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.
...written for #MakeCycle 1, which is part of #clmooc, a connected learning course run by the National Writing Project ...
I grew up in a community where everyone built their own houses and live in one now where no one does. We just pay others for our residences, often until we die.
Luckily, though, I can make my own abode(s) in the digital world, as I am doing this week. I’m moving a blog from a free WordPress site (that had reached about 5000 views) to my own domain and site (where I only used to host a more static, hand-coded website that took forever to make any updates). It feels like I can now “work from home” in the digital world. I’m glad it’s easier to build our digital abodes today.
The idea of constructing, designing, and thinking analytically and rhetorically about one’s digital spaces goes deep into my teaching and scholarship as well. In one way or another, I help all my students to showcase their knowledge and skills, to connect to relevant communities beyond the class, and to contribute to the world of ideas–by making and maintaining their own personal and professional digital spaces.
“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 find a lot of things about MOOCs confusing. But when I was responding to Lenandlar Singh’s blog post in which he asked the following three questions (paraphrased), I was more confused than ever before: 1. How long should videos in MOOCs be? 2. How well are discussions happening in MOOC discussion forums? and 3. How long should MOOCs ideally be? Continue reading
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
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. Continue reading
I don’t want to reinvent any wheels on the blogosphere: you can find a ton of good advice on how to blog effectively by simply Googling for a while (this was my first find). So, let me briefly summarize what we’ve been discussing in the specific context of our class, adding a few points to the list.
Use a Telling, Interesting Title
No, the title is not just the “topic” of your post. The title should name the “topic,” say, “the attention economy” (also, not just the broader subject of your writing, which could be, say, “social media”). If you provide a specific “title” for your particular post, say “How the Attention Economy is Disrupting Conventional Marketing Practices,” readers, including your classmates, can see what your post is specifically about. If the title is informative, readers can get a sense of what you are writing about (and decide if they want to read it). And, if the title is also interesting–attention-grabbing because it is funny, creative, new, or otherwise striking–then they may be more willing to read the blog. Let us add a creative twist to the title above: “Look at Me! — How the Attention Economy is Disrupting Conventional Marketing Practices.” Just don’t go overboard, which you can if the creative twist can’t be justified logically or rhetorically. If your blog’s theme makes the title too large and long, you can either edit the CSS or put the subtitle at the top of your post.
Remember the “Hook-Hold-Payoff” Idea
Unlike the simple/universal idea of beginning, middle, and end, this one comes from “story design“: it is one of the most powerful ways to think specifically about the audience engagement, and it seems very useful for blogging (especially due to the lack of attention on the web).
Hook (or an attention-grabbing act) should start with the title and it should continue into the introduction paragraph, which should be short and effective. Remember that you should “hook” the reader while also providing the context of your writing, the main point/argument or question at the heart of your post, a sense of post’s scope, and if necessary explicit statement of significance of your topic (normally, the answer to “why does this matter?” should be implicit in the rest of your intro). This means that you can’t just play some gimmick but instead have to get to the point and be interesting and engaging to the reader. Of course, you should not try to save any secret about your main idea (unless that’s the point of your writing and you’re confident that the reader won’t smile and go away; remember the Facebook tab!). Also, save any “background” information and condense and merge it into the body of the post. Look at this NYT blog post (on the topic of “attention economy”) to see what hook techniques the writer uses.
As you move on to the body of your writing, continue to “hold” the reader’s attention. You can do this by NOT burying your main idea in the middle or even end of your paragraph (except when you mean to save the main idea for a rhetorical reason, especially once you are confident that the reader is engaged in the main idea). This is not to suggest that you should use the simplistic old technique of “topic sentence”; however, whenever possible, you should a start paragraph by giving the reader a sense of direction or provide them a striking point on which you build the paragraph. Within the paragraphs, you can sustain the reader’s interest by using an engaging voice, appropriate pacing of ideas (elaborate when necessary, otherwise move on quickly), (see below for Nicole Gartner’s B-L-O-G idea).
