Memoirs of a Graduate Teaching Assistant

The relationship that a professor and a Teaching assistant share is similar to that of Batman and Robin, helping each other tackling challenging situations. A teaching assistant(TA) usually assists a teacher with grading and daily tasks associated with teaching a course. Teaching assistants can be or various types, such as Graduate Teaching Assistant(GTA), Undergraduate Teaching Assistant(UTA) and Teaching Assistants for students with learning disabilities. A teaching assistant plays many roles besides grading the students, they guide students, solve their issues related to the course and even motivate them to go on in many cases.

I have taken the role of a graduate teaching assistant and a lab instructor multiple times in the past few years of my graduate education and I have plethora of experiences to share. Being a TA is not at all an easy job, especially with the pressure of being fair to every student and doing justice to your responsibilities. One of the issues a TA faces is “How to react?” It is almost like walking on a tight rope, because you need to put your point forward in an effective manner without offending the students, and in the past I have had students behaving inappropriately. Tackling such students, I had to be polite and politically correct at all times while maintaining my stance for the issues.

There was another case where one of the students came to my office hours and tried to get the answer itself. I tried to guide him step by step, making sure that I do not give out the answer, which led frustration to build up from the student’s side. He was not wanting to learn, instead just wanted the answer, and this eventually led him to bang his laptop and leave. I feel its very important to stand by your decision because you need to be fair to other students. Adding to that, I would like to say that to maintain fairness, if you fix something for one student, you must fix it for the rest of the class.

Being a lab instructor is more difficult than being a TA because you need to perform the experiments and make sure all equipment is working right before the class, so that students do not face any issues during the class. One must also be aware of possible errors students can make, which often comes with experience, so that learning is uninterrupted. In my case, when I was an instructor for an electrical lab, initially I was overwhelmed with the responsibilities and was not ready with instant answers for the students. Gradually, when I learned with the students, I was able to help them out better and that is what reflected in my evaluations at the end of the class.  I was really happy that I was able to make progress and students appreciated it.

Sometimes, TAs also need to substitute for their professor’s class and it is not easy because TAs have big shoes to fill. TAs need to prepare for the class with presentations, lecture notes and exercise prompts to make sure the lecture goes smoothly. Once the preparation is done, the TAs need to overcome the fear of lecturing the students followed by preparing for questions students might raise and how to tackle a question that one doesn’t know the answer to. Overall, my experience with taking up substitute classes has been positive but I have had my share of roadblocks while lecturing students.

Lastly, I would like to talk about being a TA during the pandemic. In-person interaction made it easier for the TAs to handle office-hours and students’ concerns but the pandemic has affected the way student-TA interactions occur. Even though I have been a TA for a few MIT courses (mostly online courses) even before the pandemic, I feel that the number of emails you need to answer and conducting the office hours online is not as good as synchronous interaction with the students. I would like to encourage all TAs to maintain their calm and avoid burnout over excessive emails and Zoom fatigue especially with a large class.

Critical Pedagogy: An Ode to Paulo Freire

As you can see, most education systems around the world are based on the one-size fits-all philosophy and rob students of their creativity and ability to view and evaluate problems critically. It is all the more prevalent in oppressed communities who have limited access to quality education. According to K12 Academics, “Critical pedagogy is a teaching approach which attempts to help students question and challenge domination, and the beliefs and practices that dominate. In other words, it is a theory and practice of helping students achieve critical consciousness. ” Critical Pedagogy incorporates social elements into teaching and appeals to students to break free from oppressive teaching environments allowing them to harness their abilities to the fullest. Let’s look into how Critical Pedagogy was invented and Paulo Freire’s motivation behind it in the following video.

We can clearly see that Paulo in his childhood was the recipient of oppression due to poverty, detrimental to his learning. This served as a motivation for Paulo to breakthrough the norms of society and learn, and finally develop Critical Pedagogy, a form of teaching that takes into account the social status of the students to create experiences that are unique. He also compares the currents education system as the banking model where students are considered as passive empty receptacles to be filled by the wise all knowing teacher, also comparing the teacher-student relation to that of an oppressor and the oppressed respectively. Freire believes that teachers and students should have a similar status and learning must occur both ways.

I totally agree with this school of thought because if the teacher takes a higher role, students may not be able to connect to the teacher and learning may not occur. If the teacher caters to the needs of the students in a way that they can understand and relate to, learning will occur, also giving the teacher an opportunity to learn from the experience. Freire believes that education is fundamentally an act of love because the factors essential for education are solidarity, equal footing and mutual respect, that will eventually help students to be aware of socio-economic disparities, motivating them to alleviate the situation. Listen to the powerful TED talk by Nicole West-Burns on Building “Critical Consciousness for Educational Equity”, below.

She starts off by comparing ‘Equality’ and ‘Equity’, wherein she states that ‘Equality’ means giving everyone the same thing whereas ‘Equity’ means giving people what they need. The need for equity arises from the fact that there are people in the society that are privileged and others who are marginalized. This calls for rethinking experiences in education as well, to cater to the needs of the children especially the ones who are left out due to the norms of the society. I felt despair listening to her example about a lesson on static electricity and how some of the students felt left out because their hair was different from the others. This also made her realize the pain that her daughter felt when she was unable to learn because of a similar incident. This definitely demands critical analysis of our educational techniques to make sure students do not feel marginalized. The talk demonstrates the need to adopt Freire’s philosophy of Critical Pedagogy and advocates equity in the education system.

At the end, I would like to state that the issue of oppression and marginalization in education is real and needs a solid solution inspired by the ideology of Paulo Freire on Critical Pedagogy.

