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Logical, Local, Ethical, Global

Shyam Sharma

As nativism and jingoism, racism and xenophobia are raising their ugly heads around the world, is it enough for educators to focus on the local and logical? How can we extend local understanding of issues to cross-contextual perspectives and complement logical thinking with ethical approach to learning an teaching? Below I link a post that I wrote for a blog run by writing teachers at my university (in Stony Brook, New York).  

The first semester of my teaching in the United States, about a decade ago in Kentucky, one student wrote an essay arguing, essentially, that the United Nations is an inefficient organization run by corrupt foreigners. After supporting this claim by citing various dubious sources, including articles from conspiracy theory websites, he proposed that the US take over and unilaterally run that place instead. I found the paper so shocking that I wondered if the writer had a psychological problem, so I went to the director of the program for advice! It turned out that among people embracing a certain political ideology in this country, the student’s argument could be just a logical solution to a genuine problem. I learned a good lesson.

Read full post here… 

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Making space for critical pedagogy: Challenges and opportunities

by Joanna Joseph Jeyaraj, Malaysia

When I was first asked to contribute to this blog all I could think of was how I did not have a story of inspiration. Instead, my story is one of struggle and despair. However, as I think about all the challenges I am facing as a new academic, I am beginning to see that amidst these struggles, lies immense opportunity – and that I should be transforming these challenges into productive pathways.

I teach in a university in Malaysia and started about six months ago, eager and excited to begin my career in academia. Before coming here, I lived in New Zealand, where I pursued my doctoral studies in higher education. My research focused on English language teachers in higher education who used critical pedagogy in their teaching. As you may know, critical pedagogy is generally attributed to the ideas of Paulo Freire and has a strong agenda for social change and justice through the development of active and engaged citizens (Freire, 2005; McArthur, 2010; Crookes, 2013). Thus, having read the scholarship in this area, I came to strongly believe that education should bring forth societal reform and that my role as a teacher is to nurture intellectual development as well as social activism among students. My research explored the experiences of critical pedagogues from different parts of the world who sought to transform society through language education. After listening to numerous stories of how these teachers strove to make a difference in students’ lives and the communities that students lived in, I was inspired and motivated to do the same in my own teaching.

Instead, my eagerness and perhaps naiveté was quickly replaced with frustration because I felt restricted in the higher education environment that I had entered. Viewed from the perspectives of critical pedagogy, many things in the new system seemed to make education less meaningful and purposeful. The first big challenge was teaching a course that was so focussed on assessments; it seemed to take out the joy of the whole learning process for students. Students were piled with assignments and exams, and teachers were mostly required to prepare  students for these various assessments. After a few weeks wallowing in self-pity, I decided to contemplate and reflect on what I could learn from teaching in this environment. I believed that I could turn my struggles into a learning experience for students, and find answers and solutions to their problems. So, here are just a few of my thoughts and observations that teachers in similar situations may find useful:

1.     To “do” critical pedagogy, you have to struggle. Freire struggled. In the process, he was accused of being subversive and subsequently jailed and exiled. Although my struggles are not as extreme as Freire’s, still critical pedagogy is all about facing resistance. Sometimes, it comes in the form of facing opposition from the institution that one is in, or even from other colleagues or students. The path is not an easy one, and if I want to take the critical pedagogy route, I should be prepared to persevere and keep on fighting to create a legitimate space for critical pedagogy.

2.    In many educational systems around the world, creativity and autonomy are destroyed in the name of ‘consistency’ and ‘standardisation’. To ensure teachers mark fairly and consistently, certain standardized processes are put in place. For instance, although I had worked with my students over 9 weeks on their research topics, their reports as a rule are marked by a different teacher. This allowed no flexibility and I found myself wanting to stick strictly to the prescribed syllabus as it is expected of all teachers. There were times when I felt stifled and constrained, because having to focus almost exclusively on preparing students for their assignments and exams often clashed with my pedagogical values as a teacher.

