The double-edged sword of computers and phones – Take my test !

In this Blog, I will throw couple of blunt assumptions about you dear reader, making the bet that the majority of people who will read my article will identify with at least 4 of my hunches:

  • You use your computer every day
  • You use your computer every day for at least 5 hours
  • You check your phone at least every 30 minutes
  • You think your attention span has gotten shorter but you don’t know why
  • You don’t think multitasking is a myth
  • You can hardly focus on one single task for an hour without several interruptions
  • You can hardly imagine a life without a phone or a computer
  • You have more than one email account
  • You have at least 20+ apps in your phone
  • Deep down you know that taking notes on your laptop in classroom is not as effective as taking hand written notes
  • Deep down you know that the use of computers and cellphones during classroom harms your focus and attention span towards what the professor and your classmates are saying
  • You think an International Day without Cellphones and Laptops sounds really cool (comment below if you really think so and why!)
  • Google if your best friend

Now I want you to think of what it means that you have identified with at least 3 of my hunches. What kind of world do we live in ? and how the way we do our work has evolved to affect us ? What does this say about us; humans of the 21st century ?


Teaching and Learning as a Mutual Process

Paulo Freire is one of the most inspiring individuals. He was a philosopher and an educator who advocated for a Critical Pedagogy. For any aspring instructor or any person interested in the fields of education, I would highly recommend reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Paulo Freire in investigating Critical Pedagogy talks about the relationship between learning and teaching, and the relationship between instructors and students.
In this sense teaching is not about transferring knowledge or contents. Nor is it an act whereby a creator- subject gives shape, style, or soul to an indecisive and complacent body. There is, in fact, no teaching without learning. One requires the other. (Freire)
To learn, then, logically precedes to teach, according to Freire. I like to think of myself as learning at the same time as my students, even as an Instructor. Teaching is a mutual learning experience.
I teach because I search, because I question, and because I submit myself to questioning. I research because I notice things, take cognizance of them. And in so doing, I intervene. And intervening, I educate and educate myself. I do research so as to know what I do not yet know and to communicate and proclaim what I discover (Freire)

From safe space to brave space

One might think of social justice in the realm of politics, and economics, ensuring the equal access to basic human rights and needs. But how do we teach Social Justice in a classroom in which social justice is not enacted? What does social justice in the classroom translate into?

A crucial question that was dealt by Brian Arao and Kriti Clemens in “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice” written in the Edited volume entitled “The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections From Social Justice Educators” by Lisa Landreman. The rest of this blog will primarily rely on their contribution.

Arao and Clemens strived to draw a distinction and advocate for a transition from Safe Space to Brave Safe. The term safe space is described as an environment in which “students are willing and able to participate and honestly struggle with challenging issues’’(Holley and Steiner, 2005). In other words, a space in which “everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves and participating fully, without fear of attack, ridicule, or denial of experience’’ (National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation).

The term “safe space” has often been used in the context of classroom environment to reassure students about their guaranteed rights in the classroom and the freedom they hold to express themselves freely and respectfully to others. Safety is therefore associated with an environment free from harm or risk. However, one knows that in the public sphere, or on social media, one is not always protected in a safe space. Unfortunately, most students will be exposed to harsh criticism, personal attacks, and unfounded judgments, and they need to be able to defend their position regardless. Establishing a safe space can be a challenge when the dialogue moves from polite to provocative as the authors remind the readers. Hence, Arao and Clemens argue for a brave space instead.

We argue that authentic learning about social justice often requires the very qualities of risk, difficulty, and controversy that are defined as incompatible with safety. These kinds of challenges are particularly unavoidable in participant groups composed of target and agent group members (…) We have found that the simple act of using the term brave space at the outset of a program, workshop, or class has a positive impact in and of itself, transforming a conversation that can otherwise be treated merely as setting tone and parameters or an obligation to meet before beginning the group learning process into an integral and important component of the workshop.
Brave space is a space not solely defined by the facilitators or the instructor, but commonly defined with students. It is a space that encourages the courageous conversation about important and controversial topics, such as race, class, etc.
By revising our framework to emphasize the need for courage rather than the illusion of safety, we better position ourselves to accomplish our learning goals and more accurately reflect the nature of genuine dialogue regarding these challenging and controversial topics.
The Brave space is based on five common rules:
  • Common Rule 1: Agree to disagree
  • Common Rule 2: Don’t take things personally
  • Common Rule 3: Challenge by choice
  • Common Rule 4: Respect
  • Common Rule 5: No attacks
I found the distinction between safe and brave space extremely useful and intend to use it in my teaching. Needless to say that this blog is not about dismissing the importance of safe spaces, but emphasizing the strength of using both approaches, brave and safe space in the classroom. I hope this will help future professors!

