STEM kit interaction

Service to the Greater Lafayette Community

Being a student at Purdue University does not necessarily mean only doing assignments, writing research papers, conducting research, being a good research assistant or exceling in teaching as a TA and taking part in student organizations and clubs. We get plenty of opportunities to give back to society in some small way and transfer our learning for the greater good and change the world for the better. I tried to sound fancy using designer words 😊. All that I want to convey is we can do community service.

            There are small organizations that depend on grants and government support to serve the educational needs of the underprivileged population of Greater Lafayette. They receive funds to run the organization and maintain the infrastructure but not enough to employ teachers and other staff who would keep everyday events going regularly. They rely heavily on Purdue University students and other volunteers to bring innovative ideas and enrich the learning environment. I am sure there is no dearth of talent and service minded people among our graduate students at Purdue.

STEM kit image

            One such organization is the Bauer Center in Lafayette. The place is house to children from nearby K-12 schools whose parents work for long hours and are not at home when the kids return from school. Bauer Center takes care of these kids till they are picked up by their parents past dinner time. The children get food there and are expected to stay indoors for safety reasons and sometimes they get immensely bored. Also, without proper guidance they tend to lose interest in education and don’t even think of future STEM careers. This is where the Indian Women’s Association Academy entered the picture. As members we try to instill interest in STEM topics among these kids. Ladies from IWA Academy visit Bauer Center every week and try to garner the attention of the kids with demonstrations of experiments that may get these kids interested in STEM subjects. We take STEM kits that teach about Magnetism, Electricity and other topics and allow them to play with them while their learning is scaffolded by us. Learning with play and experimentation is something they love and theoretically it promotes “inquiry learning.” We could see that the kids were having a lot of fun during these sessions as they tried to figure out what was happening and why

STEM kit image

            Similarly, at Imagination Station, a science center in Lafayette that is frequented by kids 3-10 with parents and guardians during weekends, IWA Academy organized a session of Exploration. Little kids participated along with their parents and guardians in fun electricity and magnetism related activities. I also had a lot of fun that day and it gave me great joy to see their little faces light up with excitement when they completed a circuit. See the eyes of the butterfly in the picture. 

STEM kit image

Did we spend on the STEM kits?

            No, it was made possible by a Service Learning Grant that I applied for and was awarded by the Office of Engagementat Purdue in Fall 2018. I use the grant to buy these wonderful STEM kits and other raw materials that IWA Academy needs to conduct these experiments and demonstrations at Bauer Center and Imagination Station. The grant is administered by my department’s business office.

            So, many of you will be wondering – What is in it for me? According to the book of academic careers 😉a candidate should have Teaching, Research and Service experience. You must have heard your adviser, or a professor talk about this, right? Let this be your service experience. That is how I started when I was trying to complete the “Service”requirement for my portfolio. Now I cannot stop doing what I started because it makes me truly happy. 

            Reach out to the Office of Engagement, try to get a service learning grant, and extend your expertise and knowledge to help someone in society. 

STEM kit image

This is your WIIIFM, folks…..

Conference Group Photo

Conferences: Confluence of Ideas

I am not going to talk about the great Tamil Sangams that took place in ancient times in India, but about an education technology conference that I attended recently. First let’s see what a conference is. This is what I got from our friendly source, the internet.

What is a conference?

A conference is a meeting of people who “confer” about a topic. Conference types include: Academic conference, in science and academic, a formal event where researchers present results, workshops, and other activities. Athletic conference, a competitive grouping of teams, often geographical.

What happens at a conference?

At a conference, innovative ideas are thrown about and new information is exchanged among experts. Its purpose could be one of the following: An academic conference is a gathering of scientists or academicians, where research findings are presented, or a workshop is conducted.

As a learning design technologist, as I would like to call myself than the often-used term instructional designer, I was encouraged by my department to attend this conference. This time I needed some push because the event was to take place in Kansas City. Here you should note that in 2016 I did not need any pushing because the conference was in Las Vegas. I was also eager to attend another early this year in New York. For international students Las Vegas and New York are bigger attractions. Anyway, this conference was organized by Association for Educational Communications and Technology or AECT. It brings together people from around the world who are instructional designers, teachers and professors researching about and working on incorporating technology into classrooms. We believe that making the classroom experience more attractive and engaging will enhance student learning and that one way of doing that is using technology.

My interest in innovative technologies drew me to sessions about using Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), games, biometrics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in classrooms. Although the entertainment and marketing industries have adopted these technologies long time back, there adoption into education has been slow. Firstly, because we still don’t know if it will work and secondly, because it is so expensive.  A lot of research is being done on whether using these technologies will enhance learning or whether they will cause cognitive overload. It is my opinion that incorporating technologies should be intentional and should not be for the sake of using it.

