Being a Schrödinger Scholar

Who is a Schrödinger Scholar? If you have not heard of this term before, do not worry, because I am pretty sure I just made it up. But, before I begin my restrained ramblings on this ludicrous, yet meaningful, notion, allow me to take a moment and brief on what the Nobel Prize-winning physicist has to do with my identity as a scholar. 

Many of us are aware of Erwin Schrödinger and his thought experiment, which he devised to explain the problem with relating quantum mechanics to everyday objects. Using the thought experiment, he attempted to explain the paradox of a state called quantum superposition. But, the physics is not of importance here. What is important is the thought experiment itself, starting with the following lines from Wikipedia:

Schrodinger's Cat: Wanted Dead and Alive
Source: Quotesgram.com

In simple terms, Schrödinger stated that if you place a cat and something that could kill the cat (a radioactive atom) in a box and sealed it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box, so that until the box was opened, the cat was (in a sense) both “dead and alive”.

The beauty of this thought experiment is that it is often also used to represent how scientific theory works. A scientific theory is neither right nor wrong until it can be tested and proved. The act of extending Schrödinger’s thought experiment to explain scientific theory is, to me, spectacular in itself. Given my admiration, lately, I have been fixating over this idea. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me how it is also a complex representation of human identity. 

From past one year, while working on my dissertation, I have been thinking (more than usual) about my identity as a researcher and the influence of being a researcher on my identity. Both are different in some sense, yet spin like pieces of yin and yang hovering in the abyss of eternal space. My struggle with defining myself is rooted in the intersectionality of the different, and conflicting, components of my identity that shape how I think about research and where I position myself (shoutout to Lynette Guzman, Cassie Brownell, and Elise Dixon for pushing me to think about this).

My struggle became real when I found myself in an uncomfortable position of explaining myself to other people. The paradoxical nature of my identity as a scholar was looking at me in the eyes. When I met researchers from different areas of educational research, everywhere I went, I was treated like an outsider. Being a literacies researcher working on (and studying) educational technology, who values qualitative research but comes from a quantitative background, and is obsessed with humanities and language arts but sees science as a way of knowing the world, depending on who I was talking to, I was being perceived as an outsider. 

The struggle of belongingness turned up a notch when I started to prepare my profile for future job applications. “How do I portray myself?” It is like choosing a part of you and leaving the rest behind. Why do I have to choose? As I strived to frame myself as a scholar, Schrödinger appeared to me in a dream (well, not really). I realized that my identity was not in conflict. Rather it was the act of observation of my words that enforced labels on me. Just like Schrödinger’s Cat, other people’s observation of my words, sometimes, portrayed me an outsider to them. So, I used the very words that were deceiving me to create my own thought experiment and better explain how I see myself:

My identity is, too, like Schrödinger’s Cat.
I am a qualitative and a quantitative scholar, at the same time.
I am an ed tech and an ed psych student, at the same time.
I am a social justice advocate and cautious of my assumptions, at the same time.
I am a liberal and respect conservatism, at the same time.
I am social and alone, at the same time.
I am a scientist and an artist, at the same time.
I am rational and emotional, at the same time.
I am patriotic about India and anti-national, at the same time.
I am everything and I am nothing, at the same time.
I am a Schrödinger Scholar. And you can be too, at the same time.

Five Ways to Make Learning Relevant to Students

Four years ago, I was teaching Wireless Communication to senior year electronics engineering majors in India. I chose to teach this course because of my personal interest in digital and wireless communication. But more than that, it is a topic that requires a deep understanding of probability–which I believe is a critical concept for everyone to learn. However, when a student asked me, “Why are we studying probability in wireless communication?,” I was surprised that I could not provide a satisfying answer.

Personally, wrapping my head around the concepts of probability took me several years. As a result, it has had a serious effect on my understanding of the world in general, including my position on some crucial political, medical, and spiritual issues. When my student asked me for why it was relevant, I tried to explain why I cared about it and how it connected to wireless communication. I could tell that he did not care about either of my reasons. This bothered me for weeks, perhaps, months. Well, it still kind of does. But, it led me to wonder what could I have done differently? Last year, now working as a researcher in literacies at MSU, I found my answer.

For the past three years, I have been doing my research in the realm of literacies. Research in literacies (plural) is contemporary to literacy (singular) and is more inclusive of different social and cultural activities and practices in which the learners engage these days. A literacies lens takes into account the role of more than one ways of making, representing, and communicating meaning in digital and non-digital spaces. It values the literacies of students and deems them important and relevant, too. Snapchatting your trip to the local science museum is an example of a type of literacy; rather, a combination of several literacies. As a result of this experience, I know now that, in my wireless communication class, I needed to make probability relevant to my student; not simply share why it was relevant to me. Sharing my personal liking did not connect with him because our experiences with probability had been quite different. I need to situate my teaching in my student experiences. The question is: how?

