in this process. Here are just a few thoughts:

  • Writing a book on the tenure timeline (if it’s a major part of the application) is risky. I know this is not any original wisdom, but I felt it firsthand and strongly. However, I also think that as long as the book is not the sole foundation for a tenure case or one’s sense of progress, then it is a good idea to put a book on a timeline: you get it done. I had a backup plan (and progress) for publishing a total of one to two dozen articles and chapters in edited collections, and I met this goal, but my mentors advised that it was smart to also complete the book. The advice was stress-inducing but very useful. And the fact that I wasn’t banking too much on the book saved my sanity, especially when the research and then reviews and publication took nearly four years, instead of two.
  • One cannot do justice to everything. If a researcher tries to cover some scope, then it is not easy to go for depth as well. Perhaps I could have added a few in-depth case studies to the thematic framework of the book, but the cases might not represent the broader themes. This is a challenge for next time (would like to read in the comment if anyone has a thought). Going for a larger scope and also striving for nuance made the project neither here nor there, but it is also difficult to learn about a subject by opting for one route or another. In the end, some aspect of the research gets covered in the book and some done. I’m sure there will be criticisms due to the lack of depth or scope in one way or another, but I hope to address gaps in this work by doing more work in the future.
  • Research methodology must be supplemented with people methodology. The first few university visits were a favor done by friends who were willing to connect me to people. Visiting to a few places helped to establish trust for going to other places where I didn’t have intimate colleagues. I am so deeply grateful to the colleagues who supported me, especially early on.
  • It’s important to start with a broader view of things, at least for the purpose of research approval. IRB offices tend to be very unfriendly to scholars who research teaching/learning, and I understand where they come from, but the fact that projects like mine almost always evolve means that one must write the IRB proposal with this understanding. Doing so will allow a researcher to let people, places, findings, and opportunities shape and improve the project along the way.
  • Publishers and editors confused me, but I also learned to understand them. I felt that university presses and grant makers remain “conservative” in that they seemed to lack confidence in publishing research done by a guy with a strange name, and I say this because I couldn’t imagine other feasible explanations. Editors in professional organizations seem open minded (and might even favor diversity of authorship, research, and perspectives) but they are too limited by thematic focus (understandable), page length (understandable), or their own idea of process or review (they should stop inadvertently undermining confidence of younger scholars).
  • Hindsight is 20-20. Everything makes sense when looking back. So, it is extremely important for scholars embarking on large projects to stick to it, to change course when it becomes unproductive, to be proactive, to be willing to spend unlimited amounts of time on the project if it’s moving in the right direction. . . .  What matters is the commitment to the project, the knowledge that it will create, the change it might make in the field and in society.

I could go on and on, but let me stop, with a few reviews for the book (for which I am truly grateful):

Dr. Michelle Cox Director, English Language Support Office, Cornell University Past Chair, Consortium on Graduate Communication:

Writing Support for International Graduate Students: Enhancing Transition and Success is a must read for everyone involved in writing instruction and research, graduate program administration, and international education. Through his extensive on-the-ground research at over twenty universities, Sharma has brought to light the very best approaches to sup- porting international graduate writers while also developing a theoretical framework that highlights student agency. If taken seriously, this book will be transformative to the ways in which universities across the Unites States and beyond welcome and support international graduate students. 

Dr. Juan C. Guerra, University of Washington at Seattle:

Writing Support for International Graduate Students vividly captures the numerous challenges international graduate students are likely to encounter in the course of writing their way into the university, and provides an array of critical interventions faculty can call on to ease the transition.

Dr. Chris R. Glass, Associate Professor, Old Dominion University:

The book provides a nuanced and in-depth exploration of how international students learn to write and communicate, with program models, support strategies, and resources that make a real difference. The interviews and practical examples will make you rethink how your program or institution approaches international student writing development and what it means for international students to ‘find their voice’ in written assignments and verbal presentations.

I truly appreciate the great colleagues who took the time to read the book and share their thoughts.

And I will appreciate any comments you may want to share. Thank you!

Backgrounds notes

This post is based on parts of the preface to my book on international graduate students.

Since I had landed in the city of Louisville in Kentucky about a month earlier, along with my spouse, in fall 2006, I had been feeling as if my ability to navigate any physical space and social system had somehow become impaired. From finding transportation for getting to essential places to figuring out a way to call home, and from understanding basic academic concepts and practices like “course registration” to reading about “tutoring” at the writing center (where I would start working), every step in the transition process had been overwhelmingly new.

But when classes began, I had started feeling more comfortable. As I walked into the third and final class meeting of the second week, I was actually feeling jubilant about a grand achievement I had just made, albeit largely out of luck. Having learned about something called the Student Housing Office earlier that week, I had visited it and been offered an on-campus apartment where a student had just vacated a unit (a rarity at that point in the semester, I was told). Moving into a building that was well furnished and located right across from the Writing Center where I had started working as a tutor was a relief for an international student who came from the Nepalese capital city of Kathmandu, an overcrowded place where basic amenities were becoming increasingly inaccessible after a violent conflict for a decade and dramatic internal migration. So, having taken care of accommodation, transportation, work permit, and the like, I was truly ready to enjoy the university as an MA student and teaching assistant in English and Writing Studies.