The most interesting of all was the use of Alexa in the classroom. The presenting researchers said that, Alexa was adopted happily by all the teachers in a school, who found innovative uses in physical education, music, language courses, STEM classes and so on. The most remarkable effect of Alexa in the classroom was when a student who is shy and normally does not speak to anyone was seen trying to converse with Alexa when he thought no one was looking. That I think is phenomenal. Little children are more comfortable talking to a device than a human being? This made me sit up and listen. Is technology getting so powerful and capable of replacing humans even for making friendly conversations?

Another important occurrence during the AECT happened when I was attending a get-together with a service organization.  There were loud cheers from few people when they heard we were from Purdue.  They said, “My children are so happy that Purdue won the game.” They were referring to Purdue’s football win. I asked if their kids were studying at Purdue. They said no, their children were studying in University of Michigan, and University of Wisconsin and so on, but all these families watched the match on TV. They got super excited when spectators stormed the arena and danced with lights flashing to match the beat of the music. They said that their children were so grateful that Purdue beat the other team. We were even thanked and praised for Purdue’s win.  To be honest I’ve never touched a football in my life, leave alone American football. I don’t understand anything and so I don’t watch the games. But my friends and me were so happy when people wished us for the victory. Thanks team! They went on to spend nearly 15 minutes talking about the fabulous way the match was played and how students celebrated. Fortunately, I knew all this happened because my professor discussed this during a meeting a day before. Otherwise I would have stared back at them with blank eyes 😉. This event became bigger than the AECT conference itself, for me. I was so happy and left the place elated about being a part of a great university!

Purdue Sign

India >>>>> Indiana – What Brought Me Here

India >>>>> Indiana – What Brought Me Here

In this post, I would like to talk about my field of study. I am a doctoral student in Learning Design and Technology or LDT, which is known as instructional design in some universities. I want to discuss what attracted me to this field and brought me here, all the way from India.

I wish to describe myself as an avid learner and a passionate educator. My work experience spans different career paths. I have worked as an electronics engineer, as a faculty in a computer hardware training institute, as a STEM subject teacher, University lecturer in a business school and as a technical writer. However, the career I enjoyed most was teaching Math, Physics and Environmental Science to middle school students. The curiosity that my students showed and their interest in exploring beyond the curriculum encouraged me to expand the boundaries of my teaching.

The Learning Design & Technology field has opened several avenues for me to put my education to practice in addition to stimulating my creative side. The Master’s degree and the Ph.D. programs in LDT at Purdue University, have provided the theoretical foundation for how to make learning appropriate for different audiences. LDT brings about a beautiful amalgamation of learning theories and emerging technologies to make learning fun, easy and meaningful to learners, whether in K-12, University, corporate sector or in adult basic education classrooms.

At Purdue, I’ve received maximum support from my faculty and I am involved in many research projects. My adviser applied for a fellowship for me and helped me receive the David Ross fellowship that supports my Ph.D. education. Not only me, several international students have received good fellowships and teaching assistantships which help them finance their education at Purdue. Within a year into my Ph.D, I was able to publish two scholarly papers in noteworthy journals and have a few more papers under review. In addition to working on research papers, I receive plenty of opportunities to work on other projects.

At present I am working with faculty on different projects ranging from evaluating MOOCs, studying attitude change in online and face-to-face (f2f) education, teaching f2f under-graduate educational technology courses, co-teaching an online course on Project Management, developing a repository of educational technology tools for online teaching and so on. As a service I am also developing STEM based learning modules for adult basic education (ABE). This semester, for my internship, I will be working on creating educational content which will be used by programmers to develop lessons using Augmented Reality (AR) technology. All these experiences, I believe, will make me a better teacher, collaborator, learning design technologist and educational technology expert.

On completing my Ph.D., my immediate goal is to teach in a research oriented university and gain valuable experience interacting with faculty, mining their expertise and expanding my knowledge. I really enjoy reading literature pertaining to educational technology, researching learning environments and writing scholarly papers. The joy of seeing my work, published in peer-reviewed journals is undefinable.

​Long-Term Goals​

I always wanted to establish a School of Practical Learning in India. This school will scaffold the theoretical learning in STEM subjects that is provided by other regular schools. It was with this vision and to update myself with what is new in education, that I enrolled in the LDT program at Purdue University in January 2015 to earn my 2nd Master’s degree. My journey continued into the Ph.D. program. I fervently hope to identify ways to augment the learning of students, with regards to socio-scientific topics, like environmental sustainability to make them better citizens of this world. ​

Someone once said, “If you are not willing to learn, No one can help you.

