Thursday, December 25, 2008

Module 2.1: O. Henry's Story

This story, "The Gift of The Magi," is about a couple, Jim and Della. They are quite poor and don't have enough money to buy Christmas gifts for each other. They love each other a lot and would love to gift the other a memorable present. Della only has one dollar and eighty seven cents, which she had saved after saving every pie. She is proud of her luxuriant hair. She sells them off and buys a platinum fob chain for Jim. On the other hand, Jim is proud of a watch that he had got as an heirloom but the leather strap is damaged and he feels ashamed looking at the time in public. However, Della had seen a pair of combs at a very expensive shop and she desires them. Jim sells his watch to buy her the combs. When Jim comes home, he sees that Della has cut her hair. Finally, both of them discover that they had bought each other very precious gifts but that those gifts were of no use as both of them had sold their prized possessions.

[In my next post, I'm going to discuss the story further. I'll focus on the vocabulary and some other elements. I hope you liked reading this wonderful story on the occasion of Christmas.]

Module 2: A Christmas Story

Module 2: A Christmas Story

This is a very famous story and all of you must have heard about it. I'm
referring to "THE GIFT OF THE MAGI" by O. Henry. I am going to quote the
entire story here. You can also read it at

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Title: The Gift of the Magi

Author: O. Henry

Release Date: January, 2005 [EBook #7256]
[This file was last updated on December 20, 2003]

Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII

This etext was created by Susan Ritchie of Cincinatti, Ohio [8631 Darnell Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45236. email: (send mail to Susan care of this email address)]

Note: This title was first posted in December 1992 as a Christmas extra, but never got a PG etext number. To allow for complete cataloging, this text file has been created with etext number 7256.

by O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And
sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two
at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and
the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent
imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied.
Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven
cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the
shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which
instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of
sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding
from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home.
A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar
description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout
for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no
letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal
finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a
card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a
former period of prosperity when its possessor was being
paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20,
though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a
modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham
Young came home and reached his flat above he was called
"Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young,
already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with
the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully
at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard.
Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with
which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny
she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a
week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had
calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for
Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for
something nice for him. Something fine and rare and
sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy
of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room.
Perhaps you have seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin
and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a
rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly
accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had
mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before
the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face
had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled
down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham
Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's
gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's.
The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in
the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair
hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her
Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the
janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement,
Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed,
just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling
and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below
her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then
she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered
for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on
the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown
hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle
still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the
stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair
Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected
herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly
looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's
have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a
practised hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings.
Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores
for Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim
and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the
stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a
platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly
proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by
meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It
was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew
that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and
value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars
they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87
cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly
anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch
was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the
old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a
little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons
and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages
made by generosity added to love. Which is always a
tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny,
close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a
truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror
long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before
he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney
Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I
do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was
on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her
hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that
he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair
away down on the first flight, and she turned white for
just a moment. She had a habit of saying a little silent
prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she
whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He
looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only
twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a
new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter
at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and
there was an expression in them that she could not read, and
it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor
disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she
had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with
that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way.
I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived
through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow
out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My
hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and
let's be happy. You don't know what a nice--what a
beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as
if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the
hardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like
me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air
almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I
tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be
good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head
were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness,
"but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put
the chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He
enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with
discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other
direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is
the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the
wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was
not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated
later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw
it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I
don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a
shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less.
But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me
going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper.
And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick
feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating
the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the
lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and
back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window.
Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled
rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair.
They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had
simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope
of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that
should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was
able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair
grows so fast, Jim!"

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and
cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it
out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious
metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and
ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find
it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day
now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and
put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away
and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at
present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your
combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise
men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They
invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise,
their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the
privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I
have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two
foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for
each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a
last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of
all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give
and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they
are wisest. They are the magi.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

E-learning Options and Tools

I am trying to see how to implement podcasting as a feature in blogger accounts. I don't think the feature exists. I would need to find out if it does and how to work it out. For beginners, podcasting means broadcasting of podcasts or audio/video files over the internet. Podcasting has been there for quite a while and it still has a pretty good future. However, merely transforming blog posts into podcasts is not a very intelligent idea at all. On the other hand, if e-learning modules on blog posts are supplemented by podcasts, it could enhance the reach of e-learning modules in a major way. If this cannot be done at blogger, I would keep my blogs here but post a remote link to the audio files that I record on my PC and host those audio files elsewhere. I love blogger services a lot. Blogger has a blog which gives updates about new features. I'll look it up and see what's up there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Module 1.2: Building Vocabulary

We are now going to look at Vir Sanghvi's article on Ratan Tata and pick out words that might seem difficult. The link is here:

So, here we go--

1. Admired: Past tense of 'admire'. 'Admire' means to like someone. Admire is a verb. It can be used as a synonym of 'like' but sometimes admiration can be more than mere liking.