References:
1. https://www.k12academics.com/educational-philosophy/critical-pedagogy#:~:text=Critical%20pedagogy%20is%20a%20teaching,Shor%20defines%20critical%20pedagogy%20as
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_pedagogy#cite_note-1
3. https://www.theedadvocate.org/how-to-implement-critical-pedagogy-into-your-classroom/
4. https://wiobyrne.com/what-is-critical-pedagogy/
5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZljTKhd6hsA
6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE0iRMHzQC8
7. https://study.com/academy/lesson/critical-pedagogy-definition-theory.html

In The Future I Will ______________: The Future Of Universities

In the future, I will try to change how universities teach, to make students better prepared for the industry. The need to transform courses to meet the expectations of the industry is real and it is fueled all the more by the unrealistic expectations or standards set by the industry. The chicken and egg problem here is that, even for entry level positions, employers demand experience, but how does one gain experience without a job? The problem is that firms these days do not want to invest on training because experienced professionals are readily available, causing higher unemployment rates among fresh graduates. This is partly because of unrealistic industry standards and timelines, but universities do play a role in this as well.

Courses taught at universities are not particularly targeted towards skill development, because of lack of practical experience. If courses try to incorporate real-life industry based situations or case based learning in other words, things will start improving. Besides that, universities must promote industrial collaboration so that students get an insight into how things really work. This will also instill confidence among members of the industry with respect to hiring fresh graduates. This in turn will attract more investment in the universities for preparing students to be ready for the challenges ahead.

For example, in case of Computer Science or Computer Engineering, once students are done taking basic courses, there should be a course available, that wraps up the knowledge of all the courses to build a website for example, covering backend, frontend and database aspects of the discipline. This not only provides students with a hands-on experience, employing Project-Based Learning, but also sums up the usage of their previous knowledge.

The other side of the coin in this case is credential requirement inflation. Firms need to lower their requirements for entry level jobs so that fresh graduates stand a chance against experienced professionals. For firms to do this, universities will have to directly cater to their needs by tailoring courses according to industry standards. This does not mean that universities neglect the academic aspect, since not everyone is inclined towards industry and pedagogy is as important as the practical aspect.

At the end, I would like to conclude that universities and the industry should work hand-in-hand to nurture a system of education that benefits the community as a whole, promoting skill development and improving employability for fresh graduates.

Technology In Education: Boon or Bane, Digital Pedagogy Team Post

 

Introduction:

In this blog post we are going to address the issue of use of technology in the class, be it digital devices or educational tools. A thorough analysis of the pros and cons of different technologies will be done and discussed with respect to our personal experiences in academia. As a team we felt that it would be more impactful to reflect on our individual experiences and you can read each member’s section below.

 

Sahil Dudani:

Few weeks back, I came across this article “Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom” from the Contemporary Pedagogy class at Virginia Tech. The article talks about how the author banned students from having laptops or digital media devices in the classroom based on various observations in the class and the consequences of such a decision. I have mixed feelings about this article because I do have views to present from the viewpoint of the teacher as well as the students.

The author realized that students were not very attentive in his class when he asked a question on marriage equality and observed students staring into their screens rather than interacting with him and their fellow classmates. Following this, the author decided to observe other classrooms as well and realized that students were not very focused in the class but were rather busy browsing social media or shopping websites and multitasking. These observations made the author think that multimedia devices and laptops were a big distraction and stood in the way of effective learning, driving him to ban laptops and other such devices in the classroom.

I would like to first start by supporting the author in doing so and how this could potentially improve learning, followed by presenting the students’ view. I agree with the author that multitasking deteriorates the capability of the student to focus on one task and is detrimental to effective learning and students who use laptops in class tend to multitask, hence lacking interest in the class. This also reduces their ability to communicate with the teacher and their peers in case of an interactive learning session. The other aspect to this is the fact that the teacher at some point might eventually become disinterested in teaching a bunch of students who are glued to their screens instead of learning about what is going on in the class.  Another thing that pops up is digital note taking and one can argue that using pen and paper is equally effective as digital note taking, based on which the author asked students to take down notes on a paper. The author’s policy also invited some criticism and eventually led to a few students dropping the class.

Now, talking about the point of view of the students, laptops or digital devices may not always be a source of distraction since in the modern times, those devices are really helpful in note taking, organizing notes and searching for a particular topic easily, hence making them a powerful tool for learning. Besides that, some students may not be comfortable with paper notes because of various issues such as bad handwriting and the fear of losing them. Another important fact is that if a student is not interested in a class, creating forced interest by banning digital devices may eventually cause the student to drop the course, because pressing someone to do something they are disinterested in, will cause problems rather than help the student. I understand that students should manage their time, but in a lot of cases they have deadlines to meet and limited time, hence utilizing their time in the classroom as well.

Hence, I feel that banning digital devices in a classroom is a very sensitive issue that requires a lot of consideration and cannot be based off of studies claiming that doing so improves exam results. Such issues are very subjective in nature and should be dealt with in a manner that leads to effective learning without compromising the needs of the students.

 

Sophia Vicente:

Technology in the classroom can be used in many ways, both positive and negative. I’ve found that short activities on their devices can re-engage students and change up pace in the classroom. In my time teaching, I’ve also witnessed students using their devices for online shopping or texting someone the next row over, even though at the time they likely thought I did not notice. 

