To Those Who Stole My Dreams

Writing this to those who want me to be a good student! To be obedient! To memorize everything!

You people stole all my dreams, wasted my time. Undoubtedly, I learned (or memorized) a lot, I collected a lot of dots, but there is no worth in memorizing when I had never learned how to connect dots to my promote learning when I was in school.

I really like the Seth Godin at TEDxYouth@BFS video, and how he questioned the common teaching style and why we need to ask students to do something interesting or go and figure something out instead of spending several hours giving them a lecture, he also emphasized on providing opportunities for learning how to innovate.

My first exposure to online teaching was when I was assigned as a TA to Risk Analysis and Decision-Making class at the University of Nebraska. The instructor asked me helping him to flip the classroom lectures into online (YouTube) videos, my first reaction was he is a lazy instructor. But that class turned into a fantastic experience for students and for me. the students are required to watch videos and read the PBL before the class. The class time was the time to discuss, ask the question, and practice innovative thinking. As a person who took this course five years ago, I realized that I wasted my time before when I was memorizing concepts; and through this course and all active learning activities, I comprehend and learn the course concepts deeply.

As a new professional who is going to help to raise up and to prepare new professionals, I always will keep what Palmer mentioned in my mind:

“knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it.”

Knowing does not guarantee to learn, being obedience does not dictate being a good student. I will try to raise up new professionals who are connecting dots as they are collecting dots!

Step Away from the Podium and Teaching as Yourself

As a future instructor, I am fascinated to think and figure out who I will be as a teacher before I stuck in teaching my first class after graduation. What was said by Professor Fowler, first,  I need to answer these questions:

  1. How can I be genuine, sincere, and fully present in the classroom?
  2. How do I avoid posturing?
  3. How do I convey authority without being a strict authoritarian?
  4. How do I build rapport among all participants?
  5. How do I structure class sessions for optimum engagement and coverage?

Most of us start building our future teaching approach based on our experience through all these years as a student: what did we like the most? What did we hate? What did help us in learning the content? About all encouragement and motivations! And about discouragement and stresses! We want to empower the strength of our previous teacher in our teaching style and eliminate all weakness. All of us know that bad teacher can affect and hinder students’ education for years, and this is what we don’t want to be! Nevertheless, the question is how to achieve this goal?

Sarah E. Deel well said it is beneficial to search and obtain more information about techniques for developing and facilitating good communication skills between you and among/between the students with whom you will be working, but these techniques are not sufficient to make you a perfect authentic teacher. To be an authentic teacher, we should cultivate our teaching style based on our personality and skills.  Professor Fowler emphasized this point by mentioning that we “Must work to discover who you are as a teacher and choose the techniques that work in concert with being authentic in the classroom.” Thinking and exploring my personality and capabilities, I am sure that I do not want to spend or (I can say) waste my energy and time to be someone I am not or pretend how cool I am (that I am not at all!). I must decide what types of strategies or teaching techniques work for me rather than simply spend my time and energy to be someone else and employ all techniques in my classes.

Therefore, although I hope and am doing my best to get an academic job at land-grant universities which my teaching responsibility will be far less than research responsibility, I believe that my teaching matters. I came to believe that being a good teacher is a continuous process that we need to re-evaluate ourselves to develop and refine our pedagogical approach.

Mind Full …, Or Mindful?

When was the last time you REALLY take a shower? This morning? Or yesterday? 

Did you mindfully take a shower? Did you feel the water on your skin or you did all routine tasks while you were half awake, half asleep? Were you actively engaged in the present when you were taking a shower, OR you were thinking about your plans for today and did not understand how you take the shower?

Mindfulness defines as a flexible state of mind in which we are at higher sensitivity to the context and perspective, actively engaged in the present, and noticing changes which consequently, lead to having greater control over our lives.

Engaging in mindful learning helps to draw novel distinctions and avoid mindsets or myths which unnecessarily limit our creativity and innovation. To enhance mindful learning, it is important to think about “how to teach” rather of “what to teach.” If the students learn the concepts mindfully rather than taking the basics for granted and learning the concepts mindlessly, they are more likely to accommodate to changes and broader concepts. To enhance mindful learning, the instructor must teach mindfully and encourage the student to attend to contexts and concepts mindfully. Therefore, to stop student’s mind wandering, distracted, or attending mindlessly to the context; the instructors may develop and implement active learning practices and game in the classes rather than lectures. Moreover, an instructor must approach and develop the content of the material mindfully and from diverse perspective to help the students to take advantages of mindful learning.

Practice Does NOT Make Perfect, Mindful Learning DOES!

