English Language Proficiency as an Ideological Proxy

In 2009, an Australian nurse gave a 79-year-old patient dishwashing detergent instead of his medication. That crazy person was an international student from India who had just graduated from a nursing school. An investigation, which later caused the nurse to lose his license, showed that he was “unable to read the label” on the container. It is possible that a college-educated person couldn’t “read” the label on a container. And I can believe that professionals who determined that cause were correct. But I cannot help wondering if the whole investigation was driven by an ideologically shaped view of the whole situation.

To explain the above point about ideological framing of the incident–and to consider the implications of that framing for international students across the world–let us look at how the incident was used in an investigative report about the degradation of Australian higher education by an Australian TV. Titled “Degrees of Deception,” the documentary presented the Indian nurse’s case as a perfect example of what is wrong with higher education in the country. read full post…

Reverse Hacking Education

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.” read full post…

Education is NOT Just the Content Part of it

I can’t believe what I typed in the title, but let me share some reflections I was sharing after reading a Chronicle blog post on Facebook earlier today.

I used to think that one has to be phenomenally stupid to think that a “course” (particularly in the US higher education system) can be “licensed” to a third party to teach it, to think that it can be “sold” like a gallon of milk that the buyer can use it as they like. I used to wonder if these new types of buyers and sellers of education (keen on making money, cutting cost, creating efficiency, etc) define “course” without the “teaching” part in it? I used to be confused if they’re simply talking about videocapturing every minute of the professor talking and call that the “course.” That wouldn’t make a lot of sense at least for anyone trying to “license” any of the courses I teach because they have to also videocapture the interaction with and among a particular/unique group of students I teach in a particular place and time–and then, what, “play” that video for future groups of students?! I thought that if by “course” they were only referring to the syllabus (course description, objectives, reading list, assignment descriptions, and course policies) and schedule, then these are not always original and many professors put them online and they often don’t care who takes and uses them. I borrow and lend syllabi and assignments all the time with colleagues.  read full post…

Message in a Floating Bottle

. . . A Writing Teacher’s Considerations about Cross-Border Education

I found a plastic bottle floating on the Atlantic at the south shore of Long Island some time ago. It was a warm summer day, and I was playing with my five and three year old children on the beach. As soon as I noticed a piece of paper inside the bottle, my curiosity was piqued and I took it out and read the message. It said: “Come here around this time tomorrow and we’ll talk about our plan further.”

The first thing that came to my mind was: “Gosh, is this message somehow intended for me?” I wondered who the sender of the message may be. Come? That is called an indexical in linguistics: it needs to have a point of reference, that of the speaker’s location, to which the other person is being asked to move. I would need to know who the addresser and addressee are. read full post…

The Digital Amphibians

As a whole host of new and faster developments are taking place in the domain of teaching/learning online, the theme of resistance versus celebration of academic technology, which I started writing about many years ago,* is intriguing me once again. This time around, when I come across people who either celebrate their preference/interest or express critical judgments about teaching with new technologies, I am reminded of a story.

There  was this poor Nepali family that used to have a hard time because they had guests too frequently. So, the couple developed a strategy to address their challenge: the wife started serving dinner to the guests along with her husband, and as soon as the husband sensed that she may be running out of food for the rest of their family, he said, “We are full, honey! Now, you should serve the kids.”

I think a lot of people–including myself–want to be diplomatic like the host in the story above, but it is easier said than done. When others start defending or resisting new technologies, in spite of our knowledge, understanding, and empathy with both sides, we too fail to rephrase our thoughts and tone down our reactions, to wait and see what happens, to rethink our initial understanding while things evolve and improve. This analogy may not fully pan out, but I think we regularly fail to gently indicate to the guest that kids will go hungry if we keep eating! read full post…

Good Writers, Bad Grades

For quite some time, I’ve seen an interesting pattern among students who said that they were “good writers,” but unfortunately they don’t receive a good grade at the end of the semester, which I wish they did. As a writing teacher, I don’t want these confident writers to change their self-perception in any of my writing courses. But I have to grade all students on the basis of the assignment’s instructions and objectives as they are specified in advance.

The case of a self-described “good writer,” Brian (not his real name), has been the most memorable one among those of students who somehow couldn’t write well in spite of their claims and, presumably, backgrounds as good writers. read full post…