Pragmatics of Global Citizenship

Undergraduate Education and the “Pragmatics” of Global Citizenship—or, What I Look Forward to Learning at the Annual Meeting

Reblogged post, written for the Association of American Colleges and Universities blog on Jan 25, 2012

Shyam Sharma, University of Louisville

When I look at the description of events in the schedule of the AAC&U Annual Meeting this year, images of my undergraduate students cross my mind. I begin to think about what use my students from the English 101 class in fall 2007 (my first semester of teaching college writing) made of the “critical thinking skills” that I taught after they left my classroom. I wonder if my students from the advanced writing course that focused on global citizenship last year continued to “pause to look at two more perspectives” before beginning to argue and defend their own positions. The events in the schedule represent big and often abstract ideas emerging from the experience and wisdom of scholars who are intellectual leaders in higher education. But when browsing the themes and descriptions in the schedule, my mind turns toward the students from the past and students I will teach in years to come. Has my teaching helped them become productive citizens in their communities and work? How much am I helping them become the digital and global citizens that they need to be today? What else do I need to do in order to shoulder the responsibilities of an effective educator of the twenty-first century—and what does it mean to be an effective teacher today in light of the changes, challenges, and opportunities that are created or complicated by the forces of economic crises around the world, advancements in information technologies, and the growing interdependence of knowledge (and other) markets around the world? I will be seeking answers to these questions in the many exciting discussions that I look forward to attending at the AAC&U Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
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My name is Shyam Sharma, and this is my blogfolio.

Linked on top are pages about my work, and on right are links to some of my professional networks. Blog posts are below, starting with some of my favorite posts. I write about international education and students, new media in writing studies, cross-cultural rhetoric and communication, and critical pedagogy (which can be filtered by theme from the right). I will appreciate any comments/feedback on blog posts.

Thank you.


Last book — just published (Routledge) 

Using qualitative data collected from more than twenty universities across the US, Writing Support for International Graduate Students describes and theorizes agency- and advocacy-driven practices, programs, and policies that are most effective in helping international students learn graduate-level writing and communication skills. It uses compelling narratives and cases to illustrate a variety of program models and support practices that fostered the students’ process of academic transition and success. Employing an ecological framework, the book seeks to advance academic conversation about how writing scholars/instructors and program administrators, as well as other academic service professionals working with this student body, can formulate policies, develop programs, and implement practices that best help these students grow as writers and scholars in their disciplines.

I share a few notes about the book here.


Backgrounds notes

This post is based on parts of the preface to my book on international graduate students.

Since I had landed in the city of Louisville in Kentucky about a month earlier, along with my spouse, in fall 2006, I had been feeling as if my ability to navigate any physical space and social system had somehow become impaired. From finding transportation for getting to essential places to figuring out a way to call home, and from understanding basic academic concepts and practices like “course registration” to reading about “tutoring” at the writing center (where I would start working), every step in the transition process had been overwhelmingly new.

But when classes began, I had started feeling more comfortable. As I walked into the third and final class meeting of the second week, I was actually feeling jubilant about a grand achievement I had just made, albeit largely out of luck. Having learned about something called the Student Housing Office earlier that week, I had visited it and been offered an on-campus apartment where a student had just vacated a unit (a rarity at that point in the semester, I was told). Moving into a building that was well furnished and located right across from the Writing Center where I had started working as a tutor was a relief for an international student who came from the Nepalese capital city of Kathmandu, an overcrowded place where basic amenities were becoming increasingly inaccessible after a violent conflict for a decade and dramatic internal migration. So, having taken care of accommodation, transportation, work permit, and the like, I was truly ready to enjoy the university as an MA student and teaching assistant in English and Writing Studies.

