Thoughts on Diversity

Diversity seems to be a very very very  SERIOUS issue in US. As an international student and a minority in this country, sometimes I feel I don’t quite understand the key points of this issue due to the lack of knowledge in American history. Also, I’m lucky that I’ve had very good experience with people from different cultures so far! Therefore, when it comes to the question of students wearing a shirt with a confederate flag, I may not even notice what’s the problem with it….

Last week I attended a diversity seminar that discussed about “micro-aggression”. I’ve learned about this topic from the PFP class last semester. So, my attention was not on the presentation. Instead, I was observing the reaction of the audience. Since this is a seminar required by the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, there were probably half of students who are American sitting at the center and front of the classroom, and the other half are international students who are from middle east countries and Asia, sitting at the back side of the classroom. When the speaker asked us to have a small group discussion with our neighbors, unfortunately, there were not so much interaction between the international students and the American students. In my opinion, to achieve the purpose of this seminar, diverse students should be in the same group and listening to the opinions from each other. Furthermore, I understand the importance of the topic of micro-aggression but if it is overemphasized, it will sabotage students’ curiosity on different cultures. I even started to think that this might be one of the reasons why American students seem to have no interest in other cultures although they are living in the big melting pot!

I believe that teaching students how to respect each other starts from understanding each other’s cultures. We need to recognize the differences of individuals, instead of ignoring it or trying to treat everyone “equally”.  Prejudice is inevitable at the first place. But as long as we show our curiosity and good intention to ask others’ about their cultures, and being open-minded to listen others’ opinions and learn from each other, I believe students can benefit from the conversation and broaden their horizons.

In my classroom, I would like to provide examples of technology from different countries. For example, I’m living in Taiwan where lots of earthquakes occurs each year and cause a series of engineering problems such as landslides while here in the US students have no such experiences and might not notice the importance of the related technology and research. Similarly, lots of stories can bring to the class by students from different countries or who have lived in other countries. I believe this type of discussion can help students develop their global perspective in engineering and will stimulate their curiosity in other cultures. I also would like to create a group project. Each group will be focusing on one engineering problem from a specific country, and they will need to present and share their works with all students.

 

Do you speak English?

I am international student from Nepal and I have been living in the US for about 5 years now. Over the course of these 5 years, I have had several experiences of being stereotyped based on how I look. Recently, as I was working in my office, an IT support person showed up as a response to the help desk ticket that someone from my office had put in. I was the only person in the office when he came and the first thing he asked me was, “Hi, do you speak English?”

I was very shocked. Although I have been a many time victim of racial stereotyping, this one greatly frustrated me. How could someone make an assumption that I couldn’t speak English just by looking at my skin color? Firstly, he well knew that he was at a Graduate Student Office and any graduate student at VT should be able to speak English having met the English proficiency requirements for admission at VT. What furiated me even more was that, when I answered a “YES” to his question, he gave me a surprised look and said “Oh!”

Many other times many people have asked me where I was originally from, how I was able to speak English well despite being a foreigner and how I didn’t have much of an “accent.” Some people don’t even think that its important to ask and make a direct comment such as “You are from India, aren’t you?” I think that some people find great joy in making assumptions and creating stereotypes, or as Shankar Vedantam would say that our “Hidden Brains” would like to do so.

I agree with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that people create stereotypes from a single story and it may not always be their fault. I think children from very young age should be taught and told stories about different places, people, and their cultures and that all humans are equal despite some differences, so that they don’t create stereotypes with a single story. Specially, parents and teachers have a great role in this.

I keep thinking of what I could do, as a future faculty, to promote diversity and make the learning environment for students more inclusive. I might not be able to bring in a whole lot of changes but I think even trying to practice what is already on the papers will help foster a welcoming and affirming environment. Here are a few things that I would try to do to promote diversity and inclusion as a faculty:

  • Make sure that I understand the needs and expectations of my students in the classroom.
  • Maintain a respectful and safe environment and speak up or take actions against any misconducts. I would be careful about what I speak and would try to reflect diversity and inclusion in my words and actions.
  • Create an environment where students feel free to share any issues (either in person or anonymously).
  • Bring up conversations and share ideas related to diversity and inclusion with other colleagues in the department.
  •  Serve in committees that work in diversity related issues and try to promote their events.