Adapting Diversity

In my blog On Why I am Reluctant to Blogging, I expressed the importance I attach to authenticity. While teaching, I strive to be my authentic self. Finding my teaching voice has been a journey of conciliating the different voices and educational systems I was exposed to and creating my own voice.

I had the privilege to be educated in three different educational systems; Arabic and French system in Morocco, and the American system. These three educational systems, although very different, do share some similarities in teaching styles.

For some context, Morocco was under the French protectorate from 1912 to 1956; the French controlled most of the educational system during this period. After Morocco’s independence in 1956, Morocco undertook the educational system under the influence of the French system and kept French as a second language. As for the anecdote, German almost became America’s official language in 1795 (but that’s another story).

The reason I am uniting language and educational systems are that I firmly believe that language shapes our learning and how we learn. Studying in any language means that there is some degree of influence by the system of education in that country where the language is natively spoken. By extent, a teacher is also subject to an already set environment of teaching that they adapt to, be it French system, American system or any other system. In other words, teaching American history in English in the United States could be different from teaching American history in French in Morocco, and not just regarding language but also teaching styles and methodologies.

I grew up studying at a Moroccan school, where I was instructed in Arabic, French, and English. When I started my higher education, most of my professors and classes were taught in French, so I got very accustomed to the French teaching and educational style. When I came to the United States, I had to transition into the American system.

In mentioning “American” or “French” or “Arabic” system, I do not mean to present a monolithic and homogenous view of what that system is. I simply would like to reflect on common trends that I have personally experienced throughout my higher education. 

From my experience in the French system, classes were formal, professors mostly lecture in a very structured format with headings, and numbered points. When the teacher speaks, students are expected to take handwritten notes and ask questions by the end of the lecture (preferably not during the lecture in order not to interrupt the professor). In my field of political science, I was often encouraged to have a nuanced standpoint as opposed to the strict dichotomy of bad or good, right or wrong. In most of my classes, formal attire was highly recommended. These little anecdotal facts reveal a bigger picture of the orderly setting of the French educational system. Students and professors had a straightforward relationship, which meant that if a professor were unsatisfied with a student’s performance or work, he or she will not manage their words or coat it in sugar but say it bluntly and openly.

When I transitioned to the American educational system, I was surprised by how laid back the teaching style seemed. Professors didn’t hesitate to use games and class activities to convey a learning lesson (which felt like being in kindergarden). In addition, professors were not overly conventional in their class rules, food, caps and fit flops were allowed (it took me some time to get used to that). Formal attire was not a requirement (I got asked so many times if I had a presentation, so I gave up wearing formal after a while). The relationship between professors and students was closer, with regular office hours and interactions. Instructors tried to protect students against criticism, my instructors never told me that my answers were wrong, only that there may be another way to respond.

While I don’t favor a system over another, I think both the French and American system has taught me to be a better professor. I, as an instructor, am a blend of these three educational systems, French, Arabic and American. I had the opportunity to learn from three approaches that complement each other in so many ways. For instance, while I hold my students to very high standards and provide honest and generous feedback, I also make sure that I am always available to meet my students and help them overcome their difficulties. While I encourage my students to take handwritten notes during class, I also share pamphlet summaries of the methodologies discussed. While I think it is important to maintain a formal relationship, I do not hesitate to introduce myself at the beginning of the class (which few of my professors do) and help my students get to know me better and understand my teaching style.

I have enjoyed writing this blog and could write an extended version of it later with more details and precision. The main message that I want to convey is that: before being a teacher, we were (and still are in some ways) students. As students, who are becoming professors, we are shaped by the teachers who taught us and by the systems in which we were trained. I like to share this diversity of teaching styles with my students. Teaching is, after all, knowing yourself and bringing the best of you, to the service of the student’s learning.