I firmly believe in student agency in the classroom. Ultimately, students are paying to attend college and to sit in my classroom. If they would prefer to use their time browsing online sales, that is their prerogative. While I personally believe it would be more beneficial for them to be an active participant in class and would prefer that they engage with the material at the end of the day they are paying for a service. This being said, I believe that there is a line between a student choosing to disengage and a student who is distracting their peers. In the second case, that student has the potential to affect their classmates who did not choose to be disengaged or distracted. I believe that there are a lot of ways to integrate technology into the classroom and support student’s learning. I also believe that technology in the classroom is critical for some disabled students who require accommodations such as closed captioning or support with note taking. In my opinion, the benefits of technology to the students who want to engage and participate outweighs the negative use of students who are choosing not to engage in the classroom.

 

Didier Mena Aguilar:

I believe that in our day and age, it is very hard to completely subtract the technology from our classrooms. The new generations have an innate need for technology when learning. If we think about it, every time we don’t know something we quickly google it or watch a YouTube video about it. Personally, as a student, or even in work related meetings, I constantly look in my phone for concepts and visual aids that help me understand the context better. Therefore, depriving the students from their day to day learning tools might be detrimental for them. Furthermore, as we have discussed as a group, technology should be used as a tool to learn in class. For example, in the course I teach, I include several questions the students need to answer in real time using their devices. If the students are engaged in the classroom they will not get distracted with their phones and laptops, even when they are using technology for learning or not. Lesson plan and course designs are the  Although there is some data that suggests that technology might be detrimental for learning, I think the benefits outweigh them. In summary, I am a supporter of technology in the classroom!

 

Kawthar Alrayyan:

From my point of you, the transition from in-person classes to online learning is a changing experience for every student and educator around the world that impacted education pedagogy on how to evolve and adapt to the digital tools we have. However, In this blog, Learning how to meaningfully use the digital tool in teaching within the traditional teaching pedagogy is considered as a digital pedagogy, a term that I wasn’t familiar with till I read about it in our contemporary pedagogy class. It is not about throwing away the traditional teaching of face to face but the art of how to apply digital learning and work with it to deliver a better learning experience.

But what impact does banning digital tools in class have? a personal story can reflect on that topic, when I was assisting a well-experienced professor, who is considered as an old fashioned way to educator, always said to me start with a traditional non digital teaching methods so you can be skilled with it if the mean of digital was not available in addition to the reason that if you mastered it you can master any other mean. He showed me that digital learning is a tool to help in delivering mindful learning but not the reason, and it was not smart to digitize all of your course learning methods just to make your life and students’ life easier which required not having any technological tool in class.

Unconsciously, I have applied his method in my teaching, where I always ask the students to not use digital means for our first project in class ( design course) trying to use had drawings, sketching to conceptualize and synthesize their ideas on paper and then transform it using other non-digital tools, as it has been faced with opposition, they enjoyed the process eventually with less distraction, but it doesn’t last as I force them to use the digital means for their second project using what they have learned from the previous and provide same drawings and graphics explaining their ideas and designs. I can’t say that this helped in enhancing their learning outcome, but it helped in creating a better communication mean with each other.

But nowadays, the new norm is to digitize all teaching methods. I have to acknowledge its benefit compared to traditional means in terms of documentation and accessibility, but it should not be the only source, and that is what digital pedagogy is all about. Reflecting it into the nowadays of online learning it is a learning experience seeing all types of educators adapt to the new need of digitizing and integrating their skills with the technology.

I believe that I am a hybrid learner, which means I enjoy using both methods, at the same time integrating and including students’ preferences within the teaching methodologies. Asking along with every use that worked with them and didn’t work. At the same time considering learning their cognitive skills and knowledge to integrate the best approach. Therefore, try to be open to new learning ideas and technology is evolving fast and better to drive with it. 

Leah Hamilton:

The approach that I’ve taken to technology in the classroom in the past is largely an approach based around transparency–if I don’t want them to use technology in certain ways in my class, I should be able to explain why that is to my students. My teaching mentor, on the first day of class in the Spring, told the students that in addition to the spiel they always hear about good learning and not being distracting to other students, it makes him feel bad when people are off-topic on their devices during class. I was surprised how well students responded to this, which was not at all a disciplinary approach: several times I witnessed students apologizing after class for a (usually perfectly reasonable) use of technology that wasn’t on task which neither of us had noticed. I anticipate taking a similar approach when I’m instructor of record myself, as I’m not generally inclined to take disciplinary action against students for things that are affecting their own learning and not others’. As I see it, I do my students a disservice by leaning on external motivation instead of giving them the skills they need to tackle those obstacles that will continue to be in their way in “real life” (such as the constantly-connected nature of our world). I also have no way of knowing why students are texting in class, or using technology for anything else–I think it’s best to extend students who are non-disruptively “off-task” (or appear to be) the benefit of the doubt.

 

MOOC: The Future of Education Or Not

Online education has been on the rise in the past decade and has taken the world by a storm, primarily because of its global reach coupled with interactive and on-demand learning. Through this blog post, I would like to introduce the concept of MOOCs and address the issue of MOOCs as a potential replacement for schools and universities, whether its even possible or not. Watch the short video below for an introduction to MOOC.

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course and is a well carved out solution to address the issue of accessibility to education and the rising cost of education. As stated above, MOOC supports life-long networked learning because all one needs to access a MOOC is an internet connection and you are virtually connected to your instructors and peers across the world, the very reason its called “Open.” MOOCs in the present times are available on a wide variety of topics across different domains offered by multiple vendors. The courses lessons are an interleaved set of slides, videos/lectures and interactive exercises with computer based instantaneous feedback systems. This makes such courses all the more desirable and improve understanding of the subject.