It was when the professor of one of the three graduate seminars I was taking started describing the instructions for the first major assignment that it dawned on me that I hadn’t really thought about academic transition. Here I was, having studied English all my life and taught it for more than a decade, unable to understand an assignment about a language item in the context of teaching writing (I had done the reverse before but that didn’t help). The instruction seemed simple on the surface: to pick a topic from two different handbooks, compare how the authors approached it, and develop one’s own best way of explaining it to students. The idea of making my own pedagogical decision by assessing different teaching materials and methods makes sense today; in fact, I think that it is a great exercise for tutors and teachers of writing. But it seemed pointless to me at the time. “Why make a big deal about how two books describe something” I asked a classmate, “instead of explaining it as the author does in the text you use?” Where I came from, curriculum meant textbooks and pedagogy usually meant lecture. My colleague seemed to better appreciate the task: he seemed to not only have a better grasp of stylistic and rhetorical nuances in his primary language (though I probably had more grammatical knowledge), his familiarity with academic concepts and the conventions and genres of writing also accorded him much greater confidence. My confusion didn’t seem to make sense to him.

I did my best and submitted a draft, which repeated a few rather vague points about the importance of “consulting different kinds of teaching materials” (which the assignment instruction already assumed). And I hoped that the professor would help me revise substantially. To my surprise, her comments focused instead on linguistic and stylistic idiosyncrasies in my writing, challenges she apparently wanted to help me overcome first. I could appreciate the underlying generosity even then, but I remember being upset about her focus on the deviations from standard edited academic English in my South Asian variety and perhaps some errors. Even as the course moved on to increasingly complex readings and assignments, the professor’s approach to helping me remained the same, and I continued to find it discouraging. I didn’t want surface errors to obscure the more significant challenges that I was facing, such as with understanding the discourses, genres, contexts, and research skills that I needed for writing more successfully at the graduate level, in a new discipline, and in a new society and culture. Luckily, the same professor remained, throughout my time at the university, my go-to person for any questions about education, society, and culture. Her willingness to mentor me in the broader process of my academic transition was far more useful than the (unproductive) attempt to help with my odd wordings and syntaxes in my writing, which I knew would gradually disappear if I didn’t lose the desire to learn and confidence to keep writing in the first place.

Six years later, when I started working as a faculty member at another large public university, I kept coming across international graduate students who faced even tougher challenges than I had. Many of them had good command of the English language but were daunted by the type and level and variety of writing skills they were required to demonstrate, often right upon arrival. Others were confused by social and cultural issues undergirding research and scholarship in their disciplines. Some were lucky enough to have faculty advisors who both had the skill and time to guide them with their writing, but others learned the hard way over time. …

The result of a three-year-long research project, involving visits to twenty universities of various types and sizes across the United States and data collected from many others, this book primarily speaks to teachers, scholars, and administrators of Writing Studies who provide or want to develop support with (or related to) writing or communication skills for international graduate students. Beyond discussing themes about effective programs and practices, including political and social issues affecting international students, the objective of this book is to offer new perspectives toward new conversations.

English Dreams — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on Oct. 11, 2017

English, most of us believe, is an “international language,” one that offers greatest economic opportunity for everyone, as well as tremendous cultural capital and connection to the “whole world.” Facts related to these claims are a little more complicated, as I will follow up in the next essay; in this one, let me describe a few historical and geopolitical dynamics behind the above assumptions.

English has an interesting political history in Nepal. Although English speakers had reached the region in late 1700s, the rulers of a nation that was being established started learning “Angreji” as they developed a love-hate relationship with British colonizers in India in the mid-1800s. So, English facilitated geopolitical power struggles in the region, especially when Nepal’s rulers supported British colonizers during the 1857 Indian Mutiny, in exchange for favors related to national sovereignty and suppression of democratic forces at home. Similarly, while a permanent residence for a British envoy was established in Kathmandu in 1792, the language entered formal education when the first “modern” and also English-medium school, Durbar School, was established in 1853. The school was only meant for children of the ruling class, since the Shah-Rana regime (1846-1951) wanted to keep the country politically isolated from the world outside. But more and more people around the autocratic rulers kept learning it as a means of privilege and power.

In a striking case of politicization of English, the ultra-nationalist Panchayat regime tried and failed to make it inaccessible to the public. King Mahendra’s national education policies attempted to enforce a Nepali-only language policy, seeking to ban English while also destroying other local languages rather callously: “If the younger generation is taught to use Nepali as the basic language,” said the Nepal National Education Planning Commission of 1956, “then other languages [of ethnic minorities] will gradually disappear, the greater the national strength and unity will result. . . Local dialects and tongues other than Nepali should be vanished [banished?] from the playground as early as possible in the life of the child.” In fact, the regime used the national census to show the number of languages in Nepal declining from 44 in 1952 to 17 in 1971 (as we know, there are more than ten dozen languages now). read full post…

Lazybones Versus Easy Kill — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on Mar. 6, 2018

If the society has punished public institutions for their sluggishness, it will punish private colleges for the shallowness of the education they provide.

When I finished high school in the early 1990s, I looked up to an older cousin as one possible role model. He had an “intermediate” degree and proudly taught at a primary school. Two decades later, when his son dropped out of college and went abroad to make money, along with many of his peers, I found it shocking that the new generation didn’t pursue more education than ours.

Years later, I learned that there is nothing surprising about new generations deciding to skip college or to get a different kind of education. While fewer students than in the past are going to college in some countries, in others, their proportions are changing by gender, class, region, and so on.

Students also move back and forth between the public and private sectors, which is the focus of this essay. read full post…