Final Thoughts


I love the quote by Parker Palmer used in this week’s blog prompt:

“In the midst of the powerful force-field of institutional life, where so much conspires to compromise the core values of my work, I have found firm ground on which to stand—the ground of personal and professional identity and integrity—and from which I can call myself, my colleagues, and my profession back to our true mission.”

I feel like this accurately describes my main goal as a professor. Working on the Flint Water Study team over the last year and a half has been an eye opening experience for me. I was the “dark side” of the engineering profession where the people who were supposed to be working for and protecting the public were actually causing them harm and then trying to cover up their wrong doings. While I don’t believe that these people woke up one day and decided that they wanted to lead poison an entire city, the choices they made and actions (or lack of actions) they took ended up harming an innocent population.

What I have learned through this experience is that there is definitely a cultural problem within these organizations (i.e. EPA and MDEQ) where they are more focused on meeting regulations by whatever means possible (even lying and cheating) rather than actually providing people with safe drinking water. But maybe there is also a major flaw in the way were are educating our future engineers. I know that when I was in undergrad we did not spend very much time discussing ethics or how we would/should handle situations that could come up in the professional world.

Through discussions in this class as well as with people from the engineering education department it does seem like we are moving in the right direction and putting more emphasis on ethics and showing students real world situations that they may have to face as professional engineers. But there is always room for improvement. As a future professor I plan to bring up ethics and ethical dilemmas in my classes as much as possible because I think it is key to developing good engineers. You can be the smartest most creative student but if you have no ethical values and are just in it for the money then are you really going to provide value to our society?

In “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited” Parker J. Palmer’s statement really resonated with me: “Does education humanize us? Sometimes, but not nearly often enough.” He went on to say: “If higher education is to serve humane purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it”

This summarizes very well the point that I am trying to get across, we can’t just teach students the technical skills they need and expect them to be successful engineers there is also human aspect that is often overlooked or ignored in our field but is equally as important.

Teaching for and in the 21st Century

I set out to write a blog post about Seth Godin’s Tedx Talk: Stop Stealing Dreams. Truthfully, I don’t have it in me. I grow so weary of the hegemonic idea that Silicon Valley, tech entrepreneurs, coding, Raspberry Pi, etc. are going to save us all. Let’s get rid of teachers and replace them with online lectures. Let’s stop memorizing things and let our computers think for us. Let’s all be rugged individuals who innovate alone at a terminal. We’re all supposed to “think different” but only within the narrow confines of neoliberal capitalism.

I’m tired of it and I don’t have the strength at the moment to write a full critique. So instead I want to write about what I think education ought to look like in the 21st century. The most valuable thing Godin asks is: What is school for?

School is for exploring ideas.

School is for learning how to think critically.

School is for teaching children how to build communities.

School is for teaching students how to recognize illegitimate structures of power and domination. And for developing the tools to dismantle these structures.

This sort of education can happen in any field, any discipline and any setting. There are no discreet spheres of life. Politics, economics, science, family, etc. all are interwoven strands of individual and collective life.

School, then, is for teaching and learning how we can more fully build solidarities, technologies, and organizations that open up spaces for human flourishing.

Becoming a professional

I recently had a professor ask me how I introduced myself to others. I usually tell people, “I work with [advisors names] on [research].” Apparently there are still people who refer to themselves as “students under [advisor],” or just as students. But as graduate students, we’re not “just” students. We are early career professionals. In my case, that means that I am just as much an entomologist as anyone else in my field. As a professional entomologist, I realize there is more to it than the practical skills of keying out or pinning insects. Sometimes it seems like we’re made to feel that the best scientist is the most emotionless one. This is why Parker Palmer’s essay is so valuable. Emotions and ethics have an important role to play in guiding our actions professionally and personally. Rather than acting as we’re “supposed to” on the outside, we should honor how we feel on the inside. There is a reason why depression, anxiety, and alcoholism rates are so high among graduate students! We have the opportunity to do tangible good in the world, but that would be much harder if we completely walled ourselves off from how we felt or imploded from the process of getting a higher education.


Image result for leaf cutter ants
Being a professional isn’t about “staying in line”

There’s more than 50 shades of Grey

Relax, there will be no whips or leather belts in this post. However, this will be a post meant to whip myself and other future educators into shape!

I first thought of this title when considering ‘connecting the dots’ with respect to the problem based learning assignment and teaching ethics to engineers, in that often times, there is no clear cut answer as to what is wrong or right.

