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…

Smartypants’s Dead Fly

Once upon a time in a small town, there was a smartypants who was very quick at taking other people’s ideas and using them before he even thought through them. One day, Smartypants learned (or he thought he learned) how to get away without paying for lunch at a local eatery. So he went in, ordered jeri-swari and when he finished eating, he called the waiter and asked, “Now, what do I do with this dead fly?” Smartypants had not listened properly to his friend’s story where the friend had secretly put a fly in an almost-empty plate so that when the waiter was alerted about the dead fly, he would quietly let the customer go without paying! Smartypants got in trouble.

I’m reminded of the above joke very often these days. Quite a good proportion of the many educational technology folks that we see on and offline–celebrities at TedX events, number crunchers at national conferences, blind proponents of this or that tool at teacher training events–get way too excited about their fancy new applications without actually thinking through the educational side of the their deal.  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…

Yes, Going to the Library Is an Assignment in this Class

Assignment 3: Going to the Library (instruction and guidelines) 

Reposted from my new Stony Brook Blog

Yes, going to the library is an assignment in most classes I teach–even in college. Tell me in the comments section if I don’t convince you why this is an important assignment for a college course. Read on.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but the library contains materials that the Internet doesn’t. Using the library may not be as easy as clicking on hyperlinks, but libraries contain the knowledge created by societies around the world over the course of centuries and in some cases millennia. Not all books have been scanned by Google. Yes, there is a “search” function on the Internet (the library’s version of it is far less efficient–although that’s the assignment you are required to do, so keep reading); but the library has a powerful “organize” function that the Internet almost totally lacks. The library has quality control, professional librarians ready to help you, different types of services, and often fun activities — not to mention archives, lounges, study areas, often free coffee . . . but, wait, how do you compare the last few items with the Internet? And I’ve not even told you what the library assignment is. It’s fun– just read on. read full post…