How do we Measure Knowledge? [Republica Repost]

Published Dec. 5, 2019

To foster a meaningful culture of research and scholarship, we must reject crude measurements of scholarly production which are based mainly on the number of citations and are already questioned or discarded elsewhere

“If you only need good grades and not the learning,” I tell my students, joking, “don’t bother using the library, learning how to use academic databases, finding and reading complex scholarly articles, and representing others’ ideas substantively and carefully in your writing.” “Just hire a good ghost writer or find another effective way to cheat me.” Students get the point quickly, and they start doing serious research and writing.

To my dismay, the above joke essentially comes into being, more frequently these days, in articles published by academic journals from South Asia. Recently, I assigned one such atrocious article, for analysis and discussion, to a Writing Support Group of Nepali scholars. Colleagues in that online workshop series quickly pointed out bizarre levels of misunderstanding and abuse of academic standards in the article: Vague generalities instead of specific issue or objective, pages filled with irrelevant summaries of scholarship, evidently fabricated research findings, and contribution of no new or significant knowledge to the profession or society. The article, on academic technologies, highlighted at the top, a journal “impact factor” of above 5.0—an impossibility for a venue that would publish such work. Continue reading

Abolish Private Education? [Republica Respost]

Published Jan. 2, 2019

To truly counter arguments about abolishing it, private sector education must rethink its socioeconomic roles in the new national context, creating robust models of faculty development.

The private sector in Nepal’s education has always been controversial, including in national policy discourse. A currently hot-button topic is whether it should even exist or if it should be gradually abolished.

In response, instead of focusing on what to do about problems undergirding the “attack” on its existence, its leaders tend to go on counter-attack, offering no substantive social vision.

Public education is criticized as well, its sustainability questioned as often. “TU is dead,” said the title of an article some time ago here. “Unacademic activities of academics,” said that of another one, in Nepali, mixing up facts and accusations in the essay. Continue reading

Expats and Experts [Republica Repost]

Published Sept. 11, 2018

Diaspora scholars shouldn’t use criticism as a default position in scholarly conversations, especially if the larger objective is to develop better understanding of issues, create more opportunities for contribution, and foster relationships between scholars/institutions in and outside Nepal.

Earlier this summer, an august group of Nepali scholars from across North America had gathered in Toronto, Canada, for a conference focusing on higher education in Nepal. The presentations were diverse, the conversations rich, many stories about long-term commitment and significant achievements of Nepali scholars and experts quite inspiring to listen to. I was delighted to read positive reviews of the conference and profiles of diaspora experts in the days and weeks that followed. I cannot overstate the importance of networking and sharing of ideas among Nepali diaspora scholars in a major world region where there are some great universities. The diaspora Nepali community must be lauded for organizing such events. And I am excited to learn that more academically focused conferences are taking place among Nepali diaspora scholars, including conferences at home that bring local and outside experts together. Continue reading

Multilingual Monday [Republica Repost]

Published in Republica on February 21, 2019

Whether they start a Multilingual Tuesday program or one called Matribhasha Mangalbar, it is high time that private schools advanced multilingual competence among their students

A colleague who is the principal of a prestigious private school in Kathmandu called me recently to share good news. “We have now implemented a one-day-a-week multilingual policy in our school,” he said. “Our students are very excited, and so are we.” Another colleague, also a principal, said that he has convinced management and started communicating with parents about implementing what he prefers to call “Matribhasha Mangalbar”—or mother-tongue Tuesday.

It is high time that our private schools provided the resources, or at least began by creating the environment to honor the fundamental reality of our multilingual, multicultural society, to improve the quality of teaching and learning, and, most importantly, to prepare future generations for greater success in life and society. Deliberately promoting, if not systematically teaching, multiple languages has many benefits, as I will discuss in this essay.

