Paulo Freire evaluating my Syllabus!

It was really interesting to me to have a look at Paulo Freire’s point of view about how education should be like or what is called “The critical pedagogical practice”. Unfortunately, throughout my learning experience both in school and in college, I’ve never taken a class that truly applied Freire’s ideas and recommendations. I remember that we students were all passive receptors receiving knowledge from the “Oracle” or what we call the “teacher” without the ability to express ourselves and think critically. The result is just we “store” whatever knowledge is thrown on us from the teacher to spit it out in the exam and that’s it. The disaster is that most of us now after 10 years or so doesn’t remember what these classes were about! This is not the true goal of education and we as educators should avoid this “passive” approach of teaching. For me as a future educator, I don’t want to fall into the trap that most of my teachers fell into when I was student. For this reason, I will try now to evaluate my Syllabus draft from the previous week in the light of Freire’s approach about “Critical Pedagogy”.

My course is a project/activity based course that teaches junior level computer science students the fundamentals of commonly used data structures and algorithms in the field. This course is programming intensive, accordingly, most of the focus should be on giving the students hands on practical experience. For this reason, 60% of the grade is dedicated to programming projects that allows the student to experience how to write programs for real. I see that this part of the syllabus is linked directly to Freire’s point about “empowering students to be critically engaged and active participants in society” as they are writing their own programs that can help organizations and businesses in managing and manipulating the tremendous amounts of data they generate daily. I believe this to be a direct connection between the student and the society in which students are actively engaged in developing solutions for the welfare of the society.

I also devoted 20% of the course grade to participation. I want to listen to the students and make them active within the class. This satisfies Freire’s point “The importance of dialogic exchange between teachers and students, where both learn, both question, both reflect and both participate in meaning-making“. This way, the student will find the tribune from which he can share his ideas with his classmates and the teacher and become an influential part of the knowledge creation process. This also satisfies Freire’s point “To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge“. Part of the participation grade is for creating activities for the students to do in class. This gives the student the opportunity to be more creative and to be an effective agent in the knowledge design process as he is the one who creates the activities for the class.

The final part of the grade is dedicated to assignments. The main purpose of these assignments is just to ensure that the student has Grasped the required conceptual fundamentals so that he will be able to do the projects and the activities. These are True/False, Fill in the blanks, simple programming, and MCQ. They are designed to test the student understanding of a particular concept not his ability to memorize the concept. Since the course has no exams so I believe there will be no need for students to memorize, but they learn the concepts to apply them in the projects and activities. This aligns with Ferier’s point “Intellectuals who memorize everything, reading for hours on end . . .fearful of taking a risk, speaking as if they were reciting from memory, fail to make any concrete connections between what they have read and what is happening in the world, the country, or the local community.  They repeat what has been read with precision but rarely teach anything of personal value“. The course is carefully designed to avoid any means of memorization and focus mainly on practical hands on application.

Finally, I believe that the syllabus will do a good job in applying Ferier’s approach of critical pedagogy as it satisfies some of the points that Ferier stressed on.

7 Responses so far.

  1. Ken Black says:

    One thing that might help: we as educators should create a bond or emotional attachment to the subject we are teaching with our students. This might come off as having a “passion” for it, but it is not just a word. It is found in the excitement and devotion to the discipline and the intent to strengthen the profession. Excellence is not a facade, it is the core of our being.

    • Aakash says:

      To add on Ken’s note – there is this growing need in computer science education to encourage students to critically think about algorithms – not only in terms of performance and efficiency but rather in terms of accountability and with regards to issues of equity and fairness.
      As computers rapidly become embedded in our day-to-day activity, these previously “life-less” tools become crucial in influencing the way we think and act. The algorithms and applications that programmers build for these technological devices have an agenda or politics (through the developer’s assumptions and expectations).
      This implies that developers have to be well aware of situations in which their programs may be used, and the implications that the use of the programs may have. I found Freire’s work to be quite relevant in this aspect of CS education as well.

  2. Jie says:

    Before I went to college, the teachers just transferred knowledge and I just received knowledge by memoring mostly. The teachers didn’t care much about critical thinking because they focused on letting students to pass the exams.

  3. GREG PURDY says:

    Are any of your programming projects group based? A couple of my friends have ended up doing programming for their jobs after they finished their graduate degrees (one at Facebook and the other at Tilt). Both have mentioned that all their projects are team based, but much of their educational experiences were individual programming assignments. Just a thought about how to bring some of the real world into the classroom.

  4. Sheryl says:

    Great post. I actually think this was an interesting exercise you took upon yourself to do. Ideally I am sure we were all trying to incorporate concepts of contemporary pedagogy into our syllabi but I think it was really great of you to actually take out some key phrases that were important to you (as far as pedagogical principles go) and show yourself that indeed you were satisfying these concepts. I think it was a nice exercise in holding yourself accountable. Nice job!

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