Through my research and teaching at MSU, I have learned 5 pedagogical moves that are important to make learning relevant to students: knowing student experiences, explicit instruction, situated and transformative practices, critical framing, and aesthetic framing (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015; Girod, Rau, & Schepige, 2003). Think of a topic from your own teaching that you wish your students cared more about. It could be social justice, evolution, literature, or anything that you really care about but some students do not. Now, how can you use these 5 pedagogical moves to make your topic relevant for students? To help you think through, I have 5 tips and questions–based on literacies research–that you can ask yourself to keep your teaching relevant to your students.

Knowing Student Experiences

Ask yourself: Do I know my students’ experiences that bring them to this class?

Knowing your students and their experiences is a continual process that cannot be achieved in a single post-class survey. It takes place in bursts of examples that slip out of several in-class discussions and through your regular awareness that provide you a window into their out-of-class experiences. As a teacher, you need to be aware of these examples that get you closer to understanding what your students find relevant.

Tip: You can, of course, set up surveys to get a glimpse of student experiences. Another way to tap into topics that students find relevant is by scaffolding discussions where students are given opportunities to provide examples situated in their experiences, choosing their styles of expression and communication.

Explicit Instruction

Ask yourself: Is it obvious to my students why this topic is important to study?

If you think it is not obvious to your students why they study a certain topic, make it explicit. As teachers, the link between significance, necessity, and implications of a topic are clearer in our heads than often in our teaching. As students just getting to know a topic, these links may not be obvious to them. And, it is possible that they are trying to make their own links to justify it, which may lead to further alternative conceptions.

Tip: Include a quick list of significance and implications in your syllabus. This does not have to be a comprehensive list, but something to hook your students. If you wish to have some fun with, make it a catchy Buzzfeed-like clickbait sentence. However, make sure that you do not frame your click bait in a way that takes the substance out of the topics, or essentializes students. Here are a few examples that do and do not work.

Situated and Transformative Practice

Ask yourself: Will students be able to go outside and use what they have learned in their real world?

Often, we forget to make connections with students’ out-of-class experiences. Why should students care about chemical reactions, when their biggest challenge is clean drinking water? The connection between chemistry and real life may be clearer to you than it is to your students. When topics are shared with real-life implications and examples that are connected with students’ personal experiences, they become more relevant to them.

Tip: Create projects or assignments that involve solving a real problem in students’ communities. These could be papers, a survey of their community, or actual working projects. There is always room for improvisation.

Critical framing

Ask yourself: Are my students critical of the information they engage with, or do they agree without further questioning?

Critical framing sounds like a very scientific approach, but it is equally valued in literacies. Being critical of information is as important a skill for a literature major as it is for a scientist. But being critical is not limited to questioning information for evidence. It also means being socially and culturally critical. Are your students aware of racial, gender, and other biases in their learning environment and profession? Do they question practices that are taken for granted but could be marginalizing to others? Framing your own teaching in critical ways advocates a critical lens on the world. As teachers, we are among the best role models for our students on how to be socially and culturally conscious, scientifically skeptical, and adept at navigating media and information.

Tip: Show your own skepticism towards marginalizing and unscientific practices (e.g.: practices that are based on evidence, but still value other ways of knowing) in your discipline. Add a question at the end of each topic that makes connections to how it affects (or has affected) social and cultural issues.

Aesthetic framing

Ask yourself: Are my students genuinely curious about this topic? Do they think about this when they leave my class?

Aesthetic framing should be a requirement for all disciplines. Although it is inherent in disciplines like literature, music, and science, it is often lost in everyday teaching and learning. An aesthetic framing speaks of making connections to the content in a way that inspires emotional responses from  students. How you explain the inner-workings of a leaf can either bore students or inspire them with further curiosity to learn more. Our goal as teachers is to provide a disciplinary lens for  students in the world. Everywhere students go, they should be thinking about things from this disciplinary perspective; at least that should be a worthy goal for us all.

Tip: Pay close attention to your word choice when framing the language in your syllabus, and more importantly, during your instruction. Keep in mind that music, lighting, and other modalities can also have an effect on emotions. Feel free to experiment with the ambiance of your classroom. For example, reading Edgar Allen Poe with dim lights and spooky music creates an eerie atmosphere often associated with Poe’s work and genre, thereby making it more engaging.

Overall, the purpose of these five questions and tips is to excite students about disciplinary content, inspire authentic discussions, and bolster relevant practices. Our goal is to have them onboard with the things that we have learned to value and care about, so they can be good, literate, and emotional citizens who value each other and the world they live in.

Related readings

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2015). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Learning by Design. Palgrave Macmillan.

Girod, M., Rau, C., & Schepige, A. (2003). Appreciating the beauty of science ideas: Teaching for aesthetic understanding. Science Education, 87(4), 574–587.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.

