As a whole host of new and faster developments are taking place in the domain of teaching/learning online, the theme of resistance versus celebration of academic technology, which I started writing about many years ago,* is intriguing me once again. This time around, when I come across people who either celebrate their preference/interest or express critical judgments about teaching with new technologies, I am reminded of a story.
There was this poor Nepali family that used to have a hard time because they had guests too frequently. So, the couple developed a strategy to address their challenge: the wife started serving dinner to the guests along with her husband, and as soon as the husband sensed that she may be running out of food for the rest of their family, he said, “We are full, honey! Now, you should serve the kids.”
I think a lot of people–including myself–want to be diplomatic like the host in the story above, but it is easier said than done. When others start defending or resisting new technologies, in spite of our knowledge, understanding, and empathy with both sides, we too fail to rephrase our thoughts and tone down our reactions, to wait and see what happens, to rethink our initial understanding while things evolve and improve. This analogy may not fully pan out, but I think we regularly fail to gently indicate to the guest that kids will go hungry if we keep eating! 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
Hotel Sindoor was the venue for the first-ever teacher training event that I attended, some time in 1994. I had just started teaching, right out of high school in conventional terms (after Intermediate college in Nepal).
Among other things, the trainers covered “how to use the blackboard effectively”: 1) make sure that students can see what you are writing while you are writing, 2) speak the words as you write, 3) pause and teach instead of continuing for long stretches, 4) ….
That training made me think for the first time that teachers are not people who have completed learning! The fact that a seemingly straightforward act like writing on the chalk board had so much to learn about inspired me to go to more and more training events in the years to come. I have since tried not to miss actual training sessions, orientations, norming sessions, guest lectures, brown bag discussions, emergency meetings, reviews, etc. Indeed, since the training at Hotel Sindoor in 1994, I have always considered any part of department meetings, hallway conversations, email exchanges, difficult class periods, students facing or posing special challenges . . . lunch/dinner or party conversation that bring up issues of teaching as a “teaching training,” for continued professional development. I take the “consider as training” view because the explicitly “training” events are few and far between when I consider how much more I have to know than just writing on the chalkboard, when I consider how dramatically the variety of students and variety of courses have expanded in my teaching career. 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.
Co-authored with two of my professional buddies, Prem Phyak and Bal Krishna Sharma for the fifth anniversary issue of the Nelta Choutari (an awesome blog magazine that we started in 2009).
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
At the end of this summer, after reading a LOT of MOOC news and discussions and writing a lot in emails, blogs, and discussion forums, I almost promised myself to not write a word about MOOC anymore (at least for a year or so). But some of the more recent conversations have helped me learn and think about a few things that may be worth writing. Of course, I don’t mean that there’s nothing good about MOOCs. But the waters in the mainstream discourse about MOOC continue to be so murky that one wants to avoid catching frogs and water snakes when trying to catch pedagogical fish anywhere in the MOOC lake. Continue reading