The Joy of Discovery

“It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

–1921, Albert Einstein on Thomas Edison’s opinion that a college education is useless; quoted in Frank, Einstein: His Life and Times, p. 185.

What is School for? I enjoyed watching Seth Godin’s talk about the purpose of schools. It is a simple question and it seems everybody knows the answer. But why most students hate going to school and college every day? Actually, almost all students feel happy when summer comes and nobody will be upset about breaks. Why is this considering that students were not forced to go to college.

As it is mentioned by Albert Einstein, we come to college to learn something that we cannot learn from textbooks. College should prepare students for real life. However, how many of our courses are beyond of the textbooks? How many of instructors care about the purpose of education not evaluations at the end of the semester?
I passed my two requirement courses with an instructor who was the only person offering these courses here in Virginia Tech. He had some slides copied from the textbook and read through them every single session. In those days, I always thought why I am here when I can read the textbook and learn better and quicker. Students should try very hard to get a grade less than A- in his courses because the exams are so easy and straightforward! I guess the instructor get great evaluation grades from students every semester because students feel happy when they get an A. I saw one of my friends recommended this course to others and he said you do not even need to go to the classes and you will get an A :).

Why students forget their goals from coming to college? As it is discussed by Doan Winkel (watch below), many of instructors deprive students the joy of discovery and present the answers to students before even students know and think about the problem. Actually, the procedure is reversed classes and I think that is exactly why most students hate classes.


Critical Pedagogy in Standardized Courses


“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”
― Paulo FreirePedagogy of the Oppressed

Before this week, I had never heard about the Critical Pedagogy and Paulo Freire. The reading materials and the movie were very interesting. I am so glad I learned about the critical pedagogy.

My undergrad program was more like the Banking Model. However, my master degree courses were project based and were very similar to critical pedagogy model. I feel I learned a lot more in my master and what I learned in those courses I will never forget. Now, after reading about critical pedagogy, I have a better insight about my experiences and why I liked my master program more than the undergraduate one.

Overall, I think the critical pedagogy is a great model to use in teaching, especially at the present time that the business organizations need innovative people. However, I am not sure about applying it in all types of courses.

I feel applying critical pedagogy in a graduate level course is much easier than applying it in an undergraduate level course.  For example, in a course such as undergraduate Quantitative Methods for Decision Making (what I should teach the next year) the methods and concepts are very basic and solid. We expect all students learn the basics methods because they are the foundations for the next courses. Of course, there are some critical issues in the methods, but the topics are far beyond of an undergrad course.

The instructor in this course should make sure that the students learn the basics, considering that time is limited. I like using connected learning techniques in this course and increase critical thinking using the problem-based learning technique. But, I am not yet convinced that “raising awareness of critical issues” about some basics concepts, which are beyond an undergraduate course, will help students in that undergrad course.  Actually, with current settings, applying critical pedagogy in some standardized courses seems almost impossible to me.

Inclusive Teaching- My Experience

I got my undergrad and master degrees in my country. We do not have international students and number of women are more than men in universities. Also, all people have almost the same cultural background and are from the same race. Therefore, as a person lived in a Middle East country, I could not understand why we need inclusive pedagogy. However, my experience was different during past two years in the US and I understood why the inclusive pedagogy is so important.

One of my best friends is an African male student. He got his master degree from another university in the US.  We have passed a lot of courses together during past two years.  He always thinks that TAs give him a lower grade because of his name or race! He repeats this sentence almost every time we get our grades in some courses. I thought it is definitely wrong. However, we had a course that we could work on homework together. Although our solutions were same, sometimes he got a lower grade than me. I am not sure it was because of his name but it is really painful that somebody always thinks his grade will be lower than others because of his name or race!

In one of our seminar courses, he had this feeling that the instructor thinks his ideas in discussions are funny and worthless. I could also feel that but I was sure the instructor does not mean that consciously.  He decided to do not participate in discussions anymore. I think he was very sensitive about the instructors’ behavior. However, instructors should be more careful while discussing with students and they always should convey safe environment impressions.

These two examples were my only personal experiences. Before the last session, I never thought gender issues can result in a problem for students in classrooms.  I have learned some inclusive teaching strategies during past week. However, I think, as I have a little experience, I need to know more and more about it…

Teaching Is Human-Human interaction Not Human-Robot


I started teaching informally when I was very young. I taught Mathematics and Physics to my younger cousins when I was in high school. Very soon, I found teaching is not easy and it is not enough to master what you are teaching!
The most important reason is that teaching is not an interaction between human-robot. When you write an Artificial Neural Network (ANN) code, you teach to a machine how to search or solve the problems. We never feel worried about learning capacity of the machine or the ability of the machine to learn what we coded! However, this is very different when we teach students. Students are not machines.
There are two different streams of research in the Information Science (IS): Design and Behavioral science. In design science, researchers develop systems such as database management systems without considering the applicability of the new designs in interaction with people in a real organization’s environment. However, in behavioral science, the focus is on human interactions with systems. For example, they build theories about gender and age rule in technology acceptance and usage behavior in organizations. An organization needs knowledge about both the product and behavioral reactions in order to apply a new information technology system successfully.
I think the teaching has two different parts same as the two different streams of research in the IS. Teachers should have the enough knowledge about the material they are teaching but it is not enough. They also should have enough knowledge about behavioral theories of teaching. For example, the first lesson I learned through teaching was that encouragement will have a positive impact on learning and threating students will hinder learning. As a teacher learn more about behavior theories of teaching, he/she can teach better. I think that is why some teachers will teach very better when they gain more experience.

