Karla raised her hand during the first class in an upper division research and writing course I taught last semester: “I have written eleven pages of my thesis already!” She was very proud about being a “good writer” (in her own words).
Tamal, another bright student in that class, had done so much research on the topic he’d chosen that he surprised me when he came for the first one-on-one conference to my office. He seemed to know everything about the ongoing Eurozone financial crisis.
But in the same class, there was another fairly talented student, Yin, who was so scared of a “writing” class that she went to my colleague who was teaching a co-requisite course to share her anxiety. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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, the things that are known as “MOOCs” by the general public today were created, for the most part, out of a combination of 1) fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of connectivist learning and 2) commercial interest of venture capitalists who find an unlimited supply “star professors” with inflated egos. Replicated in all sorts of, and increasingly, absurd ways, some of these pretend MOOCs continue to alternately fascinate and baffle the heck out of journalists and even scholars of higher education.
But 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 have been relatively clear from the outset that mainstream MOOCs can only achieve very limited goals that online pedagogies can achieve when they’re done with an understanding of openness, scale, virtuality, and cross-contextual learning/teaching.
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
I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. . . . When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me. – Nameless character in Ralph Ellison’s novel The Invisible Man
The inability to realize that others may not have the same stakes, interests, or understanding about a given issue or situation that we do is perhaps wired into our biological makeup as humans–as well as ingrained in our social experiences and positions. But in the world of big bad MOOCs, this problem tends to be taken to a whole new level: willful blindness. The majority of students/participants in most of the xMOOCs are from outside the local context and country where they originate; however, that majority is NOT considered in the making and running of most of the courses. In other words, MOOC providers and teachers are as yet blind to the basic fact that for MOOCs to function in the transnational context, curriculum, pedagogy, and other aspects of education that they embody/perform must make a paradigm from the “context-bound” to the “context-crossing.”
Even worse, those who follow the blind leaders of the revolution treat them as great, insightful educators and facilitators for a new era of higher education in the entire blessed world. In reality, the non-local majority—-the participants who are as invisible as the nameless character in Ellison’s novel—-come from vastly different contexts. Many of them don’t understand much of what is taught/discussed. And few of them can use what they learn in their local society and professions in meaningful ways. But that’s how hegemony works: the underdog, the cheated, the abused somehow believe that it’s all in their interest.
I started thinking about the first side of the coin (willful blindness reinforced by willful invisibility– more about the latter in the next post) when I read some of the responses to a blog post I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education last summer. Sharing some challenges that I had faced when trying to teach a basic course in a new academic culture and country, I wanted to suggest that MOOC instructors shouldn’t get too excited about their ability to “educate the whole world” from the convenience of their laptops and high speed internet. While a lot of the commenters were positive, many challenged the argument (including a prominent MOOC scholar, who refused to “approve” a response to his critique of my essay on his site) by saying that cross-contextual barriers to students’ understanding and engagement in the courses don’t actually exist or weren’t a big deal, and so I was essentially saying (in the words of one of the critics): “MOOCs will never fly, Orville.” I wish that they genuinely did. Continue reading
In the previous post, I wrote about the unwillingness or inability of proponents of xMOOCs as the future of international higher education. But what I find even more amazing about the current state of affairs about mainstream MOOCs is that the participants from around the world—-including their universities and often their teachers and scholars—-are complicit in the fraud. (MOOCs are actually a blessing in terms of their potentials, especially the affordances they have for truly improving cross-border higher education, but they are a fraud as they are currently pushed by venture capitalists who see nothing but a market and their “star” professors who are too busy delivering their video lectures to the world.
Whether the dominant market-based models will ever be interested in harnessing the real powers of open online learning for cross-contextual higher learning is a huge question at this point.) But from the perspective of the participants around the world, too, the line between honest excitement about their “access” to Harvard and Princeton (i.e., mainly through video lectures and quizzes in all disciplines) and just being stupid is very thin.
I once informally interviewed a college teacher back home in Nepal who had been taking a Coursera MOOC to ask “how effective” he had found the course he was taking. He said that he was “very excited” about the possibility of “going to Harvard”! When I repeated my question about the “effectiveness” of the model of teaching/learning, he emphasized the issue of “access” and of the “prestige” of the providing institution and the teacher. I gave up after a third attempt. This is how hegemony works. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
That title is really weird, right? So was the experience that I’m about to share here at first–although it started making great sense when I got used to the academic culture that I am in now, after some time.
In a graduate seminar and practicum on teaching college-level writing that I took as an MA student in the US, the professor gave the class a literacy/teaching narrative essay assignment. Most of the writing tasks given by professors in various other courses that I had taken until then were all challenging because I was not used to writing “assignments,” but I had been doing fairly well by starting early and working very hard. This assignment caught me off guard! At first, it sounded much easier to write than all the others that I had done, but I was totally stuck because the “idea” behind it made no sense to me and I couldn’t find anything meaningful to say on the subject. Continue reading
. . . 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. Continue reading
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! Continue reading