A number of discussants have made the suggestion of small groups,
tutorials, peer presentations, and so on, and this is an excellent
suggestion. But we need know—and be able to explain—exactly why it is
excellent, in what this excellence consists of, and what the limitations of
the excellence are, because we often do find that in situations like the
one which Helena is describing (situations like the ones where I have spent
the last three and a half decades teaching), when we try to introduce small
groups, tutorials, and peer presentations that we’ve only multiplied the
problems that we started with and sometimes even exacerbated them. For if
the professor has only a minimal grasp of English, and if the students find
it almost impossible to have a conversation about the topic even when the
professor is prompting them, we have to ask what the effect of removing or
sidelining or backgrounding the professor will be. Many students feel—and
the evidence is that they are not entirely wrong—that the effect is to
remove or to background the only source of English and the main source of
The argument has to be taken seriously, for at least three reasons. First
of all, as I said, there’s a lot of evidence that shows that although the
professor undoubtedly feels a great deal of relief that his or her poor
grasp of English is no longer the centre of the student’s critical
attention, all that’s really been accomplished is to move the centre of
attention to a student who in some cases bears it even less well than the
professor did. Often the results of small groups are not noticeably better
than the results of teacher fronted classes, except in “skills based”
classes which offer practice to learners, e.g. conversation classes, and in
the case of conceptual knowledge based classes the results are sometimes
dramatically worse. In fact, Hywel Coleman’s large scale studies in Nigeria
showed that there really wasn’t any particular advantage for small classes
over large classes, given highly motivated students (and the autodidacts
amongst us can easily see why this might be).
Secondly, even if there were no objective evidence on the side of large
classes and against groupwork, there is an important subjective argument.
Many learners, right or wrong, feel they learn better from a professor than
from their peers, just as we sometimes feel that we learn better from our
peers than from ourselves (or our children). This subjective argument is
particularly important because I think one reason why groupwork and peer
seminar have such clout with us is that, unlike Professor Silverstein, we
are more interested in empowering our learners than merely informing them,
yet again, of the ways they are disempowered. The argument that groupwork
and peer seminars are right because they empower learners appears to be
unanswerable—but suppose the learners use this power to call for the return
of large professor led classes? The argument is, once again, unanswerable,
and I think it shows the dangers of confusing issues that are pedagogical
(and therefore social, political) with issues that are ethical (and
therefore interpersonal, moral). The personal is NOT political; they are
two very different, if linked, levels of being.
But thirdly I think the argument in favor of large classes deserves to be
taken seriously because it will help us get beneath the surface and find
out what it is about small classes that is pedagogically more effective. It
is certainly not the case that all small classes are pedagogically
effective nor is it the case that large classes never are. Is it SIMPLY an
aesthetic-political preference, that small is beautiful? Is it once again
something we all favor for the convenience of the instructor rather than
for the comfort of the student? Or is there something about the shape of
actual discourse that we should be attending to, not least because it might
be transferable to larger classes? Does this mysterious factor, having to
do with the shape of actual discourse, apply equally to so-called “content”
subjects, where the emphasis is on what Vygotsky calls “science concepts”
and to everyday conversation classes?
(But...I am well over Helena's one screen limit, and I feel the cold clammy
hand of her hook on my throat....)
On Mon, Jan 4, 2016 at 10:14 AM, Helena Worthen <email@example.com>
Hmm, this will take me some research to check out. Thank you, Michael -
However, I was given a Cross-Cultural leadership class to teach (in
English) that drew from a syllabus placed online by an MIT professor. I
said yes just to see what it would be like. It was a skimpy syllabus that
relied heavily on the kind of student who would show up in a MIT class
(multi-national and academically skilled) and the readings were mostly from
Amazon; you got a button to click and buy. I was told that the instructor's
lecture notes were all on line but what was actually on line was something
he probably wrote in an hour.
I had to re-write the class, of course.
Vietnam blog: helenaworthen.wordpress.com
On Jan 3, 2016, at 9:26 PM, Glassman, Michael wrote:
There is a possibility that your university is attempting to follow the
Open Educational Resource model that is being promoted by UNESCO (that is
just a guess). Are they using OpenCourseware, which started at MIT, where
major universities post their curriculum and some related resources in
their native language (mostly at this point in English?) A number of
universities similar to yours are attempting to follow this model. However
UNESCO itself recognizes the problem that you describe. There is a second
part to the OER movement which involves Learning Objects. These are
locally developed, much smaller approaches to teaching - even taking parts
of OpenCourseware and experimenting with them in local classrooms and then
posting them to share and in the best possible worlds discuss with other
universities in Learning Object Repositories. African Virtual University
is a good model for this. You can make one an argument that the university
can achieve the type of recognition is requires by developing a Learning
Objects Repository for Southeast Asia.
Behalf Of Helena Worthen
Sent: Saturday, January 02, 2016 11:39 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Request for advice
Thank you, Elinami.
Vietnam blog: helenaworthen.wordpress.com
On Jan 3, 2016, at 11:32 AM, Elinami Swai wrote:
Your dilemma resonates with what we are experiencing in Tanzania. As a
post colonial country, we have been grappling with the issue of
language of instruction for a very long time. Our education system has
been jogging between Kiswahili and English and for a long time we had
settled on Kiswahili for all the subjects in elementary level (primary
1-7) and English for secondary to university level.
Talk of silences in classrooms. Here and there you could hear a sound
of broken English from the teachers. The end product of such a process
does not need to be described here.
Of recent, the new policy has granted the use of both languages
(Kiswahili and English).
In your case, think of code-switching and code-mixing. Another
strategy is team teaching (check Stanford University).
On 03/01/2016, Annalisa Aguilar <email@example.com> wrote:
Is it possible to ignite their imaginations around the concept of a
Or dare I say, peer-learning / study groups?
Vera devised the peer-exam, which is really cool, how about that?
I don't think peer-exam technically qualifies as an "Ivy-League method"
(though it certainly is innovative), but it's peer-led learning, and
that may be useful for overcoming the obstacles you and your teachers
So those are my (naive) pieces of broccoli and spinach for your
Vietnamese noodle soup.
Dr. Elinami Swai
Coordinator, Postgraduate Studies
Faculty of Education
Open University of Tanzania
Cell: (255) 076-722-8353; (255) 068-722-8353
...this faith will still deliver
If you live it first to last
Not everything which blooms must
Not all that was is past