31 January 2011

Interviewing: The Art of Conversation

I've been reading about interviewing for my prep class.  Here are the most interesting points:
Always ask for permission to record personal interviews and to take notes.
This made me wonder how I will go about recording my interviews in India.  Perhaps I should bring a small machine because I don't want to take copious notes all the time.
Unstructured interviewing is excellent for building initial rapport with people.
I totally did that!  When I was originally talking to Norbu on Skype and Facebook.
There comes a point where they leave behind the feelings of uncertainty and anxiety to enter the fullblown stage of exploration.  It may occur when each laughs at something said, when the informant seems to go off on an interesting tangent, or when the ethnographer mentally sets aside prepared questions to talk about something.  
This came after Jay told me to work on establishing rapport, and I had the best Skype chat with Norbu that I've ever had.

26 January 2011

Tibet + China

You know that saying "be careful what you wish for?"  Well, I once decided that it would be interesting to see both sides of the Tibet/China issue since I'm quite familiar with the Tibetan story but not at all with the Chinese. 

I am different from many of my friends in that my ideas about politics are still under developed.  I have listened to many soapbox rants from my friends (including radical republicans, democrats, and moderates) without really participating.  I dislike many things with which politics are closely associated (for example, I disapprove of dishonesty), and I therefore tend to avoid the entire political spectrum.

The case of Tibet and China has just become one of those political issues that I really dislike.  I just read two Chinese perspectives and one Tibetan perspective of the conflict, and I'm not at all pleased.  Here are some highlights:

24 January 2011


I've been throwing around the phrase "Tibetan culture" for some time now, and as a result I really wish I had time to read this chapter, called "Culture Blends" in the book Language Shock by Agar, more carefully.  Here are some highlights.
Usually people think of "culture" as something that a particular group of people have. Cultures roll around the planet like so many billiard balls, self-contained objects that might collide or bounce off the cushion but still retain their perfect round shape.
I don't know that I've thought of culture this way, but it's an interesting argument and implies that cultures actually blend, rather than "retain their perfect round shape."  Tibetan culture is undoubtedly changing while the Tibetans are living in India in this fast-paced, technologically savvy world, especially for their growing children.  So what elements of Tibetan culture are traditional, what are new to the exiled location and circumstances, and what are unique to the time period?  I have just realized that I must actually define Tibetan culture since I will be analyzing its preservation all summer!
Culture is something those people "have," but it's more than that.  It's also something that happens to you when you encounter them.  As long as they're just out there, just a different group of folks, you won't have to deal with them.  When you deal with them, culture turns personal.  Culture is no longer just what some group has; it's what happens to you when you encounter differences, become aware of something in yourself, and work to figure out why the differences appeared.  Culture is an awareness, a consciousness, one that reveals the hidden self and opens paths to other ways of being.
When I'm living in India, this culture that I am reading about in books and discussing in a classroom and trying to define on paper will no longer be an abstract concept but a part of me, of my life experiences, something personal about which I'll have fond and funny and unpleasant memories.  What will happen to me?  Will I be the same person in September that I am right now?

The Making of Modern Tibet

The title of this post is also a title of a book of the history of Tibet by A. Tom Grunfeld, four chapters of which I read for my prep class.  Here are some quotes from it and my thoughts:
The best single description of pre-1950 Tibetan society is "feudal."  The word is in quotes here only because it has been a catchword in the seemingly neverending political baffles over what Tibetan life used to be like . . . .  The term is used here simply because it is the adjective which comes closest to describing Tibetan society; the parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking.
If I may refer to my learning journal entry six, this is exactly what my Tibetan teacher, whom we call TJ-la, said about his homeland.  If I combine this with arguments about the digital divide vs. the digital leapfrog (look for "W(h)ither the digital divide" in the bibliography) then I come to an interesting theory about the accelerating literacy rates in the Tibetan community.  Isn't it more significant when one thinks of modern Tibetan digital literacy in relation to their lives before 1950?  Perhaps one of the indicators I will be looking for is future shock, though I don't know how I will measure it.  I have the funny feeling that I came to this exact same conclusion elsewhere on my blog, but I don't remember where . . . .

21 January 2011

Son of Citation Machine

Maybe I shouldn't post this, but I use an online citation machine to produce citations in MLA format for my papers.  It's not perfect, but I haven't had a problem with it!  I know MLA format well enough to correct mistakes like spacing and italics, but I don't need to memorize every format for every possible material I use since I can just plug in the boxes!  That is one of those things, like many spelling and grammatical errors, that new technology makes so much easier.  Word automatically corrects me if I forget to capitalize something or if I cannot spell the word "grammar" (sometimes I am tempted to spell words the way I say them).  It's interesting, though, to see junior high students who don't know how to spell or punctuate or capitalize because the computer always does it for them.