(i) I admire you; (ii) Barack Obama is admired the world over

2. Unveiling: To remove the veil or to uncover something, or to unravel something, to bring something to light. Veil is to hide beneath or behind a veil. Veil is also known as purdah. 'Un' is a prefix. A prefix is something that is added in front of a word.

3. Satrap: Small king, small chieftain. I don't this word is Indian English. It was, however, used heavily to describe the rule of various kingdoms in Indian history.

4. Springing up out of nowhere: 'Spring up' is a phrasal verb. A phrasal verb may be made by joining a preposition and a verb in a compound word. Here, 'springing up' means mushrooming, taking birth. Using phrasal verbs makes your language look versatile, enjoyable and rich. It is a good tool to impress people in a short period of time.

5. Crises: This is the plural of 'crisis'. I have seen that many people flounder here.

6. Diminish: Diminish means to reduce. Diminish is a verb.

(i) In economics, the theory of diminishing returns is quite popular.

7. Derided: Criticized, condemned.

8. Scuttled: To spoil something, to stop something from happening.

9. Feted: To fete means to compliment.

10. Lick politicians' boots: The actual phrase is 'lick boots' or 'to lick boots'. Here, the boots are not physically licked. To lick boots means sycophancy of the last degree.

Module 1.1: Sanghvi's Article Continued

In the article, Sanghvi continues further. In the next paragraph, he says, "It was a time of change. New groups were springing up out of nowhere". He continues further in the fourth paragraph of the article:

At Tata headquarters, however, the crises mounted: record losses at Tata Motors, the much-derided plan to launch the Indica, criminal charges over Tata Tea’s alleged links with Assam militants, allegations of foolishness in the sale of Tata Oil Mills’ assets, a plan to launch a domestic airline with Singapore Airlines that was comprehensively scuttled and more. And many of us wondered if we were watching India’s greatest industrial group diminish before our very eyes.

The way he builds up the tempo, to use a term from chess, in the beginning of the article, in the first four paragraphs, makes it very clear that he is trying to show that when Ratan Tata came on to the scene, the Tata group seemed to be in doldrums and that Ratan Tata was the person who not only rescued it, but also transformed it into a giant. I do not disagree with Sanghvi but I'm trying to dissect his writing strategies. If you use similar writing strategies, you can also achieve similar effects.

This is one strategy of building up the tempo slowly as you go ahead in your article. It is an interesting writing strategy because it keeps the reader hooked on to the article till the end. So, I have had situations in my classes, where my students have disagreed with the contents of a couple of Vir Sanghvi articles but they have never faulted him for his writing style. I am sure this is something that beginners can inculcate.

In my next post, which would be a kind of follow-up and final post on this article, I would refer to various tough to understand and less commonly used words in the article and focus on their usage.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Module 1: Vir Sanghvi's Article on Ratan Tata

For those of you who haven't heard the names of Vir Sanghvi and Ratan Tata, they might seem like foreign names to you. Vir Sanghvi has been India's most prominent journalist and Ratan Tata has been a great capitalist. You will find below extracts from an article (a profile) that Vir Sanghvi wrote on Ratan Tata. This was published in a leading national English newspaper called Hindustan Times and this article was published on January 12, 2008, in both the print edition as well the web edition of the newspaper. This text is fully under the public domain.

The online link to the article is here:

This is an excellent article in terms of its language and the use of rhetorical devices. Look at the title and the first two paragraphs. See the way the article starts:

Ratan Tata: Then And Now

Nobody disputes that, during his lifetime, JRD Tata was the most respected — and probably the most admired — businessman in India. On Thursday, as I watched the TV coverage of Ratan Tata unveiling the Tata Nano in New Delhi, I was struck by a sudden thought: Ratan has finally inherited JRD’s title. He is clearly the most respected and admired businessman in India today.

And then, I thought back to that phase, 10 years ago, when the Tatas struggled to reinvent themselves in the post-JRD era. I thought of how Ratan was perceived then: awkward, untalented, unworthy of the job, out of his depth and full of vindictive anger against many of the satraps of the JRD regime.

