A Rant on Graduate School!

Many times in life, we go into classes not knowing what to expect. Sometimes, after the first class, we learn to expect to master a list of requirements for the course. Those classes either have an engaging professor who can grab our attention… or they don’t. That’s usually the story of most classes.

*Unless* you go into a class, and you find the professor explaining to you WHAT this can do for the REAL WORLD. Many of us expect to have some type of a positive impact on the real world. So, let me ask this, how many of you got really really passionate about something you learned in a course just because of all the amazing applications for it? How often did you ever have classes that you looked forward to? How often did you not have classes you dreaded going to in undergrad? I know this is a rare occurrence and all, but sometimes, there are those rare professors who can get their students to look forward to being there. I think a lot of these people follow Freirean ideology on education. These people encourage their students to relate what they’re learning to the world. These people guide students to leave an amazing foot print. These people scaffold their students into always being curious. Freire was a true believer of pursuing curiously. This video is a wonderful idea of how he encouraged great curiosity.

Many times, graduate students get impatient sometimes because they don’t get the results they want in research. In fact, sometimes, advisers advise in certain directions, and request that work is done a certain way. However, if we set our curiosity free, and share our curious ideas with our advisers, maybe we’ll make great victories.

If I’m interpreting my world in Freire’s view as was in the presentation, risking is the backbone to reading the world in our research and our living. If we risk, try hard, risk, try hard, risk… And Embrace EVERY failure…. We’ll be on to the next Noble Prize. At least that’s how I see it.  Just gotta be patient!  :)

What part of the Circle are you Staring at?

Being Inclusive in the academia. This is a very important and sensitive topic. I’d like to start with an idea, that’s greatly heard of, but not always applied. Once upon a time there were two circles. The two circles had unique aspects to them, and the two circles also had similarities. When trying to coexist with one another, they had a terrible time whenever they kept exploiting their differences.  However, once they began looking at their similarities, they realized they overlapped. There was this lovely space where both of them were comfortable, and they felt at home. This space was the overlapping space of their circles. This overlapping space is similar to the similarities found between any two humans. They could focus on their differences, or a lot better, focus on their similarities and coexist peacefully.

In the modern day, everyone is supposed to have equal rights. However, as Shankar Vedantam mentioned in the interview with NPR titled “How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us“, he mentions how many people have preset biases that form, even in 3 year-olds. These preset biases don’t allow the world to be fair, and don’t allow people equal opportunities if and only if they take their biases to the next level. In other words, if someone acts on their biases, the outcome usually isn’t too great. At the same time, if an environment is diverse, inclusive, includes both genders– the company is more successful, and makes more revenue as mentioned here. That is huge, that diversity can do such wonderful things for a company, and increase it’s revenue.

In thinking about being inclusive, there are many people who stand out and don’t always face the warmest environment. People face profiling due to their skin color, religion, age, race, and many more. Some of this, I strongly believe has a strong association with the media. The media plays a huge role in creating biases and judgement towards races. They can totally portray people in a way that lacks reality. Unfortunately, human nature is that people are generally afraid of what they don’t know or don’t understand. So many times, people may be afraid of others even more because the media said something bad about it. However, this doesn’t end except through awareness. Awareness and the spread of intellect is the way to get people to be more inclusive and welcoming to differences.

The most inclusive environment in America is the academia. It is more inclusive than the real world, and more inclusive than industry. The academia isn’t perfect, but it’s better than what the world has to carry. And the better the academia becomes, the more there will be hope for the real world and other institutions that are not academic.

To be more inclusive in the academia and in the real world we must respect our differences. We must not shed excessive light on these differences. Instead, we should respect the differences. We should always look for what we have in common with others, rather than what’s different (or what we aren’t comfortable with). When we do that, we will be facilitating a more inclusive environment. We will look for similarities, and a peaceful life– rather than focus on differences which could lead to conflict.

So are you focusing on where the circles overlap?!


Will technology guide your teaching?

Teaching philosophies are vital to the success of the students. As engaged as the instructors are, the more positive outcomes come out of these classes. This week has been a week I’ve been thinking very deeply about teaching.. In relations to the readings and striking a balance with my own, already present teaching philosophy.

I’ve been a true believer that people can always improve and build on an already present teaching philosophy, to include a lot to engage students in the most cutting edge manner. Sometimes I’m really sold on the cool things technology can do for teaching. I love technology, I’m attracted to it, and I think it’s awesome. I’ve had classes that had awesome teachers who relied less on technology, while some relied on PowerPoint. There were others that had a lot of technology, but couldn’t engage their student’s interest in the class. At the end of the day, my peers and I got interested in what we could get in touch with… In other words, if learning this course could help us be better in our field… If we knew the benefits, if we knew what to do and how to accomplish our dreams… we did. It really helped to have good teachers, who could really teach. Who cared for their students. Who were interested in their students success.

