Cases and Stories

Cases and Stories | By Dushasana Mahanta, Kunj Bihari Pratap, and Akhileshwar Singh | Edited by Ananda Mahto | Illustrated by Seema Shastri

One of the elective courses sometimes offered to students at the Tata-Dhan Academy is “Specialized Writing”. In this course, students explore some of the different forms of written expression beyond the typical report, and one of the specific topics we usually cover is the overlap and differences between cases and stories.

This booklet compiles “cases” and “stories” from three students from PDM 10 (Dushasana Mahanta, Kunj Bihari Pratap, and Akhileshwar Singh), and includes illustrations by Seema Shastri of PDM 12.

Following is the introduction that I wrote for the booklet.

Download the PDF to enjoy the cases, stories, and illustrations in their entirety.

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Effective Communication?

When people begin the study of communication, their attitudes vary anywhere from “I think this would be a very important class: it is important to understand the communication process if I want to improve the effectiveness of my communication,” to “What a waste of time. I’ve been communicating all my life. Do I really need to take a course to understand communication?”

Whether or not we take a course in communication, there is considerable value in trying to refine our understanding of communication. To demonstrate, I will present two class exercises. In describing the exercises, hopefully some of the jargon common in the communications discipline (for example, encoding, decoding, channel, and congruence) will become clearer, and you will be at least a little more sensitive to trying to verify the effectiveness of your everyday communication approaches.

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A Primer on Linking Disaster Risk Reduction with Development Efforts

I’m very happy to announce that the primer I wrote for the Advanced Centre for Enabling Disaster Risk Reduction is now available online.

Here’s the abstract:

When one surveys news reports today, mention of disasters seem to be commonplace. And, quite often, there is a lot of response to disasters. Aid agencies channel money or other forms of relief directly to communities who need it or to organizations who are better prepared to implement response work. Governments create plans to offer rehabilitation support, or find some other way to compensate those who are affected by disasters. Academicians write reports comparing one disaster to similar disasters, and theorize about what could have been done to minimize the impact of the disaster.

But where is the community in this post-disaster scenario? And what about the communities who have not suffered catastrophes? Are they safe? Is that enough? Is it appropriate to merely respond to disasters, or is there a better way to approach disaster risk reduction? And what does this mean for a development organization?

ACEDRR believes that there is simultaneously a positive and negative relationship between development and disasters. However, development efforts have incredible potential to contribute to disaster risk reduction and to help create a “culture of preparedness”. Development practitioners have a responsibility to be aware of this continuum and use it to guide their work and to build knowledge about disaster preparedness and prevention.

This primer is by no means a complete account of the relationship between disasters and development. However, it is hoped that this primer can serve as an introduction for practitioners to become more sensitized to the relationship, and that they use this awareness to change from working in what is mostly a reactive manner, to working in a proactive one. It is also hoped that this primer can lay a foundation for further discussions and research—not discussions and research designed around communities, but ones which include the community as an integral partner and as a stakeholder whose traditional wisdom might be able to help us with some of the more complicated issues we face in our rapidly modernizing world.

And, here’s the report itself.

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An Individualistic Approach to Education

In comparing different learning theories in detail, one ultimately gets to the point that they realize that no one theory is right or wrong, but that each theory has something to offer. Learning theories are valuable because they are often revised and reanalyzed or tested in different contexts to see how well they stand up, effectively minimizing the need for teachers to spend too much time developing research projects and testing them for accuracy. Instead, teachers are given the opportunity to test the results of theories they find interesting or solidly designed and see how well each theory works as a predictor of outcomes. This testing of theories is important for at least two main reasons: (1) theories are often developed in a very controlled environment where the limited variables used do not always accurately reflect the “real world” and (2) depending on how old the theory is, it may be out of date and not applicable to many of the problems we encounter in schools today. Thus, even if we do not fully agree with the implications of a particular theory, it may be helpful to periodically review them and carefully consider their messages about human learning and behavior.

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Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory

From a very early point in the history of philosophy, philosophers have been asking questions about human nature and about how we develop. These questions have led to a range of theories about human development and have extended from the philosophical sphere into the realms of psychology and educational research. Along with this expansion into other areas of studies, the questions being asked are also changing. Earlier educational and psychological theories, for example, focused largely on behaviorism as the source of human development while recent theories have increasingly been integrating the role of cognition in the development process. Despite being only theories with flaws and without definite answers, these theories are very valuable to educators.

