Normalizing “Research” [Republica Repost]

Published July 3, 2018

“I like your poems,” said a former student, after I published some poetry I had been writing about social issues in my twenties. “But they are rather easy to understand.”

“That’s the whole darn point, dear,” I wanted to say. “In fact, the final poem in the book mocks snobbishly vague and abstract literature.” For courtesy, I instead thanked him for reading.

My generation grew up thinking that “authors” and “scholars” are some extraordinary beings who must think far above the level of everyday humans like us–not to mention poets themselves. Especially the idea of “research” and “publishing” one’s work was reserved for the special, mysteriously capable few.

Today, we no longer live in a world where writers and readers are separate, where production of new knowledge is the domain of only the select few. We all explore issues and write about them, and we constantly share and spread our ideas in many ways.

Unfortunately, the elitism, the abstraction, the mystification, and the general fear about research and publication still persist–keeping everyday writing of the masses fully separate from the publications of a special class of “writers” in the academic sphere. Perhaps relatedly, too many of our academic scholars make a variety of excuses about their inability and unwillingness to do research and to publish new findings and ideas. Continue reading

Producing professionals [Republica Repost]

Published On:  May 30, 2018

Higher education cannot be just teaching, especially just transfer of knowledge. It must foster disciplinary identity and professional development 

Two years ago, I invited a prominent American scholar to lead a webinar discussion for a group of professors at a regional university in Nepal. I wanted the expert to help my colleagues with how to develop writing- and research-intensive assignments and activities that would help foster disciplinary identity in students. He had a brilliant plan for the evening (morning in Nepal).

Our facilitator started by asking participants, who were professors of engineering, natural sciences, social sciences, management, humanities, and education, to write down what made them the scholars they were. “What about the way you read and genres you write, or the material you call evidence or methods you use for research, makes you an engineer or scientist or scholar of humanities?” he asked. “In other words, what gives you the disciplinary and professional identity that you have? You may start by thinking about why you chose your discipline when you started your career.”

When time came for sharing what they wrote, participants didn’t say much. The question didn’t seem to resonate very well with them.

After the facilitator provided some more guidelines, there was some breakthrough. A few of the ten or so participants shared stories about when and why they became teachers. An English professor, for instance, had found private schools a good choice to use his English language skills. As I learned more later, the science and engineering instructors had taken up teaching jobs as an alternative path to further education that may not have worked out. The sociologist and economist, who were women, seemed to have found teaching relatively flexible to fit their family commitments. Even the education scholars focused on teaching more as a job than a discipline. I wouldn’t blame them, given that the system requires too much teaching and rewards little else.

Larger problem 

Here’s the larger problem. Few of our science professors, for instance, seem to consider themselves scientists. There’s little incentive for developing that professional identity. There’s not much opportunity or obligation to approach knowledge-making “like” scientists. Indeed, the very design of our university—especially the model of professional development, curricular and pedagogical cultures, and role of faculty—does not prompt professors to keep updating themselves with new research methods, to maintain rigor, to rethink what counts as knowledge as their disciplines evolve. Continue reading

Redesigning our universities [Republica Repost]

Published On:  April 26, 2018

Teachers and students and the public alike will be thirstier for new knowledge if university education is defined as and designed for putting research first

Would you feel comfortable having a major surgery by a doctor if their training only involved trial and error? Would you want to drive on roads and bridges built by engineers who learned to do so from textbooks written somewhere else in the world? How about economic and social policies that are based on guesswork, historical and cultural understanding on hearsay and mythology, natural resources never explored, environment not systematically preserved, agriculture failing to advance—through research?

Behind all of the above, the most important agent is the university. Unfortunately, our universities do not yet advance research sufficiently, whether as a mode of teaching and professional development of their faculty, as a skill for their students’ future careers, or as their own social responsibility. Other than some field work, some experiential learning, and some library research toward the end of some degrees, research is yet to become central to our higher education. And other than for a minority of scholars, research remains a ritual of documenting publication as and when required for hiring or promotion.

Defining by research

An emerging nation needs a robust culture of research advanced by its higher education. Research is necessary for expanding knowledge, accelerating economic and social progress, improving the labor force, and elevating the standard living and quality of life. 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

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

Of “Course”

When we take a course, as we do while traveling or for getting an education, we expect to move along a linear path, with milestones along the way, to a certain goal of experience or learning. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a course, as someone pointed out while I was doing a presentation at the Consortium on Graduate Communication summer institute at George Mason University recently. I was presenting on a modularized and student-centered graduate writing course (the subject of this post), and a colleague said: “No, this is not a course! It is essentially an online writing lab!” I think the lack of structure, especially a linear structure and control by the teacher, prompted her to say so.

A course, as a path, or as a curricular/pedagogical framing, occupies space (physical in the case of travel and intellectual and social in the case of education). But, more significantly, the expectation of linearity, of following a certain order of actions or goals, makes temporality override the spatial dimension of a course. It is not going through/over certain points in any order that makes it a course: it is the particular sequence of the points, the linear design, the timed nature, that gives it structure and certainty. There are the scope/coverage and associated goals, but they are bound in time, and the instructor uses deadlines to help/force students to cover that scope, to achieve the goals that he or she has set for them.

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

Recent Book

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.

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