On that note, part of my teaching philosophy isn’t to impress my students and give them technology. Technology can support their education, but it doesn’t have to be the full thing. In both Sarah Deel’s essay “Finding my Teaching Voice” and Shelli Folwer’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills” the struggle is quite clear for how to both establish control and interest in classrooms without micromanaging students and being strict.  Apparently, this struggle is more well-known among females than males, but it exists. A lot of what both of these pieces included made me wonder, well how would I handle my students, how much technology, how friendly should I be… etc etc…. I don’t have the right answers to all these questions even after doing the readings and thinking about the responses to these questions.

However, what I do know, is I vow to be passionate about what I teach or quit. I vow to transfer these passions to my students. I will not have any student feel like research is more important than teaching them. The students, and the print left within students will be there. I will also be there for my students, and I will encourage them and support them. I will teach my students the tools they will forever use in their lives for their success. That’s what I know. I can’t tell you if I’ll buy into a lot of technology or a mild amount, but I’ll stick to making my students the best most passionate students in the world. That’s how I see it. If you have any tools or tips to make this possible, please leave me a comment! Thanks!

The Martian, and how it recruited to Botany…

The Martian was my favorite movie in 2015. The science in the movie was fascinating. The movie did a beautiful job recruiting high school students to Botany. Think about it… How to create crops in an environment that’s not your average Earth atmosphere was fascinating. How do you trick the plants, to have the grow… How to create water to water your plants in the atmosphere of Mars… This movie could really speak volumes and volumes about how fascinating the sciences are… Though my knowledge is limited in these areas, I was intrigued by the movie… I thought it was really cool. This movie will pull-out the aspiring astronaut, scientist, and botanist out of the audience…

But why can The Martian do that, and a lot of our lectures in schools, colleges, and universities not do that? As Robert Talbert mentioned in Four Things Lecture is Good For , he stated that the traditional uses of lectures today are oftentimes not aligned with what lectures should be used for. He said that lectures aren’t made to help students regurgitate new information if you would, because there are 4 better uses for lectures in his view. Some things he mentioned are teaching students how to think, and teaching them things in a creative fashion that individuals with a lot of experience can come up with, but the average student probably wouldn’t come up with. And 2 more things here. However, unfortunately, up till today, we have lectures where some professors, especially in Math, choose to lecture to the board… And expect their students to decipher what they’re doing through the equations they’re putting on the board.

In “What Video Games Teach Us”, I was really thinking about how rewarding and enjoyable video games are… Some people have experienced video games at times, while others constantly have fun with them. As the author mentions, the analogy he posed is valid, regarding how society influences how we think and learn… And how sometimes we are willing to do something that’s counter-intuitive to our nature.. Especially in the cognitive sense.

That’s what got me thinking… if we can somehow inspire our students the way they are inspired by good teachers, by video games, and by movies like The Martian… We can get our teaching and learning at the best levels possible.

How to venture in the snow, when you don’t have to…

In the light of the interesting weather, we are to expect… What makes us leave the warmth of our apartments and hop on a bus to go to school? What makes us venture out in such unpredictable weather? Is it the excitement to learn? or is it the fear of getting a bad grade? Is it the fear of getting in trouble for not showing up to a team meeting? Or the true intrinsic motivation to work? The answers to these questions are all in tune with this week’s theme, regarding learning, and the motivation behind it.

One of the most popular issues faced in schools and academia, are often what’s going to be on the test? And the desire the students have to get a good grade using the least amount of effort, and resources… Until something changes…

Well what changes? As Dan Pink called it, it is the intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the most powerful resource any human can have as a part of his or her life. It’s not that reward you’ll get for being the top student of your class–or the honors distinction in undergrad. Instead, it is truly having the freedom to do what one desires– autonomy as Pink named it. And wanting to do it.

I loved the example he gave, about the employees having no obligation to show up to work. And their only obligation was to complete their work. And how this company was super successful. At the same time, how companies like Google give their employees the option to do whatever they want for a fifth of their time. This is really intriguing and interesting. This wasn’t the first time I watched his Ted Talk. And every time I see it, I’m always impressed.

Of course, in the context of academics, well how do we let our students have this intrinsic motivation?! According to Alfie Kohn, that’s simple… Well, not so much. But, however, there’s a way to work around it until folks get more creative. One model explained in Kohn’s article, is that of making a school a democracy. We can’t stop giving out grades, obviously… At least for the time being. But making our schools a democracy will help.

If we let students do what they like, sometimes… if we give them a writing assignment that has no specifications beyond being in the scope of the class.. If we give them the ability to explore… if we give them the ability to decide their grades with the teacher… that will help. This will help grades be less torture.

Also, if we help our students discover their passions… They will be willing to pursue them at any cost. They will be willing to do anything and everything possible to achieve there dreams.  They’ll be willing to venture out on foot during the snow, to run an experiment they enjoy.

At least that’s what I believe, as aligned to the media related to this module– regarding education and motivation.