My Experiences About Assessment

Here are my best and worst experiences about the assessment.

In my undergrad, in most of the courses, the assessments were used only to rank students! No feedback and comments were provided after exams. Almost in all courses, we had one midterm and one final exam and the instructors only announced the grades. I remember I studied very hard for a test and after the test, I was almost sure that I will get the full grade. However, I got 15 from 20. I went to the instructor office and asked him about my mistakes. He said I can review your answers but, this time, I am sure you will get less than 15! I never found what were my mistakes in that course.

Assessment should be used to motivate students to study (I study more when I have an exam) and give them feedback about their understanding. However, it was not the case in my undergrad.

My best experience about the assessment happened last fall. At the first day, the instructor explains the main goals of the course and handed in 2 pages to the students. Ninety-nine concepts were listed on the pages. He said you should be familiar with these ninety-nine concepts at the end of the course. In the beginning of each session, he explained which concepts will be reviewed in the session. He also sometimes explained that we have learned, for example, 20 of the listed concepts, if you did not learn some of them, please come to my office and ask me about them. All the exams and quizzes were about the listed concepts and we already know which concepts will be on each test. The most interesting part of the assessment was his feedbacks. Sometimes I thought I know a concept very well. However, after the test, he wrote some comments about my misunderstandings and at the end which concept I should learn better. I always was eager to take his tests because they were not for grading; the tests were a tool to evaluate our understandings and help us to eliminate our weaknesses.

Encouraging mindful learning


I really enjoyed reading articles about mindful learning by Ellen J. Langer. The results of experiments in the article (pay attention vs. notice new things, and tasks vs. play) were very interesting but not surprising. I have already experienced this behavior in some classes.  Here is an example. I was teaching assistant for an undergraduate course. The first semester, the instructor told students that we will have 4 exams before the final exam. That semester, some students were always complaining about the number of exams in my office hours! Next semester, the instructor changed the syllabus and told students we do not have any in-class exams. Instead, we will have only four quizzes.  In the second semester, students never complained about the number of quizzes, although the workloads and quizzes were similar to the previous semester’s exams!

I think mathematical modeling of a problem is one of the most difficult skills to teach in my field. Here is a very simple example: we have four employees and four different jobs. Employees have different skills. How to assign the employees to the jobs in order to have maximum efficiency? This is a simple problem that students learn to model it (See the following picture for a more complicated mathematical model).

One difficulty of the mathematical modeling is that the problems do not have one unique model and each person can model a problem differently. In addition, the number and type of problems are not limited. There are complicated problems that scientists still cannot model it mathematically. Therefore, we cannot teach a specific technique to the students and tell them that use this technique in order to model all types of problems (there is only a general guideline). Students should learn to be creative facing with different problems. Teaching the modeling skill to new students in the field is a very difficult and challenging job. I have seen many students struggling to learn mathematical modeling and complaining about instructors. I also have seen a student used the YouTube to learn mathematical modeling and said that this is more helpful than the class and I should not go to the class anymore!

Teaching the modeling skill is not possible without engaging students and encouraging them to learn mindfully. In my opinion, this is why some instructors are more successful in teaching this skill even through the YouTube. I definitely will think and read more about encouraging mindful learning and ways to improve it in the classes. Thanks to Dr. Langer for the amazing articles.

Connected Learning: is it good for elementary schools?

During past eight years, I have passed around sixty courses in three different universities. Each time I think about those courses, I find I only remember and apply six or seven of them! Only seven of sixty courses! The question is why only seven and what happened to other courses? I have asked this question more than one hundred times from myself. Why do I only remember and use seven of them?

I think the answer is that I was only passionate about those seven courses. As an engineer, I liked to solve problems in real life and those courses taught me techniques and tools to solve real problems.

I have no doubt that we need a better education system and the traditional education system is not effective enough. However, is the connected learning the solution?

Honestly, I do not know much about the learning process and last week was the first time I heard about the connected learning approach. I think the connected learning is ideal for university students, especially at the graduate level. The reason is simple: the university students almost know how to learn by themselves and they know the grades are not important (especially at Ph.D. level). However, I am not sure that the connected learning approach can be effective by itself for other lower levels. Although the traditional system is not good enough, it has a lot of benefits and advantages.  For example, the grading system may have some negative impacts but it increases the competition spirit and push students to spend enough time to learn some basics that they will never become interested about them! These basics are almost needed for everyone and without pushing some students to learn them, they will not learn. Generally, I believe the connected learning should be used to improve the learning process along with the traditional educational system and the use of connected learning approach should be proportional to the grade and age (and the person).  I may change my mind when I learn more about the connected learning approach.