I would like to hear from you as well. What would you do to create and inclusive learning environment in your classrooms?

 

PS: I saw this on the news recently (many of you might have already seen this) and thought it was interesting:

 

The kind of teacher I do not want to be

Earlier today as I was going through the readings for this week, I kept asking myself, “What kind of teacher do I want to be?” I had a quick flashback of all my student life until now and reminded me of some of the great teachers I have had so far. “What did they do that made them so great?” Although there were some common attributes these teachers shared with each other, each of these “great” teachers had their unique styles that motivated you to be actively involved in the learning process. So…..what style of teaching is the best style? Which one of these teachers do I want to be in future? A very difficult question to answer because, as Dr. Fowler writes,” There is not one way to teach or communicate in the classroom, so one size does not fit all.” 

I only have a vague picture of what I want to do as a future teacher but a very clear idea of what I do not want to do as a future teacher or in other words, the kind of teacher I do not want to be.

I do not want to be a teacher who,

  • Walks in the classroom and starts writing on the board right-after without even turning around once to look at the students until the end of class hour.
  • Sits on a chair throughout the class time and reads you line by line from text books.
  • Assigns you a lot of homework assignments but never gives you any feedback.
  • Only talks about what is going to be on the tests and puts a limit on learning.
  • Uses the same “teaching formula” for all their students not realizing that each student has different capacities.
  • Speaks in a low monotonic voice.
  • Directly or indirectly force you to memorize equations and charts.
  • Only uses the chalkboard to teach.
  • Never ask for any feedback from the students or doesn’t listen to the student voices.
  • Does not know how to deliver information concisely and effectively.
  • Evaluates you based on the mere grades you receive in the course.
  • Does not create a welcoming environment for discussion and sharing of ideas in and outside of classrooms.
  • Uses the same syllabus, course materials, homework, and tests for decades.
  • Discourages the use of technology in classrooms.
  • Does not give second chances to students.
  • Only talks to the first row of students in class.
  • Does not know the subject matter well and is unprepared.
  • ………………………………
  • ………………
  • ……….
  • .

(I think I should stop now because the list just keeps getting longer and longer.)

Moral of the story: The best one could do is to at least try to avoid the things that you thought your teachers did that didn’t work for you and think of what you would do if you were in their place. I think the key is “engagement” and the goal is to create the kind of environment that helps foster an effective teaching-learning process.

 

 

GEDIF17 – Hey, Professor! I Wanna Be Like You! 2017-10-01 23:12:42

Two weeks ago I borrowed this book from my advisor. This book is pretty old, but still gives a lots of useful advise from how to design a course to how to do a lecture. My advisor knows now I’m getting started to write my teaching philosophy. As a result, he told me we have to spend some time in our every meeting to discuss about teaching. Ahhhh~~ so nice of him……

Anyway!! Let me get back to the topic of this week!

Instead of thinking about what kind of teacher I want to be, I would like to first think about what kind of people I wish my students can be after they graduate. Because the primary goal is to prepare them for  their future career, I list a few characteristics and skills that I aim to helping them to develop in my courses:

curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, solid background, self-learning ability, confidence, a sense of achievement, perseverance, carefulness, patience.

Among all of them, the most important one is to help them enjoy a sense of achievement during their learning process!!! I believe this is the key to other things because a sense of achievement will give them confidence to discover new knowledge, exhibit their curiosity, use their imagination, create and present their own opinions in front of others. In other words, learning should be fun for my students! The second two important things are to provide them solid background and to help them further develop perseverance, carefulness, patience, and more importantly self-learning ability! I don’t expect that all knowledge they learn in class are useful  for their future career, or they can still remember when they really need to use it. What learning in college most benefits them is let them know how to deal with  a problem, how to make a right decision, where to find the resources, how to overcome difficulties and frustration, how to do work under pressure, how to express their own opinion but also respect comments from others and etc.

In summary, I think the learning process is actually more important than the knowledge delivered in class. College is highly likely to be their last education in their lives. During these four years, we need to teach them to become their own teachers so that they can learn new things on their own when it’s needed.