However, there came a point of realisation that helped me feel less powerless against a system that limited my students’ and my own creativity. I remembered the  words of a TESOL teacher educator whom I had interviewed for my research project on critical pedagogy. Although our interview took place some years back when I was still a graduate student, his words could not have rang truer as they do right now. He told me that he constantly reminded his students: ‘… no matter how many constraints there are, you have to find ways to subvert the system … you are trailblazers in this area’. I was keenly aware that the structure of the course I was teaching differed greatly from a typical critical pedagogy class which Shor (1987) mentions is dialogic, creative and invented in-progress. I realised that learning was not student-driven and knowledge was not negotiated and co-constructed between the teacher and the student.  When knowledge is jointly created, students have the right to co-develop and evaluate the syllabus (Shor, 1993). Instead autonomy was restricted because students were assigned research topics and many were given strict instructions on how their research topics should be interpreted.  And yet, I started realising that if I tried, I could find small ways of engaging students in critical discourse, motivating them about the content of the curriculum and helping them master the skills to be successful within the current system.

3.     Oral feedback is just as important as written feedback, and it should be provided by the person who has marked the assignment. One problem I found was justifying another teacher’s marks to my students. Many came to me and asked why they were given a particular grade, and I noticed myself saying ‘Maybe the marker thought…’, or ‘I think the marker did this because…’. There were some rare occasions when I could not understand why students were marked down, especially for things that were not specified in the marking criteria. I understand that in mass-higher education, managers put certain systems in place to maintain standards – but at times, good intentions become an obstacle to learning. Perhaps another alternative would be to have a moderation system – where teachers grade their own students, but another teacher moderates to ensure consistency.

4.     Whatever the intentions may be, technologies like  ‘SafeAssign’ (a text-matching detection tool) and stringent ‘plagiarism’ policies too often frighten and intimidate students. My students are right out of high school – some in their second semester of university while others in their first. Throughout primary and secondary school, students mostly write guided and creative essays. The world of academic writing is something new that they encounter only at university. From conversations with students, I learnt that they were neither taught nor encouraged to paraphrase in high school. Instead, most teachers would tell students to copy or memorise ‘model’ essays and phrases for examination purposes. These conversations brought back memories of when I first started teaching. I encountered students who would blatantly copy chunks of text and not bother paraphrasing or citing sources. I initially became very frustrated and thought students were deliberately being lazy. But after talking to my students, I was told that this is how they had been taught to write. Many students, especially those who studied in Chinese vernacular schools were often asked to copy ‘good’ pieces of writing. To alter the words of another writer was deemed inappropriate – it would not be acceptable to change the words of the original writer who is perceived as being the knowledge source and expert on the subject. However, upon entering university, students are expected to unlearn the way of writing learnt in primary and secondary school. Many students find this challenging, especially because they have not been taught the necessary skills. In university, students are suddenly confronted with the big ‘plagiarism’ word and there is suddenly so much distrust. For the subject I teach, almost everything (except for mid and final exams) is SafeAssigned – questionnaires that students send out to respondents, PowerPoint presentations and even speech outlines. Most students are so petrified that they would be called in for a plagiarism hearing and be penalised and many attempt to change important keywords and generic phrases just to avoid text matching. Oddly enough, one of the reasons why I think there is a high SafeAssign text matching rate is because of the very structure of the course. Research topics are recycled year after year and student intakes are large each semester. While there is no easy solution, perhaps new topics should be introduced or students should be given the freedom to choose their own topics. I believe that giving students the option to choose their own topics will empower and enable them to develop their own ideas and voice.

It is my first time teaching this subject and maybe these struggles are just part of the difficulties that beginner teachers face. For now, I plan to turn my challenges into opportunities. Hopefully, I will continue to find ways to engage and empower students in spite of the challenges. I may not have answers and solutions to all or even most of my challenges, but I will use the perspectives and inspiration of critical pedagogy to keep striving for a more equal playing field for all involved and make teaching and learning more connected, purposeful and relevant to students’ lives.

JoannaAbout the Author

Joanna Joseph Jeyaraj currently works and lives in Sarawak, land of the hornbills. She is interested in researching critical pedagogies in English language teaching and is eager to make connections and collaborate with others who have similar interests.


Crookes, G. (2013). Critical ELT in action : Foundations, promises, praxis   Retrieved from

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum

McArthur, J. (2010). Achieving social justice within and through higher education: The challenge for critical pedagogy. Teaching in Higher Education, 15(5), 493-504.