Madhushala / The Tavern

I am reading my favorite excerpts from Harivanshrai Bachchan’s poem Madhushala / The Tavern at the Festival of Listening (celebrating untranslated poetry). It is on Tuesday, March 1st at (SCENE) Metrospace, 7.00 pm.

Like any great poem, the more I read it, the more I admire its nuances. Here are the paragraphs I plan to read, followed by their English translation. I hope you enjoy!

Hindi

मदिरालय जाने को घर से चलता है पीनेवला,
‘किस पथ से जाऊँ?’ असमंजस में है वह भोलाभाला,
अलग-अलग पथ बतलाते सब पर मैं यह बतलाता हूँ –
‘राह पकड़ तू एक चला चल, पा जाएगा मधुशाला।’। ६।

सुन, कलकल़ , छलछल़ मधुघट से गिरती प्यालों में हाला,
सुन, रूनझुन रूनझुन चल वितरण करती मधु साकीबाला,
बस आ पहुंचे, दुर नहीं कुछ, चार कदम अब चलना है,
चहक रहे, सुन, पीनेवाले, महक रही, ले, मधुशाला।।१०।

लाल सुरा की धार लपट सी कह न इसे देना ज्वाला,
फेनिल मदिरा है, मत इसको कह देना उर का छाला,
दर्द नशा है इस मदिरा का विगत स्मृतियाँ साकी हैं,
पीड़ा में आनंद जिसे हो, आए मेरी मधुशाला।।१४।

धर्मग्रन्थ सब जला चुकी है, जिसके अंतर की ज्वाला,
मंदिर, मसजिद, गिरिजे, सब को तोड़ चुका जो मतवाला,
पंडित, मोमिन, पादिरयों के फंदों को जो काट चुका,
कर सकती है आज उसी का स्वागत मेरी मधुशाला।।१७।

लालायित अधरों से जिसने, हाय, नहीं चूमी हाला,
हर्ष-विकंपित कर से जिसने, हा, न छुआ मधु का प्याला,
हाथ पकड़ लज्जित साकी को पास नहीं जिसने खींचा,
व्यर्थ सुखा डाली जीवन की उसने मधुमय मधुशाला।।१८।

बने पुजारी प्रेमी साकी, गंगाजल पावन हाला,
रहे फेरता अविरत गति से मधु के प्यालों की माला’
‘और लिये जा, और पीये जा’, इसी मंत्र का जाप करे’
मैं शिव की प्रतिमा बन बैठूं, मंदिर हो यह मधुशाला।।१९।

एक बरस में, एक बार ही जगती होली की ज्वाला,
एक बार ही लगती बाज़ी, जलती दीपों की माला,
दुनियावालों, किन्तु, किसी दिन आ मदिरालय में देखो,
दिन को होली, रात दिवाली, रोज़ मनाती मधुशाला।।२६।

अधरों पर हो कोई भी रस जिहवा पर लगती हाला,
भाजन हो कोई हाथों में लगता रक्खा है प्याला,
हर सूरत साकी की सूरत में परिवर्तित हो जाती,
आँखों के आगे हो कुछ भी, आँखों में है मधुशाला।।३२।

मुसलमान औ’ हिन्दू है दो, एक, मगर, उनका प्याला,
एक, मगर, उनका मदिरालय, एक, मगर, उनकी हाला,
दोनों रहते एक न जब तक मस्जिद मन्दिर में जाते,
बैर बढ़ाते मस्जिद मन्दिर मेल कराती मधुशाला!।५०।

कभी न सुन पड़ता, ‘इसने, हा, छू दी मेरी हाला’,
कभी न कोई कहता, ‘उसने जूठा कर डाला प्याला’,
सभी जाति के लोग यहाँ पर साथ बैठकर पीते हैं,
सौ सुधारकों का करती है काम अकेले मधुशाला।।५७।

सुमुखी तुम्हारा, सुन्दर मुख ही, मुझको कन्चन का प्याला
छलक रही है जिसमें माणिक रूप मधुर मादक हाला,
मैं ही साकी बनता, मैं ही पीने वाला बनता हूँ
जहाँ कहीं मिल बैठे हम तुम़ वहीं गयी हो मधुशाला।।६४।

दो दिन ही मधु मुझे पिलाकर ऊब उठी साकीबाला,
भरकर अब खिसका देती है वह मेरे आगे प्याला,
नाज़, अदा, अंदाजों से अब, हाय पिलाना दूर हुआ,
अब तो कर देती है केवल फ़र्ज़ – अदाई मधुशाला।।६५।

छोटे-से जीवन में कितना प्यार करुँ, पी लूँ हाला,
आने के ही साथ जगत में कहलाया ‘जानेवाला’,
स्वागत के ही साथ विदा की होती देखी तैयारी,
बंद लगी होने खुलते ही मेरी जीवन-मधुशाला।।६६।