But… How to make my students have the above mentioned skills and characteristics?

Oh well… I still haven’t figured it out yet… :p

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But What If I Feel Like a Fraud?

The topic of the authentic teaching self is a tricky one, especially for those not so far removed from undergrad themselves. This concept of balance–professionalism vs. humanity–stares me in the face every time I walk into the class room. I’m almost a decade older than these students though I like to think that it’s not that visible yet. I like to think that they can’t tell the difference between 23 and 26, so in their minds, I’m not too far ahead of them in years. They know I’m “younger” than some, but I also want them to respect me. Like Shelli Fowler states in her handout, “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills,” “…As the teacher you are never on a completely equal level with the students, even as you recognize that your students can be both learners/teachers in various moments, and even as your recognize that you can be a teacher/learner” (1).  So again here’s this question of balance: I’m not their equal, but I’m not on a pedestal either.

Like I said, I’ve struggled with this concept a lot. Last fall as GTAs, we were told that it’s a good idea to have a clear boundary with your students. Don’t treat them too much as friends because that opens the door for them to take advantage of you. You know, like that If You Give A Mouse a Cookie-kind-of-story? Last semester, I was super professional with my students, and it worked out very well. They didn’t know that much about me. My professional self was the self the students saw. But even at the beginning of this semester and especially after reading this, I know my authentic self was not as apparent last semester. But then again, I’m generally reserved and quiet with those I don’t know, so coming into the classroom with flashing light shows and vivid personal conversation is definitely not my authentic self. I’m truly trying to navigate the authentic self this semester, figuring out how to be more personal and involved with my students while keeping myself as an authority figure.

But then another problem arises. How can I present myself as an authority figure if I feel like a fraud? Sarah Deel said pretty much everything I feel. As I was reading through “Finding My Teaching Voice, ” I felt so relieved that I wasn’t alone in this situation. While I wasn’t entirely thrown into my classroom, I do feel underprepared, inadequate. I, too, am required to teach papers that I either haven’t written in a almost a decade or have never written at all. I have this overwhelming fear that my students are bored out of their minds and aren’t learning anything or, even worse, that they know I’m a joke. This is that little voice inside my head that likes to tell me that I have no idea what I’m doing. I listen to it a lot because it’s loud. But sometimes that voice of reason finds a way to get a word in edgewise and tells me that I do have a little bit of an idea of what I’m doing and that experience will teach me more.

Aye, there’s the rub. Experience and self-questioning are what I feel is key in both the articles of Deel and Fowler–these writings go together very well. Deel seems to have found her authentic self through semesters of teaching; I don’t think it’s something we know right away. She found what worked for her even if it wasn’t exactly cool or flashy. What mattered was her pedagogy and engaging students, and she found a way to embody that in the classroom. Fowler’s handout gives pertinent questions for me to ask myself to help me “find myself” in the place that is the classroom. The classroom is just as much a learning place for me as it is for my students. What I’ve found out is what I’ll  be trying to implicate more this semester. I’m happy that I already have begun to do so. Being real,  intentionally disclosing appropriate personal information to my students, connecting with them makes them more comfortable with me and probably gives them a more favorable impression of the course. Also, if I’m trying to teach my students not to be automaton thinkers and writers, I shouldn’t be an automaton instructor who shows up to perform the job and appears to have no personality. That’s the worst. I don’t think I was quite like that before (I desperately hope not), but I am working to have more conversations with my students and let me be me.

 


Works Cited:

Deel, Sarah E. “Finding My Teaching Voice.” cte.virginia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Deel.pdf. Accessed 1 October 2017.

Fowler, Shelli. “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills.” mynelson.net/grad5114F15/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/The-Authentic-Teaching-Self-and-Communication-Skills.pdf. Accessed 1 October 2017.

 

 

 

When Peter Elbow Says It All…

When Peter Elbow says it all, I still find a way to assemble a lengthy and extremely disoriented post. So sorry!