Even though MOOCs are extremely valuable and improve the reach of education globally, according to Mike Bergelson’s article, there are some downsides of MOOCs. According to him, accreditation is one such issue that makes MOOCs undesirable because not every industry accepts skill development via MOOCs as standard education. In other cases, some MOOCs seem to be extremely simplified,  not enough to cater to the needs of the industry. Also, flexibility, the very factor that makes MOOCs learner-friendly often cause course abandonment because of other commitments. Let’s try to understand MOOCs better through the infographic below, see how students and professors react to MOOCs and understand the reasons behind their reactions.

The infographic above is very informative and explains well the effectiveness of MOOCs. Coursera, EDX and Udacity are the major players in the market along with a few others such as Udemy and Canvas with over 1200 courses offered in 9 different disciplines. 40% of MOOC users come from developing countries and that defines the success of MOOCs because people from developing countries who otherwise may not have had access to quality education, now have access to free courses from top-level educators from world-class educators. Besides being a great tool of education in the developing countries, MOOC also serves well to working professionals, retired personnel unemployed people who cherish the flexible nature of the courses and some of whom may not be comfortable attending college for higher education. MOOC also provides its users with the freedom to enroll in just one course of interest rather than following a rigorous curriculum at a university. Let’s see what Daphne Koller, the co-founder of Coursera and a Professor of Computer Science at Stanford has to say about MOOC.

As per the statistics discussed above, we see that the cost of education has increased by about 559% since 1985, yes you read that number right, its 559%. This makes education inaccessible and unaffordable to a major population, killing their chance for a better quality of life. When Andrew Ng, the co-founder of Coursera offered his Machine Learning class online, it had an enrollment of about 100,000 students, and to put that in perspective, to reach that number of audience traditionally, he would have to teach the same course at Stanford for the next 250 years. The outreach is massive and takes full advantage of the telecom revolution, to reach the goal of education for all. Anant Agarwal, the founder and CEO of edX and a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the MIT also shares his views on MOOC in the video below.

He talks about reimagining education or redesigning it from the ground up instead of fixing the calcified education system. He also talks about embracing the role of technology in education, rather than resisting it, because that is what students want in this modern age. Also, MOOC seems to be a great alternative for in-person classes especially during the pandemic that we are going through, but the key factor that is missing from MOOCs is in-person interaction. Even though Anant states that they some of their patrons have used a combination of in-person and online lectures using edX, at the end he mentions the need for no lecture halls or just one lecture hall for museum purposes, I feel he is missing the point of in-person  peer interaction there.

In my opinion, classrooms in many cases serve as a better mode of communication and interaction, without the barriers of online communication such as connectivity, fatigue caused by online resources and indiscipline due to the flexibility factor. Classrooms promote social interaction and improve social skills in a way that online education can never achieve. Overcoming the fear of presenting in front of a computer is way easier than presenting in front of your peers in a classroom and that is one of the reasons millennials feel introverted or alone even though they are connected to the world 24/7 via social media. Also, another factor that makes classrooms more desirable is that when you enter a classroom, you are motivated to learn by your peers and the energy of your instructor. Even though that may or may not be true in all cases but in case of MOOCs, the energy or motivation doesn’t translate very well through online platforms. In case of MOOCs, even the most disciplined might face the issue of abandonment because MOOCs are generally flexible and free, often taking the backseat in ones priority list.

MOOCs are great for students who otherwise don’t have access to quality education either due to reach or affordability and also for those who desire to learn at their own pace, but there are still, a lot of issues that hamper efficacy of such courses becoming mainstream, hence the question still stands, “Are MOOCs the future of education or not?”

References:
1. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology-and-learning/some-reactions-learning-moocs-ii
2. https://www.nas.org/blogs/article/have_moocs_replaced_the_classroom
3. https://3d-universal.com/en/blogs/2020/04/can-online-courses-boost-on-campus-education-and-increase-your-employability.html
4. http://degreeoffreedom.org/mooc-infographics/
5. https://www.geteverwise.com/career-success/4-pros-and-4-cons-of-moocs-whether-to-take-study-from-classroom-to-online/

 

Information Processing and Problem Solving: Case, Project and Problem Based Learning Techniques

 

We are bombarded with a lot of information everyday, but  how much do we really process and store in our mind? The answer lies in the fact that ow a particular piece of information was presented to us and did we participate in learning the piece that was being taught. These principles are very well valid in pedagogy and take the form of case, project and problem based learning to improve retention and retrieval of information eventually promoting effective learning. If concepts are just thrown at us with no practical experience, our mind may become averse to learning and eventually solving real-life problems. To avoid this situation, pedagogy employs case, project and problem based learning techniques which will be discussed throughout this blog.

Case Based Learning

Case Based Learning refers to the scenario where real-life cases are employed to explain concepts that otherwise would seem less interesting and improve retention of information as well. The reason behind improved retention is the fact that people remember stories better than slides and points. When a real-life case is presented, students tend to think, apply existing knowledge and problem solving skills in order to solve that case. The urge and excitement to solve the case leads their mind to form cognitive connections to the concept being taught through the case. Have a look at the video below:

The video talks about the promotion of “application of knowledge” making students the center of learning so that they can make decisions to get to a certain outcome.  The outcome reached by their decision making whether positive or negative will help them understand the effects of their decisions and have a lasting impression on their mind. The video also states that how Case Bases Learning and Problem Based Learning are similar yet have nuances.

Project Based Learning

As described by John Spencer, in the words of Mrs. Smoot, “When you hide your voice, you rob the world of your creativity.” Projects are a great source of the creative voice of the students and encourage them to think, research, implement and present their thoughts in a consolidated manner. When students venture out on their own to describe a topic, they explore new avenues, face unforeseen challenges, learn from their mistakes eventually getting a solid grasp of the project topic.

