Monday, November 30, 2015

Role of the Professoriate in the 21st Century

Like everything, the role of professoriate has been evolving in the 21st century and it will further keep on changing. Gone are the days when professors lectured large classes and students carefully listened to them while taking notes in their notebooks. Technology has brought about a major shift in how we learn. At the same time, there has been a lot of push from education researchers to implement learner-centered pedagogy in classrooms. And finally, academia has started to realize the inherent discrimination and exclusion that is propagated by the current education system and there is a need to impart education that is not only inclusive but also geared toward raising critical consciousness in students. The following paragraphs elaborate these points in details.

Use of technology: Students in the current times live in a digital world. They are connected to the Internet most of their day, are avid gamers, have shorter attention-span, and are experts in multi-tasking. They can get the same information being conveyed to them by the instructor in a classroom on the internet using their phones and hence do not necessarily need to pay attention to a lecture being delivered to them. The educators of the 21st century need to make use of the Internet and other technological advancements to engage students in the learning process and help them learn better.

Learner-centric pedagogy: Education research suggests that students learn and retain the content better if they are actively engaged in the learning process. At the same time, student-centric approaches increase student motivation to learn, build on students’ prior knowledge, help improve the transfer of learning from classroom to the real-life situations, and increase student metacognition. Hence, educators should move away from the lecture-based model of teaching to project-based and problem-based approach to learning which are student-centric.

Inclusive and critical education: Critical education aims to raise social and political awareness among students, help them recognize authoritarian tendencies in the classroom and the society, and empower them to raise voices against injustice and discrimination. Such an educational approach departs from the "baking system" of education which teats students as passive receivers of knowledge. Instead, critical education treats students as active agents in the process of knowledge construction. The teachers, instead of acting as "dispensers of knowledge" act as "transformative agents" who help students transform reality by constantly interacting with it. The present day education should aim at promoting critical consciousness in students. Also, education should be inclusive in that it provides opportunity to all the students irrespective of their class, race, gender, nationality, sexuality, and other identities to learn and thrive without discrimination and prejudice of any kind.

As the future educators, it becomes our responsibility to keep up with the changes in the nature of teaching and learning. We need to devise teaching strategies that effectively use the technology around us to foster students’ learning, use approaches that are centered on the students instead of being focused on the teachers, and, most importantly, get rid of the banking model of education. We need to create a learning environment that empowers students from all backgrounds and identities, and raises critical awareness in them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Professional Code of Ethics for Engineering Educators

Few scholars have stated that engineering education should be considered a profession. A profession is characterized by a code of ethics that the members of that profession accept and follow. To this end, the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) recently came up with a set of ethical codes for the members of the Engineering Education profession. These codes of ethics address the responsibilities that engineering educators have toward their students, improving their professional competence, ensuring honesty and integrity in their work, and social justice.

First of all, there is an acknowledgement of the fact that engineering educators are also members of their own technical disciplines and conduct work in their own disciplines. For those who do work in their own disciplines, they are expected to follow the code of ethics of their own discipline including holding “paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” In addition to the ethical cannons from one’s engineering discipline, engineering educators are expected to follow the ethical cannons outlined by the ASEE.
There are a total of fourteen ethical cannons outlined by the ASEE. The first three of them define the responsibilities that engineering educators have toward their students. These responsibilities include ensuring graduates have an understanding of their professional and ethical responsibility, encouraging students to work for human welfare, and encouraging students to understand the societal and environmental impact of their work.

Cannons 4 and 5 address professional competence and improving competence. Cannon 4 suggests that engineering educators should take responsibility only in the area of their competence and cannon 5 suggests that they should take active steps to maintain and improve their expertise.

Cannons 6-9 outline the need for honesty and impartiality in the work of engineering educators. Engineering educators are expected to respect others’ intellectual property by “by properly attributing previous works and sharing appropriate credit with co-authors, including students” and avoid any conflict of interest in their work. Also, they are expected to build their reputation on the bases of their work and professional collaborations made by them.

