So last week I attended a very interesting keynote titled “Teaching in an Age of Complexity”; which was presented by Catherine Cronin who is a member of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. The National Forum fosters communication and collaboration in the areas of teaching and learning. Before she dived into the core of the presentation she talked about the fact that she currently resides in Ireland but is originally from New York and actually showed us a photo of the West Coast of Ireland where she lives.
Cronin started by discussing digital spaces and as she went on she explained how physical spaces are enmeshed when talking about learning spaces; especially with today’s technology and digital platform and how the internet enabled students and educators as networks connect with one another. Cronin further explained this point by stating that when choosing physical spaces or bounded online spaces for learning and teaching there is the exchange of information is not as facilitated as in open online spaces where the exchange of info and connection between the two networks (educators and students) is much more facilitated and effective. I absolutely agree with her because with the help of internet not only am I able to break any boarders of communication especially if I am exchanging information or contacting someone from a different country which is not feasible when using physical spaces and that it became much more easier to look for information that is not bounded by where you live and what you can access from your location. Making the “boundaries blurring between digital and physical identities between teachers and learners, teaching and learning and also online and offline” according to Cronin which is absolutely true!
Moreover, Cronin brought up another important aspect of the internet which is safety where she explained that although the web is a good space for communication it is also a space for online harassment and bullying; that’s why we need digital literacy to act wisely for the benefit of both us as students and as educators. When Cronin mentioned this point I automatically remembered the article by Maha Bali that I previously read and discussed in one of my previous posts about Digital Literacy and was called “Knowing the Difference Between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies, and Teaching Both” . This article also tackled the aspect of the possible abuse that could arise from sharing and discussing sensitive topics with the public; and that teachers should in fact inform their students about the possible feedback or backlash they might possibly receive because of their posts.
This keynote was really interesting to attend because I knew from the title of the presentation that it would be a compelling keynote because of the fact that education today is much harder than it was 10 years ago; and how the internet and digital spaces/platforms are being embedded within the educational system. That being said, the transitioning phase of incorporating the digital spaces with institutions and educational systems can be very puzzling but it is definitely the future; and it can be actually noticed today that everything is moving to digital platforms and people are becoming more digitally literate. Although Cronin proposed and tackled very important elements that we constantly encounter but it was a bit hard to follow at times; because the presentation would move from one thing to another and I couldn’t keep up because some parts lacked the transition from one thing to the other. Also some topics were not discussed as thoroughly as the others and were merely introduced and I would have liked to know more about.
The second thing that not only did I attended but was a actually a member of the panel that discussed “What is in a grade?”! The panel had a total of four pairs consisting of a professor and one his/her student/Teaching Assistant. Where each pair discussed different aspects and elements of what is included in a grade. What was really different about this panel is that students actually took part in it and gave their own point of views and reflections on “grades” and even added their own experiences which enabled the attendees to have various view points on the subject. This is why this is my favorite part of the symposium; but I promise I am not being biased! I just really liked how different it was and that it was not all about one view point.
This panel is truly one of the best experiences that I have had at the AUC and I have to say that when I was offered this opportunity I didn’t hesitate to join but it was definitely a step out of my comfort zone because it was unlike any other presentation that I was part of before. But after all the most important thing is to try new things and challenge yourself more in order to further develop your character. Honestly, I cannot remember thoroughly what the first two teams discussed because I couldn’t write any notes and the other because I was mentally revising what I was going to say! So forgive me for mentioning their topics briefly.
So the first team consisted of Dr. Khalil El Khodary and Youssef Waga, from the mechanical engineering department. They tackled the main topic of the panel and tackled it from a different angle where they tried to answer the question of “What is not in a grade?”. Dr Khalil began by stating the fact that students perceive that getting a high grade in courses means that it is some sort of an honorary badge that you have survived the course and that a student’s life is not based on that. Waga then took the stage and began reflecting on his own experience with grades and how students are paying a lot of attention on grades but they are not as important as the real world they are about to discover after they graduate. He also added that what makes a candidate better than the other are his/her personality traits and skills.
The second team was from the architecture department and it consisted of Dr Magda Mostafa and her student Mahmoud ElKady. This team explained the challenges of grading and attaining high grades in a design based major like architecture for both educators and students. From Dr Magda’s point of view, she believes that when it comes to teaching it is more important to focus on the students’ creativity in their designs or as she said “the art of design” instead of merely focusing on the technicality when designing. She also added that because the faculty and the department are constantly changing grading rubric this makes grades even harder to achieve in order to push the students to become their very best and in fact Dr Magda added that this actually works and that students really do better when the grades bar/expectations are higher. That being said, the faculty are only allowed to award 15% of the students “A”s and not more even if they deserve it.
