The belief that you need to be a “good writer” to write effectively is a myth that has insalubrious consequences
In place of a society where “writers” were a few creative and educated people who did all the writing for the rest of us, we now have a society where everyone constantly writes. And yet, many myths about writers and writing prevail. The first of those myths is that good writing requires good writers. As someone who pursued two post-graduate degrees in “writing studies,” let me share the bad news: Good writers are a myth. Good news: You don’t need to be a “good writer” to write well.
In the same way “literacy” means much more than being able to read printed words, “writing” has far transcended the mere act of translating ideas into words and sentences on the page (or screen). Within a vast range of means, modes, and functions that it encompasses, writing now includes the personal, social and professional act of using script to get things done. The other older meaning of writing, creative expression, like the more mechanical form, has also become marginal in the big picture. That is, most of us have to write “effectively” for given contexts and purposes, instead of generally “well.”
For millions of people around the world – or perhaps several billions — education means understanding and/or memorizing ideas in different subjects and demonstrating that knowledge or memory on paper. From school systems all over South Asia to stringent testing regimes in China and South Korea to increasingly standardized testing methods that characterize more areas and levels of education in the Western world, formal education is still not aligned well with needs and uses of knowledge outside school. Perhaps the most striking case in this regard, you guessed it, is our own country Nepal. However, instead of rehashing this old, rather tired theme about traditional education, let me describe what kind of education learners need in order to thrive in the knowledge economy. Continue reading
Reposting (for access) Part I of a series of blog posts by Chris Petty and me from RhetComp@StonyBrook–
Putting Everything On the Line? Optimizing the Affordances, Minding the Pitfalls
Shyam Sharma and Christopher Petty
Especially after the advent of web 2.0 applications, the landscape of teaching writing is drastically changing. In many ways, writing teachers greatly benefit by moving into web-based, increasingly shared, and peer-involved practices especially at the post-secondary levels. New developments in technological applications are allowing highly effective pedagogical practices to develop. However, technocratic arguments founded on the positive affordances of new technologies can also be taken too far.
In this context, we wanted to write a brief series of blog posts that will describe and discuss some of the educational/pedagogical benefits and also pitfalls of using web applications and shared spaces for providing instructor feedback to students’ writing, for engaging them in peer review, and for promoting collaboration in college writing courses. These discussions will go along with somewhat corresponding videos (which will be included in a separate section in the Writing@StonyBrook portfolio) that demonstrate how to effectively use collaborative and interactive spaces and tools such as wikis, cloud-based documents, blogs, and portfolios. Continue reading
Published on July 2, 2016 [Logic of Writing]
It is not necessary to “dumb down” specialized ideas when writing for “general” public, which, by the way, doesn’t exist.
Previous generations arguably had two rather distinct groups of people when it came to reading and writing specialized bodies of knowledge: there were the few educated people mainly at the center of political and economic hierarchy, and there was the “general” public. The spread of literacy and higher education have now radically blurred that boundary. However, myths about communicating complex ideas still prevail. Like the myth about “good writers” that I wrote about here previously, the idea that there is a general public who can only handle simplified language is a misconception that any writer should avoid.
Read the full article on Republica.
Published in The Republica on Oct 18, 2016
The semester system was first implemented in Nepal about four decades ago, but it discontinued after a few years during a political upheaval. This time, there are indications of effective implementation, but there are also reasons to worry again, one of which I explore here. We risk spilling old wines from new bottles (or, to stretch the metaphor, failing to get new bottles) if we rock the boat too much.
Changing from annual to semester system, or vice versa, will only improve education to the extent that we improve practice and culture of teaching/learning. During a seven week stay in Nepal last summer, I was inspired by new trends in colleges and universities of all kinds—as I learned from many and extremely productive conversations with top level officials in Tribhuvan University and Mid-Western University, colleagues in professional organizations, and scholars running various private colleges.
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. Continue reading
Around the age of ten, I once asked my father why the local priest didn’t translate his Sanskrit scriptures into Nepali. The answer was: “that’s how it’s always been!” That was not really a “reason,” but it worked for my father, given his faith in the system.
There is something about our social institutions that encourages just doing things without really understanding what they mean and why they are done. In fact, if they are made clear and simple, they seem to lose their power and appeal. In the field of education, this “sanskritization” (so to speak) not only characterizes disciplines like painting and poetry (where obscurity and complexity may be necessary and beneficial); it also typifies education at large. Instead of striving for clarity, pragmatism, and relevance to life and society, we want to keep it disconnected from life and work beyond the classroom. Continue reading
Around the age of eight or ten, I asked a Hindu priest what caste people were if they didn’t have a designated label, as in the case of Christians, Muslims, and all the people in other countries. He said that all those “others” would be “mlekshas.” In the old days, this term, derived from “malechh,” referred to those who don’t know Sanskrit or those who are unclean or unholy. That evening, I also learned that my parents, who were Brahmins, used the word for “anyone who is not a part of the Brahmanic relationship to the divine.” So I asked them this: “What if those ‘others’ say the same thing about us?” This time, instead of an answer, I got a straightforward order to shut up. Continue reading
“In a time of universal deceit,” said the novelist George Orwell, “telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” The School Leaving Certificate is one such mind-boggling deceit for the majority of our children, describing which with an open mind can make you sound crazy. A hundred and ninety thousand students passed, out of more than four hundred thousand; only a hundred thousand out of three hundred thousand were from public schools (whereas 91 out of 102 thousand passed from private schools). We’re investing 86 billion rupees per year in education, and we largely continue to blame teachers in public schools for this national disaster that we are collective responsible for. Let me explain how the real problem lies with our society’s fundamental misunderstanding of education (including the function and value of exams). Continue reading
One night earlier this year, as I was reading drafts of essays submitted by students in a college writing course, I found myself getting more and more frustrated, confused, and almost angry with myself as a teacher. What had I done wrong in designing the course, selecting reading materials, or teaching students how to conduct research and discuss what they found on a topic?
In preparation of that assignment, I had assigned texts (mainly from national media in the past few years) representing arguments for and against the idea that massive open online courses (or MOOCs) would radically change higher education. Students had to ask their own research questions on sub-topics of their choice and “review” how different scholars and stakeholders approached the debate. Yes, they had surveyed a common set of texts, but how did almost all their research questions assume that MOOCs are likely to replace or dramatically transform higher education—for good or bad? I was baffled because, as I thought they should know, the current scholarly conversation makes it abundantly clear that MOOCs are unfit for credit-bearing, degree-worthy education. Continue reading