No, it is not just the dentist. Just too many people seem to define “writing”–even after I specify it as the teaching/learning of basic to advanced academic writing in the university–in ways that make me sad.
As she was about to start her work on my teeth last week, my dentist, a wonderful professional who works at a service provider two blocks away from where I live, asked me where I work.
Technology doesn’t make people mindless. What makes them lose their senses is their obsession with whatever is “new” or “advanced,” their simplistic claims and thinking about it, their disregard of (the complexity of) related issues in life and society.
Technological magic thinking is no better than other types of magic thinking — like fancy new religions, denial of science, or absurdly exaggerated health benefits of exotic fruits. This type of thinking makes people forget, for instance, to do any research on the subject, to test the tool being touted, or the fact that human people have for very long time used highly “advanced” technologies like pencil and paper.
Technomagicology makes people not use basic critical thinking; more insidiously, it makes them consider individuals and societies not using their kind of technology to be “behind” or even “backward”; it makes them forget their trade and focus on the tools. Think about a farmer who loves to get on his tractor trailer and go on the highway, or an artist who produces more self-serving discourse about her art than art itself.
To give you a concrete example that I recently came across, it makes them make arguments (about a “Universal Translator”) as in the story below.
While reading this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I thought about a similar number of things about MOOCs that many people in the media and the mainstream MOOCosphere seem either unable or unwilling to learn:
1. There is no such thing as MOOC, only many types of MOOCs, with many kinds of them making the original acronym sound very funny.
2. If “nearly half of registrants never engage with any of the content,” then it’s time to stop touting the “total number” of people who click on the “sign up” button.
3. If people signing up for multiple courses are most active, but even those lose interest after taking the sixth course, then there is probably something about online and massive courses that has failed to bring about magic solutions to the “crisis” in education. Continue reading
To communicate effectively in an increasingly globalized world, we must understand others through the lens of “context” rather than “culture.”
“I am a Chinese citizen but I don’t have very high expectation of this place,” said a young man, as I joined a line outside the Chinese Consulate in New York City last Friday. Many people in line—most of whom were there to apply for a visa, like me—seemed tense, with some vocally complaining. “I hate this,” said another, without specifying what it was that he hated. The line was moving forward fairly quickly and the weather was pleasant.Continue reading
The belief that you need to be a “good writer” to write effectively is a myth that has insalubrious consequences
In place of a society where “writers” were a few creative and educated people who did all the writing for the rest of us, we now have a society where everyone constantly writes. And yet, many myths about writers and writing prevail. The first of those myths is that good writing requires good writers. As someone who pursued two post-graduate degrees in “writing studies,” let me share the bad news: Good writers are a myth. Good news: You don’t need to be a “good writer” to write well.
In the same way “literacy” means much more than being able to read printed words, “writing” has far transcended the mere act of translating ideas into words and sentences on the page (or screen). Within a vast range of means, modes, and functions that it encompasses, writing now includes the personal, social and professional act of using script to get things done. The other older meaning of writing, creative expression, like the more mechanical form, has also become marginal in the big picture. That is, most of us have to write “effectively” for given contexts and purposes, instead of generally “well.”
For millions of people around the world – or perhaps several billions — education means understanding and/or memorizing ideas in different subjects and demonstrating that knowledge or memory on paper. From school systems all over South Asia to stringent testing regimes in China and South Korea to increasingly standardized testing methods that characterize more areas and levels of education in the Western world, formal education is still not aligned well with needs and uses of knowledge outside school. Perhaps the most striking case in this regard, you guessed it, is our own country Nepal. However, instead of rehashing this old, rather tired theme about traditional education, let me describe what kind of education learners need in order to thrive in the knowledge economy. Continue reading
Putting Everything On the Line? Optimizing the Affordances, Minding the Pitfalls
Shyam Sharma and Christopher Petty
Especially after the advent of web 2.0 applications, the landscape of teaching writing is drastically changing. In many ways, writing teachers greatly benefit by moving into web-based, increasingly shared, and peer-involved practices especially at the post-secondary levels. New developments in technological applications are allowing highly effective pedagogical practices to develop. However, technocratic arguments founded on the positive affordances of new technologies can also be taken too far.
In this context, we wanted to write a brief series of blog posts that will describe and discuss some of the educational/pedagogical benefits and also pitfalls of using web applications and shared spaces for providing instructor feedback to students’ writing, for engaging them in peer review, and for promoting collaboration in college writing courses. These discussions will go along with somewhat corresponding videos (which will be included in a separate section in the Writing@StonyBrook portfolio) that demonstrate how to effectively use collaborative and interactive spaces and tools such as wikis, cloud-based documents, blogs, and portfolios. Continue reading
The semester system was first implemented in Nepal about four decades ago, but it discontinued after a few years during a political upheaval. This time, there are indications of effective implementation, but there are also reasons to worry again, one of which I explore here. We risk spilling old wines from new bottles (or, to stretch the metaphor, failing to get new bottles) if we rock the boat too much.
Changing from annual to semester system, or vice versa, will only improve education to the extent that we improve practice and culture of teaching/learning. During a seven week stay in Nepal last summer, I was inspired by new trends in colleges and universities of all kinds—as I learned from many and extremely productive conversations with top level officials in Tribhuvan University and Mid-Western University, colleagues in professional organizations, and scholars running various private colleges.
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
Around the age of ten, I once asked my father why the local priest didn’t translate his Sanskrit scriptures into Nepali. The answer was: “that’s how it’s always been!” That was not really a “reason,” but it worked for my father, given his faith in the system.
There is something about our social institutions that encourages just doing things without really understanding what they mean and why they are done. In fact, if they are made clear and simple, they seem to lose their power and appeal. In the field of education, this “sanskritization” (so to speak) not only characterizes disciplines like painting and poetry (where obscurity and complexity may be necessary and beneficial); it also typifies education at large. Instead of striving for clarity, pragmatism, and relevance to life and society, we want to keep it disconnected from life and work beyond the classroom. Continue reading