All posts by samsalous

Final Reflection

For my final post of the semester I decided to reflect on one of the challenges that many engineering students have (including me): we don’t particularly like writing. This has been a struggle and I came to realize how big it is for me when I started this class. In my experience, this originates from focusing so much on technical analysis, charts, numbers, and viewing writing as a secondary part of our studies that we just have to do later. I often find myself writing in a very concise way, if journal papers could just be turned into bullet points, I won’t say no – well ok I might be exaggerating here.Young Businessman Sleeping On The Keyboard Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 10094201.

So this is something that I have been working on to eventually overcome. I read a few articles that discuss the issue of disliking writing and sucking at it, especially among engineers. I want to share some of the steps that this article* mentions which I found helpful:

  • Find a place to write articles. This class has been perfect for this as an opportunity to write.
  • Think about your audience. This point was very helpful in writing manuscripts because it helps with expanding on certain parts of the text that I usually used to keep short because I assumed that the readers already know the basics which is not always right. This helped a lot with the writing flow.
  • Start a journal.
  • Outline the work before starting to write. Having structure is very helpful.
  • Take breaks between writing an editing. This is my favorite because I used to try to edit as I write which was negatively impacting my productivity. Now I think of it as putting two different hats; a writer and an editor. Doing it on steps is much better than trying to get it right from the first time!

Please let me know if you have experienced this. Do you know any other ways to get better at writing?


Innovation Campuses

In this post I share some of the contrasting views I found about the recent trend of innovation campuses. I was introduced to the idea of an “Innovation Campus” in 2018 when Virginia Tech announced their innovation campus in conjunction with Amazon’s revelation that its new HQ2 will be located in Northern Virginia.

Optimistic views 

Innovation campuses are being built by universities with the goal of equipping graduates with the cutting edge skills and knowledge that leading tech companies and industry innovators are looking for. Universities want to shrink the skills divide between “what our economy needs to grow and what our graduates are prepared to offer” according to president Tim Sands [1].  Besides Virginia Tech, other institutions that are taking the innovation campus approach include Wichita State, University of Utah, University of Iowa, University of Rhode Island, Cornell, Northwestern, and Stanford.

Innovation campuses are usually designed in ways to promote collaboration, creativity, and applied learning [2]. There is a lot of optimism and excitement around the topic of innovation campuses that shows up in articles online by the universities themselves and others. The optimism seemed like an intuitive reaction from my point of view as a graduate student who went back and forth between industry and graduate school. There is so much that universities can adjust in their curriculum and teaching methods that can put graduates in a better position when they work in the industry, ideally graduates would start innovating from their first day on the job instead of facing a steep learning curve. That’s where creative partnerships are important, and innovation campuses are seen as places that foster such partnerships.

There are success stories that are being shared as results of innovation campuses. For example, Cornell Tech shared that more than 60 startups were founded by Cornell Tech alumni since 2014 [3]. This and other examples show the impact on fostering the entrepreneurial mindset among students.

What the critics say

I came across this interesting  take on the idea in an article by The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The Campus Innovation Myth” [4]. Their point of view is that although innovation campuses resulted in breakthroughs, there were many “disappointments”.

They start by talking about these “Myths” by examining how well universities were able to commercialize scientific discoveries. While the research shows that it is true that universities don’t commercialize their patents at high rates, but I think that the point of innovation campuses isn’t only that. It doesn’t have to always be a patent, additionally, it is a norm in the startup world to lose money in the early stages.

The article continues to mention how universities don’t necessarily deliver to their promises of innovation. It also raises the concern of influence of tech giants in higher education. Additionally, the authors mention how universities aim at healing divides of access and equality, however, it is unclear how partnering with tech companies in urban areas would achieve that goal.

I think that these are not necessarily myths but challenges facing innovation campuses. They are things to think about moving forward while asking questions such as what shape will innovation campuses take, how would they evolve, who will benefit the most, and how?





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





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.


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

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.


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.