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. Continue reading
I don’t have a better way to describe this highly satisfying situation in teaching than to call it the “butterfly moment.”
No, that’s not an established English idiom– I just made up one for describing moments like the one below. Moments when teaching turns into learning, as it were. Moments when students’ sense of ownership of their learning breaks out of the larvae of all the things that I’ve been demanding of them and takes flight like butterflies. Butterflies of what they want to learn, how they want to conduct their learning, why they want it. Continue reading
Almost every semester, I have a student whose behavior or activity in class throws my teaching off its balance, more or less significantly. Some of these students dominate class discussion, others fall asleep during class, and yet others are consistently late to class. As a teacher, I like the “challenging” situations that these students create because, at least in hindsight, I realize that they create the opportunity for me to become a better teacher: when faced with those situations, I have to come up with new/better ways to address the issue, and the solutions often add significant benefits for the class as a whole. Continue reading
I have been following a variety of news and discussions about the big MOOCs as a means of bringing millions if not billions out of ignorance, poverty, and lack of civilization around the world for some time. Lately, there have been far fewer people on the national scene here in the US who say the kinds of amazing things that they did until a few months ago about giving higher education an extreme makeover right here in America. But while the hype has significantly subsided on the local front, the MOOCery of higher education on the global front has been evolving into a mountain of BS. I usually tolerate or ignore the mind-bending lack of critical perspectives in the current discourse about educating the hungry masses out there, but after reading many news reports about a particularly interesting development in Rwanda today, I couldn’t help express some frustration once more.
What most bothered me was a news article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (a venue that I highly respect), which followed the pattern of a barrage of similar articles in less reputable venues; like everyone else, the writer of this article jumped on the bandwagon to essentially celebrate a group of entrepreneurs from “not” Rwanda with an utterly paradoxical vision to save that nation (plus the rest of the developing world).
As someone who has lived in some of those third world places, I found the whole project only slightly better than some of the educational scams that I have observed on the ground. Amazingly enough, in describing the Rwandan revolution in higher education, reporters on this side of the world have used words like “magic,” “game changing,” worldwide “waves,” and even “the turn” for the entire field of higher education. Continue reading
I have taken or at least closely observed a few massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and I want to say out loud that in the case of my own discipline of writing studies, the teachers/scholars running them were wonderful. No, I’m not simply bragging about my own discipline, but like most writing teachers tend to be, the instructors whose courses I took were very thoughtful about students’ learning and in the case of the Ohio State University course, they also seemed highly aware of and sensitive to cultural/contextual differences that can affect students’ participation/success.
However, the more MOOCs I observe, the more it seems to me that no amount of awareness/ sensitiveness is going to be enough. The vastly different academic backgrounds, language proficiencies/differences, sociocultural worldviews, material conditions, digital divides, geopolitical realities. . . make MOOCs fundamentally a paradox. (For convenience, let us call these complex and multilayered differences and barriers just “differences” or “learner differences.”) Here’s why I call MOOCs a paradox: unless the objective of a course is to teach/learn about the differences themselves, trying to accommodate those differences will result in a mess, just because there will be TOO MANY of them in the MOOC setting. For instructors to be able to address enough of the differences, the courses will have to stop being massive, being open, and being asynchronous and online at the same time. That means there is a double bind between teaching effectively and accommodating for the many differences that affect learning. Or is it a hydra? Continue reading
I just had another student today who used a common trope that many, many students have used for describing themselves over the years: “I am not the academic type.”
This student had served in the navy for six or seven years before returning to the university. He said that he wanted to get a degree in electrical engineering, but he was worried that he may have lost his academic footing while he was away. A non-native speaker of English, at times it seemed as if he ascribed his anxiety to his language proficiency/identity but he said that he was not worried about his language per se when I asked him. This gentleman was, clearly, academically brilliant in my view. The problem: he somehow didn’t think he was even capable of catching up with the rest of his (regular, younger) peers. Continue reading
When we face uncomfortable situations or experiences, our impulse is to escape or overcome the discomfort. Whenever we can, we do not deliberately choose discomfort.
Yes, there are powerful theories and beliefs that uncomfortable experiences are useful. Teachers, preachers, motivational speakers, and parents—or people who don’t have to show what they mean by example—are the biggest advocates of such theories. “Get out of your comfort zone,” many dads will say, “In the end it is good for you”!
However, regardless of the theories (and lectures), the same fact remains: we rarely “experience” discomfort as a good or pleasant thing in the process itself. Continue reading
A former student of mine (let us call her Reema, to not name a real person) wanted to chat on Yahoo Messenger today. As most of my former students do, she wrote, “Namaste, sir, how are you… and how is your family?” I engage in the phatic communion sincerely. But the conversation takes the same old irritating path: “Sir, you were our inspiration…” Frankly, I feel good to know that I’ve inspired someone, but the fact that Reema says nothing of substance during a half hour chat bugs me, for several serious reasons. Reema completed the MA in which I taught her many years ago, she has become a teacher herself, and she has gained a lot of professional experience as well as disciplinary understanding. But Reema believes in a teacher-student relationship model that is frozen, locked, mummified at a moment where I was role-playing a teacher and she a student, in Kirtipur. For that reason, she is unable to consider me a colleague with whom to share ideas as a fellow teacher and scholar, even when I strongly urge that she does so. She actually says it emphatically that once teacher is forever teacher; she cites our old guru culture . . . and that mummified view of a culture which leads to mummified way of thinking and acting is what frustrates me. Continue reading