My point is that we develop a new skill set when we have advanced technology such as this.  My professors would certainly devote more time to the mechanics of MLA if they knew I couldn't find more than I ever wanted to know about it online.  Thus, instead of having a day in my criticism writing class to talk about MLA we spent that day talking about Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent.  Perhaps this musing could turn into a testable indicator of digital literacy, though my creativity is running low and I can't think of how.

12 January 2011


As usual, my mentor Dr. Burton saved my life in just 30 minutes.  I only need a half hour with that man to realize dozens of ways to improve my project and refine my thinking.  I don't know how he does it!  The man is brilliant.

Here are some of the changes I'm making to my project:

  1. I will focus on cultural preservation since it implies political status while avoiding direct involvement with the thorny issues between Tibet and China
  2. I will quantify data before I leave for the field, which I think will consist of asking Norbu for statistics about his community (e.g. number of Tibetans in exile/ Dharamsala, number of schools, students, available computers, internet cafes, etc.)
  3. I will develop survey questions that deal with the principles behind digital literacy and not necessarily the digital tools themselves (e.g. how has the computer helped you stay in touch with your friends, how does the internet affect your academic life, how do you involve other people when you're learning about something), creating the possibility of exploring the relevancy of digital literacy in a world without digital tools.
    1. This step can involve looking at older technology, about the prevalence of which I will ask Norbu
    2. This step also involves my lovely new book, Digital Culture
Off to the prep class!

11 January 2011

Proposal Development

When I applied for the ORCA last October, I wrote that my purpose is to assess the degree to which Tibetans living in exile in India are digitally literate, the ways in which their culture manifests the effects of digital literacy, and the potential for increased digital literacy to improve their situation.  Since that time, my research query has come to have three components in my mind: first, how is Tibetan digital literacy unique as a result of their unique circumstances, second, what relationship does digital literacy have with the Tibetan goal of cultural preservation, and third, how are Tibetans in India using their digital literacy to forward their political goals.

Literacy is intimately related to schooling and my major is English teaching, so I've usually envisioned my project taking place within the TCV.  After all, American children are naturally digitally literate, a trait that becomes supremely evident when you compare those children to their grandparents.  I would venture that the same is true of Tibetan children, though it would be very interesting if the age roles are reversed.  I learned, though, from asking some Tibetans that students have very limited access to computers.  They have computer classes in school from a young age, school computer labs, and I imagine they use internet cafes as well, but they don't often have home computers or daily classroom exposure to technology.  How, then, is their digital literacy different?  Also, why do we think digital literacy is crucial to improving education?

From my understanding, Tibetans in India have two primary goals.  The first is to preserve their culture as they live away from their homeland.  Tibetan culture--the script, language, faith, traditions, and history--is, of course, precious to those who live it and valuable to the world at large.  I am uncertain as to the effect of digital literacy on this fundamental goal.  On one hand it certainly facilitates communication among all the Tibetans across India (though Norbu told us that they use telephones to communicate with family and friends in Tibet) and thus keeps Tibetans united while in exile, but it also creates a global culture that seems to diminish variations between cultures while encouraging common ground like speaking English.

Finally, Tibetans have a political agenda with the ultimate goal of regaining their homeland.  Here, the potential for digital literacy to help with their goals is clear and powerful.  Reaching a sympathetic world audience means gaining clout in the political sphere.  Here, I think my research would primarily consist of observation of trends that are already moving quickly.

So, with that said, here's my three-part research question (always open to revision):

How is unique digital literacy evident in the TCV school, and how does this literacy relate to Tibetan goals of cultural preservation and political victory?

Photo credit IMs BILDARKIV

09 January 2011

Yet Another Skype

[8:43:59 PM] Kristen Nicole: Hello!

Norbu: hi

Kristen Nicole: Are you well?

Norbu: ya n good
Norbu: so hows your life...n all the things..

Kristen Nicole: oh, it's good
Kristen Nicole: I'm actually just recovering from ulcers in my eyes and a minor illness
Kristen Nicole: I think my preparation is going well
Kristen Nicole: I spend too much time reading and thinking about it :)

Norbu: ohh i seee that's hmm
Norbu: so are you well or recovering now...

