The Future of Higher Education

When I started thinking about this week’s post, a few things came to mind, however, I chose to write about something more timely and global. The change I would like to see in higher education in the *near* future is adapting digital transformation to their educational model.

What I mean by digital transformation isn’t the same as shifting classes to online, as you may already know. Adopting digital pedagogical practices is the future of learning and teaching. This topic is more relevant today in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though, digital transformation goes way beyond online classes but it presented an opportunity for higher education institutes to re-evaluate their readiness and their infrastructure. I am a supporter of digital transformation because of a couple of reasons:

  • It provides solutions for equal opportunity to lower-income students and to members of disadvantaged minorities
  • It is more resilient in the case of unexpected events such as pandemics
  • It allows for a more individualized learning experience for each student that suits where they are in their learning journey

References

[1]  https://www.forbes.com/sites/barbarakurshan/2020/07/29/disruptive-transformation-a-way-to-change-higher-education/?sh=55cd9d903a4d

[2]  https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/1/how-colleges-and-universities-are-driving-to-digital-transformation-today

[3] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/07/covid-19-digital-transformation-higher-education/

Reflection on Critical Pedagogy

The readings for this week’s topic made me think deeply about the teaching journey, particularly about it being a choice of how we carry our teaching practices. When we choose democratic, open-minded practices, there is always a risk involved. I reflected on the acceptance of students evaluation and how I think I should be committed to using it to improve myself, however, without obsessing over it. I like this quote from Paulo Freire’s “Teaching is a human act”:

After all, our teaching space is a text that has to be constantly read, interpreted, written and re-written.

Who you are becoming compared to who you seem to be is a key balancing act. It is extremely important to develop inner sense of security, that sense doesn’t mean that I will have all the answers, but it comes from knowing what I know and what I don’t know. This inner security will allow me as a teacher to be open with my students which inevitably is a source of risk that one takes when teaching with an open-minded and democratic approach as mentioned above.

Some of the important aspects of the teaching-learning dynamics that cannot be separated include: the respect for the teacher and respect for students, authority and freedom, knowledge and not knowing the answers to all questions, teaching and learning. The last point is extremely important and beautifully described in the “Banking Concept of Education” piece by Freire as reconciling the student-teacher contradiction by both being students and teachers at the same time.

I think that I am going to hold on to these concepts to use them to inform my teaching process in the future as I do the best I can to be the best teacher I can!

What is Digital Pedagogy?

Anaid Shaver, KJ Chew, Rifat Sabbir Mansur, Sam Salous, Zhenyu Yao (in alphabetical order)

“We did not know it was different from online teaching. We are not sure what digital pedagogy is.”

These were some of the opening statements we had in the group. Our discussion revolved around interpreting what “digital pedagogy” is. 

For some of us, digital pedagogy is not a thing that you do, it is a “force” that exists that has multiple elements. For instance, when we talk about Kahoot, it is not digital pedagogy. It is deeper than that. It is its own force in itself and it invites learning in the process. It is also always evolving. The use of “hacking” as a form of manifestation of learning also supports the idea of what digital pedagogy can be. For others, some view digital pedagogy as a study and a philosophy, indicating that one needs to spend years and efforts learning it. An instructor needs some training before he/she is assigned to teach a course. Similarly, one becomes a digital pedagogue by spending years researching, participating, writing and presenting on digital pedagogies. The most important factor in teaching is that it is still a human endeavor rather than just based on the technologies. 

However, what makes it “digital”? For some of us, we think some of the authors have “digital” as a conversation starter. They do not want to restrict the conversations, mindsets and definitions of what “digital” is. They want us to break out the restrictive thinking and mindsets revolving LMS and digital teaching. This means digital pedagogy does not mean it has to be in a virtual setting. It also does not have to be using digital tools. It is a way we can facilitate learning better in creative, flexible and expansive ways.

On the issues of banning digital tools or technologies in the class, we think student agency is important, and we should be teaching students on how to use the tools, like laptops. Instead of discussing with them using laptops for social media, we can have discussions with them on how to use laptops for learning. For instance, one of our group members provides them links to look for using their laptops to learn about critical thinking. The instructors should focus on how to make their class materials more interesting. Especially, at the college level where teaching is not a form of babysitting. It might be helpful to develop more flexible teaching approaches, such as recorded lectures, where students can follow through according to their own convenience. The key aspect here is that teaching should excite students into being curious and learning more.

