Commitment to Writing

So I am at this really interesting workshop about Personal Branding as part of the Teaching Assistants and Graduate Students (TAGS) Professional Track. It’s facilitated by Fady Ramzy, CEO of Inside Out, which is an Egyptian startup powering the Internet revolution in Middle East and Africa. I facilitated the session right before this one about Networking and Professional Development.

I’m learning so much in this workshop. I love how when I attend a workshop or lecture or conference that I am also facilitating part of and end up learning from other facilitators. I am not that active on social media, which isn’t too bad, but with certain things it’s important. I also need to try harder to stay in touch with all my friends that aren’t in Cairo or Egypt.

It’s apparently pretty important to be consistent with writing and content creation (I kinda know that, as we all do) but I am guilty as charged, I know it but don’t practice it. I don’t write or share as much as I’d like to. So this is me publicly making a commitment to try harder. I haven’t been writing for a while because I was writing my thesis, which ended up having so many bumps and problems I had to navigate around, so I got busy. Hey, I just got the idea of the first thing I will share: My thesis journey and reflections!

More later… 🙂

Oh boy, I miss writing!

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Story for Flipping the Script on Intercultural Learning #FlipIntercultural

Here’s a story for you, Maha 🙂 It sounds like it will be an absolutely beautiful keynote speech insha Allah!

Okay, so Maha Bali my colleague is giving a keynote at the upcoming Uni-Collaboration Conference, about Flipping the Script on Intercultural learning. She plans to integrate in her keynote stories from different people about how they have changed their views of intercultural learning. In her invitation for people to contribute, she asked the question:

What kind of assumptions did you have before, about intercultural learning, have recently been challenged or changed?

So here’s my story response

So I did the Facilitation training for Soliya last year. I hadn’t had that strong or intense of an intercultural learning experience before. I mean I did do part of my undergrad studies at Concordia in Montreal, which is a very culturally diverse city and the students I met there were practically from everywhere in the world. I took an International Law course there, which was quite eye opening because the professor used many different case examples from different parts of the world so it was interesting to see the class’  reaction to these. It was a big lecture hall, with about 100+ students who were very culturally diverse. I didn’t have assumptions about how that experience would be but I learned that some people could potentially get defensive and just support their own worldview rather than truly try to listen to others. So when I started the Soliya training they sent us lots of reading material about how to deal with cultural differences in the group and moderate the conversations in ways that would not offend anyone. There was also A LOT of content in there about conflict resolution should things get heated up between members of the group with opposing world views and different cultures. So as I was reading this I was thinking, or rather worrying, about how I would handle these situations when they happened. I’m generally not afraid of confrontational situations, but seeing as I would be the moderator, and the group would be mainly undergraduate students I felt a load of responsibility. So I was going into the training with that fear about the assumptions I made about how some conversations about sensitive topics (which most of intercultural dialogue revolves around really) could get tense and offensive. When I started the training it turned out to be completely different than what I had expected. Granted, it was a group of people who were taking the facilitation training like me so they were already in the mindset of wanting to promote safe intercultural dialogue and just had very accepting and diversity-tolerant world views. So it turned out to be a very beneficial experience for me, full of sharing sensitive stories about discrimination, bias, prejudice…etc. you know, all those wonderful things! NOT!
So that changed how I had previously seen and experienced intercultural learning, it helped me grow, made me understand people’s differences even more and I even made friends with 5 of the 6 in my group! I still talk to some of them on Facebook and LinkedIn from time to time and we became very close in such a short period of time. you see, when you share these kinds of stories and experiences, and open yourself up like that to someone or a group of people, you feel closer to them almost instantly, and pretty much all barriers come down! Unlike people who you’d take months to get to know well because you spend a lot of time doing small talk before you get to the real and deep conversations! I stood corrected and realized my fears were too magnified (because they aren’t completely irrational). I realized that people could be much more accepting and tolerant than I thought they would be, when their aim is to truly listen and learn about how individuals from different cultures than their own see or make sense of this world we live in, which is pretty chaotic to be honest, and it’s interesting to see how each person, depending on their background and experiences, attempts to find order and peace in this world of chaos.

