Making Education Three-Dimensional [Republica Repost]

Published on Oct. 23, 2018

Higher education must be a three-dimensional deal, one that includes acquiring knowledge, developing skills for the workplace, and having meaningful experiences that shape the learner for a lifetime.

Last summer, I had a unique opportunity to visit one of the most successful business families in Dhaka, Bangladesh during an academic trip there, along with another New York professor. The family, one of whose members I had taught here in the States a few years earlier, has an impressive business empire in the country. At one point, when the conversation turned to education, one of our hosts lamented that their company too often had to look beyond Bangladeshi universities for top talent. I asked why?

Graduates of local universities, he said, had solid academic knowledge of the subjects. “But if I give them a business problem and ask how they’d solve it, they give me a textbook answer.” That remark made me think about the challenges of higher education across South Asia for quite some time.

Knowledge isn’t Enough

Analyzing a business situation, one could say, requires skills that can only be learned after joining the workforce. Colleges are designed to impart knowledge, one could argue, to lay the foundation of the disciplines. Indeed, this view of college should not be considered outdated. Colleges should not be asked to just prepare students for jobs; they’re centers of learning that must shape habits of mind and inculcate productive perspectives on society and profession for a lifetime. Job preparation can be done by a career center on campus. Continue reading

International illusions [Republica Repost]

 

Published On:  November 29, 2017

One can only hope that Nepali scholars and policymakers will come back to their senses and start informing the public that English-only instruction is dangerous.

Thousands of Londoners kept dying every year during the early 1800s after the city started draining sewage into the Thames River. This happened because a “scientific orthodoxy” that cholera was caused by “vapor” from the dead, rather than being a waterborne disease, prevented the city from fixing the real problem for decades.

One can hope that Nepali scholars and policymakers will similarly come to their senses and start informing the public that English-only instruction (EOI) is a dangerous social experiment that needs changing. Note the emphasis is on “only”, the culprit in this case.
In the past two essays here, I wrote about the historical and political backdrop and then the dangers plus alternatives of EOI. In this one, I argue that Nepali education must teach other “international” languages as well, if we are sincere about English as a language of international communication and economic opportunities, and not international illusions.

As a bonus, that sincerity could help open gates of new opportunities for our educational institutions and for society. Continue reading

Dangling Degrees — [Republica Repost]

Published in The Republica on Jan. 25, 2018.

“I am yet to make it,” said a scholar at a regional public university, referring to the doctoral dissertation he wanted to complete. “It’s very difficult to find time.” The word “banaune” in his sentence struck me because one doesn’t really sit down to somehow “make” a dissertation. It also reminded me of various recent conversations—and questions—about the “production” of scholars with advanced degrees, or dangling the “Dr.” title in front of their names, as many scholars themselves cite as the reason to get the degree.

Advanced degrees require extensive research, such as for the master’s and doctoral theses, and these projects demand extensive review of current and relevant knowledge in the discipline, intellectual positioning and proposition of new ideas on the topic of choice, collection and analysis of primary and/or secondary data, and problem-solving or theorization from the research. Some disciplines also require the presentation of new models or methods, designs or products, as modes of advancing new knowledge. As such, while graduate degrees are a means for advancing new knowledge, they also require institutions to provide their students and scholars the foundation of skills for problem-solving, presenting new ideas, and learning through experience and experimentation at the undergraduate level. Unfortunately, we have neither the foundation nor structure we need as yet. Continue reading

Scale what?

I was recently participating in a webinar about a MOOC-style first-year writing course, and a few words kept confusing me. Content. Delivery. Scale. . . .  Especially the last one stops me in my tracks.

SCALING?

When Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Edmund Hillary climbed Mt. Everest for the first time, they weren’t doing numbers. They were undertaking a superhuman challenge. It was a qualitative matter. It was a matter of inspiration. Making the impossible accessible. Showing that someone could actually do it. Redefining success. “Because it was there.” It, the mountain that had killed countless people for trying. They were scaling the un-scale-able.

“The real value add[ed] of higher education,” says Joshua Kim, writing on Inside HigherEd,  “cannot occur at web scale. It can only occur at human scale.” That scale occurs “where a skilled and passionate educator interacts directly with a student to guide and shape their learning.” As Kim adds, in an article meant to debunk myths and criticism of open, at-scale online education (not a critique of it), “[o]pen online courses at scale expose just how valuable, essential, and irreplaceable are our tight-knit learning communities. Never before has the teaching efforts of a gifted, knowledgeable and passionate instructor . . . been as valuable and as essential.” Online education at scale has to somehow find ways to substitute one-on-one and/or face-to-face human interaction, decreasing the time and attention given by an educator to learners who can ask questions, feel the presence. In a writing class, only some things can be scaled without fundamentally compromising learning. Continue reading

Yes, Going to the Library Is an Assignment in this Class

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