It was when the professor of one of the three graduate seminars I was taking started describing the instructions for the first major assignment that it dawned on me that I hadn’t really thought about academic transition. Here I was, having studied English all my life and taught it for more than a decade, unable to understand an assignment about a language item in the context of teaching writing (I had done the reverse before but that didn’t help). The instruction seemed simple on the surface: to pick a topic from two different handbooks, compare how the authors approached it, and develop one’s own best way of explaining it to students. The idea of making my own pedagogical decision by assessing different teaching materials and methods makes sense today; in fact, I think that it is a great exercise for tutors and teachers of writing. But it seemed pointless to me at the time. “Why make a big deal about how two books describe something” I asked a classmate, “instead of explaining it as the author does in the text you use?” Where I came from, curriculum meant textbooks and pedagogy usually meant lecture. My colleague seemed to better appreciate the task: he seemed to not only have a better grasp of stylistic and rhetorical nuances in his primary language (though I probably had more grammatical knowledge), his familiarity with academic concepts and the conventions and genres of writing also accorded him much greater confidence. My confusion didn’t seem to make sense to him.

I did my best and submitted a draft, which repeated a few rather vague points about the importance of “consulting different kinds of teaching materials” (which the assignment instruction already assumed). And I hoped that the professor would help me revise substantially. To my surprise, her comments focused instead on linguistic and stylistic idiosyncrasies in my writing, challenges she apparently wanted to help me overcome first. I could appreciate the underlying generosity even then, but I remember being upset about her focus on the deviations from standard edited academic English in my South Asian variety and perhaps some errors. Even as the course moved on to increasingly complex readings and assignments, the professor’s approach to helping me remained the same, and I continued to find it discouraging. I didn’t want surface errors to obscure the more significant challenges that I was facing, such as with understanding the discourses, genres, contexts, and research skills that I needed for writing more successfully at the graduate level, in a new discipline, and in a new society and culture. Luckily, the same professor remained, throughout my time at the university, my go-to person for any questions about education, society, and culture. Her willingness to mentor me in the broader process of my academic transition was far more useful than the (unproductive) attempt to help with my odd wordings and syntaxes in my writing, which I knew would gradually disappear if I didn’t lose the desire to learn and confidence to keep writing in the first place.

Six years later, when I started working as a faculty member at another large public university, I kept coming across international graduate students who faced even tougher challenges than I had. Many of them had good command of the English language but were daunted by the type and level and variety of writing skills they were required to demonstrate, often right upon arrival. Others were confused by social and cultural issues undergirding research and scholarship in their disciplines. Some were lucky enough to have faculty advisors who both had the skill and time to guide them with their writing, but others learned the hard way over time. …

The result of a three-year-long research project, involving visits to twenty universities of various types and sizes across the United States and data collected from many others, this book primarily speaks to teachers, scholars, and administrators of Writing Studies who provide or want to develop support with (or related to) writing or communication skills for international graduate students. Beyond discussing themes about effective programs and practices, including political and social issues affecting international students, the objective of this book is to offer new perspectives toward new conversations.

Generalizing Generations–Here We Go Again

A quick, fun post.

Since I read about a dozen books on this subject when writing a seminar paper in a popular culture course during graduate school (around 2009)—-including Dan Tapscott’s Growing Up Digital and others that categorized and generalized younger generations—-I had been itching, fretting, impatiently waiting to learn what would come after generation “Y.” I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about different possibilities.

Finally, there it is: it is called the Generation Z (the now young people born around 1995). We’ve started seeing a plethora of articles (books are coming) about this group of humans, most of the writers first generalizing up to their necks and then more or less quickly cautioning readers against generalization, most of them painting the new generation as distinct, some going uber optimistic, and others essentially focusing on how to monetize our understanding of the new human species.

Exactly what I was waiting for. read full post…

Beauty and Power of Multilingualism

 During the past year, I came across a lot of news items (including some based on scientific studies) about the benefits of multilingualism. There was so much on this issue that I sometimes wondered if the scientific and sociological studies were essentially a part of rather political responses to the ongoing redistribution of economic and geopolitical power around the world …. Living in the US, a society where monolingual policies and assumptions are (understandably) prevalent in most walks of life, I was pleased to see the emerging appreciation of multilingualism because I think this will only have positive outcomes on local and global levels.

Full post here

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F Words of Effective Academic Writing

Are there any tricks for getting straight As on written assignments in college/university in the US? I think there are. I share some below.