Shor, I. (1987). A pedagogy for liberation: Dialogues on transforming education Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.

Shor, I. (1993). Education is politics : Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. In P. McLaren & P. Leonard (Eds.), Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. New York: Routledge

F5F for September

by EdContexts Facilitators

Our “#f5f” (“Find 5 Friday”) “picks” for September (thought-provoking or inspiring posts we’ve come across during the month that we ‘like’) ended up with a teaching and pedagogy focus - possibly due to the influence of the ‘Connected Courses’ MOOC (#ccourses), which some of us at EdConteXts are participating in.

Apostolos K. (“AK”) @koutropoulos (instructional designer, educator)
Critical Pedagogy: Intentions and Realities (Online Edition)
In his post, AK uses a ‘Hybrid Ped’ article written by EdConteXts facilitator Maha Bali to reflect on his own teaching practices. Mirroring Maha’s article, AK takes the three intentions of critical pedagogy outlined by Maha and writes about how he sees each of them play out in the online class he teaches. The importance of considering context in teaching comes through: in valuing the diversity (in experience, background, age, culture) of all learners in the class, and by adapting standard assignments to provide an outlet for learners to express their culture and experience in the work they submit.

Helen Blunden @ActivateLearn (learning consultant)
‘Part 1 of a social onboarding – a case study…’
Helen Blunden outlines (part 1 of) a comprehensive case demonstrating how an effective learning needs analysis is undertaken in a corporate environment. It requires gaining a thorough understanding of the learner’s context, needs, and learning / work environment; the (business) purpose for the program, engaging the right people – often through sheer resourcefulness and determination, and identifying how to best use existing tools and technologies to achieve learning and business outcomes. In this context, designing an effective learning experience is all about making it directly relevant and bringing as much of it into the learner’s work context as possible. Continue reading F5F for September

Building a Community: What We Value

Praveen Yadav, Umes Shrestha, and Uttam Gaulee
(facilitators of ELT Choutari, an English Language Teachers’
and bloggers’ network from Nepal)

praveenThe world is getting far more connected, but not all connections are the same. Nor do connections automatically achieve the social, professional, and other purposes that the Internet is often credited for by those who have full and unhindered access to it. So, building a professional community, developing resources for it, and engaging its members from the ground up takes a lot of time, courage, and collaboration by one or more members who can stick to it through ups and downs, excitement and frustration.

umesIn this blog post, we’d like to share the story of how we, a group of English language teachers in Nepal gradually built an online professional development community by the name of ELT Choutari. In a sense, this post is a detailed answer to the question that was asked by a colleague who commented on a story that one of us (Praveen) wrote for EdConteXts in June: what do we value as measures of success of/in our network?

uttamELT Choutari is probably the first English Language Teaching (ELT) blog-zine of its kind in South Asia. It was formed in 2009 by a group of dynamic ELT professionals of Nepal who felt the dire need of scholarly and professional engagement in the virtual world. To involve teachers across the country in professional development through online conversations, the team set up a blog, which was called ‘Nelta Choutari’ until recently. NELTA is the acronym for Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association where members of this informal group belong, and Choutari is a Nepali word meaning the space under/including a tree, the traditional public square where members of the community gather to share ideas and debate issues, tell stories to pass on or generate knowledge, solve problems, and sustain community.We changed the name to ELT Choutari in order to emphasize the group’s independence and informality and to be inclusive of the international scope of our readership—even as we remain grounded in Nepal and continue to share ideas and experiences of teaching/learning in our unique context. Continue reading Building a Community: What We Value

Memes, Contexts, Connected Learning

Shyam Sharma and Maha Bali

Shyam and Maha wrote this post as a reflection on MakeCycle#2 where participants made their own memes as an assignment in #CLMOOC. -Ed

Imagine going to a party where you know everyone, but when the conversation begins, you are lost. You dig out your cell phone to look up the definition of what everyone is talking about, going on to skim through a Wikipedia entry. You also ask one of your friends to explain one of the sample images that you found on the web. But the more you learn about the subject, the more you struggle to understand what everyone is saying.

philosoraptorOne of us felt something like the above when first reading about memes as the focus of the second week of clmooc, a connected learning community/course that we participated in. Having lived in the US longer where he also studied popular culture in graduate school, Shyam knew about memes as an internet phenomenon. But for Maha, the subject was new.

