Monthly Archives: October 2020

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.


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.




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