In “The Case Against Grades,” Alfie Kohn clearly takes issue with how academia currently assesses learning: he detests grading. Understandably so. I can totally understand how our grading system is problematic, how it “diminishes” interest, “creates a preference for the easiest possible task,” and “reduces the quality of students’ thinking” (Kohn). Because wasn’t that how I was in high school? I wasn’t really interested in half the stuff I studied. I wanted the easiest homework possible. I memorized to test and forget. As I’ve said before, I didn’t mind school. Heck, I didn’t mind grades. I was a very competitive high schooler, be it in sports or academics. But that is exactly what grades shouldn’t be. Learning isn’t a competition.  Learning is a life-long process of growth that can be done individually or collaboratively. While I understand Kohn’s sentiments on the current state of assessment, I have a difficult time imagining it being any other way. I suppose this is normal because I suspect most of us were raised in this “QWERTY system” of grades (Liu and Nope-Brandon 9). It’s worked this far. Why change it?

Kohn makes a good argument as to why it needs to be changed. But I tended to align more with the argument Peter Elbow made in “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking.” I mean really aligned. (If only you could see how much yellow highlighter I used in my Mendeley viewer while reading the article.) Having had a pedagogy class within my major before, I’ve come across Elbow in the past, but this time around it made more sense.  Elbow writes, “It’s obvious, thus, that I am troubled by ranking. But I will resist any temptation to argue that we can get rid of all ranking-or even should. Instead I will try to show how we can have less ranking and more evaluation in its place” (188). What I like is that he wasn’t writing an article on doing away with grading altogether; he was writing an article to advocate for evaluation–a method of assessment that helps the student grow as a writer. Not only does he outline the problem with ranking and even over-evaluating within this article, but he devoted time to the concept of “liking” students writing–this blew my mind because I was thinking just today that I was dreading next weekend when my students’ first papers are coming in for grading and how I wouldn’t see the light of day because of the electronic pile of papers that would be blocking the light from the window. I like teaching my students and working with them on their drafts. I don’t mind commenting on their final papers either. But, honestly, I’m not turning back flips waiting to read them, and ultimately, I’m so confused when it comes to smooshing the comments into a letter grade box. It’s a lot of pressure.

Elbow again seemed to read my mind here: “Writing wasn’t meant to be read in stacks of twenty-five, fifty, or seventy-five. And we are handicapped as teachers when students are in our classes against their will” (204).  I mean, mic-drop. No truer words. How do I solve these problems–my stress regarding reading stacks of papers, my stress at the thought of giving my students a letter grade, and my students simply doing things for this letter grade in a class they just want to tick off their list of “Boring Required Classes?” “Aggggggggggggh” in the words of Charlie Brown.

Another thing that I like about Elbow is that he states the problem AND gives some potential solutions to the problem. This seems normal, but have you noticed how rare it is to come across this in academic writing? There is always a problem, but rarely are potential solutions offered. Elbow writes about a concept and potential solution called “Portfolio Grading” (192-193). I first heard about this concept last fall and thought it was a really interesting means of assessment, mostly because I never had any professor use this method of grading before. I’ve also heard it takes a lot of work and planning. I’m not sure if this is true or not. I would suspect so because evaluating (giving detailed comments on every piece of writing) takes a lot of time. While I think I do spend a lot of time commenting on my students homework and papers, I always feel like I should do more. But I have so little time. Because I’m pressed for time, I made a promise to myself that I would use my two years in grad school as a means of getting myself acclimated to teaching freshmen writing courses before I would try something like portfolio grading. But the more I read about it, the more I like it. As far as I know, portfolio grading involves only giving out one grade at the end of the semester. During the semester, students turn in work only to receive comments on their writing. I also believe conferences are a big part of portfolio grading; this practice enables student and teacher to connect and truly work through issues in writing. The portfolio collects the students writing and evaluates it over the course of the semester. How did the student improve? How did he or she take comments into consideration? How did they not? I like it because it evaluates growth over a longer period of time rather than over the course of four weeks. I really do want to try this out someday.

Currently, I’m planning to offer revision this semester as a means of changing up assessment. I will grade my students papers (as I’m required to), but the grade doesn’t have to mean “end of story.”  If the grade is low, revision allows it to be a “teachable moment” or “learning experience.” I would hope that my students read the detailed comments that I give them, come talk to me about it, and then work to take these comments into consideration to revise for a better grade. While this still adheres to the grading system, it doesn’t suggest that a low grade is failure or that failure is permanent. They have the opportunity to grow and learn as a writer.