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Fourth Reflection: Learning Analytics’ Development in Higher Education

Relevant themes: learning analytics in general and its development in higher education

Learning analytics is a topic I am very interested in; mainly because it heavily relates to my MA thesis and because it’s a growing field in online learning so it has caught my attention a while back. I’ve had a few discussions about the limitations of learning analytics explaining meaningful learning with my colleagues throughout the past few months, in addition to the discussion we had in class, and here are some key points that were highlighted, along with my reflections.


Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The topic seems to be growing very rapidly to the point that people are in the field are giving it massive importance. Understandable, because of the huge benefit that it offers in terms of showing patterns of online learning behavior. They could be really good for early intervention and taking action if a student is identified to be progressing slowly or is behind on any of the activities. This is one of the benefits that I believe to be absolutely fascinating, that wouldn’t necessarily be present in a traditional face to face classroom, or even one that is web-enhanced but does not use an LMS or online platform that tracks student learning, completion of activities or assessments.

An important angle to highlight is the benefit of learning analytics in showing patterns of certain behavior online. This is one of the ways it could show an instructor indications of real or meaningful learning, or lack thereof. For example, if one student is shown to take a long time to take a quiz than is necessary or simply hovers over a couple of questions for a long time, then that’s not necessarily an indication of anything; the student could have been interrupted, went to grab something to eat, or simply just lost focus at that given point in time. If, however, the entire or the majority of the class appear to take longer time than necessary or hover for a few minutes over the same questions, then that could be an indication that these concepts were either not clearly explained or the students have something in common that is stopping them for answering the questions or grasping the content well enough. It is not the one or two students, it’s the common and pattern-indicating behaviors that could really explain what is going on. This is where we can say “co-incidences don’t happen.” It is the instructor’s or the instructional designer’s job to look at these numbers and attempt to find these patterns. But not only that, it goes a step beyond that; it’s their job to appropriately interpret these results. It takes someone who knows the students, the course content, how everything is progressing to be able to make these connections and explain these patterns in a proper and meaningful (and contextual) interpretation of that phenomenon.

An aspect to consider (which is an advantage as well as a disadvantage in my opinion) is the relative novelty of learning analytics as an idea and as a practical solution for some of the higher education problems (oh, this reminds me of another thing, which I’ll mention right after this point). The fact that it’s this new of a field, means that innovations and research is quickly growing to form a good base for the idea to take off and explained. But the fact that it’s new also means there aren’t that many people familiar with how to collect and appropriately analyze the data for meaningful interpretations (this is also mentioned in the readings we did this week, referenced below). So this novelty also means there isn’t enough training on it like there is on other educational practices that have been around for years, which is normal because these things take time to understand and master. We just need to be careful of that.

Last but not least, (I have so much to say about this particular topic but don’t want to elongate this post that much), is this misconception, or rather over-estimated conception, that learning analytics can solve issues in higher education. Definitely and to an extent, it can solve some issues in higher education both administrative and instructional (mentioned also in the references below), but it would be too utopian to think of it as a tool that could solve massive issues or tackle problems that have been in educational systems for years. We cannot simply magnify the benefits of learning analytics like this, we should be rational in thinking the benefit scope and potential.

