Thursday, June 23, 2011

Week 3 - DAZ3D & CONFU$3D & A LiTTL3 BiT ANXiOU$

Our last class has left a real impression on me. During class, I kept starting to write something in the MOO and then I kept deleting it. It was a bizarre little psychosis: I felt so strongly about what we were debating…yet I hated everything that I was going to writeX-S
I don’t WANT to be a member of Grammar Gestapo. The worst feeling comes from being too strict on student work and positively KILLING any passion and life in their essays. Said victims, who want a good grade more than anything, robotically churn out dull, soulless Engfish drivel, and I think, “Oh no. I really did it this time.”
The day after our class (heh heh, mere hours for me), I talked about what kind of teacher I am to a colleague of mine. At first, I confessed to being Grammar Gestapo…but it’s more complicated than that. I appreciate peer-o-gogy via peer evaluation; I reinforce the idea of writing as a recursive process via drafts whenever possible; and I also try to fan the flame when I read passion in student essays. Nothing brightens my day like seeing students taking risks in their essays – calculating and playing with their English language skills. They’re all speakers of other languages, and English is often their 3rd of 4th language, so…more power to them!
So…does that still make me Grammar Gestapo?
Very soon, I’ll begin the tough job of designing a course. It isn’t Composition, but rather an Introduction to Film course. I want it to be completely different than any other course that these Education City students have taken. I want it to be dynamic and invigorating, and I want it to be COOL.
I’m afraid of failing, too. I’m a film buff – as in foreign and indie and a smattering of Hollywood fodder – but I haven’t been trained per se in the film arts. Yet…my students won’t be film experts. Of course, they’ve seen scores of films, but their majors will mostly be in Engineering, Medicine, Computer Science, and Journalism. Therefore, I try to downplay the fact that I haven’t taken so many film courses and that I’m a great admirer of celluloid from directors as diverse as Pedro Almodovar to Ang Lee to Martin Scorsese.
The class will be issued iPad 2s so that they can rewind and re-watch as many times as they like. I plan to somehow employ Twitter. At the end of the semester, their project may entail creating an iMovie or Camtasia project that includes various aspects of film noir, etc. There will be peer evaluations and there will also be pizza and pop.
But what if it sucks?
I know that I DON’T want it to be the environment of my English classes, where I literally run the class like a company and I’m quite strict – with grammar, with deadlines, with lengths of projects. Conversely, I can’t be a slacker because then they’d take advantage of that and try to run all over me.
Ultimately, I know that whatever I didn’t get right in the first round, it would get repaired in the second time I taught the course. I’m a bit of a perfectionist though, and I’d like the darn course to be perfect and enjoyable and organic and right bloody fabulous the first time!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Week 2 - The State of Freshman Comp in Qatar and other observations

