My Experience with Adapting Teaching to Different Cultures

Although I have never had a classroom teaching experience, I was a private tutor for around five years in my undergrad, and a GTA responsible for a circuits/electronics help group during my first year at tech. Even though my teaching style never changed, I quickly realized that I had to tweak how I interact with students to cater for my new and more diverse audience.

As most Lebanese people, i tend to be very sarcastic in my daily life interactions. And during my run as a private tutor, I always used sarcasm to entertain and create a bond with my students. This approach was very successful and students responded well, especially since most, if not all, of them where middle to high school boys who had the tendency to be mischievous. I could always capture their attention for around 2 hours, but at the cost of spending the better part of around 30 min discussing random off-topic  issues. All in all my approach was successful, leading to improvement in my student’s understanding of the material.

Now lets jump to when i started my GTA here at Tech. I was quite confident in my approach, and, as expected, many students were able to relate with my friendly and sarcastic personality. However, others did not. I ended up with a group of students who specifically waited for my help, and others that completely avoided me. At first this phenomenon was pretty strange to me, I
wasn’t sure exactly what was happening. However,  after a while, i started to notice the dumbfound faces of students each time I gave a sarcastic remark. I have to admit, it took me a while to realize that people were misinterpreting me, especially because i come form a country where sarcasm is so deeply rooted in society, it has become second nature. After this realization, I had to change my interaction approach. Primarily, I tried to tone down my sarcasm until i figured out how much the student I am currently helping would appreciate. After all my purpose is to help all student, not just the ones that can relate to my character.

As a closing remark, I am always true to my self, I never completely changed my interaction approach, rather I adapted my interactions to my audience. I tried to find a balance between the way I want to interact with people and the way people want to be interacted with.

Don’t Judge a book by its cover, but still!!

I have to admit that before reading the article “The Case Against Grades” I was extremely biased. As soon as I read the title, I directly knew what to do next:
read the article, bash the article every chance i get, criticize the article in my blog. However, i quickly realized that the author Alfie Kohn is making very good points, and looking back on my own education, i have been the victim of many downsides of grading which include:

>Diminishing students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.
>Creating a preference for the easiest possible task
>Reducing the quality of students’ thinking
>Increasing the levels of cheating

However, as much as i do agree with these points, I still think grading is necessary, at least in advanced levels of education. I definitely see how letting go of grades for children can enhance the learning experience, i mean giving a 7 year old an F isn’t really helping anyone. However, i would definitely feel more comfortable knowing that my surgeon can identify every single organ in my body, or that the pilot knows what the big red button does. Don’t take the previous examples too literally, but try to see the underlying point. If no grading exists how can we differentiate between people who are qualified and people who are not. The article suggest personalized feedback, or meaningful assessment, but once other people have access to these assessment this becomes another way of grading, basically all we end up doing is manipulating semantics. If i know that a professor is going to be writing my recommendation letter, i will naturally tend to put much more effort toward his work, and less towards other’s work. If this sounds familiar, well its similar to what grading does to people.

At the end of the day i don’t think we are stuck with only one of two options: keep grading as is or completely get rid of it. We should focus on reducing the harm caused by grading, but at the same time acknowledge that grading does still have the benefit of at least giving a perspective of a person’s qualifications ( again i agree that qualifications are not entirely based on grades). I will end by saying that a person can be passionate about a career, but passion does not translate into competence.



My Experience with Favoritism, Was I Unethical??

When I saw that the topic of this week’s blog is Ethics, the first thing that popped into my mind was the peer review system. However, I have decided against this topic since many people are likely to cover it. Instead, I would like to share a story from my undergrad involving favoritism in force adding students to classes. Admittedly, this story involves an ethics violation by both my advisor and I. I’ll leave it to you guys to judge on whether or not my actions were justified.

The story begins on the first semester of my undergraduate studies. My university follows the American standard of education, and courses are picked almost identically to how they are picked here at tech. The exception is the first semester where your advisor must register your courses and you do not have the power to do it yourself. After the registration process, I ended up with 4 courses on MWF and 1 course on TTH. For more background, back in the day I was not motorized, and proper public transportation is basically nonexistent which transformed a 30 min drive to campus into an 1h 30 min trip involving 4 buses and at least 20-30 min of walking (assuming it’s a nice sunny day).

Understandably, on the day of drop and add I was planning to drop the TTH course and force add the same course on MWF. When I went to my advisor, he refused to sign my force add request stating that I will not get force added to the course. Note that my advisor does not have any say on whether or not my force add request is going to get accepted, he only needs to sign the paper, so I can file it. Additionally, a couple of my friends who also wanted to transition where able to get their signatures right away from their advisors. After a couple of minutes of arguing I asked him to drop the course and register me in some free elective. He bluntly refused stating that this course should be taken in the first semester (There is no rules that forces me to do that, it is just usually recommended since it was an introductory course to engineering).

Feeling that a 3-hour commute to attend a 1hr 30 min class is not justifiable and that I can spend this time studying or doing something useful, I contacted a professor (an old acquaintance) in the department of business asking her for help. After explaining the situation, she contacted the dean’s secretary, explained the situation, and sent me to meet her. There, the secretary accompanied me to my advisor’s office, where he very gladly signed my papers and even stated, and I translate: “You came back with a powerful ally”. After this process, the secretary filed my papers and I got the 35th seat in the MWF class which was the maximum physical capacity of the class. Admittedly, there was at least 10 people I knew that wanted that seat and I was able to get it only because I called in a favor.

Back in the day, when this incident happened, I was very mad at my advisor and really glad I was able to “beat” him. Now that I reflected on the incident, I noticed that I also behaved in a somewhat unethical manner. That being said, I do not regret my actions and I’m pretty happy with the outcome. So what do you guys thinks, were my actions justified? Was my advisor allowed to deny my signature even though it’s not his decision? was my advisor allowed to deny my request for a free elective, even though I was legally allowed to do so? Or was I at fault, and should have conceded? Eager to hear different perspectives.





Why is Gaming So Enjoyable, Yet Studying is So Hard?

Anyone who has played video games knows that gaming is not easy. In fact, I would go as far as to argue that to become a professional gamer requires the same amount of effort needed for a graduate degree. However, I have always found gaming to be highly entertaining, and studying not so much. so why is that exactly?

I think the first, and most important, aspect that differentiates gaming from studying is the positive annotation attached to gaming. To explain this point, I will use the example of reading. To many, this is a very nice and enjoyable way to spend time, however, I never could associate reading with fun because of all the reading assignments I had to do in school. Gaming has always been about having a good time, even though in many cases it can be frustratingly hard, while studying always relates to long hours of boredom, even though the material is interesting.

Second, comes the stakes associated with each activity. If you lose in a video game you can always restart and improve, however, if you fail the test you might not have a chance to make it up. This allows people to enjoy the game and learn on their own pace rather than having to worry and grind to pass a test.

The third and final point I would like to make is instant gratification. I know this is a controversial point and probably a counter argument to gaming but hear me out. Each time I’m facing a tough problem I can’t solve or fail at a task at hand it always makes me feel better when I open a game and crush everybody else. Studying is associated with a long-term plan and often one does not reap the fruits of his education until years to come. This makes justifying studying that much harder especially when bombarded by assignments and exams.

On a closing note, I don’t expect studying to be as fun as gaming, nor do I think it should be. Gaming can be a great way to blow off some steam while studying to build your future.