 

Technology and Innovation in Higher Education

After COVID-19 forced colleges and universities to shift to online classes in spring 2020, discussions within the higher education community have been happening to evaluate the status and find ways to get the most out of the online learning experience. Some opinions argued for online learning citing benefits such as increased opportunities for student engagement due to the use of technology, flexibility for students, and cost relief in some cases. On the other hand, there are some challenges that remain such as difficulties in time management for students, mental health and wellness, lack of engagement, ensuring reliable internet access, and dealing with financial stresses in light of COVID-19. We’ve all heard some, if not all, of these opinions inside and outside classrooms at some point this year!

I came across an article on Inside Higher Ed about a survey conducted on 2 steps; one in May 2020, and the second in August 2020. This survey was trying to research how the attitude of faculty has changed towards the statement “online learning is an effective method for teaching”. Below is chart that shows the modest 10% increase in the proportion of surveyed faculty who agreed with the above mentioned statement.

Chart showing the change in faculty attitudes towards online learning* .

Additionally, the second part of this survey, “Fall like no other”,  focused on how professors and their colleges and universities prepared for an online fall semester. The chart below shows the faculty priorities for the fall semester and how they changed after spring.

Chart showing top faculty priorities for Fall 2020*

It seems like the summer was a busy time for institutions and faculty to reflect and make plans moving forward. The trends in the chart suggest that more faculty are focusing more on increasing engagement as part of the learning experience. This includes engagement at multiple levels; between the instructor and the class, between the instructor and individual students, and among students.

Even though students and faculty came a little more prepared for the fall being online, challenges remain, and one of the biggest concerns is equity. According the article, faculty said that when classes shifted to online in March it  “..disproportionately affect students from low-income and other disadvantaged backgrounds, which is why two-thirds of surveyed instructors said they were concerned about equity gaps”*. This time around, students, faculty, and universities have gained a lot of experience from the spring semester and so far have shown a higher degree of preparation going into the fall. This gives the hope that we are able to bridge the equity gap and overcome challenges by implementing strategies to achieving the priorities set for the fall semester and beyond.

*insidehighered.com/…/covid-era-experience-strengthens-faculty-belief-value-online

Ready for Takeoff: Problem Based Learning

Aircraft taking off at DCA

Airbus A321neo Taking off at Ronald Raegan International Airport (DCA). Photo by Dr. Antonio A. Trani, 2019.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

This week’s topic is one of my favorites, maybe because I am an engineer and naturally a problem solver! I think that PBL is a powerful way of learning especially for applied sciences such as engineering because the overall goal is to develop skills to be able to solve real world problems. So it makes sense to start practicing that in the classroom instead of waiting until students graduate and go out to the field!

I would like to share my own experience with PBL in this post. In 2014 I took the Airport Planning and Design class at Virginia Tech when I was just starting my master’s degree in Transportation Systems and Infrastructure Engineering. The topics covered were closely related to real life problems and scenarios, it was very interesting to me compared to the “dry” intro class I took in my undergrad. For example, the class covered topics such as how to estimate the required runway length for takeoff. The homework problems were realistic scenarios such as:

“An airline is in discussion with Roanoke airport (ROA) to start operating a route from ROA to Orlando (MCO) using their newly purchased Airbus A321neo. Determine if ROA has enough runway length to support these flights, if not, what runway extension would you recommend?”

This kind of questions was very useful because solving it encompasses many layers of research and analysis, it allowed the students to look for information from real world aircraft manuals, weather data, and airport data. In addition, solving this problem required us to come up with realistic assumptions based on real data such as the number of passengers on an aircraft (taking into account class configuration) and the average weight of a passenger and their luggage and so forth.

My experience with this course had a significant impact on my decision to choose aviation as my area of research, work in aviation data analysis after graduation, and now work towards a PhD degree in Transportation Systems Engineering with a focus on Aviation. This shows the impact that one class and the teaching method can have on someone’s educational and professional journey!

Open Access

Open Access journal publications have been steadily on the rise for the past few years. In 2019, there were estimated 600,000 open access articles published worldwide [1]. For this week’s post, I looked into The Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research (JAIR).