There are three main categories of thought distinguishing these educational theories: developmental, environmental, and crossover. While there is variation in the ideas of theorists within each group, there are a few generalizations that can be made about each. The following paragraphs will give some very basic background into each theory to help illustrate the differences between them.

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Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

Ananda Mahto | Patreca Pamela Hawkins

In the education field, teachers often spend as much time engaged in classroom management as they do teaching. Additionally, it seems that teachers are being held increasingly responsible for teaching proper behavior. Because of this, it is important for educators to have an awareness and understanding of some of the theories regarding human development, especially those that are concerned with behavior management or behavior modification. This paper will look at the classical conditioning and operant conditioning behaviorist theories and present some hypothetical classroom scenarios illustrating how these concepts can be used to improve the learning environment.

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A Personal View on the Punishment Versus Rewards Debate

In the education and parenting fields, there is often a debate whether to use punishments or rewards to motivate students and influence behavior. There are supporters of both methods and there are people who believe that neither punishments nor rewards should be used to encourage learning. As each individual holds his or her own beliefs about the appropriate use of these tools in learning, it is important to spend some time considering the debate.

As a child in Trinidad, I remember that fear of punishment in school was a great motivator for my good behavior and desire to perform better academically. I also remember, however, that not everyone else in my school had the same response to punishment. My friend, for example, seemed to love getting in trouble and often went home with welts from the bamboo cane. What irked my teachers even more was that he was also one of the top students in the class. For me, the threat of punishment was a form of aversive stimuli and was enough to cause me to behave a certain learned accepted way.

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The Continuous Process of Learning

Individualism comes in many forms. In addition to looking different from each other, our minds and our methods of learning are also different. The education we receive in school, however, is usually quite standardized. Reflecting on my academic experience, while all my teachers had somewhat different approaches to how they presented their educational materials, many of them typically used an approach that required strong auditory learning skills. As I entered the world of education as a teacher, I became aware of different learning styles in my students—blends of kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learners—and did my best to design lessons encouraging students to engage all learning styles. I did this because when talking to other teachers about their personal educational experiences, many of them raised the point that despite having had good teachers, they wished that their education had been more visual or more hands-on. Upon further reflection of my personal situation, I would say that my educational achievements were indeed partly attributed to having had good teachers, and also partly to having grown up in a very well rounded caring environment. After all, our process of learning doesn’t start and end in school, does it?

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Effective Program Design in the Scaling-up of Out-of-School-Time Programs

Analyzing the success of educational programs is often tricky. There is often a mix of quantitative data that can be analyzed, often in the form of standardized test scores or report cards, as well as qualitative data such as feedback from parents, teachers, students or social-workers. Furthermore, especially in cases where the student or teacher population is culturally diverse, everyone has their own opinions about what is necessary for an effective classroom. Accurate analysis of why some schools appear to be more effective can be difficult due to the number of extraneous variables-including family size, income, race, or native language-which may have an impact on how well students learn.

In 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 was renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB). One key component of the 1965 ESEA was the provision of quality educational assistance to low-income families to help break the cycle of poverty (Schugurensky 2002). The passing of the ESEA led to the creation of preschool programs such as Head Start to help reduce the already present achievement gap between the poor and more affluent families. NCLB, in turn, proposed several additional methods to reduce the achievement gap including increased accountability, revised standards of teacher qualifications, and higher educational standards.

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Reflections on Jack London’s “The Iron Heel”

When reading Jack London’s The Iron Heel, my high school days of music are brought to mind. I remember one of the more musically talented high school punk bands of the time: Picnic with a Gun. The singer/lyricist was a young man destined to be a politician. For reasons of stubbornness, over-certainty, and a strong belief in his propaganda, not too many people managed to win an argument against him (if they even bothered trying). One of his famous lyrics stated, “You say I’ve got a big mouth because I’m not afraid to use it.” He was a member of the upper middle class. He lived on the outskirts of Montecito. His parents were both lawyers. He was half-black and quick to bring up race distinctions. He believed that “socialism is the answer, and we’ve got to fight.” He was a fun person to listen to, and he came to mind when reading of Avis Everhard’s accounts of Jack London’s Socialist hero, Ernest Everhard. Their life histories are different, however, with Everhard having come from a poor beginning. But their target audience, a relatively homogenized, educated middle class, and their economic story of class struggles and socialist uprisings, were very similar.

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