यम आयेगा साकी बनकर साथ लिए काली हाला,
पी न होश में फिर आएगा सुरा-विसुध यह मतवाला,
यह अंतिम बेहोशी, अंतिम साकी, अंतिम प्याला है,
पथिक, प्यार से पीना इसको फिर न मिलेगी मधुशाला।८०।

ढलक रही है तन के घट से, संगिनी जब जीवन हाला
पत्र गरल का ले जब अंतिम साकी है आनेवाला,
हाथ स्पर्श भूले प्याले का, स्वाद सुरा जीव्हा भूले
कानो में तुम कहती रहना, मधु का प्याला मधुशाला।।८१।

मेरे अधरों पर हो अंतिम वस्तु न तुलसीदल प्याला
मेरी जीव्हा पर हो अंतिम वस्तु न गंगाजल हाला,
मेरे शव के पीछे चलने वालों याद इसे रखना
राम नाम है सत्य न कहना, कहना सच्ची मधुशाला।।८२।

मेरे शव पर वह रोये, हो जिसके आंसू में हाला
आह भरे वो, जो हो सुरिभत मदिरा पी कर मतवाला,
दे मुझको वो कान्धा जिनके पग मद डगमग होते हों
और जलूं उस ठौर जहां पर कभी रही हो मधुशाला।।८३।

और चिता पर जाये उंढेला पात्र न घ्रित का, पर प्याला
कंठ बंधे अंगूर लता में मध्य न जल हो, पर हाला,
प्राण प्रिये यदि श्राध करो तुम मेरा तो ऐसे करना
पीने वालों को बुलवा कऱ खुलवा देना मधुशाला।।८४।

नाम अगर कोई पूछे तो, कहना बस पीनेवाला
काम ढालना, और ढालना सबको मदिरा का प्याला,
जाति प्रिये, पूछे यदि कोई कह देना दीवानों की
धर्म बताना प्यालों की ले माला जपना मधुशाला।।८५।

जो हाला मैं चाह रहा था, वह न मिली मुझको हाला,
जो प्याला मैं माँग रहा था, वह न मिला मुझको प्याला,
जिस साकी के पीछे मैं था दीवाना, न मिला साकी,
जिसके पीछे था मैं पागल, हा न मिली वह मधुशाला!।९०।

बड़े-बड़े नाज़ों से मैंने पाली है साकीबाला,
कलित कल्पना का ही इसने सदा उठाया है प्याला,
मान-दुलारों से ही रखना इस मेरी सुकुमारी को,
विश्व, तुम्हारे हाथों में अब सौंप रहा हूँ मधुशाला।।१३५।

English

Seeking wine, the drinker leaves home for the tavern.
Perplexed, he asks, “Which path will take me there?”
People show him different ways, but this is what I have to say,
“Pick a path and keep walking. You will find the tavern.”

Hark! The wine gurgles and splashes as it falls from the goblet.
Hark! It sounds like the tinkling of bells on the feet of an intoxicated girl.
We have reached there, a few steps are we from the tavern,
Hark! Hear the laughter of the drinkers, as the fragrance of the tavern wafts through the air.

Call it not lava, though it flows red, like a tongue of flame.
Call it not the blistered heart, for it is only foaming wine.
Lost memories serve the wine, that intoxicates with pain.
If you find happiness in suffering, come to my tavern.

He who has burnt all scriptures with his inner fire,
Has broken temples, mosques and churches with carefree abandon,
And has cut the nooses of pandits, mullahs and priests —
Only he is welcome in my tavern.

Alas, he that with eager lips, has not kissed this wine,
Alas, he that trembling with joy, has not touched a brimming goblet,
He that has not drawn close the coy wine-maiden by her hand,
Has wasted this honey-filled tavern of Life.

My beloved wine-maiden seems a priest; her wine as pure as the Ganga’s waters.
With unbroken pace, she rotates the rosary of wine glasses.
“Drink more! Drink more!” she intones in prayer.
I am Shiva incarnate and this tavern is my temple.

Only once every year, the fires of Holi are lit.
Only once is the game played and are garlands of lamps lit.
But, O, those who are lost in the world, come and see the tavern any day,
The tavern celebrates a Holi, every morning and a Diwali every night.

Whatever the taste on my lips, it tastes like wine.
Whatever the vessel in my hands, it feels like a goblet.
Every face dissolves into the features of my wine-maiden,
And whatever be in front of my eyes, they fill only with visions of the tavern.

Muslim and Hindu are two, but their goblet is one.
One is their tavern, one is their their wine.
Both remain one unless they visit mosques, temples
Mosques and temples create differences, the tavern brings them together

Never heard one say, “He touched my wine”
Never one said, “He smeared my goblet”
People from every caste sit and drink together
Work of a hundered reformers is done by a tavern alone

Ah, Beautiful, your lovely face is like a crystal bowl,
Whose precious gem is your beauty, sparkling like sweet, intoxicating wine.
I am the wine-maiden and I am the guest.
Where sit we together, there indeed is the tavern.