The title itself reveals the positive and the eulogistic nature of the article. This article was written in the context of the unveiling of the Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car, in New Delhi. In the third sentence of the first paragraph, Sanghvi states that Ratan Tata is India's most admired businessman. In the second paragraph, he charts Tata's growth. Sanghvi also uses an informal style of language. Please note that he calls Ratan Tata as 'Ratan' and not as Tata, which is the formal mode of address in English. To bring out the great achievement of Tata, Sanghvi juxtaposes the adjectives 'awkward', 'untalented' and 'unworthy' with the phrase 'the most admired businessman'. This is a strategy that successful writers would use to emphasize the impact of something.

I would continue discussing this article in my next post. Hope you enjoyed reading the article and hope you liked this e-learning module.

Series on E-learning

Keeping in mind my commitment to e-learning as also the fact that I would like to spread education and knowledge in myriad ways, I have thought of a new series of posts that I am going to run on my blog. I hope all of you shall like it. These posts are going to be instructional in nature and I plan to take full or partial articles from various sources, keeping in mind the copyrights, and analyze them for their language, the rhetorical devises used, usage of different styles of English and the way in which these articles are able to demonstrate language with a flourish.

Various Modes of Education: Some Thoughts

There are various modes of education which are prevalent in a system, such as formal education, distance education, e-learning and homeschooling. Homeschooling could also include distance education and e-learning. The university where I work has yet another system, which is akin to the non-collegiate setting in many universities. They have some called a private student, which is a facility extended to girl students. So, these girls are not requited to take admission through the entrance test or face interviews during the time of admission, however, they are allowed to pay the examination fees when the forms are accepted for examinations and they are allowed to take the final examinations. Private students are allowed in all courses except professional courses, such as Bachelors in Education [B.Ed.], Masters in Business Administration [M.B.A.] etc. They get the same mark sheets and the certificates which are issued to other regular students. The only difference is that their certificate has 'private student' written somewhere, which doesn't make any difference in their seeking further education from the regular stream in any part of the country or in their seeking employment. This system is akin to homeschooling at the college/university level but it isn't known by that nomenclature.

E-learning made its mark in recent times after the advent of the information superhighway and the technological revolution. Access to internet and email made it easier for people staying in remote locations to seek higher education or get trained by studying specific modules. It is a cost-effective option as well for people who cannot get visas or cannot afford to study in certain 'first world' universities in the West.

I would like to discuss more about these issues later as well. I think these are very important issues and one should ruminate on them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pros and Cons of Homeschooling

I was participating in an online network, where a professional colleague posted a question about the pros and the cons of homeschooling. There were a number of answers, some of which decried the concept, while some praised it.

My reply was somewhat different-->

I have never been home schooled myself. I went to a school and I went to regular college and university. I did not even take distance courses. However, I would like to give a couple of examples.

The first time, I ever knew of anyone who was home schooled was when I wen to the home of a major Gujarati poet. [Gujarati is one of the many Indian languages.] This person had two sons and he had not sent them to a formal school and both his sons were quite intelligent and were very well-versed in music and the fine arts. When I spoke about this person to another senior person, he kind-of brushed it off saying it was crazy. This was eleven years ago and in India, where we tend to be conservative, this was quite revolutionary and I believe, successful.

The second example isn't exactly a home schooling one but we had a student who studied in a school, which was known to have a number of issues, including horrible teaching standards and rowdy students. The University where I teach has a unique system, it has a nursery school and then it has a school that teaches students till the secondary level and then they get into the college. So, in the last thirteen years of my teaching there, I have never seen any student who passed out from the school on the campus and was academically brilliant. This girl was academically brilliant. I even asked her and she told me that it was because her mother spent a lot of time on her.

So, even if people say the formal system has benefits, it is clear that children need support at home more than anything else. I don't exactly support the socialization theory because the kid can always learn that from parents and the neighborhood.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

English for Academic Purposes: Full Time Position in Japan

[Note: I wasn't contacted directly by the employer. I have placed the job ad here for the benefit of the larger audience and this was posted at a mailing list of which I am a member. I am not responsible for any fraud, however, I have reason to believe that the job post is genuine because it comes from a very reputed organization's mailing list.]