Striking Truth about Today’s Education

It’s so striking, that the current system all together in education needs some improvisation on it. In Micheal Wesch’s “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance”, he discusses prominent issues in today’s educational system. His article can be found here. There’s a part in today’s education that tends to be overlooked. It is certainly getting students interested in their own education. Awakening their curiosity, making them feel the insatiable desire to learn. This is actually such a truth, and is something that’s often overlooked.

Today’s world, a majority of the people in college want a degree… To get a job… Or to not get disowned by their family… Or to make money. These are the most common motives for a college degree. However, oftentimes students go in and out of college without developing a passion for anything… Or without finding something in their field that truly interests them and inspires them. The description of huge lecture halls, with the professor being in the front is so common to undergraduate studies. Especially on important classes, that are often the basics to any field. Because these classes are taken by many, a lot of times there are a few hundred students in the class. The professor is truly, as Wesch stated, usually standing in the front of the class using a mic. This could be the calculus class that contains a mix of majors. Or the English class the political scientist cares for, and the engineer doesn’t care for. However you look at it, how do students get their passion when beginning college? If students are piled in a huge lecture hall, focused on getting a high GPA… And that’s all…. Often times, students want to figure out What’s on the test, or how to study.

An even harsher reality, is that many times the introductory classes to any major are weed-out classes to the major. They make people’s lives very difficult. I remember, as an Electrical Engineering major, how Digital Signal Processing was the first class we took in EE. That class was hell. We pulled all nighters trying to figure out how to do the labs. The class had a ridiculous load, and the professors and our section TAs weren’t really engaged in teaching the class. The horror stories about the class were ridiculous. I had some friends who were Biomedical Engineering Majors who changed majors, because they just couldn’t pass DSP. These people were really passionate about BME, but just couldn’t hack it. To this day, I feel like I could’ve really loved the class. While I was studying for the final, after all the labs were out of the way,  I realized how useful the material was… But all I was doing at that point was cramming for the final… Because I wanted DSP to be in my past. And it is certainly is in my past. I’ve never done ANY DSP since that day… Even though all my friends who took it at the senior level of college (at other institutions) rather than the sophmore level, said it’s an amazing class… But I always sway away from DSP.. I run a 100 miles away if I can, metaphorically, of course.

At the same time, I believe that we gain passion for what we do in part because of passionate professors in our field who teach us. In addition, it’s a more friendly and less authoritarian environment.  Someone needs to show you the beauty of what you’re learning, so you go out and seek further knowledge.  There needs to be a way to convince incoming students about the beauty of learning… The beauty of research..

When people get specialized, they are often taken by the idea that no matter how much they learn, they don’t know a lot of things. This is a true story. However, people won’t appreciate that, if they don’t appreciate their learning experience. If they only care to make money. If there are further motives, then people will be more engaged to learn, and be hungry to learn more. Those are my 10 cents, on learning today…

Dreaming, Connectivity, and Learning

Connected Learning in a Connected Age, oh how convenient?!

We live in an age, where connectivity is integrated within everything. You can count the number of steps you take everyday using a gadget that reports to your phone. In fact, you can even count steps with your own phone. Connectivity in general is being in touch with the world at the tips of your fingers, very conveniently. This could be emailing your friends, or this could be googling a certain concept that lacks clarity.

On the other hand, learning is something we are accustomed to do, since the day we’re born. We learn some things, because it’s cool. And we go to school, either because it’s fun, or because we’re forced to. However, in order to have a career in something, we either have to have enough motivation to learn it, or be tortured to do it. Sometimes the motivation comes from liking a particular subject area and enjoying it. Sometimes it comes from a good teacher, who had great passion for a certain subject area, and was able to transmit it to his students. Sometimes, it’s a teacher and her passion for the success and well-being of her students. Other times, people are motivated to learn something to make money.

Connected-learning is allowing students to have access to whatever they would desire to learn, through proper resources and through the support necessary. This includes schools that have further resources for both their talented students and those with disabilities. At the same time, it is necessary to allow students to experiment with different learning methods, and have hands-on labs that they need to help them excel in their fields of study.

One important thing to keep in mind, in a connected learning perspective, is that people learn in different ways. Many times, people use different senses to learn. Some people learn things the most when they use their vision, or when they see something. At the same time, there are others who learn better by hearing someone explain something. There are others who learn well, by physically putting something together or trying it using their hands. Because of this, in a connected learning atmosphere, it is necessary to help students learn in the most efficient manner for them. This will help them enjoy the experience, and learn better.

In a connected learning atmosphere, students would have the ability to both participate in a classroom and in a virtual classroom, for the necessary pedagogy needed. Students can leverage the best within them, and learn in the most efficient manner with the best resources available. Students can feel in control of their education. Students can work hard, and excel.  Finances shouldn’t be a cap to a students resources. There should be other ways to get where one wishes, through scholarships,  and  good grades.

Connected learning is having aspirations, and pursuing them. When one follows their dreams and aspirations despite all road-blocks available, they are truly in a connected learning atmosphere.