That’s it for now, next week is all about mindfulness in education, which I am super excited to both read and write about, so stay tuned 🙂



Picciano, A. (2012). The evolution of big data and learning analytics in American higher education. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(3), 9-20

Tulasi, B. (2014). Learning analytics and big data in higher education. International Journal of Engineering Research and Technology (IJERT), 3(1), 3377-3383

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Third Reflection: Pedagogy & Theory of Modern Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed

  • Blog Post 3 – Relevant Themes:
  • Open Education
  • Technology usage in higher education
    • Open education being a movement rather than just a pedagogical concept. I’ve been exposed to and immersed in the field of open education through my PLN for about a couple of years. I actually recently contributed to a panel presentation at OER17 about the role of Trump and Brexit policies affecting open education. My main point was how these policies were affecting open education in relation to the electronics ban both of these countries imposed recently. This happened right before my thesis proposal was due and 2 weeks before I was supposed to travel to the US for personal reasons, while supposedly also working on my thesis proposal. My main point in the video (below) was that these policies affected access to my education, which is the very main affordance of open education. The second important point I wanted to make is that there are many other dimensions to open education, aside from the tech; what about how these policies affect open movement and open travel? Now, I didn’t consciously think of open education as a “movement” before because I didn’t know that that’s how it started, but this relates to what I was saying in the video; these policies are a direct hindrance to the spread of the open education movement! The word movement is different in these two contexts; one means the physical movement from one place to another and the other means movement as a social phenomenon and an interest group mobilizing people to act differently or embody a new ideology. I found this relation interesting (though this connection was made a few weeks after OER17).
    • During last week’s class we were asked to reflect on the question: What do you think is the role of technology in transforming higher education, in Egypt and at AUC?
      • The reasons I started to think about were both broad and limited in their scope, but the Ted Talk we watched completely expanded the horizon of that scope for me. The reasons I gave were: To fulfill a teacher’s pedagogy but it shouldn’t be used without an explicit and shared purpose, to develop students to acquire the skills of the 21st century and digital literacies, to develop global citizens with a wide scope of ideas and experiences in dealing with individuals from different contexts and cultures, to provide access to education and resources (through online learning, among others).
      • Now, without giving away too many details so you enjoy watching the video (which is pretty interesting by the way and worth checking out) and forming an opinion on your own, the video was saying that we are doing it wrong; instead of applying the best practices of technology and trying to maximize the benefit of technology in the current way we teach, we should re-imagine teaching altogether, to consider the affordances of these technologies. The speaker discussed three challenges that are facing education today, and suggested solutions that are mainly revolving around the concept of personalized learning. The way he was framing all these challenges and solutions is interesting and seem easy to adopt. But when I think about the current situation in Egypt and try to find ways of applying what the speaker is endorsing…. Dead end! The reason I say this is because, I think, there are so many factors that need to exist in order for these strategies or solutions to work. There is an assumption underlying this talk; that the context, the educational system, the teachers, the students, educational policies are open to that kind of high-end innovation and technology integration. What about public schools where there are almost no computers? What about teachers who do not have autonomy in their classrooms? What about people working in a very centralized system and cannot afford to integrate such ideas? More importantly, what about illiteracy rates? What about access to education? What about access to technology, or even internet? All of these considerations are non-existent in his talk (though not the fault of the speaker at all, who is discussing an entirely different context), but these are crucial for anyone implementing any of these ideas; contextualization is of utmost importance!
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Second Reflection: Pedagogy and Theory in Higher Ed

So this week is also filled with questions, and also some critique! I was asked to present on a book chapter, titled Teaching for Democracy in Post-Arab Spring: Challenges and Opportunities by Abdullah F. Alrebh and Radhi Al-Mabuk. After reading the chapter, I had mixed opinions to be honest; on the one hand it was well-written and offered some good information about how the education system in the Arab world is like; but on the other hand I came out of this reading experience thinking “What now? What’s the solution??!” I don’t want this to seem like a book chapter review though, so it will just be a reflection on the discussions we had in class and my learning in between classes.

We talked about democracy for a democracy-unprepared nation. Some of us in class differed on whether or not democracy is really what this nation needs; whether Egypt as a nation is ready for democracy; and the success factors of democracy in general. We touched on the history of how democracy as a concept emerged in the US constitution, touching upon the fact that it is for the “educated citizen.” This was a pretty interesting point, here’s the quote I brought up for discussion (from the chapter); “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people” by Thomas Jefferson ” (as cited in Alrebh & Al-Mabuk, 2016, p. 8).