The deadline for applications is January 5, 2009

English for Academic Purposes: Full-time Position

The English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Program at AIU is searching for qualified instructors who are prepared to teach courses in the following areas of our Intensive English for Academic Purposes Program (all skills), Composition I (introduction to post-EAP academic writing), Composition II (research writing), and a post-EAP cross-disciplinary academic reading course. We are looking for applicants who can teach a wide range of courses in the EAP Program, but especially value experience in the teaching of reading and writing from beginning level to advanced composition.

Please submit the following: a letter which outlines your philosophy of education as it applies to language teaching (not longer than 500 words), a résumé, copy of all graduate transcripts, copies of two publications (if available), and telephone and e-mail contact information for references. Application documents should be addressed to:

Committee of EAP Faculty Selection
c/o Division of Academic Affairs
Akita International University
193-2 Okutsubakidai, Yuwa-Tsubakigawa, AKITA, 010-1211 JAPAN
TEL: +81-(0)18-886-5938

Please also note the following:

1. The deadline for complete applications is January 5th, 2009.
2. After screening, selected applicants will be invited to interview (including teaching demonstration) at AIU during the second half of January. Traveling expenses will be paid.
3. We are considering applicants for all academic ranks, from lecturer to professor, depending on qualifications.
4. The salary will be commensurate with experience and academic background.
5. The appointment will start on April 1, 2009 with a renewable 3-year contract.
6. Generous benefits are also included as part of the remuneration, including partial housing allowance, health insurance, and a research fund allowance.

NOTES: International Candidates Will Be Considered. Employer will assist with relocation costs

Requirements Minimum requirements include a Master's Degree in Second Language Acquisition, TESL/TEFL, or a closely related field, and university-level language teaching experience. Preference will be given to those with experience at the post-secondary level with Japanese students in Japan, who have a Ph.D. or ABD. We would also value those with experience in language testing.

Employer Information

About Akita International University

Akita International University (AIU) is a Public University Corporation in Japan whose courses are conducted entirely in English.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Job Opportunities at the National University of Singapore

I have long admired the website of the National University of Singapore among university websites the world over. I have often admired their website for it's look and feel as well as it's ease of access for students. I just saw that the Department of English Language and Literature has advertised for teaching positions. You can find it under the link Job Opportunities on the Department home page at

Watch Your Language

I discovered a very interesting resource at the Cornell University website. This is called Cyber Tower and is accessible from It features videos by academics on a number of subjects. The latest lecture, which is a series of videos, was added this month and is called "Watch Your Language: Improving Communication with Non-Native Speakers" and deals with how 'native' speakers of English should relate to 'non-native' speakers of the language. This lecture has been presented by Stephanie Hanson who works at the International Teaching Assistant Development Program at the Cornell University.

I was unable to play the videos even though I have a broadband connection and I even tried to stream the audio through Quicktime as it is offered on the site. So, that was a bit of a dampener but I was able to go to the various sections of the lecture, which has been split into sections such as Speaking Strategies, Vocabulary, Listening Tips, English Difficulties and Culture.

The references are good and following them up, I was able to glean a couple of interesting tips. The first was an article published in The Newsweek and the second was an article published in The Wall Street Journal. The WSJ article was quite interesting because it spoke about a company which trains people in English communications for corporates and they received a strange request where one of their clients wanted to train employees in sarcasm.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Writing a PhD Synopsis/Summary/Proposal

Writing a PhD Synopsis/Summary must count as one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a number of aspiring scholars. One of my former students asked me if I could assist him with ideas so that he could write his PhD synopsis. I thought it would be best to put it on my blog so that a number of people could benefit. This post is not about writing a synopsis geared towards an English literature PhD. It talks in general about how a synopsis might be written. I have collected a number of interesting links on the issue.

The first link is from IIT Bombay, (Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India), where they have this PDF form and the fifth page of the document makes it clear what might be required from a PhD synopsis for their institution. It states that the synopsis should be between 1000 and 4000 words and should be accompanied by relevant tables and figures. It also states that the primary objective of the synopsis is to ensure that the reader could judge if prima facie there exists a case for the researcher to begin work in the selected area.

The second link is from The College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Australia, which states that the synopsis [they call it the proposal] should be between 1000 and 2000 words and should establish the research are, present the central 'research question' and show the methods to be employed while conducting the research. It gives you the structure to be followed while writing the proposal for PhD and it also gives you a link for further reading. This link can be accessed at

The third link is from University of the Punjab in Pakistan, where there is a Word document that gives you details on how to write a PhD synopsis. This is really helpful and quite detailed.

