The Humane Part of Education

It was during my high school. One of my English teachers asked in the class, what’s the job of education? Many of us responded but finally, we agreed on one thing – to make us more humane. This was the first time someone taught about a different facet of education and I was sixteen that time. During the final semester of my undergrad, I was taught a class on Engineering Practice and a small part of that was on ethical values in engineering. Other than that, there was no class on ethics in my entire life. I did not get any chance to take these classes in the earlier stage of my education, which could have been more impactful. Despite the availability of a class called Engineering Ethics at Virginia Tech, I did not take it as I thought there will be a lot of workload on me besides doing research. Some of my friends took the class, however, they think the materials which are taught in that class are what everybody knows. So I thought, since I know the stuff (every human must know how to act ethically!), I may skip the class. But sometimes, we need to be reminded of what we know and what we should practice. To me, this type of classes must be made compulsory for all students to be reminded of their responsibility as humans.

Educating the educators is what required most to make sure that students become more humane in the process of education. I taught for two years when I was in Bangladesh. I got the chance to teach just after completing my B.S. without any training on teaching. Because of the lack of candidates with higher degrees, students with good GPA in B.S. can teach in my country. This makes a huge void in the education system. I only taught my students what was required to complete the syllabus, but I could not offer much. There were few reasons behind it, which I figured out later. I was not educated enough and I was not trained enough. I could teach better if I were given chance now. Because I got an extended exposure, which made me confident and I got training in teaching. It is true that sometimes we teach unconsciously by just influencing students by who we are. But to become that person who can teach students unconsciously, the person needs to be trained. If the teacher himself has no idea of the goal of education, it’s treacherous for all. Now if we consider the educators who are already in practice and practicing the old school teaching style where the humane part of education is absent, how we can solve this issue. Replacing the existing negative (!) teachers with positive would take time in a natural way, and the time required to do that would create a huge number of graduates without a humanistic view of education.

‘Delicate Handling of Intellectual Diversity’

My sixteen months teaching experience in Bangladesh helped me in thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion in a classroom. I did not think about racial diversity as most of us looked the same in the classroom. However, I thought about religious diversity. Being grown up as a part of the dominant religion in Bangladesh, I never saw any prejudice in the classroom based on religion. Like the other places of the world, women are underrepresented in the STEM in my country. As a part of my commitment to the students, I always tried to choose two class representatives, one from the male student group and another from female students. Apart from that, there were students of different merit in every classroom. I made my lectures to make it understandable to everyone, which was the most challenging part. Test making was focused on all the groups of students with different merits.

At Virginia Tech, I have been working in a lab run by my Chinese professor. The majority of my labmates are Chinese, yet I never felt isolated from the team. We have American, Indian, European students in our lab, yet we thrived without any conflict. At one point, we had ten Ph.D. students in our lab. As it could be predicted, the quality and productivity differed from student to student. If you define it as “Intellectual Diversity”, I would say it requires delicate care and handling. My advisor expects different output from students with different productivity and never compares one with another. The division of workload in our lab depends on individual’s ability. I think this is something very valuable that I learned from my advisor.

Small class size helps Inclusive Pedagogy

Inclusive pedagogy is a learner-centered approach where everyone who is eager to learn gets equal attention from the teacher. In the inclusive setting, every student feels welcome although their physical, mental, and cognitive skills are different. Keeping the class size small is probably the easiest way to foster inclusive teaching and learning. Small class size helps the teacher to have an eye on individual student’s need. It also helps students to be more interactive in the class compared to a big classroom. Small classrooms encourage students to discuss issues, personal views, comparing and contrasting views with others.
There are few techniques that a teacher can follow to include a class in learning more effectively. For example, finding out the students cultural and educational background beforehand to plan carefully for the class. This could be done by conducting a short questionnaire survey in the beginning of the semester focusing on the competence of the students in that course, on some specific topics, and so on. A teacher can help students to be prepared beforehand by providing reading materials before the class and providing some questions as food for thoughts. Students can go through it before the class and make them prepared for the discussion in the class. Arranging brainstorming sessions at the beginning of the class on the topics that were taught in the previous class may help the students to clear any confusion on that topic.
One of the issues with small group learning is that some students could be very reluctant to speaking or participating in conversation. This could be because of many reasons including the background of the students and their competence in the language used in a specific class. For example, international students often fail to participate because they find it difficult to form the idea in a complete sentence or they fail to find the appropriate words. Another reason of reluctance in participation is the culture of that individual student. For example, in some culture, asking questions by a student is not common. Rather they prefer to answer when the teacher asks a question. These issues if overlooked by a teacher, can create a serious issue or hinder inclusive leaning style even if the classroom is small.

“Instead of providing something different or additional for children who experience difficulties in their learning, inclusive pedagogy seeks to extend what is ordinarily available to everybody.”
Florian, L. and Black-Hawkins, K., 2011. Exploring Inclusive Pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37(5), pp. 813-828.