JAIR is an open access scientific journal that is dedicated to spreading Artificial Intelligence (AI) research to the global AI community. Their scope seems to be comprehensive in all major areas of AI including agents and multi-agent systems, automated reasoning, constraint processing and search, knowledge representation, machine learning, natural language, planning and scheduling, robotics and vision, and uncertainty in AI.

An interesting fact about this journal is that it was established in 1993 making it one of the first open access journals on the web. Additionally, this journal does not require authors to pay any fees for submissions unlike some other journals, this is very encouraging for authors to publish in this journal. The turn around time for submissions is somewhere between 8 and 12 weeks which is considered on the quicker side compared to other journals, this quick turn around time combined with the free nature of the journal seems to tempt authors to submit papers that are not completely as polished as they could be. That being said, the journal seem to have a rigorous blind peer review process to maintain high quality publications.

JAIR is published by AI Access Foundation, which is a nonprofit public charity whose purpose is “to facilitate the dissemination of scientific results in AI”. Their open access policy states that individual users have the right to read, download, or link to articles but cannot publish or sell complete volumes of the journal, that right is reserved exclusively for AAAI which is located in California. It must be noted that AAAI is a sponsor for JAIR , so perhaps that exclusive publishing deal is one of the ways to keep the journal free.

 

[1] https://www.elsevier.com/open-access/supporting-open-access

[2] https://www.jair.org/index.php/jair/

Inclusive Pedagogy

As I was reading this week’s material on inclusive pedagogy, I started reflecting on my own experience as a student through the undergraduate level until today. As I was processing the ideas in Arao and Clemens [1] and in The Teaching Commons articles I found myself listing the most memorable classes where the classroom felt like it worked for everyone and that we learned the most. I also remembered some of the bad experiences where the professors did not set ground rules and did not promote an environment of mutual respect, unfortunately. However, in this post I focused on practices from the “memorable” classes.

Below I would like to share some of the strategies that I, as a student, felt were effective in fostering an inclusive environment that I would build on when I teach in the future:

Getting to know your students

I have always appreciated it when professors took the time early in the semester to learn more about us, their students. That could be achieved in different ways such as direct introductions with a fun fact or filling out a survey.

Getting to know your students can facilitate communication in the classroom, by learning about their backgrounds the professor can avoid certain things that could trigger some students such as microaggressions that the professor might not have known about before. It also helps the teacher stay mindful to foster an inclusive environment by avoiding stereotypical examples, jokes, or expectations, especially when you know your own biases (no one is perfect!).

Building a community in the classroom

This strategy builds on the previous one in the sense that in addition to getting to know your students you encourage and facilitate students getting to know each other. I think that creating group activities and discussions are an effective way. I often found that collaboration opens the door to increased inclusivity in the classroom and helped me as a student to develop skills for productive conversation. One idea in particular that I enjoyed was when the professor used to create a weekly discussion thread for students to describe their week in one sentence, it could be a high point, something they struggled with, or simply a meme. The level of engagement in that class created a sense of community between students.

Leading by example

One way to set the expectations and rules of conversation in the classroom is to have it mentioned in the syllabus and discussed early in the beginning of the semester. Additionally, another powerful way to help your classroom become more inclusive is to practice certain techniques while engaging in discussions with students which will be teaching them by example. These techniques can be as simple as paraphrasing, recapping what the other person just said before you proceed, focusing on the idea and not the person, use hypothetical questions and so forth.

In the end I hope that by doing this exercise I can leverage this knowledge to put myself on the right track to become an inclusive teacher who fosters a classroom that is a brave space for everyone to learn and be heard and respected.

 

[1] Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces. The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators, 135-150

Ethics: Research Misconduct Case Reflection

Ethical standards in research are essential to building and maintaining the trust in scientific research and academic institutions. Codes and policies related to research conduct help in achieving the aims of research such as knowledge, truth, and promoting the welfare of the public. In funded research, ethical norms can help the public keep researches accountable for their work.

The Case

As I was browsing misconduct case summaries on the ORI website I came across this case. In summary, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) engaged in research misconduct by falsifying data included in 1 paper and 2 grant applications submitted to the National Institute of Health (NIH). This researcher manipulated data in bar charts to exaggerate the findings of tests to support the research hypothesis.