A mere two days she served me but the young maiden is sulking now.
She fills my goblet and passes it curtly to me.
Her coquetry and charms are lost arts;
All the tavern wishes now is to fulfil its obligations.

Life is short. How much love can I give and how much can I drink?
They say, “He departs,” at the very moment that he is born.
While he is being welcomed, I have seen his farewell being prepared.
They started closing the shutters of the tavern, as soon as they were raised.

Yama will come as the wine-maiden and bring his black wine,
Drink, and know no more consciousness, O carefree one.
This is the ultimate trance, the ultimate wine-maiden and the ultimate goblet.
O traveller, drink judiciously, for you will never find the tavern again.

When from the earthen jar of my body, the wine of life is emptied,
When the final wine-maiden comes with her bowl of poison,
When my hand forgets the touch of the goblet, and my lips the taste of wine,
Whisper in my ears, “the wine, the goblet, the tavern!”

Touch not my lips with tulasi, but with the goblet, when I die.
Touch not my tongue with the Ganga’s waters, but with wine, when I die.
When you bear my corpse, pallbearers, remember this!
Call not the name of God, but call to the truth that is the tavern.

Weep over my corpse, if you can weep tears of wine.
Sigh dejectedly for me, if you are intoxicated and carefree.
Bear me on your shoulders, if you stumble drunkenly along.
Cremate me on that land, where there once was a tavern.

Pour on my ashes, not ghee, but wine.
Tie to a vine of grapes, not a waterpot, but a wine-goblet.
And when, my darling, you must call guests for the ritual feast,
Do this – call those who will drink and have the tavern opened for them.

If anyone asks my name, say it was, “The Drunkard”.
My work? I drank and passed the goblet to everyone.
O Beloved, if they ask my caste, say only that I was mad.
Say my religion worshipped goblets and then chant with your rosary, “The tavern, the tavern!”

The wine that I wished for, I did not get that wine
The goblet that I asked for, I did not get that goblet
The maiden I was crazy after, I did not get that maiden
The one that I was mad after, I did not find that tavern

I have raised this maiden with immense pride
Who has always lifted the goblet of imagination
Keep this beloved with care and heart
World, I am submitting in your hands my tavern!

Translation from: allpoetry.com

Going Multimodal

This is a reblog of a post I wrote for Inside Teaching in December 2015.

No matter what courses you teach, you have probably found yourself in a situation where you are looking for better ways to express a complicated idea or complex phenomenon. Whether it be the theory of evolution, the inner-workings of a human mind, or how an internal combustion engine works, we have found ourselves in a position where we are thinking, “Hmm…how can I best explain this?” Out of many things we care about—when it comes to our students—one of the most critical challenges is to teach with clarity, without opening new doors for misconceptions, and without increasing their cognitive load.

There are several approaches one can take to solve this problem. You can spend more time discussing a topic, you can assess students on their understanding and address missteps, deconstruct it into simpler problems, or you could find better ways to explain these topics so you can convey the essential ideas with utmost clarity, without losing their inherent complexity. The last of the aforementioned approaches is the one I am interested in discussing more. This is the multimodal approach to texts. Or, simply put, using multimodal texts. In this post, I will explain what multimodal texts are and share an example of how we can integrate them with regular instruction.

Multimodal?

The word multimodal means multiple modes of representation. In other words, using more than one mode of representation to convey the same idea. For example, written text or alphabetic text is one mode of representation. But, it is only one mode. There are obviously more. Some scholars have defined five modes of representation as important to teaching. These are written text, aural, visual, spatial, and gestural (Anstey & Bull, 2010). Each of these modes has its own affordances and constraints. Alphabetic texts are great at sending a message across, but they can also lead to multiple interpretations or ambiguity at times, and lead to further misconceptions. Visuals, which we all knowingly or unknowingly use in our instruction, are better at giving a sense of size, color, space, etc. When looking at a picture, you do not have to start from left to right or top to bottom. You are free to explore the space as you “read” the image. The rules are obviously different. What is even better is that using two or more of these modes of representation together can enrich our understanding of a topic as they can be designed to act as complementary to each other.

