I had drafted this post back when the Sugata Mitra scandal was raging a few months ago (I think it’s a scandal, because I grew up in places like the ones where Mitra put up his computers in the wall and watched how kids responded, and I find the whole story and his interpretation of it utterly problematic). The main idea still seems worth sharing.
I find “hole in the wall” view of learners offensive because I know that it doesn’t work like that when societies try to do it without the romanticizer in place! Continue reading
“Candy Mommy, Candy Mommy,” shouted a group of kids as they ran, leaving a billow of dust behind them, toward a woman who seemed to be returning from town. Relatively well-dressed and not carrying a load of grain, grass, or firewood as every other women seemed to at all times, this woman was (as I happened to know) a teacher at a middle school about a mile away at the bottom of the mountain. She had returned from teaching and then shopping for the family.
At first, I thought the children were using the phrase “candy mommy” for teasing the woman. But when she actually took a handful of candies out of her purse and gave them to the children, my curiosity grew. I asked her why they called her with that name. The conversation that I had with Candy Mommy that afternoon blew my mind and it has given me food for thought for the rest of my life. 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.
Growing up in Nepal, I used to hear this useful advice all the time: “Don’t talk about the heaven in front of Indra [the god who’s the king of heaven].” The message in the saying is that you should not boast about something in front of someone who knows better than you about it. When I read about how “star” professors at prestigious universities expressing great faith in massively open online courses (MOOCs), I just wonder what dedicated teachers, educational researchers, scholars of intercultural education, and experts of online education think about these “docs on laptops” who may be stars of subject matter but evidently not so of teaching effectively. Continue reading
As I sit down to share some thoughts in the third, gaming-focused week of conversation in the connected learning course, #clmooc, I want to once again start with the friendly Philosoraptor for making my first point. Imagine that you jumped off a spacecraft using a parachute, aiming to return “down” to earth, but then you start wondering if you are falling “toward” or away from or tangentially in relation to the earth. That’s how I often feel about the increasingly hi-tech modes of living and learning.
“Movement”: A Story of my Life & Education
In the winter of 1987, my father decided to take me along with him on a visit to our home country, Nepal. Due to increasing conflict between the government and extremists in India’s northeastern states at the time, traveling across five states and returning safely to the remote little town in the south of Manipur (close to India’s border with Myanmar) was not easy–not to mention traveling with a ten year old. But daddy had with him good documents from local government offices, one of which was a “movement certificate” for me, written by my school’s principal. After a nifty subject line of “Movement Certificate,” it addressed “whom it may concern” and said: “This is to certify that Master Ghanashyam Sharma s/o Gopi Chandra [Sharma], a resident of Tangpizawl Village, Churachandpur District, Manipur, has been a student of this school since 1980.” It went on to request anyone reading it to kindly let me travel to Darjeeling (in the state of West Bengal in India) and return home to Manipur.
This document, as daddy told me before the trip, would serve at least two purposes: first, it was proof that I was his child–one of the things that a foreigner-looking man might have to prove when inevitably hassled by bad cops, of which there seemed many–and, second, it was a clever way of showing them our home address in India. Daddy had better documents of his residency, but they did the disservice of revealing that he was a foreigner (from Nepal), unlike my document, which only said what part of India we were “residents” of, so this would be a good piece of paper to dig out when questioned where we were from and who we were. Darjeeling, I found out, was the “permanent home address” in the school’s record, a reminder that ethnic outsiders needed an outside address. Never mind that 1) the border between India and Nepal is open by treaty and we shouldn’t have to conceal our identities, 2) those who were paid to be good guys protecting the vulnerable were being bad guys (making money, using hatred of outsiders in the name of law and order, etc), and 3) the effect of good guys acting badly can be very damaging to people’s trust in systems of justice and security.
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
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
Thoughts about a Cross-Context Twitter Summit
Sixty minutes of class time today felt like six. A community of educators along with their students, their colleagues, and other professionals that they invited… had an extremely engaging conversation. In the words of Mark McGuire, one of the participants and instructor of Design in the Department of Applied Sciences at the University of Otago in New Zealand, the Twitter Summit we had today “was a good party. [Too] many (mostly) strangers squeezed into a kitchen, all making new friends. The buzz all we remember.” I couldn’t say it better.
Instead of the web being a lonely place, with each individual staring at their own individual screen, as the “kitchen” metaphor powerfully conveys, the web was a community, a network, a rhizomatic flow of ideas and a friendly place where time and place collapsed. For an hour, a few dozen people from Egypt and New Zealand, Australia and Nepal, and cities in New York/New Jersey and California and Florida and Missouri discussed their thoughts and experiences about writing in their professions/disciplines and how it is changing, how new media are affecting those changes and creating new possibilities as well as challenges. Participants that students talked to included a microbiologist (Egypt), a hydrologist (US), college administrator (Nepal), and among others, a number of teachers/professors from different countries. Continue reading