“Project Based Learning means learning through projects rater than doing culminating project. It involves student choice in design, instead of just following a set of instructions. It includes student inquiry, rather than pre-planned questions. It includes peer and self-assessment, rather than only relying on teacher assessment. And then includes student ownership of the process, rather than just teacher ownership of the process”, said John Spencer in the above video on Project Based Learning. This statement pretty much covers all the important aspects of Project Based Learning and describe how the students take the driver’s seat and take responsibility for their decisions. Let’s move on and take a look at Problem Base Learning.

Problem Based Learning

The above animation is a perfect example of Problem Based Learning, wherein the dog is presented with the problem of taking the branch across the bridge. The dog does the calculation, tries out a few cases practically and gets the job done. This is what Problem Based Learning is all about, present the students with a problem, let them research, calculate and try out solutions practically and finally get to the desired the solution. Each student might approach the problem differently, giving them intellectual freedom leading to a unique path to the same goal.

In the above video, John Spencer talks about school (for example) being a one-size fits all model whereas Problem Based Learning mitigates such a situation by providing students the opportunity to solve problems in a unique manner that matches their intellectual inclinations. he also states that students need to know how to navigate through the complexity of the global society and to do so, Problem Based Learning is an important tool in the hands of the educators. The four phases of Problem Based Learning are very well described in the above video. The first phase involves presenting the problem to the students followed by a collaborative effort to develop a plan to solve the problem. The next phase involves implementing the plan, which can be done in many different ways adding uniqueness to the problem solving technique. The final step is evaluation of the implementation, giving students to review and make changes to their process along with analyzing the results.

All the techniques mentioned above are critical in processing information and decision making and are powerful tools of education if handed in the right set of hands. Such techniques break the idea of one size fits all and give students the chance to develop in their own unique ways.

References:
1. Working in Large Teams: Measuring the Impact of a
Teamwork Model to Facilitate Teamwork Development in
Engineering Students Working in a Real Project: file:///C:/Users/dsahi/Downloads/Murzi%20et%20al.%20IJEE%20Working%20in%20large%20teams.pdf
2. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/case-studies/
3. https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/strategic-resources-digital-publications/strategies-teaching/case-based-learning
4. https://www.edutopia.org/practice/solving-real-world-issues-through-problem-based-learning
5. https://crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tscbt
6. https://www.learning-theories.com/problem-based-learning-pbl.html
7. https://presentlygifted.weebly.com/problem-based-learning.html
8. https://www.travisheightselementary.com/blog/2019/01/25/project-based-learning-pbl-showcase/#lightbox/0/

 

Digital 4N6 and the Open Access World

 

 

Digital Forensics(4N6) is an ever growing field of study as security on devices increases and the involvement of digital devices in investigating a crime becomes integral. This aspect of digital forensics makes it all the more important to have open access to research on digital forensics, so that investigators all around the world can benefit from the resources and lead crucial investigations in the right direction. With that said, I would like to address a few questions through this blog:

  1. What is Open Access or What are Open Access Articles?
  2. What is Digital Forensics?
  3. What is the Need for Open Access in Digital Forensics and Incident Response?
  4. Case Study on an Open Access Digital Forensics and Incident Response Journal

 

1. What is Open Access or What are Open Access articles?

According to Wikipedia,

“Open access (OA) is a set of principles and a range of practices through which research outputs are distributed online, free of cost or other access barriers. With open access strictly defined (according to the 2001 definition), or libre open access, barriers to copying or reuse are also reduced or removed by applying an open license for copyright.

The main focus of the open access movement is “peer reviewed research literature.” Historically, this has centered mainly on print-based academic journals.

As per the above definition, we can see that open access corresponds to academic research papers or journals that are free to access without any charge, providing quality research to all sections of the society with better reach and quality content. When researchers have open access to academic materials, they can focus on expanding that research with limited resources, hence providing breakthrough content back to the community. A brief explanation of the various tracks related to Open Access Publishing in mind is illustrated in the following image.

 

2. What is Digital Forensics?

According to Wikipedia,

“Digital forensics (sometimes known as digital forensic science) is a branch of forensic science encompassing the recovery and investigation of material found in digital devices, often in relation to computer crime. The term digital forensics was originally used as a synonym for computer forensics but has expanded to cover investigation of all devices capable of storing digital data.

Digital Forensics can be referred to as the conglomeration of forensic science involving all digital devices such as computers, mobile devices, wearable devices and vehicle infotainment systems etc. Each one has a vast field of study related to it, such as Mobile Device Forensics, Computer Forensics and Vehicle Forensics etc. Digital Forensics is employed by police departments and investigative agencies throughout the world to help chalk out the crime scene and the mindset or motives of the criminal.

 

3. What is the Need for Open Access in Digital Forensics and Incident Response?

Even though violent crimes have gone down in the US in the past few years, the number of digital devices associated with a crime have gone up significantly and the number of crimes related to digital fraud and cyber crimes have also risen, making Digital Forensics an important source of crime investigation data. These statistics are illustrated by the following images.

 

 

 

 

As can be seen above, the need for digital forensics has risen over the years, leading to a rise in the number of investigators as well. This situation demands access to training and education on and open access to research on Digital Forensics. Without open access to research material, investigators may not be able to make sense of the extracted data leading to reverse or no outcome to sensitive cases. Also, all investigators around the world may not have access to enough resources to be able to pay to download relevant research material, hence strengthening the case for open access in the field of Digital Forensics.

 

4. Case Study on an Open Access Digital Forensics and Incident Response Journal

As the nature of the study demands, a lot of open access materials are available for Digital Forensics from various sources. I would like discuss about DFRWS or DFIR Review, which is a peer reviewed Open Access journal based out of New York, United States. As per their website,

“DFIR Review responds to the need for a focal point for up-to-date community-reviewed applied research and testing in digital forensics and incident response. DFIR Review concentrates on targeted studies of specific devices, digital traces, analysis methods, and criminal activities to help digital forensic practitioners deal with real-world issues.”