Troubled roots

Private schools have historically viewed English (only) as a means of advancing “modern” education, creating “access” to knowledge of science and technology, contributing to Nepal’s entry into “global” economy, delivering “quality” education of or for the “elite” and so on. The idea of defining private schools by using English “only” for instruction in all subjects was, unfortunately, outdated in educational scholarship by the 1990s, exactly when Nepal’s private schools exploded in quantity, with a good number of them improving their quality as well and many others helping to increase access for the broader population.

Continue reading

Welcome!

My name is Shyam Sharma, and this is my blogfolio.

Linked on top are pages about my work, and on right are links to some of my professional networks. Blog posts are below, starting with some of my favorite posts. I write about international education and students, new media in writing studies, cross-cultural rhetoric and communication, and critical pedagogy (which can be filtered by theme from the right). I will appreciate any comments/feedback on blog posts.

Thank you.

Shyam Sharma
Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director
Program in Writing and Rhetoric, Stony Brook University (State University of New York)
New York, USA, 11794


Recent book (Routledge)

Using qualitative data collected from more than twenty universities across the US, Writing Support for International Graduate Students describes and theorizes agency- and advocacy-driven practices, programs, and policies that are most effective in helping international students learn graduate-level writing and communication skills. It uses compelling narratives and cases to illustrate a variety of program models and support practices that fostered the students’ process of academic transition and success. Employing an ecological framework, the book seeks to advance academic conversation about how writing scholars/instructors and program administrators, as well as other academic service professionals working with this student body, can formulate policies, develop programs, and implement practices that best help these students grow as writers and scholars in their disciplines.

I share a few notes about the book here.

Backgrounds notes

This post is based on parts of the preface to my book on international graduate students.

Since I had landed in the city of Louisville in Kentucky about a month earlier, along with my spouse, in fall 2006, I had been feeling as if my ability to navigate any physical space and social system had somehow become impaired. From finding transportation for getting to essential places to figuring out a way to call home, and from understanding basic academic concepts and practices like “course registration” to reading about “tutoring” at the writing center (where I would start working), every step in the transition process had been overwhelmingly new.

But when classes began, I had started feeling more comfortable. As I walked into the third and final class meeting of the second week, I was actually feeling jubilant about a grand achievement I had just made, albeit largely out of luck. Having learned about something called the Student Housing Office earlier that week, I had visited it and been offered an on-campus apartment where a student had just vacated a unit (a rarity at that point in the semester, I was told). Moving into a building that was well furnished and located right across from the Writing Center where I had started working as a tutor was a relief for an international student who came from the Nepalese capital city of Kathmandu, an overcrowded place where basic amenities were becoming increasingly inaccessible after a violent conflict for a decade and dramatic internal migration. So, having taken care of accommodation, transportation, work permit, and the like, I was truly ready to enjoy the university as an MA student and teaching assistant in English and Writing Studies.

Continue reading

Generalizing Generations–Here We Go Again

A quick, fun post.

Since I read about a dozen books on this subject when writing a seminar paper in a popular culture course during graduate school (around 2009)—-including Dan Tapscott’s Growing Up Digital and others that categorized and generalized younger generations—-I had been itching, fretting, impatiently waiting to learn what would come after generation “Y.” I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about different possibilities.

Finally, there it is: it is called the Generation Z (the now young people born around 1995). We’ve started seeing a plethora of articles (books are coming) about this group of humans, most of the writers first generalizing up to their necks and then more or less quickly cautioning readers against generalization, most of them painting the new generation as distinct, some going uber optimistic, and others essentially focusing on how to monetize our understanding of the new human species.

Exactly what I was waiting for. Continue reading

Beauty and Power of Multilingualism

 During the past year, I came across a lot of news items (including some based on scientific studies) about the benefits of multilingualism. There was so much on this issue that I sometimes wondered if the scientific and sociological studies were essentially a part of rather political responses to the ongoing redistribution of economic and geopolitical power around the world …. Living in the US, a society where monolingual policies and assumptions are (understandably) prevalent in most walks of life, I was pleased to see the emerging appreciation of multilingualism because I think this will only have positive outcomes on local and global levels.

Full post here

Continue reading

F Words of Effective Academic Writing

Are there any tricks for getting straight As on written assignments in college/university in the US? I think there are. I share some below.

