Monday, August 31, 2015

And You May Contribute a Verse…

While answering the question ‘what is good among the struggles, failures, and emptiness of life?’, the famous American poet Walt Whitman, in his poem ‘O Me! O Life!’ says, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here, he refers to life as a powerful play, the sequence and progression of which is beyond any individual’s control. However, at the same time, the poet gives immense power in the hands of each individual by noting that each person “may contribute a verse” in this powerful play. In other words, a person can use their voice to contribute to and shape the ongoing conversations in their life.

The ability to contribute to the ongoing raises a basic question: How does one do it? There need to be some channel or medium through which an individual can put forth their opinions and viewpoints. The Scholarship in any field is limited to the researchers or the ones who have made their mark in the field. The print media is similarly not accessible to the common masses to express their viewpoints. And both the Scholarship and the print media, at times, are guided by the dominant narrative and have ulterior agenda and motifs. In such a case, it becomes difficult for anyone to present an opinion especially if it does not go along with the dominant narrative.

Social media which includes, but is not limited to, blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, provide a means for people to share their beliefs with the world and eventually engage in a conversation with others on topics which they are interested in. Once can use one or more social media platforms to post their viewpoints on a topic and similarly be aware of others’ viewpoints on the same topic by following others on the social media platforms. Moreover, through social media, one can connect with people with similar interests and passions and eventually form a tribe which has the power to bring about changes which an individual alone cannot.

Social media not only provides a platform to express oneself and communicate with others but also serves as a platform for academic collaboration, teaching and learning, and engaging in a social dialogue. There are multiple blogs (some of which are referenced here) which are dedicated to history, medicine, and business among other disciplines. These blogs can serve as resources for students and faculty alike. Blogs can also be used as an outlet for students’ works as is being done in the ‘Contemporary Pedagogy’ and ‘Preparing the Future Professoriate’ classes done at Virginia Tech. Some blogs allow multiple authorship and thus those provide avenues for collaboration in academia and in the process of learning.

Blogs and other social media platforms foster interaction among learners. This interaction helps people construct knowledge from a constructivist viewpoint. Unlike the traditional teacher-centric model of education, social media provides a model of learning which is centered on the learner in that the learner engages with the rest of the world using social media and learns in collaboration with others. Collaborating with others to learn also helps the learners to integrate multiple viewpoints in their learning unlike the traditional model where the learner is exposed to only the teacher’s and/or their classmates’ viewpoints.

In a nutshell, while Whitman suggests that the good thing about life and the world is that one has the ability to change them through their efforts, social media provides one with the opportunity to channelize those efforts so that they bear fruits.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mission Statements of Universitites

As the name suggests, mission statements represent the purpose of educational institutions. These are the milestones which universities aim to achieve and hence serve as a guide to institutional practices. A lot of times, mission statements are aspirational in nature i.e. they suggest what the intuitions aim to achieve in future and are working toward it. While there exist similarities in mission statements of different universities, there are also considerable differences in their mission statements. These differences differentiate one educational institution from the others. In this blogpost, I will compare and contrast the mission statements of two universities, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (IIT Roorkee) and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), from which I hold engineering degrees. I did my undergraduate from IIT Roorkee and my Masters from Virginia Tech, both in Electrical Engineering.

The home page of the official website of IIT Roorkee states that the institute’s mission is
“To create an environment that shall foster the growth of intellectually capable, innovative and entrepreneurial professionals, who shall contribute to the growth of Science and Technology in partnership with industry and develop and harness it for the welfare of the nation and mankind.”
IIT Roorkee is primarily an engineering university in India, owned and run by the central (or federal) government of India. It is a small university with a total student population of less than 10000, including undergraduate and graduate students. Since IIT Roorkee is primarily focused on engineering, its mission is to “contribute to the growth of Science and Technology.”

The mission statement of Virginia Tech states:
“Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life.”
Virginia Tech, located in Blacksburg, Virginia, has a student body of around 30000, which means it is almost thrice as large as IIT Roorkee in terms of student enrollment. Although the name of the university has the word “polytechnic” in it, students can study diverse disciplines at Virginia Tech including liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, music, and theatre. This is probably the reason why the mission statement does not explicitly mention words like technology or engineering. Rather it states that the university focuses on “teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement.” One notable information provided in Virginia Tech’s mission statement is a public land-grant university. There is no information provided about the type of university IIT Roorkee is in its mission statement.

One thing which stood out to me while reading Virginia Tech’s mission statement was its goal to foster “economic competitiveness.” IIT Roorkee’s mission statement does not mention of any kind of competition. I think the reason for this is the nature of social systems present in both the countries. While India is a welfare state where the government has the responsibility to ensure the welfare of all its citizens, the USA thrives on a capitalist system where money and profit guide organizations with little government control in the lives of the people.

Despite having notable differences, the mission statements of both the universities have some similarities as well. Both the universities aim to contribute to the welfare of their respective nations and the mankind in general. Both the mission statements mention individual’s growth as one of their aims. And finally, both the mission statements promise generic qualities such as growth of intellectually smart individuals, research and discovery, entrepreneurial mindset, engagement, welfare of the nation and the humankind. This is in accordance with some of the skeptics who suggest that mission statements use vague language and present generic outcomes.