Reflection

I believe that this act of misconduct was reckless because it could have potentially endangered peoples health, or at least resulted in an ineffective treatment, in either scenario the results would be completely against the purpose and mission of this funded research. What was interesting in this case is that the investigation appears to be initiated by UMMS and further analyzed by ORI, this shows the importance of having an effective ethical code within an institution. In my opinion, adhering to ethics in research is a shared responsibility between the researchers, the research institution, and the funding agency.

Another interesting aspect in this case is that it says “Respondent neither admits nor denies ORI’s findings of research misconduct” which was different from the dozen cases I read on the website where researchers seemed to cooperate and admit the misconduct behavior. In the case of this particular researcher, I noticed that the NIH put a very thorough list of actions to supervise the researcher’s work as consequences to the misconduct behavior. Examples of these actions included having his research supervised for a period of three years, requiring any research institution employing him to implement a supervision plan, requiring the research institute to submit a certification to ORI to assure the data validity and methodology accuracy.

In conclusion I believe that each researcher should think of themselves as the first line of defense to protect the integrity of the scientific research process and subsequently, the social benefit of the public.

Finding My Authentic Teaching Self

At the time of writing this post, I have not taught a college class before, however, I am on my third semester as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA). I believe that the journey of realizing someone’s authentic teaching self is a process that could start way before they formally become a teacher. I have always practiced the idea that the best way to reinforce a concept that you learned is by teaching it to others or “While we teach, we learn” as Seneca said. By doing that with colleagues and friends, in academic and non-academic settings, I unintentionally began my journey of exploring my teaching self. In addition, being a GTA has been providing me with valuable insights into my teaching approach that I am using today as basic ingredients to refine my teaching self while being as true to myself as possible.

Popularity vs. Authenticity 

As I read Sarah Deel’s post, the point that resonated with me the most was the one about popular professors. I also used to think that a reasonable goal would be to become a popular professor. I thought that by analyzing well-liked “comedian” professors I can reach a formula to recreate their style to become successful, perhaps that was due to the fact that they were the most memorable professors, and students liked them and engaged in their classes. As I reflect more on this point, not all my favorite professors were the popular/comedian type and vice versa! What my favorite professors had in common is that they were being themselves which allowed them to be authentic and teach effectively.

In my continuously evolving analysis of my favorite teachers, I found that regardless of their personalities, they shared some common threads that contributed to their success as effective educators, at least from my perspective. For example, they notice the progress of each student individually, they actively seek feedback from students (verbal and non-verbal), and they make the learning experience a two-way communication as opposed to a passive audience watching a rehearsed lecture. The latter point is where they are able to humanize the relationship with students, each one of them gets to make teaching an extension of their personality, comedians would crack a relatable joke or laid back professors would tell an anecdote.

Shaping my Teaching Self

I think that the next stage of exploring my authentic teaching self revolves around taking the principles of successful examples and apply them to myself while still maintaining my personality. I found that what has been working for me is stepping outside myself and ask some basic questions: does what I say make sense in the context of what we discussed so far? Does it leave room for engagement? Is it challenging enough to strike interest? Interacting with students during office hours is currently my chance to apply this method to help me discover my authentic teaching voice, additionally, I used feedback from students at the end of the semester to refine my style.

The Classroom is my Stage(🤔?)

As I think more about essential elements that make up a teaching self, I find that consistency is a good one to include right next to authenticity and being approachable. Even though I strive to remain as authentic as possible, I think that just like a performer or a musician, a professor needs to hit certain “notes” to create an effective and engaging learning experience.

The “Tips on Finding Your Teaching Voice” by Shelli Fowler resonated with me in the comparison between performance and teaching. I find that there is a lot of transferable  skills and techniques between the two, teaching is an art in the end of the day! Being a part of a music ensemble that performs on a regular basis since 2015 in addition to other occasional performances from time to time, I can relate to similarities when it comes to the stresses associated with both acts, being under the spot light. Warmup techniques are extremely helpful. However, teaching is different than performance when it comes to your audience, we need to think of students on an individual basis and provide them with the tools that they can use to learn the most efficient way that works for them, so the feedback loop is a lot more active. In music performance for example, you need engagement, but the expectation is often that the audience is here to receive what you are presenting to them, so you often think of the audience as a collective.