And ultimately, that is what I think is wrong with our current assessment system. It suggests to students that learning is done quickly and lasts up until the moment after the test is over. You either learned or you didn’t. If you didn’t recall the information, then sorry about it. You failed. I don’t think that encourages learning at all. Because trying and failing and trying and succeeding are life-long processes.

Sorry but I can’t memorize

I have always been very bad at memorizing things, especially equations. However, most of the classes during my undergraduate degree required me to memorize numbers and lots of equations. I still remember the day, when I went home feeling completely devastated after doing terribly bad in my Hydraulics exam. I wasn’t sad because I didn’t know how to solve the problems, in fact I knew the solution to each and every problem very well. However, I couldn’t remember any of the equations associated with solving those problems and hence, I couldn’t write the final answer in numbers. I knew I wasn’t going to get good grades although I wrote the step by step procedure to solve the problems because the examiners only cared about the final answer. Finally, the results came and I got a very poor score which was expected.

This is probably the story for many people like me who have a hard time memorizing equations and thus have failed to get good grades in exams. Our education systems are built in such a way where students are graded and ranked based on their ability to “memorize” things. An example of this is the multiple-choice exams where the students are solely graded based on the number of correct answer choices in the Scranton sheets. This in no way appreciates any of the efforts that the students put on trying to solve the problem. Even if you did everything correctly but messed up while pressing some numbers on the calculator in the final step, you will probably be put in the same category as someone who had absolutely no clue about how to solve the problem.

https://heartoftheclassroom.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/mind-full-or-mindful.png

I think there are issues with both the examining and the grading system which in many ways forces students to “rote learn” and the distinction between a good and a mediocre student is made based on their grades. There has to be definitely a better methodology for teaching and grading where mindful learning is encouraged and the efforts of the students in solving the problem is appreciated.

 

Automaton Fingers and The Five-Paragraph Essay

This blog is going to be messy, a conglomeration of scattered thoughts on a topic that I recognized was an issue throughout my entire history of learning. In the “When Practice Makes Imperfect” chapter in The Power of Mindful Learning, Ellen Langer mentions  the “inventive transformations of the routine” and follows it up with an example of traditional methods of learning classical piano (24). This example immediately through me back to how I learned pieces for piano recitals. I grew up taking piano lessons. Once a week from elementary school through my junior year of high school, I was at a lesson practicing pieces in front of my teacher that I may or may not have had time to practice during the week before the lesson. I liked playing piano, but I hated piano theory and I hated public performance.

These sentiments mostly stem from how I “mastered” recital pieces and the crash-and-burn experience I had from this method of learning. See, I was a rote memorization learner. I practiced and practiced and practiced until my fingers were on autopilot and my mind had seemingly nothing to do with what was going on with the keys. Rote memorization. It worked at home. It even worked at recitals. Until the one time it didn’t.

One night, while performing in public, my fingers blanked. I simply could not remember the next two lines of music. I sat with my back to audience in utter mortification trying to recall the next notes, but I couldn’t. Though I wanted to get up and flee the room, I was finally able to jump ahead in the piece and finish it, but I had failed. My automaton fingers had failed. My memory had failed. And failure is bad, isn’t it? I had learned the basics of performance and the piece itself in a “rote, unthinking manner” and had become less than mediocre by the end of the process (Langer 14). It took me a long time to even think about performing in public again. I’d still rather not.

I saw this same thing happen to a number of us students in high school. We memorized the facts that needed to be learned, took the test where we may or may not have recalled the memories, and then discarded the memorized facts to make room for new ones. Sometimes, we were successful in this method of learning; sometimes, we crashed and burned. Hard. So while reading the “seven pervasive myths” that Langer lists in the introduction to the book, I saw that I had adhered to at least four of those myths just by how I learned piano alone (2).