The idea of “payoff” has to do with the sense of “benefit” that you should try to provide the reader by the end of your blog post. Readers need at least one considerable takeaway–and their decision to start, continue, and finish reading what you’re writing is based on that desire. So, even though it may be impossible to “benefit” any and all kinds of readers by the same post, you should imagine one or more types of readers (or rather interests) when writing. For instance, if you expect college students of business, bloggers who write about marketing, your colleagues at work, and family members to read your post about the “attention economy,” you could assume that these readers will benefit from learning “about” the concept (this means that you might want to define/describe or illustrate the concept as you write), from learning how the strange new type of “economy” affects them (if so, you might want to explain how), and from getting to see what you have to say about the topic (as an individual with your own ideas/perspectives). There may also be more direct benefits (some readers may change their marketing strategies), and there may be emotional benefits (you make readers laugh/smile, cry–just kidding–or be inspired by your ideas/feelings about the topic).
Remember Nicole Gartner‘s B-L-O-G Idea
I don’t want to steal Nicole’s thunder, and I have asked her to kindly write/reblog an entry on this wonderful idea of hers on our class blog, but just to remind you the idea that she shared in class, here are some mental notes I took that day.
B- Be prepped: Have something to say, do your research, think through the idea, talk about the subject, be passionate about it
L- Language matters: Write in a language that is personable, in your own voice, using the tone that fits the subject, talking directly to your audience
O- Opinion matters: Be opinionated and in a good way, argue (make) a point clearly and strongly, have something to say something that engages your audience
G- Go for it: Go for it, don’t hesitate or wait until you grow up, there’s a community of people in the world (which is no longer limited to your university or your town) who are interested in the subject and you can reach them wherever they are, blogging is not a tool but a medium to participate in a community of people who care about something so find that community and go for it
Don’t Forget the Context
In the case of the Blogfolio Project in the course Writing For Your Profession, the intellectual and professional context of your blogs is your professional portfolio. This means that you should not simply blog about anything (I call that “blobbing”)– don’t do it. While there is no need to tell the reader “how” each of your blog entry helps to showcase your achievements achievements and expertise, enhance your professional image and profile, etc, it is important that your blogs are relevant to your overall profile. If your overall profile is that of an emerging academic scholar of biochemisty, do not add blog entries about William Shakespeare, attention economy, the concert you went to last night, or your old blue cat–unless you mean to and can successfully situate or show genuine significance of your posts to the overall portfolio. Write about biochemistry, its application, its connections, its challenges and prospects, your experience/knowledge and expert opinions, something funny or thoughtful about the subject and its many topics/issues, etc, etc, etc. Yes, if you also want to add social, personal, community service or any other dimensions to the portfolio by blogging about more than the primary area of interest/expertise, you should do so; but the same demand for adding something “relevant” and significant applies here as well.
Organize, Edit, and Proofread Well
The “professional” context of your portfolio also means that you should organize your writing for accessible reading (including short/focused paragraphs, subheadings and other visual elements, images to make reading easier/better); you should also edit and proofread the text carefully because this is specifically a “professional” portfolio and your writing will be judged for the quality of your thought and that of the “product” of your writing. For this reason, don’t publish directly on the web; draft, get feedback, revise, and edit offline before publishing on your site).
Add Images and Other Visual Elements
As I indicated above, visual elements can make your writing more engaging (if used well); you can also use visual design of the post in order to enhance access and ease of reading. For example, if your post is long, you should provide subheadings or simply bold-faced sentences in a few places (if that won’t make the post look odd or if the highlighted text won’t misrepresent the post). Using images (especially with captions) can allow readers who don’t have time to read the text to get the point (if you do it well). Finally, integrating other media such as embedded videos, animated visuals, etc (see relevant section on the “how to” page) can also help you engage the readers better.
. . . Catching Myself Unconsciously Doing the Same! . . .
At almost every conference, guest speaker event, and wherever some teachers-as-scholars present relatively cutting-edge ideas coming out of their research/scholarship (and often their classrooms), especially if they engage in any theoretical discussion, someone in the audience almost inevitably asks an interesting question. The question is framed in a variety of ways, but it can be generally paraphrased as follows: That was a great presentation, but I am not sure if or how I can take your ideas into my classroom when I go to teach on Monday. For convenience of reference, let us call that question the “What about Monday?” question/phenomenon. Continue reading