Then I started to think about institutions of learning, how there are liberal arts vs. technical colleges, both stand-alone and encapsulated within larger Universities, all with their own cultures and histories molded by the times.

Then I began thinking about how there are different teaching philosophies and techniques as well as different disciplines, individual students, varying lesson plans, geographic differences, and educators whose personalities are different. No technique is ‘correct’ for all cases or people.

Finally, I realized that in order to bring all of the lessons of this semester together under one unifying theme, the title of this blog was surprisingly appropriate. It isn’t black or white. It requires thought and when Seth Godin says he has 5 keys to reforming educational systems, then lists 5 keys, and then goes one to say he has 5 more, then wraps up with 2 more ‘myths’ for a grand total of 12, it goes to show you there many ways that the way we teach can be reformed to fit the students of today.

The main lessons that I’ve learned this semester that will be implemented immediately in my classrooms are:

  1. Incorporating technology in the classroom: as part of lesson delivery, assignments and feedback from student blogs, uploaded assignments, websites, and portfolios can be used to both deliver content and to get feedback on how much understanding the students get
  2. Syllabus : The importance of it as not just a mechanical document for how the class is run but more of a personality of the course and by extension of the professor
  3. Teaching Philosophy: the importance of revisiting this
  4. Engineering Ethics: Incorporating engineering ethics as a continued formal discussion as opposed to intermittent informal discussions
  5. Flipped classrooms: Having the students teach me what they know and what they have learned as a form of evaluation

The Hunger for Humanities in Today’s World

Through humanities we learn how to be human, we learn about the world we live in, and be able to think critically and creatively. Stanford University describes Humanities as:

“The study of how people process and document the human experience. Philosophy, literature, religion, art, music, history and language are the mediums that have been used, and fall under the Humanities umbrella. “


Going back in time, the Romans started to focus on the ‘art of war’. It is the humanities that sustain and help us connect with the past of our civilizations from those who have come before us. Those memories can be shared through a piece of writing, a sculpture, a vase, or even a painting. This is why great works from the past,  like Shakespeare, will never be obsolete and will continuously show the power to endure for generations. It helps us understand the different cultures, what goes into a work of art of how history is made, while influencing our language.

Shelf Awareness

Once we develop the ability to understand them, it will provide the ideal foundation for exploring the human experience. Another main reason why Humanities is important, is that it instills tolerance in those who chose to understand it. Tolerance is the main and most important contribution how others behave and react to accept differences, which is also an essential attribute that teachers require.

Skills Learnt from Humanities

Daniel Solove, a research professor of law at George Washington University Law School, mentioned the skills gained from Humanities. Here are a few of them listed below:

  • the ability to interpret texts
  • the ability to write clearly and in an organized manner
  • the ability to listen
  • the ability to see things from different perspectives
  • the development of a richer understanding of what other people are feeling
  • a deeper understanding of human nature
  • a richer understanding of how various behaviors and choices lead to good or bad outcomes

In many careers, those skills are what separates a great person from the rest “of the flock”.

My Experience

A new report on the state of the Humanities by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences states that:

“Undergraduates will tell you that they’re under pressure — from their parents to choose majors they believe will lead as directly as possible to good jobs. Too often, that means skipping the humanities.”

Parents need to be more informed about Humanities and the many majors it covers, even new private universities that open many parts of the world, tend to offer STEM majors first, instead of Humanities, in order to gain popularity. Being raised in the Middle-East, I remember many of my undergraduate friends mentioning that they did not have the ultimate freedom to choose their major, which could possibly be a cultural perspective. I experienced this myself. My parents were a large part of why I chose Engineering. They encouraged me to choose a Medicine or Engineering major with the argument that “those 2 majors you will get better future jobs, and once you graduate, you will immediately gain the title of a doctor or an engineer” – and here I am, in the civil engineering department thinking of ways to change my career! I found this great quote from Steve Jobs where he mentions the importance of people who are able to gain knowledge from both Humanities majors and other STEM majors by “standing at their intersection”, something I hope I can achieve one day.

To Conclude

In conclusion, Humanities is entirely important in our curriculum. It teaches us the core beliefs of places around the world and educate us on how people thought and expressed their emotions through their artwork. It is through the Humanities majors that we learn about the world and its history, and to think critically and creatively. There is not a doubt that Humanities majors is what we need in today’s world, a world hungry for Humanities.


Dan Edelstein. How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy.

Why Humanities.

Parker J. Palmer. 2007. A New Professional: The Aims of Education. Vol. 39, No. 6, pp. 6-12.

Daniel Solove. 2013. Why Learning the Humanities Is a Key to Success.