There was another quote that stirred the discussion; “Totalitarianism demands obedience and conformity, hierarchy, command and control. Royalty requires allegiance. Democracy, by contrast, requires free people coming together voluntarily who are capable of both self-realization and, at the same time, full participation in a shared political and economic life. Democracy is a form of associative living in which people must assume and fight to achieve political and social equality; acknowledge a common spark of humanity in each soul; and embrace a level of uncertainty, incompleteness, and the inevitability of change” (as cited in Alrebh & Al-Mabuk, 2016, p. 8).
One of my classmates had a problem with this definition of associative living and thought that individualism and freedom should be important and a nation’s success lies in each one doing what he/she wants. I personally didn’t see a contradiction between this viewpoint and the definition of associative living because they tackle two different angles. Everyone working for a common goal is not necessarily a bad thing, unless there are different perceptions as to what that common goal is. In the case of Egypt, that “common goal” was not so common it turned out. One of the main reasons the Egyptian revolution did not reap the results the nation was striving for is that the nation ended up being divided very different sectors, supporting different goals or missions. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters created a dichotomy in the population; the nation was split between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and old regime supporters, some of which were revolutionaries. This then means that the collective drive towards a unified goal was not there, which according to this chapter is the main catalyst for democracy. Also, in no way, shape or form was the nation comfortable with uncertainty, incompleteness or the inevitability of change. All of this translates into massive instability in government and the nation’s goals, which directly affects the stability of higher education institutions (public or private).

A critique I have about this piece is that it is too utopian. Yes, it is somewhat of a good depiction of what the education system is like in the nation, but the opportunities and solutions presented are not realistic and make it seem like it’s a very simple recipe for reform, when the reality is different. The authors say that the main challenge is lack of teacher training and the opportunities are the aspirations/willingness of youth, the drive to be autonomous and efforts on the long run can raise civic-minded citizens. I can’t even begin to explain how simplistic and utopian this is. There are many factors that are not examined in this piece. When I looked closer at the authors’ backgrounds; it turned out that they were entirely based in the Arab world; one received his MA and PhD from Michigan (before that he was in Saudi Arabia); and the other received all his degrees from the US and is currently teaching there. This in and of itself makes it difficult for them to assess the situation of the public education system in the Arab World. I have lived in Egypt all my life, received all my education degrees here in a private schooling system and private university yet I am still not a good candidate to make any claims about the public education system because I was neither a student nor a teacher nor even an administrator in it. So I am not in a place to survey the challenges or the opportunities in the public sector, especially that there is the problem of lack of adequate documentation in the region about education systems.

I have other reflection points from reading this chapter but I’ll stop here for now and talk about some TED talks.
The talk I watched was pretty interesting. It was about The Brain and Exercise by Wendy Suzuki and was all about the neurological benefits of exercise on brain functions, improving cognition, memory, learning, creativity and imagination. I learned so many new things from this talk, including the fact that most research done about the positive effects of exercise on the brain is on older patients. The research Dr. Suzuki conducted however was on her own neuroscience students, which also reaped very positive results. You know what would be really interesting? Research about the effects of different types of exercise on different cognitive functions. I’d like to read about that. So for example, does running in particular enhance a certain cognitive ability such as memorization or language learning? Does strength training or repetitive type exercises enhance imagination? or eases the habit of associating information…etc.? I’ll actually go look into that some more now.

The other Ted talk my classmate watched and presented about was really good in highlighting a few important facts about learning, diversity and making choices. It was called The Art of Choosing by Sheena Lyengar and there are some of the questions it raised; are we really the decision makers for our choices, or are we set up to make certain choices based on how the information and choices are presented? She also talked about how different nations approach concepts, which further highlighted the notion of choice being an interpretation-based concept.