As a future instructor, it is always YOUR choice. You can start today to practice mindfulness and live in presence. Start with taking a mindful shower tomorrow morning! And then continue to incorporate mindfulness into your driving, eating breakfast, and other daily activities, then, extend it to your teaching. You can also look for some resources at Virginia Tech to help you become MINDFUL!

Shhh…! Students Are Sleeping!

As a student, I am conscious and excited the first half an hour (maximum :D) of the lecture classes. After that, my mind is preoccupied with thoughts of the past or future plans. Although I am staring at the professor, my mind is somewhere else. At the same time when I look around, I see at least three to four of students are sleeping.  Does this happen to you?

I know digital technologies cannot be incorporated into all type of classes and we need to have some sort of lectures in my major, Civil engineering. But the most important point that we should keep in our mind as future professors or instructors is to know “Lectures are good for information transfer. In fact, lectures, while effective at covering material, are terrible for information transfer from the student’s point of view. 1” Covering materials are required, but there I no guarantee that students have learned anything. The instructor must be aware of the relationship between the length of the average lecture and the average human being’s attention span1. Otherwise, the students –like me- start thinking about irrelevant topics or fall asleep. How can we keep students more actively involved in the class?

How about using the learner-centered process such as active learning? Do you think students will fall asleep during the active-learning activities?

Nowadays, Active learning is changed to one of those academic buzzwords “whose meaning has been dulled from overuse. 2” The main concept of active learning defines as a learner-centered process, such as using digital technologies, in which students become more actively involved in pedagogies that feature teamwork and problem-solving. However, many researchers assert that using digital technologies as a tool for active learning will be more distractive than a gateway to learning.  I somewhat agree with this assertion. I am TA for a class of ~100 students, and there is no voice when I enter the class every Tuesdays and Thursdays because everyone is silently busy with their laptops and cellphones. This is a tragic scene! They do not use the unique opportunity to “exchange ideas and thoughts and develop the ability to communicate with a variety of people. 3” the professor, who advocates the destructive effect of digital technologies on student learning, come to class every session and ask the students to silent and stow away their cellphones, tablets, and laptops during class meetings. Then an hour lecture starts, and after 15 minutes, most of the students fall asleep.

Thus, It seems both digital technologies and teacher-oriented system featuring lectures are negatively impacting the learning experience for students and educators to some degree.

John Warner3 well said: that instructors must see themselves as “more of a catalyst for learning, rather than a conduit of information. 3” So, they must aim for balance by combining lecture and active learning together to produce as rich a learning environment.




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Cyberspace is NOT Culture-Free!

Networked learning facilitates the relationship between digital technologies and education and learning1. The central concept in network learning is the connections. Connections include interactions between the user, digital technologies, and resources. However, the question is whether all interactions with technologies constitute networked learning. In other words, despite a growing demand for efficient ways of using networked learning to enhance student learning in higher education, do you think the networked learning initiative reach the point is designed for? My answer is “NO”! I think there are challenges in networked learning concept, developing, and maintaining connections with digital technologies that it still cannot be considered as add-ons to the academic research.

Misusing the digital technologies: This semester I am a TA for a class (~100 undergraduate/graduate students). The instructor does not let the student use computers during the class for any purposes. Students must silent and stow away their cellphones, tablets, and laptops during class meetings. Do you know what the result was? Students engaged more in discussions, took notes, and listened carefully. This makes me think that what are the differences between the classes use the digital technologies and those focus on traditional instructor-student technique in term of level of student learning. I talked to the instructor, and he clarified his intent by explaining that digital technologies disadvantages are more than advantages. He believes that digital technologies make distractions and the students misuse these technologies. I agree with him. To overcome this challenge and increase learning, the central question is how to inspire the student to use digital technologies for learning purpose? And how to teach them to use these technologies in a right way?

Lack of trust in cyberspace: Moreover, in higher education, most of the graduate students and scholars worry that sharing their research in public through cyberspace will allow another scholar to steal their ideas3. Their concerns come from lack of trust in cyberspace and cultural deficiency in using e these technologies.

Miscommunications: All of us suddenly are fallen into the digital technology era without knowing the basics of handling effective public communication. There are several instances of miscommunication in cyberspace information exchange between culturally diverse learners2 which not only not increase learning but also impoverish the learning. After inspiring students to use digital technologies to enhance learning, it is essential that student learn how to solve the misunderstanding, pave miscommunications, and facilitate interactions and learning through networked-learning technologies.

All of the factors I have discussed in this blog reinforce the role of culture in networked learning. On the other hand, it is undeniable that our culture also “absorbed a range of new media platforms and practices.”4. So, to keep up with the relative rapidity of change in digital technologies platforms being used, facilitate developing and sharing knowledge, and underpin practical pedagogical knowledge in a networked learning environment, all of us must learn the culture of using these platforms accurately. But how?