Standford University.




Since I started at VT during the fall 2015 semester, there is one statement that I repeated on the first meeting of practically every class I took: “I am here because I teach engineers, but I am trained only as an engineer and not as an educator.” I arrived at this realization before I left home, but I had no idea about how much there was to learn and how much needed to change from the way we taught and organized our curriculum until I got here. I realized that it was not enough for me to bridge the gap I recognized in my skills and identity as an engineering educator; there are institutional and systemic issues that need to be looked at and addressed as well.

This week’s readings served as another reminder of that realization. It was interesting to note that despite the fact that I came from an institution that placed value on integrating liberal arts education into the sciences, those of us who taught in engineering are still not able to give our students the holistic education that they need. When I reflect and think about it, it is an unfortunate paradox that I hope will change eventually.

Dan Edelstein’s quote from Mark Mills and Julio Ottino’s Forbes article is something that my institution subscribed to: “Innovation […] requires the attributes of the humanities found in right-brain thinking: creativity, artistry, intuition, symbology, fantasy, emotions.” In the Philippines, degree programs in higher education institutions are regulated by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), which mandates minimum course credit requirements that students should satisfy before being conferred a degree. For my discipline, CHED regulations require students to earn at least 221 credit units over five years (engineering is a five-year program back home), 39 of which are Humanities courses, in order to get a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. At my institution, however, a student needs 256 credit units to earn an electrical engineering degree; they take 27 more units of Humanities courses on top of the CHED-mandated 39 credits. Examples of courses that our students are required to take but are not mandated by the government are Theology and Philosophy courses.

So from the perspective of recognizing the importance of the Humanities, it seems like we made an effort to provide our engineering students with this important aspect of their education. However, I question whether we did more than just place a tick mark on a check box; how helpful will being saddled with 69 Humanities credits on top of 16 service-based course credits and 171 engineering and sciences course credits be to a student? As a basis for comparison, a student needs 132 credit units, 20 units of which should be from the curriculum of liberal education, in order to earn an electrical engineering degree from Virginia Tech.

My students…

What I have observed both as an undergraduate student and as an instructor in this environment is that the significance and positive impact of integrating liberal arts education into the engineering curriculum is diminished because of the immense workload that students are saddled with. Students are, more often than not, faced with choosing between finishing that 200-item problem set over spending time reflecting upon a reading for their Moral Philosophy class. It also does not help that some of our engineering instructors perpetuate the notion that engineering courses are more important to their degree than their non-engineering courses.

Palmer defined the “new professional” as “a person who is not only competent in his or her discipline but has the skill and the will to deal with the institutional pathologies that threaten the profession’s highest standards.” In order for my home institution to “produce” graduates who will embody this definition, engineering instructors should go beyond the abstract concepts and equations, as suggested in Palmer’s article. We should also foster an environment where the Humanities is considered as an integral part of the curriculum, and not a check box to be ticked off in order to meet “minimum credit requirements.” And most importantly, our higher education system should rethink the workload that we give our students; students should be given a reasonable amount of time to have a positive and balanced learning experience, allowing them to devote just as much time to discipline-specific as well as professional/humanities/liberal arts courses.

All this, however, is easier said than done. There are a number of other things that need to be considered – such as the teaching loads and compensation of faculty members – that I did not discuss here. I can only hope that I can make even a dent of difference when I share all the things that I have learned – and continue to learn – here.

Connecting Dots in the Big Picture

This week’s reading and videos make me think of the meaning of school and education. After we talked about so much about different styles, different thinking ways, different ideas of teaching in this pedagogy class, I feel I learned a lot before this week’s talk hits me. I suddenly realize that I am too into all the details and forget about the whole picture. The whole picture about why do we teach, why are we so passionate about education, why are we so into different aspects of pedagogy. The answer is about the future. We want to change the future of the world through education. This is the mindset we always want to have when we pick up the details about teaching and connecting them together.

Picture Source:

There is another fundamental thing we need to figure out here. What kind of results do we expect from our teaching? Before we start to plan a course and put the pedagogy we learned in this course, we need to think about the learning outcomes we expect. For teaching landscape architecture, I expect to help my students gain more creativity. “Creativity” starts to sound old, since we seem to talk about it a lot. However, as future designers, my students are expected to create the landscape for an empty land. They are expected to solve the design problems in creative ways. I don’t expect them to remember all the knowledge we talk in class, but I do expect them to change their thinking ways and offer more possibilities for the future clients and the future world. Creativity will always be my ultimate goal when I set up a course and think about pedagogy.

