Mapping “Bottom up” Pedagogy in the Age of Digitally Globalized World

Marohang Limbu

Choutari is a great platform with many outstanding essays in “Nelta Chautari,” but one piece by my friends Prem Phyak and Shyam Sharma, “Teachers’ narrative: Building theory from the bottom up” particularly draws my attention. Prem and Shyam envision the need of scholarship, research, and pedagogy to construct knowledge at the local level. They also observe the “need to start developing new approaches, theories, and methods based on local social-cultural contexts and dynamics” so that “practical challenges of the classroom can be better tackled … theoretically, methodologically, and pragmatically.” In this essay, I am discussing pedagogical theories and practices of teaching English in the glocal (global + local) context in the age of digitally globalized world. My discussion focuses on mapping new “bottom up” pedagogy, significance of “bottom up” pedagogy, and the importance of “bottom up” and cloud computing pedagogy and its future direction.

I, like these colleagues, believe in the philosophical theory and pedagogical practices of “… Building theory from the bottom up,” for I suppose that teaching is to map/remap new knowledge, to disseminate, and cultivate it. Teaching is a powerful force that can construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct realities, and the results we achieve depend upon how we apply theories into classroom practices. Hence, in my “bottom up” pedagogy, I, as an educator, create strategic pedagogical inquiry questions, such as how my teaching/research matters to a student’s individual, academic, and professional life; how I can effectively connect pedagogical theories into classroom practices; why and how I should embrace globalization and new social media technologies (Web 2.0 tools) in my day-to-day pedagogical practices; how I can create “safer spaces” (non-threatening environment) for diverse student populations so that students can bring their cultural narratives and prior academic literacies; and how my pedagogical practices prepare cross-culturally and digitally potential human power for the 21st century digitally globalized world.

As a 21st century educator, I foresee an urgent need of pedagogical practice that Prem and Shyam indicate that we need to develop, as well as new teaching approaches, theories, and methods based on “local and social contexts.” But what does it mean in the context of digitally globalized world? And what prevents us to translate it into classroom practices? And how are we creating our “local” linguistic values and cultural identities in the context of the 21st century global/world Englishes? In our “bottom up” pedagogical approach, rather than mimicking so called the Standard English, our teaching approaches should seek ways of creating spaces of non-native English speaking students inside and outside the classrooms. Our pedagogical strategies should help, not hinder, students create their cultural and linguistic identities from the local perspective and connect them to the global level. We, as non-western educators, should also advocate for the inclusion of multicultural materials, students’ prior academic literacies, cultural narratives, and web 2.0 tools in our curricula, syllabi, and in our pedagogical practices. Our “bottom up” pedagogy should engage students in dialogical environment in both virtual and physical spaces in order to make them critical and analytical thinkers and communicators.

Furthermore, we advocate for the development of “new approaches, theories, and methods based on local social-cultural contexts and dynamics” (Phyak and Sharma). We may be claiming/reclaiming our local linguistic identities and agencies. We may be creating our identity as global citizens, but what kind of impact our pedagogy has at the local and global level. More importantly, we are living in the digitized global village where our knowledge is constantly shifting; that means disciplinary discourse is also shifting, such as analog literacy is shifting to digital literacy, paper to screen literacy, industrial economy to information economy, local culture to global culture, and national perspective to global perspective.  So, as pedagogues of the 21st century global village how our pedagogical approaches address the disciplinary/knowledge shifts when we meet with our students in the classrooms (without modern technologies).

Now is the time, not only do we have to create pedagogical environments that offer students their voices and identities, but we also have to create cross-cultural communication/intercultural communication settings where students learn to contest, question, and negotiate their spaces. As I understand, the notion of “bottom up” pedagogy tends to advocate for “local social-cultural contexts and dynamics” (Phyak and Sharma). That means it also tends to validate students’ (especially non-western and language minority) voices, but we should critically contemplate how we are conforming their voices and identities; how we are supporting world/global Englishes from our local pedagogical practices; and we also should critically evaluate how our students’ voices will be recognized in other discourse communities from the 21st century globalized context.

Furthermore, when our pedagogical strategies come into discussion, we invariably claim that our teaching approaches are “student-centered” ones, but what does “student-centered pedagogy” mean to our day-to-day teaching practices and how we practice it? In terms of my pedagogical practice/s, I teach at Michigan State University, East Lansing where I am, more often than not, likely to meet with students from almost all around the world. In my writing classes, I use Web 2.0 tools (Facebook, blogs, websites, YouTube, videoblogs, and podcasting, etc.); these cloud-computing pedagogical tools tend to be more democratic, inclusive, and representational. I, via these cloud-computing tools, encourage my students to bring their cultural narratives and individual voices. I allow my students to bring/present their cultural literacies and prior experiences in the classroom discussions and in their writing assignments. I highly encourage students to share, collaborate, communicate, create, and publish both in digital (and physical) spaces so that students can share their ideas in a single click. Additionally, my pedagogical practice also does not tend to linguistically and culturally favor one group of students over the others. As a result, students seem to question, contest, and create their spaces in the center.  In this pedagogical setting, not only students learn to collaborate, communicate, and create together, but they also learn to validate other students’ cultural narratives and prior academic experiences.