Simply Multimodal

Think of yourself trying to explain a complicated topic. For the sake of argument, let us use internal combustion engine as an example. According to Wikipedia, internal combustion engine is “an engine that generates motive power by the burning of gasoline, oil, or other fuel with air inside the engine.” A lot of you are not engineers, let alone mechanical engineers. Just by reading this definition may give you a sense of what it means, but most of that understanding is your prior experience or knowledge on the topic or engines in general. Now, let me add another mode to the mix. Here is an image of an internal combustion engine that I searched online and found at University of Tennessee’s website (Breinig, 2009)


Now, although this image adds more terms to the understanding, it gives us a better sense of what this engine looks like. We see what the definition meant when we look at the figure and find a cylinder or an exhaust valve. We add some meaning to our previous understanding by making links between the definition and the image. To make it even better, I found a GIF, with an easy Google search, from Wikipedia, by Zephyris. It shows how the engine looks when working:

This is a .gif image of a four-stroke engine in motion.Including the GIF adds motion. The image changes in time to give a better sense of how these parts interact with one another. Now, not only we know what the definition and key parts of an internal combustion engine are, we also know how they work. Overall, we can say that each modality has its affordances and constraints. The way we combine these modes together can enhance the overall learning experience, making the sum more than its parts.

Beginning Your Multimodal Journey

No matter how complex or simple-looking the concepts we teach, we need to look beyond the use of traditional alphabetic texts. We need to understand it is natural for students to ask for the look and feel of concepts, even especially when we are dealing with the more abstract. Students can use multimodal texts to get an overall understanding of the topic and create a picture of how things work in their heads. By limiting ourselves to alphabetic texts, we make it harder for students to fathom some of the topics we may take for granted. If you are interested in integrating multimodal texts in your classrooms, I recommend searching for copyright free content that is easily available online. For instance, for images, you can start with Creative Commons search, and for sounds, I recommend Incompetech. Using these, you also choose to make videos using YouTube’s free video editor. Giphy.com is also a fun resource to create GIFs from existing videos. If you wish to read more about multimodal texts, I recommend starting from Anstey and Bull’s website.

Let us start thinking beyond traditional texts, and find new ways to including multimodal texts in our instruction. As we wrap up this semester and begin to think about designing our curriculum for the next semester, I urge you to consider the following questions:

  • What are some of the most complicated topics to teach next semester?
  • How can I best explain these topics to my students?
  • What modes of representation would allow me to capture the essence of these topics and make them easier to understand without losing their complexity?
  • Out of the five modes of representation shared here, which ones will be the most essential?
  • Finally, can I spare 15 minutes to play with creating these multimodal texts for my class?

References:

Anstey, M., & Bull, G. (2010, June 4). Helping teachers to explore multimodal texts. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.curriculum.edu.au/leader/helping_teachers_to_explore_multimodal_texts,31522.html?issueID=12141

Breinig, M. (2009). Car engines. Retrieved 10 December 2015, from http://electron6.phys.utk.edu/101/CH8/internal_combustion_engines.htm


Creating a Successful Teacher Professional Development Program

This week we returned with another edition of the MAET Webinar — The Bridge. If you have not had a chance to look at what MAET Bridge is, check out our website here: bridge.educ.msu.edu.

Our aim at MAET Bridge is to bring together great resources that help create free professional development opportunities for teachers.  This week we brought together an amazing panel of guests made of experts in teacher professional development in K12 or university level. In this webinar, we discussed what it takes for them to create a successful teacher professional development program and what role does technology play?

In this video, check out our discussion with Dr. Melissa McDaniels, Amber White, and Ashlie O’Connor.

Ironically, we had our share of the challenge with technology this week. For every webinar, we use Google Hangout-On-Air, which has proved to be the most convenient way for us to live broadcast. After every live session which is broadcast on YouTube, a video is also automatically saved for us to share later. However, we have also had occasional difficulties with Hangouts-On-Air when it comes to consistency. For instance, in past, at separate occasions, it crashed mid-session, it’s toolbox plugins decided not to work, there was a significant delay between audio and video in the final recording on some occasions, and so on.

This week, Google Hangout-On-Air tried a new way to annoy us. Despite showing a live session to us as hosts, its YouTube live stream refused to work. Our technical team (which is two other graduate students like me) worked for an entire hour to solve this problem. Unfortunately, there was nothing we could do, and we had to rely on Google fixing itself and eventually saving a recording of the live session. It worked.

Although all our promotion went in vain and we left our live viewers waiting, we did manage to share the final recordings with them. But, more importantly, we learnt a valuable lesson: despite all the technical prowess and expertise you can bring together, technology can still betray you. Sometimes there is nothing you can do but fail. What is important to understand is that it is OK to fail. Things happen, and things will happen, that will be beyond your control. These things will happen when you are integrating tech in your class in front of your students, or during your PD sessions in front of adult learners. Even after a ton of practice, things can fail on you. Just remind yourself that you embrace the failure and own it. Make sure that your crowd knows what you learn from that failure. In fact, fail again, fail better.

An Introvert’s Guide to Networking

Irrespective of how clichéd this title is, for quite some time now, I have been meaning to write about the role of networking in my life as a “budding” scholar (or for any scholar, if I may), who happens to be an introvert. I have been thinking a lot about what I need to do professionally as a researcher and academic to be taken more seriously. Yes, I know–less puns. But, other than that, perhaps a list of strengths and weaknesses that I need to be focusing on?