Cannons 10 and 11 address the issue of social justice by suggesting that engineering educators should treat all persons fairly and demonstrate respect for colleagues and students. Cannon 12 obligates engineering educators to maintain the confidentiality of their students and colleagues. Cannon 13 addresses the issue of fair assessment of students and colleagues and cannon 14 asks engineering educators to support other colleagues in following the code of ethics.

Recently, there has been another code of ethics drafted by some scholars [1] in the field. I believe this will create a dialogue among engineering educators to reconsider the code of ethics suggested by the ASEE. As the discipline evolves, the code of ethics that engineering educators follow will evolve.

[1] Alan Cheville and John Heywood presented a paper at the 2015 IEEE Frontiers in Education conference. In the paper, they discussed a draft code of ethics for engineering educators.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Education in Ancient Kemet

Last Monday, when Mr. Tim Wise was giving a talk at Virginia Tech, one of the members of the audience noted that her friend thought education in Africa is about learning how to throw spears. She thought that this viewpoint of her friend stemmed from ignorance and wanted Mr. Wise to suggest strategies to engage with people who are living with the “luxury of ignorance.” While Mr. Wise suggested suitable strategies to engage with people who are ignorant, he handled this topic in a much nuanced way noting that the African education system was appropriate for the local contexts and was aimed at preserving the nature instead of destroying it for personal benefit. He further added Africans had a very advanced education system long before most of the world. In this blog post, I will discuss the education system in ancient Kemet (ancient Egypt) that was prevalent almost 3000 years before Christ.

The goal of education system in ancient Kemet was not seen primarily as the acquisition of knowledge. Rather, it was seen as progress through the successive stages of rebirth to become one with God. This unity with God could be achieved through studying the nature and understanding various natural phenomena. Other goals of education included achieving unity with oneself, unity of the tribe, and unity with the nature; development of character and social responsibility in a person; and development of spiritual power. The degree to which a person could become godlike was determined by the degree to which one could overcome certain natural flaws or impediments of the body.

Education was carried out through the process of initiation. Each initiate (or student) was separated from the everyday environment and was placed in a setting that enabled them to become closer to nature. Each initiate carried out a disciplined study of the natural phenomena under the guidance of masters (or teachers). The masters modeled the behavior that the initiate were expected to learn. Also, the masters nurtured the experiences of the initiates so that they could learn higher level lessons.

During the initiation process, each initiate was deeply immersed in an interactive and comprehensive process that had much time devoted to examination of signs and symbols, and learning of stories, proverbs, songs and dance. While learning was done by individuals, the method adopted was seen as a collective effort than an individual effort. There was a lot of emphasis on interaction with the masters and other initiates during the learning process. During the education process, one was challenged with the problems of conscience. This developed critical thinking and a sense of responsibility in individuals. Besides developing critical thinking and social responsibility in students, ancient Kamites maintained an education system appropriate to the environment.

Education was carried out at temples. Each temple had a library and teachers of various disciplines. The various disciplines taught included astronomy and astrology, geography, geology, philosophy and theology, and law and communication. It is estimated that at one time, there were 80000 students studying at a university called Ipet Isut University in ancient Kemet.

Scholars believe that the Kemetic education system is the parent of the western education system and one can see many aspects of the Kemetic education system in present-day education system in the West. I think we can learn a lot from the education system in ancient Kemet. The current education system, especially in the West, focuses on individual gains over social responsibility. This is why we see people engaging in rampant destruction of the environment for personal gains. We are developing technology to harness the natural resources instead of better understanding the nature as was done in ancient Kemet. We need to bring the educational goals of social responsibility and preservation of nature to our current education system.

P.S. The information presented about the education system in ancient Kemet in this post has been taken from the essays written by Asa G. Hilliard in the book The Maroon Within Us. More details about the ancient Kemetic education system can be found in this book.