 

Mission Statements of Higher Ed Institutions: Reflection Post

In this post I will be discussing mission statements of two universities, The University of Jordan and the University of Stuttgart. I have attended The University of Jordan for my undergraduate studies in Civil Engineering, therefore, I have a good level of familiarity with the institution. I chose to look into the University of Stuttgart because a friend of mine attended it for his master’s degree, he also earned his bachelor’s degree from The University of Jordan. My friend and I had many discussions in the past about his academic and campus life experiences in both institutions and that motivated me to write this post.

The university of Jordan

Located in Amman, the capital city of Jordan, The University of Jordan is a public university and is the largest and oldest institution of higher education in the country [1]. The university consists of 24 schools with various disciplines of sciences and arts[2]. The total number of students enrolled was 50,000 during the 2019/20 academic year. Their mission statement is [3]:

  • Providing students with fulfilling learning experiences, conducting knowledge-generating research, and building firm societal ties, within an environment that is attractive and financially stable, and conducive to creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship

What stands out, at least to me as a reader, is that the university is aiming at balancing their focus between different aspects of their role as an institution.  One can see four broad themes in the mission statement: learning, society, financial stability, and creativity. It was interesting to find a “financially stable” environment mentioned in the mission statement, however, it reflects on a lot of the financial challenges that continue to face both students and higher education institutes in developing countries such as Jordan. Based on my experience, the university adopts a model where they introduce a trade off to keep education affordable by limiting campus facilities and non-academic activities/resources available to students compared to academic resources. In my opinion, the last part of the mission statement is forward-looking in the sense that strong academics can fuel innovation in the future.

The University of Stuttgart

Located in Stuttgart, Germany. The University of Stuttgart is one of the oldest technical universities in Germany with highly ranked programs in civil, mechanical, industrial and electrical engineering. During the academic year 2019/20, a total of 24,540 students were enrolled in all 10 colleges within the university[4]. Their mission statement is[5]:

  • The University of Stuttgart is a leading, technically-oriented German university with a global presence.
  • Basic research that is both insight-oriented and practically-relevant is the key to its functioning.
  • The University educates not only outstanding experts in their chosen domains but also personalities who think globally and interactively and act responsibly for the sake of science, society, and the economy.
  • Through its research and teaching, it fosters the general welfare and contributes to economic success.
  • As an employer, it creates space for diversity and equal opportunity as well as fair treatment for all – regardless of status, age, ethnicity and gender.
  • The University of Stuttgart advocates for open-mindedness, individualism, and community spirit. Thanks to this culture of integration, it is able to create and pass on knowledge for a responsible shaping of our common future.

The university of Stuttgart seems to bring forward their global presence and strength as a technical university, this is closely tied to its reputation in certain fields such as advanced automotive engineering and industrial engineering. Keeping in mind that Stuttgart is the home of notable companies such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche which influences the culture of the institution to be technically and economically oriented.

The university of Stuttgart’s mission statement also includes the contribution to economic success, my interpretation of this point, after reading their strategic goals, was that they want to equip their graduates to be attractive for future employers of a global scale. This part stood out to me when I compared it to the University of Jordan’s statement, it shows how universities in an advanced economy think differently compared to smaller, developing economies.

The University of Stuttgart addressed inclusion for both students and employees in a specific manner to show their commitment to diversity, perhaps because Germany is the second most desired immigration destination in the world after the United States [6]. The university of Stuttgart’s efforts in community spirit can be seen through programs that promote diversity such as the cross-cultural mentoring program [7] which encourages German students to interact with international students. On the other hand, The University of Jordan has a similar program offered only for students of “Arabic for Speakers of Other Languages”, that is most likely because those students make up the vast majority of international students on campus.

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Jordan

[2] http://www.ju.edu.jo/Pages/AboutUJ.aspx

[3] http://www.ju.edu.jo/Lists/Strategy/Strategy.aspx

[4] https://www.uni-stuttgart.de/en/university/profile/figures/

[5] https://www.uni-stuttgart.de/en/university/profile/mission/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Germany

[7] https://www.student.uni-stuttgart.de/en/participate/mentoring/