The more I think about this, the more I realize the value of networking with other researchers and socializing. I know some people are naturally good at it. Unfortunately, I would categorize that as a weakness for me. I am awkward; although I wear my awkwardness with pride. And I consider myself better at writing than speaking, especially when English is not my first language (and not even second for that matter). This often puts me in even more awkward situations, especially when it comes to communicating with strangers.

So, to deal with this challenge I had identified, like any decent scholar, I started to make a list of possible steps or changes that I need to make to overcome this weakness. Therefore, I started with a suggestion I saw in the following Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy, where she highlighted this idea of “faking it till you become it.” In other words, pretending that you are good at networking, and doing things that someone who is good at networking or socializing would do. Eventually, and arguably, you become this person. Now, I don’t quite accept the validity of this study it. I have my doubts. But, there was nothing for me to lose. So, I tried her suggestions.

I realized that if I wished to pretend to be good at networking, I might need a frame of reference–a list of traits of a person who is good at this. Because if I knew what I needed to do to become better at networking, I might have just gotten better at it by now. I clearly did not know. Therefore, I decided that I will form an imaginary person who has these traits that I desire to have. Then, I will pretend to be that person. It may sound weird at first, but it is not something radical. I recall watching Jason Alexander and Jack Black talking about a similar approach in their acting, on different occasions. They pretend to be an actor who they think would be perfect for the role they are working on, and just do whatever they think that actor would have done. If you get a kick out of Star Trek references, this can be defined as the “What Would Picard Do?” approach.

Long story short, I decided to think of academics and scholars who I have met in person, and made a medley of their qualities that I admire. I then decided to pretend how I think they will handle a situation; which in this case is networking with people.

Now, I would not bore you with details, but here is what I have learned from trying to execute this approach at an international conference:

  1. It helps losing the inhibition. The biggest obstacle when trying to meet new people, especially when these are some established names in their fields, is what would you say? My adviser once told me that there is no point being a groupie running behind big names at conferences. What is important is to follow up later. What he meant was that most of the big names in education are nice people, but they would not remember who they had met. It is better to talk about something short and substantial at first, ideally something interesting that you do, and then follow up with an email later, with better detail. In the email, you can coherently get your thoughts together. Now, all this is assuming that you wish to learn something from this person, or wish to collaborate, and are not just bugging them because of their celebrity. If this is the case, pretending to be someone who can approach such a situation can help you lose that inhibition of approach someone new or relatively famous.
  2. Rehearse and improvise. You can never be ready for any possible situation, but you can always have a few tricks up your sleeve. Getting a handful of self-introductions ready can help. How would you introduce yourself in 5 seconds? In 1 minute? If you had a dinner appointment? And so on. Then being flexible with these guidelines lets you improvise when new things come your way.
  3. Insightful comments (being useful). You don’t have to be an extrovert to be good at your job. You know your research well. If you are in sessions at conferences where you have common interests with the presenter, saying something useful and insightful can always earn you some points. This is clearly no breakthrough here, but we often tend to forget to be nice and to compliment other people’s work. If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it. Unless there is something seriously wrong with the research.
  4. Finally, promoting the brand: you. As corny as it may sound, this is what it boils down to. And this is something I have brought up in conversations with my adviser quite a few times. Modesty is something I value, and it is also something that acts as a weakness, when it comes to sharing what you do. Modest people tend to undersell themselves; and this can be bad when you are in a field when you are the brand. As scholars, when we go into the job market, we are selling our ideas and what we stand for. Our job is to convince other people that we have something substantial to say. The problem is that no one else is going to sell your ideas for you. You need to do it yourself. This is why, we sometimes need to keep modesty on simmer, and find a way to get its flavor as you promote your achievements. The balance is hard. And I think it can be developed with practice. I also think this is a skill people often lose easily. For instance, writing this post in itself is a struggle. How can I say what I genuinely mean to say without sounding precocious? Well, using the word precocious does not help.

In sum, networking and promoting oneself is hard in itself. It becomes even harder when it does not come naturally to you. If you are already good at networking and think it comes naturally to you, help those who struggle. If you are an introvert like me, and struggle with it, I hope these thoughts help you, even if slightly.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

My colleague and friend at MSU EPET Chris Seals and I recently got an opportunity to share our work as a part of the MSU Urban STEM Leadership fellowship program with other amazing people here at Michigan State. This presentation was at the LOCUS conference hosted by some of the coolest people at Digital Humanities. If you have not had an opportunity to look at their work, do check out their website.

In our presentation, Chris and I gave a quick overview of the MSU Urban STEM program and what it means to us and our fellows. You can watch the entire presentation on YouTube, thanks to the folks at DH.


PS. Our friend Sarah Gretter also presented her work on Media and Information Literacy. Check it out here, along with all the other presentations.