Of course, not all academic writing will demand these features (and indeed, they may sound more like they come from journalism than general academic writing), but these are expected commonly enough in academic writing that you can treat them as general guidelines for most courses and contexts in college and university. In most of my classes, where I teach general to specific and advanced academic writing skills, I encourage students to implement these strategies and features as well as they can. [Edit: I’ve added #1 to a previous list of 7]

1. Fleshing Out Your Ideas

Many students say they are “good writers” or “bad writers” on the basis of their ability to produce grammatically corrected and properly edited prose. As I discuss in another post (titled “Bad Writers are Welcome“), both groups often don’t realize that good writing cannot be defined outside of what the context and purpose are, and even who the writer and audience are, with particular instances of writing. So, for instance, a letter written by a fourth grader urging the US President to “make a playground near my school” will not be “effective” if you take out identifying information and tell the recipient that the letter was written by a school Principal! So, no, there is no good writing per se, and if you’ve considered yourself a “good writer” on the basis of your grammatical and editing skills, you may be in for a B or C (if not worse)–unless, first, you “flesh out” your idea for the assignment.

Fleshing out the idea–or clearly thinking through what you want to say, developing the outline, and generally understanding how you want to organize and connect your ideas–may involve extensive research (especially if you’re writing a research-based assignment). You may only need to read the assignment carefully and/or talk to the teacher in order to develop the idea off the top of your head (though this type of assignments are rare in college). To learn (more about) what you want to write, you may need to go out in the world, work in the lab, do general research online, and/or have to read and develop your ideas by reviewing available scholarship on the topic. You may be the type of writer who writes and rewrites outlines as you develop your idea, write a preliminary draft or drafts (which you may not save or use), or write about what you plan to write before you start writing. Whatever you approach you (have to) take, you must “flesh out” your idea.

Imagine that you have an apple orchard a few miles away from your house, and one weekend, you’ve invited your friend to go apple picking. You think about this idea before you take your friend to the orchard, right? You won’t simply find yourself and your friend in the orchard when you wake up one day! You will talk about it, probably have details about how you want to make the experience enjoyable for your friend–or at least you will develop that idea in your mind (if not in interaction with your guest) before you implement the idea.

2. Framing Your Paper (and your paragraphs)

Many students seem to have learned to write “creatively” in high school, so they try to convey their ideas in subtle, indirect, and complex ways. That style (which they may have picked up from reading works of fiction) is often engaging to read, but writing in college also demands that they follow conventions of different genres in different disciplines.  read full post…

I Wish it Was Just the Dentist

No, it is not just the dentist. Just too many people seem to define “writing”–even after I specify it as the teaching/learning of basic to advanced academic writing in the university–in ways that make me sad.

As she was about to start her work on my teeth last week, my dentist, a wonderful professional who works at a service provider two blocks away from where I live, asked me where I work.

“Stony Brook University.”

“Oh, you are a teacher? What do you teach?” read full post…


Technology doesn’t make people stupid. What makes them lose their senses is their obsession with technology, their simplistic claims, their disregard of the complexity of problems in life and society.

Technological magic thinking is no better than other types of magic thinking — like fancy new religions, denial of science, or absurdly exaggerated health benefits of exotic fruits. This type of thinking makes people forget, for instance, to do any research on the subject, to test the tool being touted, or the fact that human people have for very long time used highly “advanced” technologies like pencil and paper. Technomagicology makes people not use basic critical thinking, consider individuals or societies not using their kind of technology to be “behind” or even “backward.” That is, it makes them make arguments (about a “Universal Translator”) as in the story below.

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Context as Lens — [Republica Repost]

 To communicate effectively in an increasingly globalized world, we must understand others through the lens of “context” rather than “culture.”

“I am a Chinese citizen but I don’t have very high expectation of this place,” said a young man, as I joined a line outside the Chinese Consulate in New York City last Friday. Many people in line—most of whom were there to apply for a visa, like me—seemed tense, with some vocally complaining. “I hate this,” said another, without specifying what it was that he hated. The line was moving forward fairly quickly and the weather was pleasant. read full post…