The last GEDI, I think not!

So this may be the last GEDI blog post for the semester, but our work is far from done.  I can see the parallels between 21st century education and the newest wave of (our namesake) Star Wars films.  It has been nearly 40 years since the original Star Wars movie, and even though it is still an amazing story, it has been time for an update.  In watching Episode VII, the recent edition to the epic saga, one can see how similar the story is to the original 1977 plot.  But the newest edition to this saga allows for much more inclusion and diversity.  I’ve heard people say that movies with minority and women as the main characters don’t tend to be as popular.  Well, Episode VII was the highest grossing film of all time!


Just as movies can be updated to the times, the same must happen for education.  The ways that teachers worked in the past do set a good a framework for what we do in education now, but we have a much more diverse population and meeting their individualized learning needs can be done.  The former “one size fits all” form of education has now become outdated.  We also have a whole new set of technological facilitators to learning that didn’t exist in prior teaching.


One quote that really stood out to me from Parker Palmer’s article A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited was this:

“Education in mathematics is a prime example. It was long assumed that females failed at math because their brains were structured differently than men’s. Then came a generation of pedagogues who saw the secret hidden in plain sight: Women are told early on that “girls can’t do math,” so they come to class with minds paralyzed by fear. Today, as many math educators pay attention to emotions as well as to the intellect, women succeed in math at rates similar to those of men” (p. 10).

This shows that it is time for us to update the way we see education.  I’m in Counselor Education, so focus on feelings is at the essence of what we do as educators.  Granted this is more specific to this field, but the whole point of being a GEDI is to learn from how other disciplines emphasize education.  I am excited to see that we have a female lead in the most recent couple of Star Wars movies that have come out.  The time has come for more inclusion and diversity in our culture, film, and especially education.  This may be “The Last GEDI” post for this semester, but the legacy of it will continue for years to come in all that we have taken away from this class.  We are the next generation of educators and therefore we have the force to make education all that it can be.  Let’s continue to improve education for the 21st century and more!

Week 14 – Connecting the Dots

As we race toward the end of the semester, please take some time to reflect on the readings for our final unit (week 14). The articles by Parker Palmer and Dan Edelstein are especially relevant, and if you are only going to read two more things for this class, please, please, please let these be the pieces you choose. Think about how you will connect the dots from this course and your broader curriculum to become the “New Professional” Parker Palmer invokes here:

The word “professional” originally meant someone who makes a “profession of faith” in the midst of a disheartening world. That root meaning became diminished as the centuries rolled by, and today it has all but disappeared. “Professional” now means someone who possesses knowledge and techniques too esoteric for the laity to understand, whose education is proudly proclaimed to be “value free.”

The notion of a “new professional” revives the root meaning of the word. This person can say, “In the midst of the powerful force-field of institutional life, where so much conspires to compromise the core values of my work, I have found firm ground on which to stand—the ground of personal and professional identity and integrity—and from which I can call myself, my colleagues, and my profession back to our true mission.”

Thank you all for sharing this semester with me and for your collective efforts to explore what teaching means in the changing landscape of the 21st-century higher education.  I look forward to reading your final set of posts.

Image: CC0 Public Domain

Technology: The Friend & Enemy

I find myself a fairly good multi-tasker, which I believe could be because of the long hours I spend on laptops and search engines, having multiple tabs open working on each one simultaneously. But at the same time, I have a short attention span, and can never finish reading a page from a magazine without looking at the pictures, flipping the pages, drinking coffee – which funny enough could be due to the same reason of using “technology” intensively.

My point is, every emerging technology has its advantages and disadvantages, and to benefit from those advantages, you will need to sacrifice something else. Personally, I taught in a college that prevented the usage of technology in class, and that was a policy. Mobile phone usage was also considered disrespectful to the instructor, so it was not allowed either. Face-to-face interactions are important as they build confidence, social skills, and spark interesting topics, but the idea of stopping students from using their laptops now might not be the best idea. Allowing them to use it continuously could also be distracting them from the teaching, or as Farman, J. (2012) says, “limits our ability to engage in meaningful dialogue and produce true knowledge”. So, what do we do?! After having experienced both scenarios, I can argue that there is a need for moderation in technology usage. Ultimately, usage can be limited to certain times of class, or in certain classes that require note-taking. Consequently, students will not be completely disconnected from class, and will be benefiting from technology when needed.

Technology could be a distraction, could be the reason we’re losing our attention quickly, and possibly even losing our friends; but at the same time, it will continue to advance, and no-one should be left behind.

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