Category Archives: Contemporary Pedagogy

Blog posts for Contemporary Pedagogy Class – Fall 2020

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?


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.


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!

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

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.