Sherif Osman

Pedagogue at American University in Cairo

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Outdated designs …

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I teach a course about creative problem solving at a Liberal Arts institution and in that course we regularly discuss the concepts of functional fixedness and force fitting. It is interesting how much more I notice and observe these notions in context now that I teach them.

I have a particular interest in educational reform, I am very passionate about local reform in my country, although admittedly I am currently not as involved as I would like to be in that area. Nevertheless, I keep a keen eye on what is happening and cannot help but witness a strong case of functional fixedness. Every solution I hear is borrowed, adapted or tested in some other regional context. Every idea is recycled or so focused that it borders on the narrow-minded. Of course, this is a harsh assessment, and there are several pioneering independent efforts, but on the whole there is a lack of innovation. I do

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Faculty development or instructional design?

I recently attended an EduCause workshop on instructional design and several of the speakers were discussing current and emerging trends, as well as, some of their success stories.

One of the speakers was talking about a continuum of course design, ranging from independent to standardized. They were arguing the case for standardized course design to aid with scalability; issues relating to quality assurance (when institutions have too many adjuncts); as well as consistency across multi-section courses. They went on to explain that faculty development can now be focused on better facilitation of online content.

For some reason, that didn’t sit with me very well. I started to reflect on my own experiences as both a faculty member and faculty developer and immediately remembered my first PD session during my first year of teaching, upon completing my teacher training. I remember wanting

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Do we need libraries?

I was giving a workshop a couple of weeks ago, a part of of which addressed the notion of ‘students as content creators’ and I was trying to do some research to find an interesting angle to approach the topic. I came across an article written by David Gauntlett, reflecting on Sir Tim Berners Lee’s book ‘Weaving the Web’. In it he spoke of Lee’s vision of the internet not as one where everybody can have access to information, but rather, one where everyone can create information. He explained that he wanted people to use browsers to access and edit any webpage they can get their hands on. An idea, of course that incepted the world of wikipedia and web 2.0 tools.

While I have a true appreciation of such technologies as enablers for our species, I embrace the work done to place ‘creating’ at the top of the updated Bloom’s taxonomy and do genuinely believe that my students learn better

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Revolutionize your revolution

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While I am regularly vocal about my vision for reform in Egypt, in the sense that I firmly believe a revolutionary change has to take place for the educational system to be truly reformed. This, in contrast to the norm of systematic bottom-up or top-down approaches - both which seem to get lost or diluted along the way. I even use a little joke to describe this to my class – the elevator is always broken (it never seems to reach where its supposed to). I have to be explicit here and clarify that when I say revolutionary change here, I mean change that stems from necessity, one that requires brave and crude decisions, which may not initially be popular with the masses. I do not mean a change of regime or change of system. I know this maybe obvious to some readers but in the current climate in Egypt, this type of terminology is thrown around haphazardly and at times is infuriating that

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Substituted out of your comfort zone

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“Your comfort zone, where the magic happens” by Oklanica is licensed under CC BY 2.0

While I believe that reflecting on your teaching and learning experiences are crucial to every modern day teacher, specially those that believe in student-centered learning. I regularly reflect on my experiences as a teacher and as a student to help me better my methods and hopefully enhance the learning taking place.

During the final stages of completing my Masters in Education, I decided to take up a role in supply (or substitute teaching). While initially it was to make some extra cash next to my role as a research assistant, it turned out to be one of the turning points of my teaching career.

For those that are unaware, the supply teacher system in the UK usually operates through centers that school are comfortable with. Those centers employ a fleet of teachers and coordinate every morning

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Top down or bottom up?

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Thats’s the million dollar question for reform, in my opinion anyway. I am coming up to the end of the semester for a course I am co-teaching about education and reform in Egypt. As with any new course I teach, I find myself reflecting … a lot.

One of the dimensions we tried to cover in class was the role of other active participants in the education ecosystem, the civil society, the corporates, the entrepreneurs for example. Which perpetuated the question of impact, where was it?

If the national strategies; compiled through think tanks of academics, practitioners, policy makers and stakeholders, are saying all the right things. The practitioners; through individual stories and personal achievements, negate the notion that they are a stereotype of negligence, inefficiency and rigidity. The civil society, in large numbers, take on individual success stories that claim to have

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Can inflating grades, deflate learning?

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I was recently engaged in an interesting conversation with a colleague at work that inspired me to write this post. We were discussing students’ and parents’ obsession with grades, how it occurred? Why it occurred? And how it has impacted students’ learning.

I draw upon my own experiences for this comparison, having attended an American University, both as an undergraduate (briefly) and as an instructor, I also attended Undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the UK. Reflecting on those experiences helped form some of my opinions on the notion of grade inflation.

During my time as an undergraduate in a liberal arts American University, the grading system was as follows:

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If we look at these grading ranges in an abstract manner, it literally translates to “any student receiving an A” is almost flawless in that subject area. Which follows the ‘norm’ that students would have

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Technology may not be the solution, but is it the cause?

While sifting and skimming through a range of different readings preparing for a class I am currently teaching on education and reform in Egypt, I came across some thought provoking theories, stories and experiences and that got those rusty cogs in my brain moving.

The course itself aims to help students answer four driving questions:

  1. How do people learn?
  2. Why do people learn?
  3. Where do we stand?
  4. What can we do about it?

A small section under question four talks about technology and its current role in education and how it maybe a force to drive educational enhancement forward. This is a hot topic that, as a faculty developer, I debate frequently with faculty members and colleagues. I am a believer in the cliche “do not use technology for the sake of technology” but I do believe technology has a huge part to play going forward (more on that in a follow-up post).

Having discussed

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Learning how to play!

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In the past few months, I have worked closely with a colleague of mine on designing an undergraduate interdisciplinary course on Education and reform in Egypt. Our aim in the course was to answer four pressing questions for education (in our humble opinions) that we believe can help look at reform in Egypt through a different lens. One of the foundational areas of the course is to cover the major learning theories in an attempt to help the students answer the question; How do people learn?

As this is an area that my colleague has taught extensively and had a great depth of understanding for the subject matter, we decided to be a little bit creative and to think of a game, simulation or fun activity to simulate or help the students gain an understanding of each learning theory we covered. There will be a follow-up post that we will co-write in the near future once the course is over

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# If Malala was my student …

I was watching the Jon Stewart show yesterday and he was interviewing Malala, interestingly enough we were just talking about her at work that morning. It got me thinking, what if Malala was a girl in my class? Would I realise her potential? Would I encourage her? Would I be intimidated? Would I differentiate for her? Would I modify my teaching?

A better way to think about this, if one of your students was a Nobel peace laureate and has an international fund raising organisation dedicated to education access and educational reform. Would you feel you had to up your game? If so, does that mean that teachers need students that will challenge them in order to excel? What does that mean for ‘low ability’ group settings? Is that beneficial for students or teachers if that’s the case? Hmm…

As I continued to watch the show, I was intrigued. Her knowledge and vocab were excellent for a

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