This statement clearly outlines their goal of promoting up-to-date community-reviewed applied research and testing in digital forensics and incident response. This leads us to the fact that this journal is by the community and for the community, since its peer-reviewed and Open Access. Further, the motivation for the journal states that:

“Rapid review and dissemination of up-to-date results of applied research and testing is necessary to keep pace with changes in technology and cybercrime. The Internet-of-Things (IoT) and smartphone applications are prime examples of the unprecedented proliferation of new devices and digital traces. New versions of operating systems can also have data structures that contain valuable information from a forensic perspective. When a new type of digital trace is found to be relevant to a legal matter, it may be the first time it has been studied from a forensic perspective. New approaches to analysing digital traces can help develop insights in an investigation. Often this type of material is shared via blogs by active practitioners who are the first to tackle new devices, uncover new digital traces, and encounter new forms of criminal activity. Currently, these posts do not undergo community review or vetting, and are not presented or published in a formalized forum for long term reference. The faster this knowledge can be produced, reviewed, and shared among the DFIR community, the better able we will be to deal with new devices, digital traces, and criminal activities. DFIR Review aims to take the up-to-date rapid content created by practitioners and distributed regularly via blogs and provide review such that the findings can be cited and stored in a referenceable format so that it may be used by others including for reference in legal and other matters while crediting the originating source such as a practitioner blog.”

The main motivation for this Open Access journal is getting out the latest research and techniques to the DFIR community in a timely manner to assist with time sensitive investigations and individual learning while still crediting the author for their work. One of the reasons DFIR Review was born is that in DFIR, most of the research is done by tool vendors and researchers who are based of off corporate environments and do not have the time to write academic papers, so DFIR Review accepts blog formats, helping such researchers get due credit for their work.

The Open Access aspect of DFIR Review is vey well highlighted in the “Presentation” section of their website, which states that:

“Accepted submissions will be made available on the DFRWS website open access under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/). Accepted submissions will be organized along with reviewer response materials. Although authors can revise accepted materials on the basis of reviewer feedback, this is not a requirement for publication, taking into account that practitioners may not have time to rework a submission or perform additional research. Authors can post their work on their personal website or blog with a reference to the publication in DFIR Review. In this way, DFIR Review is the system of record for the work, and authors can disseminate their work with a reference to the publication in DFIR Review.”

I would like to conclude by saying that Open Access resources are an integral part of research, as they provide everyone equal access to research material without financial or other access constraints. More quality Open Access material should be promoted and should be available freely to everyone around the world.

References:
1. https://www.journals.elsevier.com/digital-investigation
2. https://www.journals.elsevier.com/digital-investigation/most-downloaded-articles
3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1742287610000368
4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1742287619300313
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_forensics
7. https://dfrws.org/dfir-review/

Inclusivity in Diversity: It Is Ok To Be Different

Diversity is natural but inclusivity is not because of prejudice. The day we give up our inhibitions and instill inclusivity in our soul, the world will become a better place. I am not asking to neglect differences, instead I encourage to embrace our differences positively to help each other, without judging or discriminating against each other. These same principles do apply to pedagogy as well because effective learning occurs when students and teachers unlearn their biases and learn to function together as a unit.

 

Diversity is characterized by, but not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, language, culture etc. The reason I say that diversity is not limited by the above characteristic traits is because even people who identify with the same traits are different individuals and have the right to be recognized differently from other members of the same community. This is where the concept of “Safe Space” steps in the classroom, where students are allowed be themselves, say what they feel, without being under the scrutiny. This does not mean students can be disrespectful to the teacher or other students, but express their views freely.

 

 

It is great how Cole Blakeway explains being different as “awesome” and that everyone is perfect the way they are.  His words, “You don’t need to fix something that isn’t broken” resonate with my idea of a classroom where pedagogical techniques aim to build an inclusive environment. Techniques such as discussing uncomfortable topics in a manner that does not offend anyone and if they do, being prepared to ameliorate the situation by explaining the objective point of view or discussing the counter topics that can make students feel better about it. An example of such a situation was discussed by Professor Marcia Chatelain, talking about finding a balance during difficult classroom discussions.

 

Inclusive pedagogical techniques are not just mean to be followed by teachers but are supposed to be inculcated to students as well who are equally responsible for making the classroom environment inclusive. Teachers are not supposed to teach students how to be inclusive, instead they need to be taught the generic concept of inclusion and brotherhood which will help them develop techniques to make their fellow classmates comfortable. One such example can be seen below, where Dr. Nandita de Souza discusses about Shreya, a student with Down Syndrome and how her classmates encourage her to participate particular activity. Shreya’s classmates were taught how to be inclusive and they found out a way to encourage her, knowing that she performs the best when the teacher is not around which eventually helped her.

 

 

Another technique to promote inclusion in classrooms is to be aware of your audience, their demographics and other characteristics. This is really helpful in making your examples and teaching practices generic enough to be understood by the whole class, giving students a sense of belonging. Teachers should also promote interactive activities that help students know each other better. When students appreciate the teacher and form a connection with the teacher as well as their peers, free flow of knowledge occurs in all directions.

 

In the words of Ilene Schwartz, “Student failure is instructional failure”. Based on her thoughts, I would like to state that if a student fails to understand what the teacher is trying to communicate, it is a failure on both ends and one of the reasons for such a failure could be the lack of inclusion. Ilene considers “membership”, “relationship” and “skills” as the outcome of being inclusive. Even though there might be indicators of such outcomes during the process of inclusion but indicators should not be mistaken for the outcome. Listen to her TED talk below and see how she walks you through “The Power Of Inclusive Education”.