Ok, gotta go, more later. Let me know if you disagree/agree with any of this. I know there are pretty strong statements in here, but sometimes I get really worked up when I’m writing.



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Pedagogy and Theory – Class Reflection 1

This is the first of hopefully many reflections for a course I am taking for my graduate students; Pedagogy and Theory of Modern Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

This is the third week of the course and so far we’ve discussed a lot of issues ranging from achievements and challenges of the higher education sector, specifically in the Arab world, which is a scope I am really interested in, to employability of higher ed graduates, to factors affecting higher education institutions globally and regionally. It’s been an engaging journey so far in terms of diving deeper into this field of higher education, what causes or prevents its advancement and critically discussing these implications during our class meetings.

There have been a few things that stood out to me from the articles and resources we looked at so far.

First of all, there were numbers and statistics mentioned in one of the reports that appeared to be very promising and positive. Upon closer analysis of these numbers in class, our professor shed light on a number of factors that go into the analysis and formation of those numbers, which was very eye opening in how sometimes reports use data to highlight growth or advancement of a field, when in reality the growth could only be due to population growth for example. I realized how important it is to critically analyze each number I come across in research studies because the way of interpreting the statistics, graphs or data presented has the potential to drastically change the meaning of them and how they implicate different people.

When I myself read the report (1), what struck me the most was how familiar some of these challenges were to me. By familiar, I mean they weren’t a surprise and I know the region, or Egypt specifically, has faced these challenges for so many years. The question I keep asking myself though is: with all these education reform projects that take place, and all the work (and funding) that goes into these efforts, why are we not seeing substantial difference and reform? Why aren’t we witnessing great things out of our education system? It makes sense that when you put hard work and lots of resources for a cause, there would eventually be benefits to reap. By benefits I mean higher quality of education systems, curricula, research, policies, and so on and so forth.

I was able to connect the dots a little with regards to the Unemployment issue facing Egypt. Turns out that after the July 50s revolution, it was a guarantee that if one graduates from higher education, they would get a job in the government. This obviously meant financial stability and, at the time, good social status and image. This then explains why there was a rise in university graduates during this time period. Ironically though, apparently the highest rate of unemployment is among university graduates. Of course a big part of the increase in the demand for higher education is the huge and quick population growth Egypt underwent in the past few decades. The number of young people in the Middle East between the ages 15 and 29 is almost 28% and it will double within the next few years (2). This is not a small number and it should not over looked.

A lot of what we spent time talking about is employability of higher education graduates as well. This was such an interesting discussion for me, we talked about different countries and contexts, different fields and the employability of graduates in each field, the challenges graduates are struggling with from choosing a career path in which they fulfill their passion for a subject or follow the path that leads to more money, regardless of their passion. This triggered a simple yet complex question for me; why then do we always encourage youth to go after their dreams and passion if eventually they will sort of “have to” direct their paths elsewhere? Why does the media flood with messages of breaking shackles, taking the leap of faith, never giving up and all those rosy statements, when in the end that won’t pay the bills?

More thoughts and reflections on this in my next blog post.
Till then, happy weekend!

(1) UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States, (2009). A decade of higher education in the Arab states: Achievements and Challenges. Arab Regional Conference on Higher Education, Towards an Arab Higher Education Space: International Challenges and Social Responsibilities.
(2) Middle East and North Africa Youth Facts

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It’s the process, not the outcome

Everyday on my commute to work I listen to one of 5 things, depending on my mood that morning; the audiobook I am currently listening to; a podcast; a Ted talk or a speech; the morning show on the radio; or blasting music in which case I sing at the top of my lungs and arrive amped up to work!