I appreciated this section on mindful learning because I think it applies to some of my lessons this week in First-Year Writing. In teaching writing and critical thinking, rote memorization is a little more difficult to come by. Because in many area of the humanities, there are no wrong answers. We don’t necessarily memorize. But when we’re taught writing, we do practice the basics so that “they become second nature” (Langer 2). As my students begin to write their first paper, I want to talk about the difference between high school contexts and college contexts. Example: the five-paragraph essay. It’s taught in high school because of its relative easiness to explain and because of its usefulness in writing the types of essays high schoolers have to write. I mean, a oddly high percentage of my essays in high school were timed. Because that’s real life, right? No. Because that’s the AP Test and the SAT writing section and maybe even the GRE writing section for many of us, if we’re honest.

Though I understand that the difference between college and high school may not be that different for some students, for many it is. Students practice writing this type of essay so often that it becomes second nature. It’s the formula they need to succeed. But writing is so much more messy than that formula. Thinking about how to analyze, organize, and write about new concepts and perspectives takes more time than 45 minutes. Now, in college, the basic five paragraph essay isn’t as useful. It’s actually more confining.The five paragraph essay isn’t wrong; it was appropriate for some people in a certain time. It’s just one way of writing in a certain context.  This college context is different, and it’s time for learning to build on itself and evolve. So now, many students will now have break themselves of the basics that have become second nature and try something new.

Embrace Change!

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Last week in class we were discussing that nowadays because everything you can learn from the internet, the traditional class-room type of lecture should be gradually evolving to be in  “discussion” style, rather than giving them information/knowledge that they can simply find online.  In my opinion, teachers are storytellers, who can combine the existing knowledge and correct information to become stories that are interesting to students.  In the past when most of knowledge have to be found in books and publications, these information have been through serious reviewing process and constantly corrected by authors or publishers. In comparison, students can learn almost everything on the internet so easily through Wikipedia, YouTube, Blogs and etc. However, it is necessary for students to be able to evaluate whether those information are correct, and this ability should be cultivated during their college education, so that they will easily become a life-time self-learner. As a result, just like Thomas and Brown’s book said in their book,

“Wikipedia allows us to see all those things, understand
the process, and participate in it. As such, it requires a new kind
of reading practice, an ability to evaluate a contested piece of
knowledge and decide for yourself how you want to interpret
it. And because Wikipedia is a living, changing embodiment of
knowledge, such a reading practice must embrace change.”

On the other hand, how to become a good storyteller in lectures? How to create meaningful  and interesting discussion in class but still can make sure to have enough time to  give them a well-structured knowledge? These are the issues that I need to think about and overcome.

Reference: Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning (2011), pp. 17-38 (“Arc of Life Learning” and “A Tale of Two Cultures”)

 

 

Are we ready to embrace the change?

All of the reads for this week were pretty interesting and I greatly enjoyed reading each of them. One thing that I found common in all of these readings was how technology could affect the teaching-learning process. There were some pretty good examples of how technology could be utilized in pedagogical practices, in fact, technology seems to be inevitable in today’s world. On one hand, I am both impressed and amazed to see how technology and digital learning offers immense potential to bring great changes to the teaching-learning process while on the other hand, I ask myself, “Are we ready to embrace the change?”

http://georgeberlin.indiemade.com/gallery/image/embrace-change

We constantly hear and talk about all these wonders that technology could bring in education. However, how often do we actually bring technology in our classrooms? Some of us still have so much love for the overhead projector that we really aren’t ready to even adopt PowerPoint or other multimedia presentation tools in our classrooms. We would rather have our students turn in their homework assignments on paper than submit them online. We don’t want our students to bring their digital devices in classrooms and would rather like them take notes on their notebook using a pen/pencil because we think our students get distracted from the lectures.

The truth of the matter is that we do like to see the change but we ourselves aren’t ready yet to take the initiative to bring the change. In other words, we are too lazy to put additional efforts to change something that’s already out there-packaged and ready for us to use. Think about how often do professors want to change their style of teaching or even the syllabus or lecture notes when they have so much other things to worry about? However, this doesn’t mean that everyone is the same but there are only a few who really put in efforts and show dynamism in pedagogical practices.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/72690981461698794

Every idea or concept can have positive and negative sides. If we only think about the negative aspects, we can never move forward. We really need to build some courage to face the challenges and be ready to embrace the changes. As the old saying goes,

“Old ways won’t open new doors.”

 

 

 

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