The fourth link is from Arizona University, which is quite sketchy.

The link at the University of Ortago, New Zealand, is quite helpful and detailed.

Here, you can find a live example of a PhD synopsis from the Department of Neurology, Faculty of General Medicine and the link can be accessed at

Semmelweis University in Hungary has a very helpful Word document that lists the formal requirements of a PhD thesis.

I hope you folks found it somewhat helpful. If you need any further information, please do let me know.

Should Learning Professionals Blog?

This is a very interesting question: Should learning professionals blog? I discovered a very important post on the issue. You can read it at The post makes out a case for learned and learning professionals to share their thoughts and ideas through blogging. It raises certain questions whether a professional, if s/he were a true professional, could find enough time to indulge in blogging. Then the poster Stephen Downes goes on to say that if learning professionals were to substitute their offline activities, where they waste a lot of time, with more productive and efficient online activities, they could easily find the extra time required for the purposes of blogging. Moreover, the positive aspect of blogging is that it needn't always be very consistent and very meticulous, even if it is a professional's blog.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Quote About Teaching

Most ideas about teaching are not new,
but not everyone knows the old ideas.
Euclid, c. 300 BC


Dear Folks
This is the site map file for my blog. You can find a collection of all links in my blog till now here. Happy reading.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching was founded in 1905 and chartered by the US Congress in 1906. It is an independent research and policy center whose objective is"to do and perform all things necessary to encourage, uphold, and dignify the profession of the teacher."

Their website can be accessed at

Andrew Carnegie, who founded it, was born on
November 25, 1835 and he died on August 11, 1919. Andrew Carnegie's life was a true "rags to riches" story. Born to a poor Scottish family that immigrated to the United States, Carnegie became a powerful businessman and a leading force in the American steel industry. Carnegie believed that the wealthy had an obligation to give back to society, so he donated much of his fortune to causes like education and peace.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity is central to any pedagogical and teaching enterprise but it is perhaps most widely abused by the teaching staff. I wouldn't like to place the blame only on the teachers because the students too are guilty of academic dishonesty and lack of academic integrity. Without proper academic integrity, not much can be accomplished and most pedagogical endeavors would remain merely of academic interest, without no import whatsoever.

I read a very interesting letter written by William M. Taylor of Oakton Community College from Des Plaines, IL 60016 to his students and I found it quite evocative. I liked his letter for its honest tone. I quote from his letter:

Academic integrity, as with so much in life, involves a system of interconnected rights and responsibilities that reflect our mutual dependence upon one another. The success of our individual efforts in this course, as with so much in life, depends on all of us conscientiously exercising our rights and living up to our responsibilities.

You could read the six page letter at the following link:

The Virtual Classroom Project

I learned about a very fascinating project called the Virtual Classroom Project. It looks like a very interesting concept and we would like to hear more about it and see how it shapes up.

Ideal Strength of a Classroom

What is the ideal strength of a classroom? How many students should a class have? In India, where I teach, at our University, this varies greatly in different courses. We are in New Delhi, the Indian capital, and our university has better facilities than most universities in the country. So, the infrastructure and the facilities that our university possesses in not, in any way, emblematic of the situation in the rest of the country. In most state universities in India, the conditions would be far dismal barring a few state universities which have been established long ago or which used to enjoy the patronage of the erstwhile kings before the Indian independence.

We teach various courses in English. I'm from the English department. The courses range from compulsory English grammar--my colleagues in the US tell me that they do not teach grammar but that they teach composition, rhetoric and writing--to undergraduate minor, undergraduate major in English, postgraduate and M.Phil. in English literature. The Compulsory English course in our university is known as General English. No one has ever bothered about the nomenclature as to why it should be called 'general English' or whether it should be called 'special English', 'English grammar' etc. I guess nomenclature of courses functions by historical convention and there isn't much into it otherwise.

General English is compulsory for all students studying in undergraduate courses in the faculties of Humanities and Languages, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences. The class strength is rather uneven and huge. There are some small groups where the students might number forty to fifty to a classroom but there are certain other groups where the students might number eighty to ninety to a classroom. It is again a reflection on the deteriorating state of education in our times that usually sixty to sixty five students normally attend a class where the total strength might be ninety students. Interestingly, the classrooms which are allocated to the teachers might not themselves have capacity to seat ninety people. There is one standardized syllabus that is taught across various courses as far as General English is concerned.