Kristen Nicole: but I only say that because I spend way more time on my research than working on my other classes
Kristen Nicole: I'm recovering, mostly well at this point

Norbu: ok thats good

08 January 2011

25 Questions

Research questions
  1. Does high digital literacy serve to preserve Tibetan tradition or to detract from their efforts to preserve their culture in the world culture of this interconnected world?
  2. What is the purpose for teaching Tibetan children to be digitally literate?
  3. How do Tibetan children demonstrate digital literacy in the classroom and in their free time?
  4. How has digital literacy supported and weakened Tibetan political goals?
  5. In what ways does Tibetan Buddhism support digital literacy?
  6. What does the Dalai Lama think of digital literacy and digital tools, and how does he encourage or discourage his people from learning them?
  7. In what ways is Tibetan computer use different from Indian computer use?
  8. What subgroups will I differentiate in my study besides administrators, teachers, and students? Boys v. girls? Year in school? Tibetan, Indian or other?
  9. Is Tibetan digital literacy primarily associated with age, education, wealth, or something else?
  10. What if younger students aren't digitally literate as I believe them to be?
  11. How is Tibetan digital literacy different from American digital literacy? How is it the same?
  12. What is Tibetan perception of digital literacy and computers/internet?
  13. How important are computers in the Tibetan student's life?
  14. How do Tibetans teach digital literacy, or is it largely self-taught?
  15. To what extent does Tibetan digital literacy display evidence of the digital divide or the digital leapfrog?

Email Interview

I asked Chime Tenzing, a Tibetan political blogger, if he would respond to the same questions my group prepared for Norbu's interview.  Here are his responses:

Tell us about yourself.  What is your name and what do you do for work?
My name is Chime Tenzing.  I am a Tibetan refugee, born in 1981 and raised in Orissa in the Tibetan refugee settlement.
Tell us about the Tibetan culture.  What is it?  What does it mean to be Tibetan?
Tibetan culture - like any other culture, is its unique language, script, way of life, religion and more importantly its century old custom of love, compassion and warm-heartedness!
How long have Tibetans been in India?
Tibetans have fled home to exile in 1959 after the Chinese occupation of its homeland.
How have computers and the Internet changed your culture?  Do they create problems?

Personally, computers and internet have made everything a lot easier.  It just brought everything closer to home (with a click of mouse)!  It is how you make use of the technology.  To your advantage or otherwise!

The Child-Driven Education

04 January 2011

What Students Don't Learn Abroad

Ben Feinberg, a faculty member in the social sciences department at Warren Wilson College, published an article entitled "What Students Don't Learn Abroad" in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2002. I just read the text as an assignment for my field study prep class. The essence of the article is that students (and, by extension, Americans) are more interested in themselves than the foreign people and culture while living abroad and that this attitude is a result of the conditioning from American media. Here's the most repulsive example from the article:

When a promotional piece for the reality-TV program The Amazing Race shows an American woman in a clearly foreign space--perhaps India--she is not troubled, confused, or interested in her environment. Instead, she strips down to a bikini emblazoned with a U.S. flag to get directions to the next challenge from a bug-eyed and eager native . . . . That young woman clearly did not travel to broaden her horizons. For her, India becomes, as much as Salt Lake City or Kandahar, a place for aggressive performances of her American identity--unwrapping herself in the flag, so to speak.

Feinberg states the motivation for studying abroad: "in today's interconnected world, it is more important than ever that students be attuned to the nuances of cultural difference." My idea of the value of my field study in India is the inherent value of the Tibetan people themselves, and the resulting relevance of their lives and experiences.

I'd like to think that BYU students are different than the ones interviewed for Feinberg's article. I hope that my peers and I will be genuinely interested in the people and culture around us as we travel around the world. Probably, Feinberg's sample didn't include any of the excellent students found in Provo :)

Photo credit Gurumustuk Singh

03 January 2011

Making Amends

Dear wallet,

Please forgive me for the impulse buy earlier this evening in the bookstore. I didn't realize it would be a $20 dollar book as it seemed to come from a sale shelf, but I still think that Charlie Gere's Digital Culture will be a great one for my research! The back cover says:

While few would contest the impact of the computer on the world of work, Digital Culture reveals its seismic effects on our social, cultural and political lives. In the last 20 years digital technologies have not only converged with digital forms, such as the world wide web and video games, to surround us with a seamless digital mediascape, they have also integrally affected developments in art, music, design, film and literature. In this book Charlie Gere maps the set of cultural symptoms that gave rise to digital culture . . . and the responses that they in turn produced.

See, won't that be a great book to own? Please don't hate me forever!

Yours truly,

Kristen Nicole