It’s not about Grades; it’s how we think about Grades

As an Instructor of Research and Writing in International Studies, I am more concerned about the overall progress of my students in class rather than their grades. Grades, beyond a method of “quantifying” the performance of students in a set of assignments, are criticized by authors like Alfie Kohn for three main reasons. First, grading tends to diminish students’ interest in whatever they are learning. Students are therefore more concerned and motivated about grades than the process of learning. Second, Grades create a preference for the easiest task. Students become concerned about choosing the most straightforward task in order to maximize their chances of getting a good grade. The latter hinders their motivation to take up new challenges because the message they understand is that success matters more than learning. Last but not least, Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking because they sustain the rote culture that consists of relying heavily on memorization without engaging in critical thinking. While I don’t think that the grading system can be completely amended, I believe that professors can change the way they think about grading and therefore help their students approach them differently as well. From my experience teaching, I find it very useful to expose my students to my grading philosophy from the very first days of teaching. As a new instructor, I tell my students that I care much more about their progress and learning curve than their grades. However, I understand that the reality of the system imposes me to give them grades and that the majority of them perceive grades to be important. The following suggestions demonstrate how I implement my grading philosophy:
  • I emphasize the importance of comments rather than merely the grade. I also usually write lengthy feedback on each of my student’s assignments to explain where they are at and how they can improve in the future.
  • I dedicate some sessions to peer-review so that they do not solely have my feedback, but they can also provide feedback to their peers and vice versa.
  • I also have my students grade some of their own work. While they are very surprised at the beginning, this helps them demystify the process of grading and be critical of their work, without relying on another person to do so.
  • After half of the semester, I open my office hours for students who would like to discuss their learning progress and identify their strengths and challenges.
Through the following, I challenge the way my students think about their grade, in a way that it does not become their priority in my class. I want my students to realize that nobody will remember their GPAs in the future (not even themselves). However, what is there to last are their efforts to become better writers and researchers. Grades should never be the end goal of learning. To conclude, I genuinely think that Grades as a system of assessment are not necessarily the problem, the problem prevails in how we think about grades, including how the educational system shapes students perception of grading.

Rote Culture is a poison to learning

In this Blog, I attempt to introduce the importance of mindfulness in learning and how rote culture hinders the student’s potential.

Mindfulness to learning approaches knowledge with openness to new information and perspectives, and the freedom to consider more than a single solution or a single way to approach a matter. The concept of mindfulness was further studied by Ellen Langer, who introduces seven myths that undermine teaching. These myths are engrained in the rote culture and affect the student’s process of learning. Rote culture sustains the idea that rote memorization, for example, is necessary for education.

Ellen Langer argument is that “what we teach” may be less important than “how we teach it”. In other words, sparking the interest of students may not be all about the subject, because there will undeniably be students who are more interested in the subject than others, but the key lies in the ability of sparking the curiosity of students so that even if they don’t particularly enjoy the subject of the course, they still find it compelling and worthy of their attention.

Nevertheless, some of us do encounter or have experienced in the past the rote culture as a student and sometimes as an instructor as well. The expectation that results are more important to the students and the professors than the process of learning or the progress achieved throughout the learning journey.

The rote culture has shaped everything from performativity, schoolwork, and tests, discipline, obedience to authority, timeliness, from dress code to the code of silence, standardized testing, and the approach to knowledge. Rote culture is vividly criticized for focusing solely on assimilating information without putting any thoughts or reflection to the knowledge. Rote culture encourages passive learning for the simple aim of getting good grades. Grades and standardized tests are the metric to measure student’s production and performance. Rote culture, as stated by Agger and Shelton (2007), is “banishing utopia, theory, and daydreaming as legitimate approaches to knowledge”. Students must memorize and do not learn to theorize, they speculate about the nature of the world and restrict their imagination to dig beneath the surface of things. Positivism grounded in the rote culture put an emphasis on facts and numbers and leaves aside the study of prejudice, class, race, gender studies, and interdisciplinary. Rote culture is a poison to learning.