The classes where English minor is taught at the undergraduate level are a bit different. There the strength of the classroom is around forty students but the students are usually quite demotivated and it is expected that the teacher shall motivate them to read the prescribed texts.

Undergraduate English major classes have about fifty students to a class and they are motivated enough. The course is known as BA (Honours) in English and is a three year course, like all bachelor degree programmes in India. MA classes have around thirty students and M.Phil. classes have around eight to ten students.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chadha Commitee Report

The Chadha Commitee Report which was commissioned by the University Grants Commission, government of India, has submitted its report for the pay revision of university and college teachers in India under the Sixth Pay Commission. But there have been a number of protests regarding the report because it falls short of the expectations of the teaching community. On one hand, the Indian government has formed a National Knowledge Commission and there is talk of remunerating teachers in a manner which will attract the best talent. While on the other hand, when the pay revision report is submitted, it falls grossly short of the teachers should have got.

Isn't it ironical?

Effects of Part Time Faculty on Quality Education

A number of institutions of higher learning now work with part time faculty members. This has to do with a number of reasons. In the US, I believe, some of those reasons are tied to the payroll because part time faculty members are not entitled to the benefits that full time members receive. This is also true of a number of colleges in India, where college managements follow a similar practice, which is at best described as abominable in nature.

Part timers are unwilling and unable to devote more time to the students outside the classroom and it is pretty evident that in courses, where there is a high concentration of part time faculty, such problems are bound to exist. Part timers are usually paid by the hour, which is akin to daily wages in the realm of higher educations. As they are paid only to teach classes, it is certainly unjust to expect them to devote more time to students outside the class. The most important work with the students happens not just inside the classroom but outside as well. The students need their teachers in a formal education set-up for a number of reasons. However, in a situation, where a course curriculum is largely taught only by part time faculty, the course may be termed a regular course but it is no different from the distance education mode.

Interestingly, if an institution keeps part timers only to save on employee costs, the full timers tend to feel insecure and they too tend to devote less time to their students. In that situation, the full timers would only do what is necessary for them to keep their jobs intact and not do anything outside the box. However, it is this outside-the-box work, which is quite often contributory to student success.

In this scenario, it would also be unfair to blame the part timers because the academic administrators normally do not treat the part timers pretty well. They are given bad time slots and are given all sorts of duties that no one else wants to do. There is growing evidence that administrators misbehave with part timers as well. There isn't much that a part timer could do because if s/he were to complain to higher authorities about harassment at work or unfair working conditions, they might lose their jobs immediately or they might not find themselves considered for full time tenured positions.

Use of Part Time Faculty

There is a growing dependence on the use of part-time faculty at many institutions of higher education. This is self-defeating because institutions of higher education are supposed to impart quality teaching and part-time faculty, even if they are highly trained, are unable to devote the kind of time and attention that a full-time faculty could devote to the students. Most importantly, it is the level of engagement that a full-time faculty could demonstrate that is normally lacking in a part-time faculty member.

This situation is further exacerbated if there are inflexible administrators or coordinators of such courses that use part-time faculty. I am a full-time faculty but I do teach extra part-time classes in my University, where we have a senior faculty member who is the administrator of the course. I was sick recently and was on sick leave from my University. I had informed the administrator of the said course as well but he was too inflexible and was rather sarcastic, which could certainly complicate matters. The fact that I was medically sick and suffering from a very sore throat meant I was unable to engage classes. If I had forced myself to take those extra lectures, I would have committed a wrong at two places. One, I was on leave from my place of work and how could I take extra classes at the same time. Secondly, it would have been ethically incorrect to engage classes when I had a very bad throat and I couldn't even speak. But the attitude of the administrator only worsened things.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Short Note

I am sorry for the delay in posting but when you folks check back tomorrow morning, you shall find something really worthwhile here. Be sure to tell your friends about it.

Best wishes.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Idea: Using Social Networks to Further Teaching

I found a very interesting podcast, an audio discussion on how social networking sites could be used to further teaching. This is on a blog called EdTechTalk and the specific post is called Teachers Teaching Teachers #113 - Just-in-time, just-for-me reading - 07.16.08. You can read a summary and listen to the audio file by going to

The audio file is 35:33 minutes long and discusses the use of Shelfari to build an online library. You can also read the complete transcript of the audio file at the same link.

Issue: Teaching in the Academia

Well, I am sure this is going to be quite a contentious issue and my colleagues might just rise in arms against me. But a very important issue is that of how professors fare as teachers. There is no training for professors. In fact, I read a very interesting post on another blog about the same issue.

