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.



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.

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.


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?”

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.

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.”




Networked learning: The sky’s the limit

With the development of technology and global networking, the teaching-learning process is no longer limited to text books and traditional blackboard classroom lectures. Learning and knowledge sharing in the modern world has evolved into higher dimensions-only the sky is the limit! Especially, higher education has greatly benefited from networked learning. Some examples include Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC), webinars, and web conferences, etc. Distance, age and time can no longer be considered barriers for people who have a desire for higher education.

Network learning can provide a greater platform and larger audience for those involved in scholarly pursuits. Through the means of social media and other web tools (to name a few: twitter, blogs, online chat forums, etc.) academics can establish a public identity and establish connections with peers and greater public. Through discussions and sharing of ideas, network learning can take the learning process to a whole new level.

Shown below is is a great illustration of the different facets of network learning in the 21st century. by Dr. Alec Couros.