“Everything is a Remix”: Open Educational Resources

On Friday, November 20, 2015, I had an opportunity to host another webinar for the Master of Art in Educational Technology program at Michigan State University. This was the episode 20 of the #MAETBridge webinar series, which I have had the honor and pleasure of being a part of from the very first episode, which was led by Dr. Michelle Schira Hagerman.

In this episode, I got to host – in my own quirky (and desparate-haircut-needing) ways – three experts on the topic of using available open resources in classrooms. We discussed open educational resources from the perspective of research, practice, and student experience and outcome.

Long story short, check out the discussion in the video below. You can also watch our previous webinars hosted by Spencer Greenhalgh and Sarah Keenan, Michelle, or myself at bridge.educ.msu.edu.

Sentiment Analysis and Word Cloud

I have finally managed to motivate myself to learn and use R to conduct some text analysis and mine Twitter data. Thanks to my friends in the MSU EPET program (Josh Rosenberg, Jon Good, Spencer Greenhalgh, Alex Lishinski, and Dr. Chin-Hsi Lin). If you don’t know about R, it is a free software that you can use to do all sorts of qualitative and quantitative analysis. Check it out.

At present, I am working on analyzing tweets around the Miss Representation project, that use the following hashtags: #askhermore, #mediawelike, and #notbuyingit. Learn more about the Miss Representation project here. I will post more on that soon.

Meanwhile, I am playing with wordclouds and sentiment analysis, and tried my hand at it using 5000 tweets that included the word Modi in them. Narendra Modi is the current Prime Minister of India, who is under some grilling lately for different reasons. I am not going into the political discussion here, so, I am just sharing the word clouds that I made using R.

I found a 3:2 ratio between negative and positive sentiments around Narendra Modi as a topic on Twitter. If you make a word cloud of these sentiments separately, this is how their word cloud look.

wordcloud-modi-n1
Tweets on Modi with Negative Sentiment
wordcloud-modi-p1
Tweets on Modi with Positive Sentiment

It is interesting to look at these word clouds and notice what kind of words people are using when they share a certain set of emotions on Twitter. There is talk of enthusiasm, achievements, cooperation, etc. when people talk about Modi in positive sentiment. However, when talking about him in negative sentiment, people tend to use words like credibility, ashamed, losing, rejection, intolerance, etc.

If you are following the news from India, you can get a sense of these emotions,

I will keep playing with R, and post more cool stuff like this.

FLA: A Star is Born, literally

Like many stars, the source of the Sun’s light is the nuclear fusion reaction that occurs in its core. Hydrogen nuclei react with other Hydrogen nuclei to generate Helium—in process, releasing enormous radiation in form of heat and light. The temperature in the core of the Sun is, therefore, near 15 million Kelvin (27 million F). It takes about a hundred thousand years for this radiation to reach the surface of the sun, from where it reaches the Earth in 8 minutes, providing heat and light to the planet.

Hydrogen nuclei fuse to form Helium and liberate energy. Source: WJEC.co.uk

The process of nuclear fusion is what forces otherwise inactive elements to react with each other to form heavier elements. Nuclear collision and high pressure makes these reactions possible, thus creating heavier elements like Iron, Gold, etc. Iron is the most stable element. Past Iron, energy is now required to create further higher elements. This is possible only through supernova explosions. Given this, we can consider stars as chemical factories, liberating energy and light as a by-product of the chemical reactions. The process of fusion of atomic nuclei is known as nucleosynthesis.

Higher, heavier elements are formed. Source: LA Radioactive.com
Stars are chemical factories

The process of star formation is a quite inefficient process of combining gas clouds that could be the remnants of a dead star (e.g.: induced star formation). These gases collide and combine to trigger nuclear fusion thus forming stars. In the process, about 99.9% of the gas clouds are consumed, leaving the remainder for rocky or gaseous planets to form.

Depending on the mass of a star, its glorious life can end in two different stages. If the mass of a star is less than 1.4 times that of the Sun, which is also known as the Chandrasekhar limit, it collapses into a dense carbon-rich white dwarf. However, if the mass of a star is more than 1.4 times the Sun, it could either end up as a neutron star or a black hole depending on how massive it is. Further, for stars with high mass between 1.5 to 3 times the mass of the Sun, the main sequence stage is followed by a supergiant, leading to a supernova, and thus ending up as a dense neutron star. This neutron star is made up of dense neutron material, which is like a large atomic nucleus with an atomic number close to 1054. This star is the size of a small city, of about 10-20 km in diameter, with the density of trillions of grams per cubic meter.

Life and Death of a Star

If the mass of a star is more than three to five times that of the Sun, it is more likely to collapse into itself due to gravity and end up as a black hole. This end result is so dense that it compresses to a stage even smaller than an atom, known as singularity – the center of a black hole. The gravity of singularity is so strong that even light cannot escape from its field. This entrapment of light gives a sense of utter darkness surrounding it, the edge of which is known as the event horizon.