Of course, not all academic writing will demand these features (and indeed, they may sound more like they come from journalism than general academic writing), but these are expected commonly enough in academic writing that you can treat them as general guidelines for most courses and contexts in college and university. In most of my classes, where I teach general to specific and advanced academic writing skills, I encourage students to implement these strategies and features as well as they can. [Edit: I’ve added #1 to a previous list of 7]

1. Fleshing Out Your Ideas

Many students say they are “good writers” or “bad writers” on the basis of their ability to produce grammatically corrected and properly edited prose. As I discuss in another post (titled “Bad Writers are Welcome“), both groups often don’t realize that good writing cannot be defined outside of what the context and purpose are, and even who the writer and audience are, with particular instances of writing. So, for instance, a letter written by a fourth grader urging the US President to “make a playground near my school” will not be “effective” if you take out identifying information and tell the recipient that the letter was written by a school Principal! So, no, there is no good writing per se, and if you’ve considered yourself a “good writer” on the basis of your grammatical and editing skills, you may be in for a B or C (if not worse)–unless, first, you “flesh out” your idea for the assignment.

Fleshing out the idea–or clearly thinking through what you want to say, developing the outline, and generally understanding how you want to organize and connect your ideas–may involve extensive research (especially if you’re writing a research-based assignment). You may only need to read the assignment carefully and/or talk to the teacher in order to develop the idea off the top of your head (though this type of assignments are rare in college). To learn (more about) what you want to write, you may need to go out in the world, work in the lab, do general research online, and/or have to read and develop your ideas by reviewing available scholarship on the topic. You may be the type of writer who writes and rewrites outlines as you develop your idea, write a preliminary draft or drafts (which you may not save or use), or write about what you plan to write before you start writing. Whatever you approach you (have to) take, you must “flesh out” your idea.

Imagine that you have an apple orchard a few miles away from your house, and one weekend, you’ve invited your friend to go apple picking. You think about this idea before you take your friend to the orchard, right? You won’t simply find yourself and your friend in the orchard when you wake up one day! You will talk about it, probably have details about how you want to make the experience enjoyable for your friend–or at least you will develop that idea in your mind (if not in interaction with your guest) before you implement the idea.

2. Framing Your Paper (and your paragraphs)

Many students seem to have learned to write “creatively” in high school, so they try to convey their ideas in subtle, indirect, and complex ways. That style (which they may have picked up from reading works of fiction) is often engaging to read, but writing in college also demands that they follow conventions of different genres in different disciplines.  Continue reading

Pragmatics of Global Citizenship

Undergraduate Education and the “Pragmatics” of Global Citizenship—or, What I Look Forward to Learning at the Annual Meeting

Reblogged post, written for the Association of American Colleges and Universities blog on Jan 25, 2012

Shyam Sharma, University of Louisville

When I look at the description of events in the schedule of the AAC&U Annual Meeting this year, images of my undergraduate students cross my mind. I begin to think about what use my students from the English 101 class in fall 2007 (my first semester of teaching college writing) made of the “critical thinking skills” that I taught after they left my classroom. I wonder if my students from the advanced writing course that focused on global citizenship last year continued to “pause to look at two more perspectives” before beginning to argue and defend their own positions. The events in the schedule represent big and often abstract ideas emerging from the experience and wisdom of scholars who are intellectual leaders in higher education. But when browsing the themes and descriptions in the schedule, my mind turns toward the students from the past and students I will teach in years to come. Has my teaching helped them become productive citizens in their communities and work? How much am I helping them become the digital and global citizens that they need to be today? What else do I need to do in order to shoulder the responsibilities of an effective educator of the twenty-first century—and what does it mean to be an effective teacher today in light of the changes, challenges, and opportunities that are created or complicated by the forces of economic crises around the world, advancements in information technologies, and the growing interdependence of knowledge (and other) markets around the world? I will be seeking answers to these questions in the many exciting discussions that I look forward to attending at the AAC&U Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
Continue reading