 

 

I would like to end with the words of William Arthur Ward,

Inspire your students to be inclusive and see the world become a better place, one classroom at a time.

 

References:

1. Difficult Discussions: https://commons.georgetown.edu/teaching/teach/discussions/
2. Inclusive Pedagogy: https://commons.georgetown.edu/teaching/design/inclusive-pedagogy/
3. Dismantling Racism In Education: https://blog.heinemann.com/the-heinemann-podcast-dismantling-racism-in-education
4. Inclusive Education: A Different Perspective: https://medium.com/thesparksfoundation/inclusive-education-a-different-perspective-960afb4d1076
5. How To Make Your Teaching More Inclusive: https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-to-make-your-teaching-more-inclusive/
6. Innovative Inclusive Science Teacher Education: https://innovations.theaste.org/innovative-inclusive-science-teacher-education/
7. Teaching Resources for Social Justice: https://libguides.seattlecentral.edu/teaching-resources-for-social-justice/pedagogy

Broken Moral Compass: A Case Study On Research Misconduct

 

Ethics, morality and proper research conduct go hand-in-hand. In the modern times, ethics are an integral part of any field of study as lack of ethics would create a chaos, making it difficult to safeguard the rights of the researchers and in some cases their subject as wells. Through this blog I would like to walk you through answering the following questions:

  1.  What are Ethics and Morals?
  2.  What is Research Misconduct?
  3.  What are the Consequences of Research Misconduct?
  4.  Case Study of Research Misconduct.

 

1. What are Ethics and Morals?

According to the McCombs School of Business,

The term ethics often describes the investigation and analysis of moral principles and dilemmas. Traditionally, philosophers and religious scholars have studied ethics. More recently, scholars from various disciplines have entered the field, creating new approaches to the study of ethics such as behavioral ethics and applied ethics.

The term ethics can also refer to rules or guidelines that establish what conduct is right and wrong for individuals and for groups. For example, codes of conduct express relevant ethical standards for professionals in many fields, such as medicine, law, journalism, and accounting.

Some philosophers make a distinction between ethics and morals. But many people use the terms ethics and morals interchangeably when talking about personal beliefs, actions, or principles. For example, it’s common to say, “My ethics prevent me from cheating.” It’s also common to use morals in this sentence instead.

So, whether we use the term ethics to refer to personal beliefs, or rules of conduct, or the study of moral philosophy, ethics provides a framework for understanding and interpreting right and wrong in society.

From the above discussion on ethics and morals, we may not be clear about the distinction between the two but we definitely know that they point to the same goal of being true to the vision of equality and integrity in all walks of life. Research or scientific experimentation is no different, they follow the highest standard of ethical conduct since their end goal is to give back to the society. In some cases researchers fall short of ethical behavior while conducting research and that leads us to our next question.

 

2. What is Research Misconduct?

According to The Office of Research Integrity(ORI), US Department of Health and Human Services(HHS),

Research misconduct means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.

(a) Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.

(b) Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.

(c) Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.

(d) Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.

The above definition clearly states the differences between intentional fabrication, falsification and plagiarism vs an honest error in terms of admissibility as an evidence for research misconduct. Fabrication, falsification and plagiarism are the three pillars that may seem alluring but you definitely do not want the to be supporting the structure of your research.

 

3. What are the Consequences of Research Misconduct?

The consequences of research misconduct can be disastrous, as it taints the reputation of the individual and the organization as well. The retraction notice on the paper will haunt the researcher for years and the organization may not be ready to bear the consequences of such misconduct. The videos below explain the point of view of a publishing organization with respect to the researcher and the society as a whole:

What are the consequences of scientific misconduct to you personally?

 

What are the consequences of scientific misconduct to you (the author), your institution and the research community?

 

Also, the monetary losses related to the research are huge because, all the money and effort that went into the research goes down the drain followed by lack of funding for future project due to loss of trust between the research organization and the organization funding the research.

To mitigate research misconduct, students and researchers must be trained in appropriate research conduct. Most universities have their own training programs and checks in place to avoid research misconduct but at the end of the day, it lies in the hands of the researcher to ethically implement the best practices and avoid misconduct.

The Lab: Avoiding Research Misconduct” and “The Research Clinic” are two interactive resources for training by ORI to portray the best research practices and how to avoid misconduct.


4. Case Study of Research Misconduct.

 

 

As a case study, I would like to take into account the findings by ORI on Fulford, Logan. Before I start with analyzing the case summary, I would like to state that I am no expert in the field in which the misconduct occurred and my views are solely based on the findings by ORI.

The case summary has a very technical format, starting with the identity of the researcher involved, their initial statement on the accusations, a brief list of areas of research where misconduct occurred followed by an expanded version of the accusations and the steps taken to discipline the researcher.

The identity description of the researcher involved with the misconduct is a very comprehensive one, stating all previous and current affiliations. In my opinion, the need for such a detailed description is for proper identification of the researcher, setting the distinction from other researchers with similar credentials. Followed by this, the admission of misconduct is stated by ORI as:

Respondent neither admits nor denies ORI’s findings of research misconduct; this settlement is not an admission of liability on the part of the Respondent. The parties entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement (Agreement) to conclude this matter without further expenditure of time, finances, or other resources.

This seems to be a legal statement from the researcher being reported by ORI to briefly summarize the outcome of the case where the researcher neither admits nor denies the claims against their research. Followed by this, ORI briefly describes two major areas of possible misconduct, specifically targeting the specific instances of misconduct. This a broad level description of what actually happened and is very helpful for the reader to understand the cause of the probe.