Derived from Greek “mimesis” (imitation), the word “meme” refers to “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture” (according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The Wikipedia entries for “meme” and “internet meme” also highlight that memes act as units “for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices.” Indeed, memes are understood as cultural analogue to “genes” in biology in that they “self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.” Thus, memes can be hard to understand for anyone outside of particular cultures and contexts. Continue reading Memes, Contexts, Connected Learning

Bland Culture

Ana Carolina Calil, Brazil

Author: Ana Carolina Calil

English has come to be a global language. Nobody would deny that. However, what does it mean and what does it take for a language to reach this status? According to David Crystal (1997, 2): “A language achieves a genuinely global status when it develops a special role that is recognized in every country”.

There are around 350 million first-language speakers of English and just as many speakers of English as a second language. English has become the language of business, science, government, international communications and tourism. Speaking English became a synonym of status. In the words of the editor of the Oxford English dictionary: “… any literate educated person is in a very real sense deprived if he does not know English” (Burchfield, 1985).

As a typical middle-class Brazilian kid, I was ten years old the first time I set foot in an English classroom and seventeen when I took my first proficiency exam, and not once was the reason for my studies explained to me. I remember being dragged to class because we HAD TO learn English. It would be important for my future, whatever that meant. So, like many other children of the nineties, I spent part of my week amongst books and cassette tapes which showed a culture I knew nothing of and couldn’t get myself to relate to. When I look back, I can still remember my first textbooks “Touchdown” and “Sam on radio 321”, and how little they reflected my interests and culture. I can still sing most of the “Grammar Chants”, “Jazz Chants” and “Muzzy” songs. Continue reading Bland Culture

Repost: Inequitable Power, Knowledge

While we work to publish blog posts written by members of the community more regularly, we write or repost our own work as facilitators. Re-published below is an essay written by Laura Czerniewicz for the London School of Economics and Political Science blog. The article was published under a Creative Common License, and it is shared here with the author's permission. It is absolutely worth reading, especially for solutions that Laura offers to the problem of inequitable power dynamics of global knowledge production. -Current blog facilitator, Shyam

worldmapShowing “The World of Science”, the map below portrays global research production as expressed through science journals’ publishing in the early 2000s. It makes a dramatic point about the complexities of global inequalities in knowledge production and exchange. What would it take to redraw the knowledge production map to realise a vision of a more equitable and accurate world of knowledge?


Knowledge creation and dissemination are, of course, crucially shaped by the practicalities of money and technology.  It is significant that the average R& D intensity (R&D as a percentage of GDP) for OECD countries was 2.4% in 2009, while few developing countries had reached 1% (Mjwara et al 2013). These percentages of national funds are important differentiators in what is possible; without comparable levels of support researchers in resource-poor environments must spend inordinate amounts of time fundraising and dealing with external grant-giving organisations, are limited in their ability to participate in scholarly community activities, and so are often constrained in the research they can undertake. Infrastructure also shapes what is possible; for example maps of internet cable clearly show how collaboration between those in the global north is enabled by substantial bandwidth while north-south and south-south connections are not. Continue reading Repost: Inequitable Power, Knowledge

Repost: 8 Things about MOOCs—

While we work to share blog posts written by members of the community more regularly, we write or repost our own work as facilitators. Here's a "reprint" of a post just written by Shyam Sharma on his blog, poking fun at mainstream discourse of xMOOCs for continuing to overlook complexities due to variations in MOOC types, learners, contexts, and so on.

= = =  8 Things about MOOCs—= = =
While reading this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I thought about a similar number of things about MOOCs that many people in the media and the mainstream MOOCosphere seem either unable or unwilling to learn:

1. There is no such thing as MOOC, only many types of MOOCs, with many kinds of them making the original acronym sound very funny.

2. If “nearly half of registrants never engage with any of the content,” then it’s time to stop touting the “total number” of people who click on the “sign up” button.

3. If people signing up for multiple courses are most active, but even those lose interest after taking the sixth course, then there is probably something about online and massive courses that has failed to bring about magic solutions to the “crisis” in education. Continue reading Repost: 8 Things about MOOCs—