This morning I decided to go for the third choice; a Ted talk, that also resulted in me arriving amped up to work. I stumbled upon an interesting title when I chose ‘inspiring’ from the categories. It’s the end of the year and I am thinking about my new year’s resolutions so I was looking to be inspired. I chose a talk by Srikumar Rao titled Plug into your hard-wired happinesswhich was totally worth it, if you’ve got 18 mins, and I’m sure you do, check it out. Inspiring doesn’t even begin to cover it!

The main idea of the talk is that we have this ‘If-then’ mindset for happiness. That is we are always thinking ‘if (fill in the blanks) happens, then I will truly be happy.’ When however, we reach that outcome and we are still unhappy, which we all are, we think there is something wrong with the if part of our statement, so we end up changing that to something else; another goal, another outcome, another failed attempt at happiness. The reason this happens is because this model is flawed. You will always be working to achieve an outcome that is almost entirely out of your hands, and don’t forget that your goals change constantly so the if part of that statement was probably something completely different a year ago for example. So the point is to focus on the process, rather than the outcome because the actions you take during that process, during that journey, are almost always in your control, but the outcome is not entirely so. Rao said many inspiring and eye-opening things, so I won’t spoil the rest.

When I was listening to this, I couldn’t help but think back to a few conversations I had with my colleague about the benefits of process versus outcomes in pedagogy. The realization I came to this morning however, was as a result of conflicting views, or at least that’s how I see it. Since I started my career in the faculty development field, I’ve been hearing all about the benefits of backward design and designing with the end in mind, which entails that we set learning outcomes at the beginning and then design assessments and activities based on that. In other words, outcomes (beyond our control) are decided on first then we design the process or the journey (which we have some control over, but is still subjective and contextual for each learner). The benefits of process-focused pedagogy is that the emphasis goes to mastery of the skills, fostering student growth, creating a student-centered environment, increasing engagement in learning. When the focus is on these elements, performance will surely follow.

I know that in backward design the focus is on learning outcomes not grades, but the underpinned goal for each student in class is to perform well and have that proven through their grades at the end of the semester/term/year/degree. I am not saying backward design is flawed or a bad model, on the contrary, it is a great design model that is very useful in staying on track with designing all assessments and activities for the course, it might be limited though with regards to enriching the learning journey and process. I am suggesting, that we keep having learning outcomes, but make them more process/growth/skills/engagement-oriented. The wording matters as much as the execution and meaning of the outcomes. It’s important that students know that they are there in this learning environment to grow and engage in meaningful learning rather than get a score at the end that deems them “successful” or “high-achievers.” The irony of this is that while I am writing this I received my own semester grades. I did well. But that’s not the point and that’s not at all representative of my learning during this semester. In many instances I was not engaged, didn’t learn as much as I thought I would, and didn’t grow in the directions I had anticipated at the beginning of the semester. So in no way, shape or form does the letter grade represent my journey or process of learning during the 14 weeks of the semester.

It’s funny how all of this actually reminds me of what my coach always used to tell me during training; focus on doing your best and having proper technique, not what the score sheet says at the end of the training… The scores will surely follow correct technique. This almost always took the stress off me and out of my mind, in which case I focused on being in the moment, learning what I had to learn that day, applying it and seeing the results soar when I forgot about the score sheet. It was difficult to do this in competitions where the goal is to perform well, reach the target and have that reflect on the scoreboard. But the more I practiced with the process-oriented mindset, the less focused I was about the score during practice, which made me unable to perform well if I was actually focused on the score so I would slowly but surely get into the same mindset during competitions as well.

It’s all in the process, it’s all in the journey. Not in the outcome. This sort of also reminds me of expeditions, hiking, climbing but maybe more on that later.

I will leave you with this message for the new year; focus on how you want every day of 2017 to be, not what you want to achieve at the end of it. Make your resolutions process-based rather than outcome-oriented. When you change your mindset, you are bound to get where you want to be.

Happy Holidays and have a beautiful year full of growth, learning, adventure, laughter, joy and wonderful relationships.


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