The case summary moves on to describe the technicalities and the exact instances of misconduct, explaining how those instances classify as misconduct. Even though some basic aspects of the accusations can be understood but this particular section does require some technical expertise to totally understand the dynamics of the misconduct.

Once the findings of misconduct are listed, the case summary moves on to disclosing the arrangements made between ORI and the researcher/research organization to discipline the researcher and prevent future misconduct. The final arrangements vary case-by-case in their severity and in my opinion the steps taken in this particular case were not extreme providing the researcher a second chance, but under strict supervision.

In the end, I would like to conclude that a broken moral compass can lead a researcher to adverse consequences and it is very important to keep your moral compass pointed in the right direction of equality and integrity while conducting responsible research.

Voice of Enlightenment: Reflections On My Inner Teaching Self

 

Being a subject matter expert does not guarantee that the person can successfully transfer that knowledge to someone else and is no benchmark for being a great teacher. Great teachers have the ability to impart knowledge to their students in a manner that leaves an impression on their hearts and minds for life. My goal is to get as close as possible to that ideal by inspiring and instilling in my students the urge for greatness. The techniques that can be used to reach that ideal are the ones that  I wish to discuss about through this piece. I will also reflect upon some techniques for effective teaching/learning that I have read and heard about.

 

As per my philosophy, I feel that practical life experiences are the ones that shape our minds and make us who we are. When a kid accidentally experiences an electric shock from an open socket, it is instantly registered in his/her mind to be cautious with the socket. On the other hand when a kid experiences natural beauty, its categorized as a positive experience in his/her mind. I primarily work in the field of Digital Forensics and Incident Response, focusing mainly on Mobile Device Forensics. Like many other fields of study, mine is very dynamic in terms of changing mobile technology and in my opinion the best way to educate students on it is continual practical experience. Practical encounters really tend to put the student in the driver’s seat, take control of decision making and responsibility for their decisions except for the fact that they are backed by a safety net, allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

 

 

Besides delivering practical experiences while teaching, connecting with students is of utmost importance. To build that connection, you need to view students as unique individuals, not mere subjects. That does not mean you need to connect with your students at the personal level, but at an intellectual level where knowledge can be exchanged and learning occurs. Take a look at how Joe Ruhl in his TED talk on “Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future” establishes a positive connection with his students. Even though the same strategies may not be applicable to college students and teachers but it definitely inspires us to establish connection with students. I also admire the fact that he acknowledges the “2 Loves” of teaching, the first one being love  for the subject that the teacher is teaching and second, the teacher’s unemotional love for their students.

 

Joe Ruhl’s TED talk on “Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future”:

 

Teaching should be interesting but that does not warrant unprecedented “edutainment”(education+entertainment). Employing techniques for making the class interactive and the concepts more appealing are acceptable, but such techniques undermining the subject matter itself may be detrimental to a positive learning environment. Another very important aspect to consider while being interactive and entertaining is your audience. As mentioned by Dr. Homero Murzi from Virginia Tech, the contexts of your humor might be appealing to a section of the audience but alienating or offending the others. To strike a balance between teaching and entertainment is the key to effective learning.

 

Considering Sarah E. Deel’s post on Finding My Teaching Voice, I would like to comment on her thought about being a popular professor. She states, “I am no longer tempted to blur the boundaries between us, because I appreciate the embracing that sort of popularity is not the right way to be a good teacher. In fact, I am having to reevaluate my definition of “popular” as I remember other good teachers in college. These were the professors spoken of with respect in the library rather than those praised effusively at the bar.” In her opinion, blurring the boundaries between teachers and students may not be the right way to be popular and I totally get it, but in my opinion a professor can be good enough to be talked greatly about in a library as well as in a bar because he/she might appeal to different sects of students in a different manner and that is perfectly alright till the time he/she is able to contribute to effective learning.

 

Listen to the Ted talk “The One Thing All Great Teachers Do” by Nick Fuhrman:

 

Though Nick Fuhrman seems to be a fan of “edutainment”, I really like the way he summarizes the four aspects of a great teacher into the acronym “CARE” that in-turn is the fifth and the most important aspect. His question to the audiences is “Fill in The Blank: Great Teachers________________”

 

Fill In The Blank: Great Teachers __________________

 

The answer to the question is “Great Teachers Celebrate mistakes, Appreciate differences, Relay feedback, Evaluate themselves and most importantly CARE for their students”. Celebrating mistakes is one of the most important aspects of teaching since a mistake is the prelude to learning effectively, hence teachers should encourage their students to learn from their mistakes. Appreciating differences between two different classes and students within a class helps teachers to cater to the needs of the students, based on their unique requirements. Rewarding students with innovative feedback techniques is another important characteristic of a great teacher because students do appreciate being rewarded for their work. A distinguished teacher never forgets evaluating himself since learning from his mistakes is really important for teaching and effective learning. I would like to end by saying that CARE for students is a principal trait of a genuine teacher and is deeply embedded in their nature.

 

References:
1. The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills, Shelli Fowler
2. Finding My Teaching Voice, Sarah E. Deel: https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/598
3. "Teaching Methods for Inspiring the Students of the Future", Joe Ruhl: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCFg9bcW7Bk
4. "What makes a good teacher great", Azul Terronez: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrU6YJle6Q4
5. "The One Thing All Great Teachers Do", Nick Fuhrman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwTpfVQgkU0
6. "5 Ways College Teachers Can Improve Their Instruction", Jennifer Gonzalez: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/teaching-college/