. . . an extension from a previous post . . .
In the last post, I wrote about how I am catching myself making the odd excuse “What about Monday?” instead of finding and making connections among my research, new ideas that I learn at conferences or from reading, theoretical discussions on and off line, and the opportunities for engaging in/producing research and scholarship. In this entry, let me share how I am making, finding, and valuing such connections–which I encounter especially when I am working/talking with scholars within and beyond my local department and institution, on and offline.
The basis of this thinking was, first, a meeting I had with Dr. Agnes He, a colleague in the Applied Linguistics and Asian Studies departments at my university who directs a brand new research center, the Multilingual and Intercultural Research Center (MIC). I had met with Agnes for learning about the MIC before. For this follow up lunch meeting (to which another colleague had also joined), I wanted to write down on a sheet of paper some notes about the work that I am doing that is directly related to multilingualism and intercultural issues.
Another occasion where I’ve started finding more and more missing connections is when meeting with, Dr. Gene Hammond, the director of my department. When I meet with Gene (2-4 times a month), he generously helps me as a “new faculty mentor” as someone who has the experience, patience, and one of the best personalities I know for giving a younger faculty member substantive feedback and constructive critique, to help identify what’s important, and most importantly, to help make or find connections.
As I write my notes before/when or after I meet with colleagues like Gene and Agnes, I begin to see meaningful connections among the teaching, research, and service work that I do and my primary interests. My Mondays–the actual work I am doing in my university–seems to be richer than I tend to think when I go to a conference or talk and think, gosh, will I leave all these ideas behind when I go home?
In this post (which is turning out to be more of a personal journal entry than a typical blog post), let me focus on a few of the projects related to multilingualism, cross-cultural communication, and global issues–issues that I had started telling myself have little or nothing to do with my work at home when I went to conferences. I hope that these notes will inspire you to think about connections among your teaching, scholarship/thinking, conversations, research, etc.
I just finished teaching a course titled “Perspectives for Global Citizenship” which is a Freshman Seminar at the College of Global Studies and Human Development. In this course (which I decided to take beyond my official teaching load), I taught students how people in different countries and contexts around the world differently conceptualize and communicate ideas and emotions that may at first seem universal. For students who just came out of high school (and most are still “lost” in a huge university campus), the work that these “kids” did in my class was amazing. In a small and intimate class, they first discussed a range of easy to complex academic articles (no textbook) in a seminar-style classroom; then they wrote a two-page essay assignment in which they made a concise but pointed argument about a topic of their interest with some researched/cited support; finally, they found common interests among groups of 3-4 and developed and presented digital/multimodal posters. They also presented the final project as posters at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URECA) fair; two of the five groups also presented their work among about 200 students from the GLS department and received great compliments and certificates. One group had interviewed students on campus to find out how students of East Asian origin perceived and responded to “positive stereotyping” on and off campus; another group showed how “food” was used as a means of expressing ideas, emotions, and relations in different cultures; yet another group presented on how emotional expression through words, gestures, and facial expression was shaped/regulated by cultural values/expectations in different contexts/societies around the world. The presentations that they did under MIC’s banner at the URECA fair (where MIC was the largest group among the 300 undergraduate researchers/presenters) was no less impressive than graduate students’ presentation; the students’ engagement with ideas about rhetoric, writing, and cross-cultural communication has left me inspired enough to think that the course could be a foundation (as well as strong connection) for a lot of scholarship about the place of rhetoric, academic writing, and communication in the context of global citizenship. I am drawing on this class to present
In an upper division writing course in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, students are studying (as one small but significant course objective) how professional writing is influenced by cross-cultural and global issues. Earlier in March, the class had an international Twitter Summit during class time, which was attended by scholars of cross-cultural teaching/communication and educational technology (along with their students) from New Zealand, Australia, Egypt, UK, Nepal, and US. This was for me the most fine-grained way of adapting open online learning practices and engaging students in a cross-cultural conversation about issues of their interest.