Teaching Voice

After finishing my BS in Civil Engineering, I started as a lecturer in a University (A) in Bangladesh. I started teaching lab classes mainly. I did not have any training on teaching. This type of training is not available back in my country. One of the major reasons for choosing to teach over any other industrial job that time was that I was planning on applying to the US for my higher education. For international students applying to the US for graduate school, there are requirements of GRE and TOEFL/IELTS. I was planning for the US and had to take these specialized tests. So a job in teaching was the perfect option as it takes less time and effort compared to an industry job. So this gave me more preparation time for my higher education. My teaching career started and I was getting confident in teaching. One of the things that I did was to prepare carefully before the class. Apart from this, I used most of my time for GRE/TOEFL/application process. I tried to stay friendly with the students and do my job in explaining things in the simplest possible ways. After six months, I moved to University B, which was one of the best private engineering schools in my country and I was excited to be there. I  started enjoying teaching more. The students were sharp and I spent more time in preparing for classes. I stayed friendly and kept a welcoming environment in the class. I understood that students liked me but was not sure about the quality of my teaching. I taught there for eight months before moving to the US for my masters back in August 2013. During my masters, I learned the basic things of my discipline in more details. I started having a bad feeling about my performance in teaching back in my country. At that time I understood that after completing my BS, I was not knowledgeable enough for teaching in a University. I felt like that I would have done better if I had my MS before starting teaching. The most important thing to me in teaching is to create a friendly environment in the class where every student feels welcome. I had a teacher back in Washington State University who used to ask questions in the class. Once he asked me a question which I did not have any idea of. So I tried to say something on that. I realized that my answer was 180 degree opposite to the right answer. Yet, the professor connected my answer with the correct answer. I really found that way of teaching very encouraging, where there will be no right and wrong answer. The teacher will give same weight to every student’s opinion. My teaching philosophy thus involves a friendly and welcoming environment for all students where every student will feel excited to share their opinion.

Mindful teaching and learning

In my college time, when my Chemistry professor was teaching us the periodic table, he showed the blank spaces in the periodic table and told us that we still can win the noble prize by filling up the blanks. At that time, there were 109 elements in the periodic table and now it is 118. I was not aware of mindful practice at that time, but that was a mindful teaching technique by my professor. It instigated thought in me and my friends about the periodic table and I remember, we did some detailed reading on the periodic table. On the contrary, in my Physics class, when my teacher was teaching us Newton’s laws, his first comment was that these laws are universal. Although this was true, by making this statement, he somewhat blocked the thought process of the students. Any universal law of Physics can still give the students a wide space for thinking if it is taught in that manner. Anyways, it was a mindless teaching approach by my Physics teachers that I can understand now. Mindfulness and mindlessness can happen both in teaching and learning. The above two examples were on mindfulness and mindlessness in teaching. To make teaching mindful, teachers should not stay with a preplanned presentation, rather a natural way of presenting the content should be used. Using own style and giving importance to the connection over perfection may help the teacher in terms of practicing the mindful teaching in class.

Mindful and mindless learning by students are mainly dictated by the perception of students toward a certain problem. If someone takes a problem as it is and don’t want to think out of the box, mindless learning will prevail. The belief of knowing a topic completely sometimes close the path of further thinking and introduces a state of mindlessness. It’s good to be open to ideas or thoughts to see what else can be extracted from a problem or situation. The idea of ever-present gratification can help to be mindful. For example, if someone thinks that something great is waiting at the end, the perception of a problem may change significantly. It’s good to mindfully choose something and fail rather than mindlessly follow others.


Engaging the Imaginations of Digital Learners

Digital learning is somewhat taking place of conventional teaching practices. The conventional classroom settings are changing and digital pieces of equipment are taking place of conventional blackboard. Students are getting inclined into learning outside of a classroom. Laptops, the internet, mobile phones are getting access to students inside a classroom. It’s mostly on the students how they use this digital access. However, people have mixed perception to digital education or digital means. For examples, there are people who are called video game addicts, but none are called textbook addicts. Even people appreciate when you become a textbook addict. However, every video game is about solving a problem, sometimes real life problems. The solution of a video game can help a gamer to think about related real life issues and coming up with solutions to those problems. The idea of video games could be very effective if applied in a classroom setting. For example, in the video games, to uncover the next level, the first level needs to be completed successfully. If classes are designed such that every step is related to the next step and students have an urge to unveil the next level, the learning will be maximized.

Digital learning is not confining learning inside a class room. Learning has become mobile because of this. People can learn anywhere because of this. You don’t need to be in a classroom to learn. Use of software, videos have reduced the necessity of physical presence in a classroom.

The chain is long

We human are life long learners. From birth to death, we learn from our surroundings and the people we interact with. We need others for living so do for learning. Networked learning plays a big role for effective output in a classroom. We all should have a mindset to learn from others and help others in any academic setting. In a classroom, all the students are not same in talent. Learning by sharing would help a lot. Sharing while learning can help spreading skills among students in an interesting and effective way.

Research has become multidisciplinary in nature. Multidisciplinarity is the key of today’s research success.  For having a complete scenario of a problem and comprehensive solution, the different facets of it need investigation. In other words, multidisciplinary research has become Networked Research. Experts need to act together for finding a solution to a complex problem. In getting funding for a project, the project must be comprehensive, which calls for networked learning and research.