In response to the rote culture and the pressure it has on students, I think that it is an outstanding ability for instructors to cultivate their student’s imagination and idealism but at the same time, instructors can quickly fall into the pattern of concealing the harsh reality of the job market. Thus, I believe it is of great importance to find a balance between letting students express themselves freely and helping them cope with the reality of high demand and performance, without losing their freedom and creativity along the way.

An amusing anecdote reflecting on the literary meaning of “rote culture” and the word “rote” in particular, in French “rote” means burp. Rote culture metaphorically refers to a culture in which students are forced to swallow all information and knowledge that is already given to them, depriving them of the ability or possibility to reflect on it and digest it well. Indeed, language can be fascinating at times.



  • Agger, Ben, and Beth Anne Shelton. 2007. Fast families, virtual children: a critical sociology of families and schooling. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.
  • Langer, Ellen J. 1997. The power of mindful learning. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.

On why I am reluctant to blogging

Seth Godin and Tom Peters start this segment of video addressing blogging. One of the first things that Seth Godin point out to is that “blogging is free, it doesn’t matter if somebody reads it, what matters is the humility that comes from writing it” But blogging, after all, is not just for the writer but most importantly addressed to the reader.

In preparation of my Future Professoriate Certificate, I am taking two courses, Contemporary Pedagogy and Preparing Future Professoriate in which I am required to blog on a regular basis. My blog will consist of weekly reflections on the current state of education, pedagogy and my ongoing experience as an instructor.

Though I have to admit that before actually typing on this keyboard and sharing my message with you, I was and still am, very reluctant to this form of expression that is: Blogging. Since I have to do it regularly, I thought of doing some research on Blogging and understanding more my reluctance.

The word Blog is a combination of two terms: web and log, Blog designates “a log of thoughts and writing posted publicly on the World Wide Web”. The word Web blog soon became Blog. Blogging is a modern mode of expression that emerged in the late 1990s. The Blog quickly became a form of an online diary with the possibility of readers from all over the world to read, comment and interact with the writer and other readers. The Blog also became increasingly mainstream and used as a tool for advertisement, outreach, and opinion formation but also a way to sell a way of life and a mode of thinking.

Therefore, when I hear the word Blog, I have the following reservations:

Is it authentic? Is the author genuine about his experience and his voice? A Blogger is a person like you and me, who has feelings, opinions, and biases. When someone adopts the Blog as a primary form of mass communication, I am concerned about the extent to which this person is true to themselves and their way of living. A speech is a power to influence, and being authentic is primordial and often hindered in the format of a Blog. We tend to write to others because we want them to like us and/or approve our way of living and thinking, just like social media is also a way of self-promotion looking for self-approval.

Blogging compromises privacy. As a form of an online diary, the blogger agrees on sharing his privacy with the reader. However, unlike a diary, a blog is public and shared with hundreds of people –if not more. It transforms a personal reflection and experience into something public that exposes the author to the insurrection of desired (and undesired) comments.
Aside, in order for the blog to remain alive, its author needs to share -sometimes over sharing. The Blog becomes a broadcast, instead of a publication.

Reliability and Relevance
A blogger will write about a variety of topics, quite randomly. These writings tend to be more informal and more prone to error. A blogger does enjoy a freedom that few academics and journalists writers have. While a reporter or a researcher will wait patiently until a source is confirmed and rely on other references, a blogger is mostly reliant on his opinion and his experience to analyze a case. This freedom is more accident-prone and more subject to misinformation and less formal. Therefore, competing perspectives becomes something that is considered universal and reliable, while the reflective process has been dramatically reduced.

The imperative to be digital
Publish online or perish. While I understand that many professors would like to open the World Wide Web to their students and introduce some to more contemporary forms of expression, I do question whether blogging is the best tool to do so without some amount of preparation and understanding of the responsibilities that comes with it.

To have a Blog, you need to find your voice. Blogging has enabled writers to express themselves out loud in ways that were never explored before. In this process, we do have to emphasize that the quality matters as much as the quantity. In a world of ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’, the reader is looking for an anchor, a voice, or voices that are authentic, well argued and sensible to the reality and people’s concern in an age where information and facts are vanishing.

Hence, part of me is not reluctant to the form of blogging in itself, but the way blogging has been used. As a future blogger, for the next few months, I will be blogging with the best of my ability to be authentic, reflective and relevant to you readers, and to be worthy of your time (I’ll try!!)