The graduate Writing in the Disciplines course that I taught this semester gave me the opportunity to implement some of the most outside-the-box approaches to teaching a course like this, especially in terms of teaching nonnative English speaking advanced writers. The class was meant to be “remedial” especially for NNES students, but as I boldly stated in the course description and objectives, I took a two-pronged approach to that objective: one, students read about, discussed, and practiced higher order writing skills (understanding disciplinary contexts, analyzing genre conventions, fleshing out and organizing the main idea, making the text clear and accessible at various levels of discourse, improving peer review skills, etc) and two, they practiced in class and followed up in one-on-one conferences with me a variety of lower order writing skills (editing for grammatical and effective sentences, proofreading for correct punctuation and mechanics, and even working on word choice). Instead of reinforcing students’ often problematic views about writing (especially NNES graduate students and especially those in the STEM fields tend to focus too much on the lower order skills because they tend to view language and writing as transparent and transient skills that can be learned in isolation), I challenged students to view them and their writing projects in the context of advanced disciplinary thinking and research, convention and genres, and beyond the one context of academic papers. The course has provided me a solid foundation for my primary research agenda which is starting to take the shape of a book project.
The graduate course on “international rhetorics” that I am developing for the coming fall is going to be worth more than one blog post to talk about.
The university I work in is a rich environment where professors in STEM fields and other non-humanities departments take nuanced and realistic approach to integrating or promoting writing in their disciplines. There are interdisciplinary initiatives, communicative centers (such as the Center for Advanced Science Communication, where I taught two courses last year), and research centers (like the MIC itself). As I embark on my research project that seeks to document the best practices adopted by a sampling of US universities for addressing the academic skills gap for graduate international students in the STEM fields, I find that my own institution is a gold mine of experienced professors across the disciplines, and I have started interviewing some of them.
I also find my university a very rich place for further advancing the Translating Success Project, which is a participatory action research that is creating an interactive archive of international students’ narratives of success/struggle and realization about transitioning to and succeeding in the American academy. I am increasingly realizing that partnership with various units, as well as faculty and student groups, could turn my home base a very fertile ground before I promote this project nationally.
In fact, going to conferences and presenting one’s own ideas coming out of whatever work one is doing, wherever that is done, however small-scale and significant, is also a way to stop asking the “What about Monday?” question and start doing something. If you think about it, it’s a matter of perspective. The diverse student body, a variety of teaching experiences, opportunities for sharing ideas in and across the departments, and networking on and offline based on whatever work I am doing “is” the source and basis for the conference papers that I am presenting.
In a sense, Monday actually turns out to be the basis of scholarship and scholarship conversations. I presented a paper based on the Translating Success project at the CCCC in Indianapolis in March, and I am presenting or proposing more papers, posters, and workshops in the near future. One is in two more weeks at the Rhetoric Society of America conference in San Antonio, Texas. I am presenting on the same subject of multilingual identity from the perspective of navigating academic discourse. I am also coordinating a half-day workshop proposal among a group of scholars from different countries around the world; this too is coming out of my work in the classroom and day-to-day conversations.
I’ve been blogging on the subject of emerging cross-border higher education, new media, writing in the disciplines, language teaching, etc, on different venues (including on this personal blog and on more widely read venues). At my own university, I met with a colleague who was featured on national television for her collaboration with a teacher in Afghanistan; we talked about joining forces and sharing our experiences about collaboration among educators across the world. I am planning to start writing a regular column on education in a national daily back home in Nepal.
I am currently involved in the formation of an international network of educators who are interested in the issue of cross-border higher education in order to make our perspectives from the ground up available to the mainstream–among many other networks. The group is in the process of building the foundation for the network.
In short, instead of worrying about where the connections are missing, I am learning to focus on at where the connections are emerging, as well as taking deliberate efforts to create the connections that I want to create. Most importantly, I am recognizing, valuing, and thinking about the connections–and in that process probably helping others around me to find/enhance their connections with my work.
What is coming out of your Mondays these days? 🙂