If you are determined to learn, No one can stop you.”

I’m determined to learn – Shamila Janakiraman

     

Home Away from Home

Home Away from Home

When I moved to West Lafayette in August 2015, I did not expect to discover my new Home. Although I was floored by the hospitality of the local people, I yearned for something connected to India. I saw numerous Indian students in Purdue campus, but in the College of Education, I did not meet many.

A casual walk one day revealed a “little India” here. Just across the road from my apartment was the Indian cultural center. With my heart pounding within my rib cage, I entered the building which looked more like a huge shed. There was a little Hindu temple attached to a very big hall with a stage on one side. Bharatiya Temple & Cultural Center of Greater Lafayette or BTCCGL is the organization that runs all operations in the cultural center.

There were several flyers pinned neatly on a soft board which revealed that there existed a vibrant Indian community in this city. Few words exchanged with the lonely couple sitting there, threw more light on the center’s activities. On weekends, besides religious activities, the center offered Yoga, Sanskrit, Bal Vihar and Bagwad Gita classes. This was like any town or city in India. Little did I expect this here. I paid a visit on a Saturday and was amazed at the number of people attending the classes, both parents and little kids dressed in colorful Indian attire. If I was shocked by their numbers which was, say around 50, it was nothing compared to a bigger tremor that was coming.

Yummy dishes from India here in WL

 

On Diwali, an important festival of India, the hall attached to the temple was full to capacity. I walked into the hall, being drawn by the aroma of Indian food and was taken aback by the sheer numbers of people. There were nearly 400 people at any time and people kept leaving and coming continuously. I asked a friend, (yes, I made some friends) whether all the people were connected to Purdue. She replied that several Indians worked in companies like Caterpillar and in the many research laboratories in West Lafayette and Indianapolis. Parents worked in Indianapolis and preferred to have their homes in WL because of the good schools and safe environment. They did not mind commuting to Indy every day. This is a lot to say about any place.

In WL, all the Indian festivals were celebrated with great pomp and show. I enjoyed dressing in Indian attire, which I do rarely when in campus, and eating mouth-watering food from every state of India. There was always a grand spread of 7-8 dishes and soon I started looking forward to any celebration. I came to know that every festival was celebrated by the Indian community with great fanfare. Moreover, all these activities were organized by BTCCGL volunteers. Men and women and even children participated eagerly in organizing events, dancing, singing, putting up plays, maintaining a small library and what not.

Come November, I bought tickets to go to the Celebration of India event organized by the Indian Women’s Association or IWA. The Faith West community center was full. Now, were there a 1000 people or 1500? I never even thought in my wildest dreams that a little city like West Lafayette located in the United States, would have these many Indians. There were Purdue professors, Purdue students, their families, engineers from companies, doctors and people from every profession.

As is normal back home, there were numerous dance performances and bands belting out music from Indian movies of various languages. Performers traveled all the way from India to entertain the population here. Again, there was food, food, food……. from samosas to biriyani, all my fav food was there. My excitement was evident when I related my experiences to my mother that night. “Are there so many Indian families,” she wondered.

The story of the Indian community in WL will not be complete without me talking about the IWA. The small but efficient group of ladies organized several fun activities like summer picnics, Cricket matches and Holi celebrations. But, IWA was about something more. They used their funds to award a scholarship to a woman researcher at Purdue whose research focuses on women centric issues. They also collect money to donate towards rehabilitation efforts taking place in regions where nature unleashed its fury. In December 2015, my hometown, Chennai, was ravaged by floods and IWA immediately started arranging for help. Locally their services have been valuable to the Lafayette Food Bank, Asha Purdue Chapter, YWCA, and Lafayette Urban Ministry. They do not shirk from expressing solidarity with issues affecting the Indian community in the U.S. I know for a fact that public demonstrations were avoided even in the big cities regarding such issues.

Every year IWA publishes a magazine called Sanskriti which carries articles about global tourist attractions, critical issues, current events and also short stories. Sanskriti gives voice to many aspiring writers who live in WL. This year they published a beautiful cook book named, “Dash of Desi.” All the credit goes to the women behind IWA.

I was learning so many things about the WL Indian community and was baffled at the myriad activities they were involved in. Any big city in the U.S. houses a huge Indian population, I know, but for a small city like West Lafayette, it was amazing. The festivities, friendship and fun were reminiscent of the harmony among the Indian community. I am sure I’ll have a ton of stories to share when I visit home next summer after three long years. I can go on and on about my findings about this city, but let me keep some for my next blog post.

By the way, did I mention the word HOME, in my previous paragraph? Isn’t this like home? When I wrote that sentence, I got my title to these ramblings, “Home Away from Home.”