Making Learning Happen: Book Post

I am delighted to share with you a new book, with thanks to STAR Scholars Network whose publication wing is making works of public scholarship like this accessible to teachers and scholars around the world.
Titled “Making Learning Happen: Five Shifts Toward Student-Focused Education,” this book evolved from a brief training guide for teachers at my alma mater in Nepal, capturing what a network of professors were practicing in 2016-18, to what is now an expanded, transdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and up-to-date form. I am grateful to my colleague Surendra Subedi who helped to draft that early version, as well as early leaders of TU Grassroots Community, for their contribution to it.
This work captures the collaborations of communities of teachers in Nepal and South Asia and around the world, inspiration of thousands of students in the past 29 years, extensive research and reading in the past few, and experiences as a faculty trainer and curriculum developer/reviewer. I am grateful to teachers in Nepal, India, and the United States whose good teaching strategies I have emulated as a teacher, to colleagues in a very teaching-rich discipline (Writing Studies), and to the many scholars whose teaching ideas I have adopted as a teacher.
नेपालमा खास गरी त्रिभुवन विश्वविद्यालयका शिक्षक साथीहरुको सहकार्य र प्रेरणा प्रति म आभारी छु । हामीले नेपालमा गरेको काम विश्व भर साझा गर्न आवश्यक छ भन्ने लागेर यो पुस्तकलाई २-३ गुणा चौडा, प्रशिक्षण नभएर शिक्षण-केन्द्रित, नेपाल मात्र नभएर विश्व दक्षीणका अरु सन्दर्भहरुमा पनि लागू हुने गरी, विविध विधाहरुलाई र कोभिड महामारी पछिको माहोलमा प्रविधिको प्रयोगलाई समेटेर, अनि सबै परिच्छेदहरुलाई व्यवहारिक शिक्षा र न्यायिक समाजको अवधारणा अनुसार अद्यावधिक गरेको छु ।
Please download a copy for yourself and share it with your network. STAR Scholars Network has kindly made the digital copy free for a while. Hard copy is available for order via Amazon (where it delivers). For colleagues in Nepal, Sunlight Publication, Kathmandu is reprinting it in collaboration with SSN (hopefully within a month) – please wait before you print the .pdf until that low-cost copy arrives.
I am planning to facilitate a few virtual workshops to promote the book. Please let me know if you’d like to organize one. I also have plans to visit a few universities, here in the US and abroad. Please let me know if you’re interested (I have the funds to travel). The e-book is free and I intend to not receive royalty from print. I passionately believe in the need to promote teaching practices that go far beyond lectures and exams, an education that prepares students for successful lives and careers (and not just get degrees and then start learning skills or figure out what to do with their education).
Please share/repost, download, forward, and help to promote. Please remember to skim through and pick what you like best and include that in your post.

[Republica Repost] Expertise Cycle — Rethinking Faculty Training

Published in the Republica on July 26, 2023 08:30 

To truly improve teaching, it is time to take the expert out of training, center professional development back in the classroom, and unleash the power of the practitioner-as-expert–letting such a cycle of expertise replace traditional teacher training.

A lot more teacher training is taking place in Nepal today than, say, ten years ago. In schools and universities, training programs range from informal one-hour sessions run by teachers to formal multi-day ones organized by institutions. They also range from free and virtual gatherings to lavish retreats at fancy places. Unfortunately, this great development remains characterized mostly by lecture–with hands-on practice being an exception.

There is a reason why teacher training remains entrenched in the old habit of delivering lectures. Both trainers and trainees continue to believe that an expert is needed to “deliver” content, that the key objective of training is to increase knowledge, rather than for trainees to learn by doing, sharing, and experiencing.

In reality, there is little to no practical value of content in training. We might as well train farmers how to improve crop yields by taking them to fancy hotels in the city and give them lectures on how to do it. Even simulated activities and discussions are inadequate. Imagine an agricultural expert taking a group of farmers to a sandbank to show them how to use modern farm equipment. Such an expert can teach how to use the tools, but he won’t really show how to grow a crop.

We need a radical shift in how training is done. Training should not only involve participants in doing things and sharing experience, solving problems and creating materials–not lectures or even discussions. It should also happen right in their classroom, as I will describe. A little bit of content may be needed to set up the context, clarify instructions, or during follow up discussion. But if content takes more than a quarter of a program’s time, it is no longer training.

Skipping the expert

One easy and effective way to make training more like training is to get rid of the expert and use a facilitator instead. The less the facilitator has to say the better. The more she makes time and creates opportunities for participants the better. In fact, when the facilitator tells participants that she is not an expert, and that the participants are the experts–in that they are the ones teaching–the training becomes far more effective. In fact, training becomes even more effective when one of the participating practitioners serves as facilitator. All that the facilitator needs is skills for managing the process and fostering collaboration. In exchange for losing the quantity and depth/breadth of knowledge when losing the external expert, such training can gain far deeper grounding in practice and far deeper commitment and accountability among participants. This shift to expertless training does require courage.

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[Republica Repost] Educating Beyond the Bots

Published in Republica on February 12, 2023

The current discourse about artificial intelligence not only reflects a narrow view of education. It also represents romanticization of, or alarmism about, new technologies, while insulting students as dishonest by default. 

“It has saved me 50 hours on a coding project,” whispered one of my students to me in class recently. He was using the artificial intelligence tool named ChatGPT for a web project. His classmates were writing feedback on his reading response for the day, testing a rubric they had collectively generated for how to effectively summarize and respond to an academic text.

The class also observed ChatGPT’s version of the rubric and agreed that there is some value in “giving it a look in the learning process.” But they had decided that their own brain muscles must be developed by grappling with the process of reading and summarizing, synthesizing and analyzing, and learning to take intellectual positions, often across an emotionally felt experience. Our brain muscles couldn’t be developed, the class concluded, by simply looking at content gathered by a bot from the internet, however good that was. When the class finished writing, they shared their often brutal assessment of the volunteer writer’s response to the reading. The class learned by practicing, not asking for an answer.

Beyond the classroom, however, the discourse about artificial intelligence tools “doing writing” has not yet become as nuanced as among my college students. “The college essay is dead,” declared Stephen Marche of the Atlantic recently. This argument is based on a serious but common misunderstanding of a means of education as an end. The essay embodies a complex process and experience that teach many useful skills. It is not a simple product.

But that misunderstanding is just the tip of an iceberg. The current discourse about artificial intelligence not only reflects a shrunken view of education. It also represents a constant romanticization of, or alarmism about, new technologies influencing education. And most saddening for educators like me, it shows a disregard toward students as dishonest by default.

Broaden the view of education

If we focus on writing as a process and vehicle for learning, it is fine to kill the essay as a mere product. It is great if bot-generated texts serve certain purposes. Past generations used templates for letters and memos, not to mention forms to fill. New generations will adapt to more content they didn’t write.

What bots should not replace is the need for us to grow and use our own minds and conscience, to judge when we can or should use a bot and how and why. Teachers must teach students how to use language based on contextual, nuanced, and sensitive understanding of the world. Students must learn to think for themselves, with and without using bots.

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