Last week we read all about the current state of Freshman Composition – how ‘real’ professors don’t want to teach it, it is often taught in grossly outdated manners, and students are often unmotivated to even try to make a good grade. I want to know why TAMU feels such a need to teach students on the TAMUQ campus the same exact way it is taught on the College Station campus.
Oftentimes CS instructors come here and think that they can rinse and repeat exactly what they do in Texas. This is not so. This is NOT the USA, and there are so many different rules here. In fact, one could compare it to the Wild Wild West of yore. If a would-be student has the right last name (comes from a VIP tribe), s/he will be admitted regardless of TOEFL scores, SAT scores, math scores. In fact, I’ve sat on admission committees, and even I’m occasionally shocked at what is let into our doors. Qatari boys have often not worked with Qatari girls since primary school (although soon enough at our institution they realize that they LIKE this dynamic). I would also bet that rote memorization is still implemented on certain levels even in secondary schools, too. Qatari students in 2011 are getting better, but undoing what was done to them in primary and secondary education is still an uphill battle. This is slowly changing as the educational revolution takes place, but it’s not over yet.
Still, instructors and institutions try. In fact, over the years I’ve witnessed a number of American universities breeze into Qatar (Carnegie-Mellon, Georgetown, Northwestern) wide-eyed and self-assured and say, “Yes, your institution has had difficulties, but WE’RE GOING TO BE EXACTLY LIKE OUR MAIN CAMPUS.” Yeah, right. Then I watch as those institutions slowly cave to pressures exerted upon them by the queen’s umbrella company, Qatar Foundation. This place is tribal, it’s their money, and they will ultimately get what they want. It is also a place which I call “That Which Is Not,” since the spectacle is what rules here, in this case oftentimes the appearance of an education.
Even if all things were right in the universe and TAMUQ were an exact replica of TAMU, I think it’s funny how seriously some instructors take their jobs. They fiercely work so that we calibrate and grade 104-type essays so that we’re all on the same page. The fact is that every English instructor has different needs and values, and I don’t have much faith in calibration. Teachers scratch their heads with fear in their eyes. Why why oh why did Joseph grade an essay lower than the others did? What the heck does that mean? Don’t sweat it. Ultimately, it just means that I’m a tougher grader than you. At the end of the day, students should still learn from others’ classes and the world will keep turning.
Don’t get me wrong: I take my job very seriously too, and I LOVE my job. And my students. And, ehrrrrm, most of my colleagues. I just know that there are certain required topics in my Freshman Comp class that come as directives from the main campus, and I refuse to lose sleep over things that I can’t change. I do, however, ask myself what I can do to make my Freshman Comp class as meaningful and relevant and action-packed as possible to my students. I also ask myself what aspects of education I want to introduce and reinforce. In a perfect world, there would be a minimum of four English classes at TAMUQ. There are only two. I have to pick and choose my battles.
As my Qatari ex used to say, “What to do? This is the life. I’m swear.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Week 1 - An Education

It was so interesting how I’d registered for our class with preconceptions of, “Oh we’re going to tow the party line in Academia” and “Isn’t it great that we know we’re edu-ma-cated” and so forth…and then I read the first couple of readings. Then I listened to the first podcast and thought, “WHOA. Stop the press!” I love being surprised. It seems that this class is going to take more of a dynamic approach to our course topics.
What the heck does it mean to be educated, and who decides what makes us educated? Case-in-point: My dear friend is an “uneducated” Sri Lankan with the most basic of high school educations; in fact, I suspect there is a learning disability or two lurking about. However, put him in a kitchen, and he can make the most phenomenal 5-star cuisine, running rings around anyone else I’ve ever met. It gets better: In the jungle, he’s your man, knowing exactly which vegetation to eat, how to cook it, and how it will benefit you ayurvedically. And that includes ayurvedic massages, too. And flowers? He designs bouquets for royal galas here in Qatar. And folkloric dances? He can twirl 20 plates and do backflips in killer headgear looking like this,r:17,s:0&biw=1259&bih=590  (not all at the same time, mind you).
Yet he can barely read and write.
Yet he’s far more interesting, observant, and worldly than most “educated” people that I’ve met. I watch as colleagues here and there meet him and quickly dismiss him in a fairly arrogant manner.
Then when the colleagues are gone, my other half will imitate them flawlessly – their gait, their table manners – making me laugh so hard I tear up.
Just as we need to ponder what writing really is and just as we need to reconsider how we should educate the masses, we must also ask ourselves what it means to be educated in the first place. Different people learn in different manners. The vast majority of my students, Gulf Arabs, come from a distinctly oral / aural tradition, and they would often rather do ANYTHING than read or write. When I create lesson plans, I try to make activities student centered as well as adaptable to varying learning styles – tactile, oral / aural, visual, etc. With a big inshallah (‘Lord willing’), a lot more students grasp concepts, incorporate them, and struggle less when I approach activities from different angles.
As we read this week, professors are nervous. We don’t know what the hell the future holds for us, we certainly can’t take control of independent learners who actively pursue the information highway, and sometimes – oftentimes – our desperate attempts at keeping up with the times are underwhelming.
I suppose we have to choose our battles; for example, I’ll never allow Tweetspeak to enter the rhetoric of an English assignment. But we also have to be…more…fluid…in our approaches. Let information wash over us like water, try to digest information as we comfortably can and not worry so much, yet REMAIN LEARNERS OURSELVES. We have to be malleable to change; otherwise, we’re done for. With open minds and a positive attitude, education in the 2010s can be more invigorating and dynamic than ever before.