This blog is by Jennifer Imazeki and she's from the Department of Economics at San Diego University in the United States. Reading her post which specifically focussed on how economics professors fare poorly as teachers, I was overwhelmed by a sense of ennui--wasn't it the same elsewhere? You can read her blog Professors as Teachers. In India, we don't have any training programme for professors. The moment you pass out from graduate school with either an M.Phil. or a Ph.D. degree or you pass out with a Masters and qualify a National Eligibility Test for Lecturers, you can start teaching.

So, the only models that you have are a variety of senior professors who might tell you 'things here and there'. Unfortunately, there are no mentors available in the profession, who might guide you. As a norm, most Indian professors that I have seen seem to be diffident or uncommunicative or unfriendly and certainly scared of student feedback.

Actual Curriculum

Let us look at the model curriculum discussed in the earlier post:

certain compositional skills in English required in various professions and activities in
India, e.g., letter-writing, précis or summary-writing, paragraph composition. This may extend to more specialized skills such as report-writing, copy-editing, copywriting,scriptwriting, translation etc.

It would really be an eye-opener if one collected the various General / Compulsory English curricula that are being taught at various places in India and checked how many of them had 'report-writing', 'copy-editing', 'copywriting', 'scriptwriting' and 'translation'. By and large, these items seem to be missing from the curricula which have been implemented at different places. Right now, we haven't even discussed the ways in which these curricula are being implemented at various places in these institutions of higher education.

Example: UGC Model Curriculum and Deviations

Let us again refer to the University Grants Commission. It is a body under the Ministry of Human Resource and Development, Government of India, and it is a regulatory body. But as India is a huge country with a number of educational institutions of higher learning, they too have a tough task on their hands.

I don't know if you are aware that they have a model curriculum for a number of subjects and areas. The model curriculum landing page can be seen here. The information contained in these pages is simply wonderful and if it is properly implemented, it should prove to be quite beneficial to the students.

I would like to take the English curriculum as a case study because I am an English teacher and most familiar with this terrain. The Draft Recommendations can be found in this PDF document. At the outset, the document lays out the difficulties inherent in the process. I quote:

To formulate a college or university curriculum in English poses a special challenge because at some level or other, virtually all students within the Indian university system study a certain amount of English. This is not the case with any other subject. Planning the curriculum thereby becomes a complex task with broader social implications beyond the academic ones. (page 1)
Now, if formulating a college or a university curriculum in English is a special challenge, then it would be a matter of even greater responsibility on part of the teachers themselves. This document lays out three conditions for the formulation of General / Compulsory English programmes. In the second point, it says that such programmes should ensure:

certain compositional skills in English required in various professions and activities in
India, e.g., letter-writing, précis or summary-writing, paragraph composition. This may extend to more specialized skills such as report-writing, copy-editing, copywriting, scriptwriting, translation etc. (page 1)

The first and the third points are also quite interesting and if you looked at the curriculum that is currently being taught to students in Indian universities, you would surely understand the areas in which they lack. Part of this problem also lies with the UGC because they always state that their recommendations are guidelines, which may be adjusted and modified by the universities / colleges according to their special needs.

There is no monitoring and no accountability in the system and it largely functions on objective principles put forth by the faculty, socio-cultural make-up of the faculty, whims of the faculty and board members. Once a Department formulates a curriculum, it goes through a Board of Studies meeting, where it is normally passed with or without minor modifications. Usually, none of the faculty have any training or formal understanding of curriculum development and following the UGC recommendation blindly is seen in a negative light.

After the Board of Studies, there are bodies such as the Faculty Committee and the Academic Council but usually people from other departments do not argue on the modalities of a curriculum framed by a particular department. This is a good practice but it has its pitfalls. It means that though academics from other departments would not interfere in areas which are not strictly their own, it also means that whatever is proposed by one department goes to the highest bodies unchecked and is adopted virtually without any vetting process.

There is no process where the UGC vets the curriculum framed by any university department or college in the country. Now, it is a good thing for the institutions of higher education to be autonomous but in the absence of any other check, it becomes all the more important for faculty members involved to take it with the utmost seriousness that it deserves. But sadly, this is what doesn't always happen.