Then it was our turn! Dr Nellie and I discussed how students feel about grades and the impact it has on them and their work. Dr Nellie began the discussion by reflecting on her experience as a student and the pressure and strictness associated with grades and achieving them. She also added that unfortunately the educational system is unfair to students it does not take into account their skills or talents into account. Moreover, she explained that when she started her education at the UK she was asked to give her own opinion and reflection on a topic and that she was absolutely shocked because she was not used to reflect on her work or think about what she was learning because she used to be very systematic and trying to memorize in order to achieve high grades which by the way does not recall attaining them ever. When it came to my part of the speech, I wanted to clarify very important aspects of most if not all students’ lives. Unfortunately, we are constantly judged by our grades but they are not an actual presentation of who we are or how talented and skilled we are. Making our whole educational experience focusing on how can we achieve high grades instead of actually learning which is the most important thing. This is why I agree with what Youssef Waga discussed about grades not being the most important thing that students should focus on. However what I do not see eye to eye with him is that employers do not focus on grades and focus on skills instead. I mean this could be the case for some employers but is not the case for the majority of employers which is very unfair because the important thing when applying for a job is how compatible we are with the job we are applying to and how skilled and talented we are. Another aspect that truly affects our learning experience is the fact that the assessments and learning techniques are the same however each student is different from the other and we shouldn’t learn and be assessed in the same way. Based on my experience the two courses where I was challenged and learned differently were the courses that I learned the most from but most importantly enjoyed the most. For instance, in one course we had to incorporate what we learned in class into a play which was at first very intimidating but ended up being one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had! For the second course, we took our quizzes on an online quiz game website where there would be three winners in the end. As students we focused on the competition aspect of the quiz and actually forgot that it was a quiz and that we are being graded; making us not only learn but enjoy it too. I strongly believe that students should have a say in how they learn and how they are assessed because not only will be extremely motivated but it will also enrich our educational experience and learning outcomes as students.
Moving to the fourth team, who were Dr. Thomas Wolsey, and his student Karim Selim, from the department of economics. They tackled the importance and various aspects of participation and how can students be motivated to participate in class. Dr Wolsey stated that when a professor adds grades on participation students are more likely to engage in class. However, this affects the quality/what is actually said by the students. Where some students could merely ask a question or say anything just to be counted as participation but they may not be actually paying attention or actually learning something; which is unfair because not all participation is explicit some participation actually occur in students’ minds which is far more important and valuable that explicit participation. As for Karim, he explained how the role of a professor is crucial in encouraging students participation and that it affects the perception of participation. For instance that the content of the course may not be interesting, but if the professor is friendly and welcoming and encourages students to speak up and engage the students so their participation would be much higher. I totally stand by this because personally my participation is directly affected to the content of the course but most importantly to the professor himself/herself and I can honestly say that when the professor is friendly and connects with the students in way or another my participation frequency automatically increases. Moreover, he added a very important note which is the difficulty of measuring participation. Which is absolutely true because without a doubt the process of grading participation is very subjective to the grader.
As for the last speakers who were from the construction engineering department; Dr.Youssef Ezz Eldin and his Teaching Assistant Sahar. Dr Ezz left the platform for his Teach Assistant to present first. Where Saher explained that the major grading process is based on direct assessment, participation and engagement, implementation of feedback and innovative approaches in solving problems. Moreover, the students are also able to take their exams at home because according to Sahar exams are vital in a major like construction engineering and it what makes students study and learn. That being said, Dr Ezz had a totally different approach than Sahar which was surprising. Even though the rest of the teams believed that grades do not matter he disagreed and stated that grades do matter; he went ahead and explained that it is the first thing that we are asked about when we graduate which contradicts what Yousef Waga’s point of view. However, he does not believe that it is fair for students to be mostly graded based on their exams and nothing else. I very much agree with him because there should be other sorts of assessments that merely written exams to determine the students’ grades and like I said before even though grades are not a true reflection of our capabilities but WE ARE judged by our grades in everything we do.
I learned A LOT from being a part of the panel in terms of challenging myself to actually being part of something that offered various view points from different professions which truly enriched my experience as a student as I am sure it did for the attendees as well. I have to say that if I wasn’t part of it I would have missed a very unique experience. That being said, I think that there should be similar panels in the next symposium because it truly enabled the audience to engage and relate to the topic being discussed and it would be great if there were more time for the speakers to speakers because time ran out very quickly before people could finish what they wanted to say.