Although I claim that my pedagogy is “student-centered,” I still may be ignoring a significant number of students in my writing classes because I still handle the classes based on my interest, department’s interest, and university’s interest. Despite my democratic cloud computing pedagogy, I still feel that I fail to observe how my students are constrained by my teaching approaches and pedagogical practices within that small discourse community due to their age, interest, class, gender, sexual orientation, and prior experience. So, as educators, how are you practicing your “student-centered” pedagogy? How are you creating your students’ glocal identities and connecting their local literacies to the global level? How are you validating their voices? And how are you preparing your students for this digitally globalized world? Overall, are we just preaching or are really practicing our “student-centered” pedagogies?

What is the significance of “bottom up” pedagogical theory? What constitutes “bottom up” pedagogy? I know every teaching is different teaching; every pedagogical practice is a different practice. However, we tend to practice more or less similar type of “bottom up” pedagogical approaches, but how we literally practice it when we teach English in Nepalese rural and urban contexts. How do we practice this theory when we teach diverse multilingual, multicultural, multi-ethnic students (in different geopolitical situations)? Additionally, why do we create our syllabi before we actually meet our actual student populations?  Why do we create curricula, syllabi, and so on that do not address the diverse student populations and their interests? If we do not have power to change the curricula and syllabi, how we, including our students, are resisting the conservative ideology and hegemony. Prem and Shyam implicitly observe some “practical challenges” and they believe that those challenges “can be better tackled if we try to theoretically, methodologically, and pragmatically address those issues.” As I mentioned earlier how we are translating these theories into practices; how we are resisting the traditional ideology and hegemony in order to address the interests of multicultural and multilingual students in the context of the 21st century globalized world.

The purpose of English language teaching is not only to make students able to use basic English for basic communication, but it is also to empower them with their voices. Teaching for me is also to support students to globalize their local narratives to the global level. I remember my school level English courses where we were forced to memorize lessons and answers. We also learned grammar, speech, intonation, and some facts and figures. Similarly, when I went to college/university, I learned Western English literature, which literally had nothing to do with my Limbu culture, Limbu literature, and Limbu identity. When I became a teacher/lecturer, I practiced the same teaching approach. In this type of pedagogy, students will not be able to connect local narratives and academic literacies to the global level because cross-cultural communication is ignored; the concept of audience is also too narrow, limited, and localized. The conservative and traditional teacher centered pedagogy implicitly colonizes students. Based on this discussion, my query is how we are applying Prem and Shyam’s “social-cultural … dynamics” and how you are challenging/resisting the conservative, hegemonic, and ideological practices.

My theoretical and philosophical thoughts on “bottom up” pedagogy are we should address glocal (local + global) issues. We have to globalize our local narratives to global level and our new pedagogy should lie in the fast changing global village saturated by cloud computing technology because glocally/cross-culturally and digitally literate students can create their identities better; they can produce more effective, accurate, and high quality texts; they can effectively communicate with students/people from different cultures. Moreover, if we apply “bottom up” pedagogy from the 21st century context, it not only seems to illuminate the geopolitical blindspots, but also reduces cultural and linguistic gaps, which are better pedagogical elements of the 21st century digital global village. We have to create new “bottom up” pedagogy saturated by technology to engage students in different digital, multimodal, and cross-cultural writing projects that will provide them valuable future career preparation. Many of the traditional pedagogies we still practice do not necessarily address needs and expectations of the 21st century digitally globalized world and audience; there is a need of retheorizing and remapping our pedagogical theories and practices. Therefore, “bottom up” pedagogy is a pursuit of pedagogical transformation in the context of the 21st century global village.

Finally, in terms of theoretical, methodological, and pragmatic issues and future directions, teachers (as activists of the global society) should map/remap pedagogy from glocal perspective. This pedagogy will introduce horizontal spaces, languages, subjectivities, speeches, and writings, and these situations lead the “bottom up” concept of free playing field from the “local social-cultural contexts.”  In this process, we, along with our “now students” and our “future colleagues,” will continue to enact an epistemology of representation that will guide present pedagogical practice and will shape future pedagogical approaches. In this journey, we do not perpetuate the traditional hegemonic and ideological pedagogy as they have always been practiced, but we will map/remap democratic pedagogical theories and approaches as they will have been practiced in the future.


Dr. Limbu is assistant professor of English in Michigan State University, Michigan USA. You can find more information about the author here.

1 thought on “Mapping “Bottom up” Pedagogy in the Age of Digitally Globalized World

  1. Marohang dai, thank you very much for this article. Even though my comment is a bit late, I hope we can still keep discussing this theme further. I really like your striking the balance between local and global approach as this is exactly I too try to follow, at least theoretically. I, however, feel stuck quite soon when I have to bring in or think about the local share. Am I undermining the practice that exists but has yet to be documented, or are there some sources that I can start with but am simply unaware so far (I’m particularly talking about the Nepalese context). Just wanted to know your thoughts on this.

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