Interestingly, there is no body at the university level that could function as a check on the curriculum of a particular department once it is passed / approved. Once a curriculum is approved, then it is taught for a number of years without really making any effort to ascertain its impact on the students. Moreover, there is no system in the Indian situation, where feedback from the students is given any priority. There is no student feedback for the faculty (which is a very contentious and sensitive issue) and there is no provision for feedback from the students for any curriculum in practice. There also exists no system where people from the large civil society institutions and other reputed educationists could be involved in obtaining such feedback.

I hope my post would lead to some soul searching.

Issues Relating to Higher Education

In India, we have a body called the University Grants Commission, or the UGC as it is popularly known, that supposedly 'monitors' what various colleges and universities do in the country. Salaries for public universities and colleges are given by the UGC and the appointments made in these public institutions have to be ratified by the UGC. Any other institution of higher learning which has been recognized by the UGC also should follow their guidelines.

So, if the UGC monitors these various colleges and universities in the country and they also have a 'fake universities alert', then what is it that ails higher education in India? I think this is a pertinent question, which has a number of multifaceted answers, all of which cannot be provided in the course of a single post. The problems are various and in a huge country like India, these issues can become very sensitive. I could be wrong but from my experience in life, I feel that Indian academics tend to take things personally more and they rarely see things in the best interests of the profession.

We need to really ponder over a large number of issues that afflict the profession in India. These are really serious issues and they should be given due consideration, especially when the country is posting excellent economic growth and expects to be one of the great economies of the world. So, what kind of a developed country is India going to become if there isn't a lot of focus on higher education? There are initiatives which are required both at the governmental as well as level of various stakeholders.

It is higher education that would provide the much-needed qualitative human capital, which is sorely needed in India. So, we should not take it lightly.

Experience in Academics: Personal Note

In October 2008, I would complete thirteen years as an academic. I joined in October 1995 as an adjunct faculty and got my tenure in February 2002. But as I was serving as an adjunct faculty from November 2000 without a single day's break in service, my service was counted from 2000 onwards.

In India, there are three types of adjunct faculty, guest faculty, ad-hoc faculty and faculty on leave vacancy. Sometimes, guest faculty and ad-hoc faculty are also used synonymously in Indian conditions. I first served as ad-hoc faculty but my designation was 'Part Time Lecturer in English', where obviously I did 'full-time' work. This lasted from October 1995 to May 1996. Then I served as faculty on leave vacancy, where one was selected through the same Selection Committee that selected faculty on full time tenure but one was offered the adjunct position because no full time positions were available. I served on this position from September 1996 till 2002. Interestingly, though I always had the job but I was without job about three times in these six years for periods which were around ten to fifteen days.

This is normal practice in most Indian institutions that I have known and anyone who has spent some time in the Indian academia would be aware of such realities. In India, in the administrative jargon, it is known as 'a forced break'. You work as a faculty on leave vacancy, when you are kept on an adjunct position because a full time tenured professor is on leave and they need someone to fill up the position. So, suppose, you work against someone's position from August 2008 till September 2009, when the person is supposed to rejoin. But during that period, someone else has proceeded on leave from June 2009 and so the institution can easily absorb the same person against the new position that has fallen vacant or else keep someone who is better, if the present incumbent weren't performing well. But if the present incumbent weren't performing well, s/he could always be thrown out.

Now, when this person's term ends in September 2009 and the teaching session has already begun but the interviews for the new position are scheduled to be held on October 8th, 2009. The new position would be available till December 2010. Meanwhile, the earlier person who was on full time tenure has joined on October 1, 2008. So, this gentleman who was working originally from August 2008 gets an eight day break in service and obviously no salary for that period. But it isn't really the loss of salary that is important. The more important loss for this person is the break in service, including service conditions, leave that is due to him/her and loss of annual increments in salary.

This was a good example of what is known as a 'forced break'. It is a perfect administrative mechanism against which you cannot expect the adjunct faculty to protest because if the faculty protests, the institution can always hold out the stick of replacing him/her with another person.

So, there is a pretty long journey that one traverses from adjunct faculty to full time tenured faculty in India. These are important issues relating to the profession and I have not seen any thought being given to them. If senior tenured faculty gave thought to these practices, they would be able to find more committed adjunct faculty and really help the profession grow more.

Welcome to Issues in Academics

This is a specialized blog, which would only focus on issues that rage in the world of academia. It would therefore deal with a varied and myriad number of issues that relate to teaching, the practice of pedagogy, the difficulties and nuances of student-teacher relationship, the exigencies and the practice of fraudulent and genuine scholarship as well as anything that relates to this profession.