GEDI19, Uncategorized

Unended quest for meaning and critical understanding of engineering and humanities education

Introductory note to give context:

I spent ten years studying in three different engineering schools and earned an MA in liberal education.
In addition, I briefly worked as an engineer for a company. I spent three years as a lecturer in Industrial and System engineering at a Saudi university before beginning my Ph.D. at VT in 2017. In this blog, I will try to reflect on my experiences studying engineering and humanities as they relate to the readings for this week in the contemporary pedagogy course.It’s still an unfinished quest, but I hope it can help me and the readers connect some dots and start a dilague on how to make STEM education more relevant and meaningful.

In 2010 I earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering (EE). The majority of the EE classes I took were taught entirely through lectures. Teachers’ roles in those classes were primarily to transmit knowledge to students via a top-down approach and then assess students’ learning via well-structured problems with specified parameters for which students were asked to find the correct solution. Additionally, the courses were typically taught as technical subjects, emphasizing fundamental science and abstract mathematics, which were taught entirely apart from their application and context. On the one hand, I used to enjoy solving EE problems mathematically occasionally, such as solving challenging puzzles.
On the other hand, I recall how agonizing it was to spend an extended time studying uncontextualized technical knowledge and resolving problems without regard for their real-world implications. This occasionally gave me the impression that I was learning something meaningless and that the most I would gain from it would be a job to cover my living expenses following graduation. This experience was a significant factor in my decision to pursue graduate studies in Industrial Engineering rather than Electrical Engineering. I perceived IE to have a broader application domain than EE.

In 2010, I finished my BS and began working as an engineer in a company. After two years, I was awarded a scholarship to Arizona State University to pursue a master’s degree in IE (ASU). Studying IE allowed me to expand on my engineering background while also developing a more business-oriented mindset. However, I recognized early in my study of the IE program that it focused on equipping students with technical skills and business topics to reduce costs and maximize profit for the private sector while ignoring social and environmental issues, a deficiency in many engineering programs that concerned me for a while. This influenced my decision to study social science while continuing my master’s degree in IE in order to fill this gap in my educational background and broaden my ability to conduct research and projects that could have a positive impact on the world. As a result, I enrolled in ASU’s Social Transformation School and earned a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Pedagogy.

During this second master’s program, I was introduced to critical theories, which helped me identify political and ideological biases in education in general, and STEM in particular. My master’s thesis focused on researching essential attitudes and skills that could prepare engineers to work on humanitarian engineering projects and serve marginalized communities. This research changed many of my previous perceptions of engineering education, such as its neutrality and considering engineering as a mere application to science. As a result of this research, I discovered the dominance of neoliberal ideology in engineering education, which indoctrinates engineers to work within constraints and respond blindly to market forces without considering the need for structural change to prioritize public interest. Also, after studying the history of engineering, I realized that trends in technology, society, economics, and politics had shaped engineering education and research. So it is a socially constructed field rather than the false perception that it is a mere application to the result of objective science shaped primarily by lab experiments pure technical capacities. Engineers, more than scientists, work with a world of their design, which by definition should include more subjectivity and intersect with politics, culture, and beliefs. Our values and socioeconomic class heavily influence our attitudes toward engineering and experience in the classroom and work environment.

To be sure, studying humanities courses taught me a lot about important topics. However, I do not believe that taking any humanities course would improve the professional skills of engineering students (critical thinking, communication, etc..). In my personal experience, not all of the liberal arts courses I took improved my professional skills or broadened my thinking. On the one hand, some of the classes I took – particularly in my undergrad – were taught exactly like traditional engineering courses through pure lecturing, which made them so boring. Furthermore, assessments in these courses were primarily based on multiple-choice exams, which assume an objective view of knowledge (i.e., choose the correct answer) and do not encourage critical thinking.

On the other hand, my experience in taking graduate-level courses in liberal arts was so fruitful since most of these classes were taught through discussion and dialogue. The class discussions enhanced my communication skills and critical thinking. Taking these courses helped me to get rid of the linear and fragmented way of thinking. After these classes, I noticed that I started to analyze issues from multiple perspectives and a holistic approach. After reflecting on this experience, I can conclude that engineering education researchers should not take it for granted that liberal art courses promote professional skills since, in the end, this depends highly on how these courses are taught and the the philosophical paradigm of the curriculum . In my opinion, even a core engineering course could develop professional skills if it was introduced through learner-centered approaches and in an interdisciplinary manner.

Integrating liberal art and humanities concepts (such social justice , envromental justice…) in engineering courses is more effective than teaching engineering students pure humanities courses on these topics if our goal is to  make student  reflect critically on their work and identity as engineers. For instance, before coming to Virginia Tech, I studied at ASU, a class on theoretical views of learning (EDU505). The course covered fundamental theories on learning and knowledge (e.g., behaviorism, cognitive, positivism, constructivism..etc.). The course was very informative for me. However, it was not clear how I would be using these theories I learned in this course in the engineering education context until I took a class at VT on Fundamentals of Engineering Education (ENGE5014), which covered similar content of (EDU505) but with more focus on engineering context. Revisiting what I learned at EDU505 in an engineering context was more exciting, and I was able to connect to the material and reflect on the discussion more efficiently.

This experience enabled me to recognize the effectiveness of interdisciplinary teaching, especially in engaging students’ prior knowledge and experience. It is quite difficult for engineering students or STEM in egnral to connect what they learn in social sciences class with their engineering background if they studied social science concepts in separate courses. Therefore, I think integrating liberal art concepts in engineering courses might be more effective than teaching engineering students pure humanities courses. Of course,  I would encourage engineering students  to take pure huymanity courses , and they are essential not just useful( if they were taught adequately ) for enlightenment purposes, building character, fulfilling personal interests and acquiring general knowledge. But my argument here is about the best way to achieve engineering schools educational objectives from introducing liberal arts courses ( i.e make engineering students morre socially and enviromnetally responsilble  engineers not speaking about making them better citizen in genral. That would be a braoder argument).

An added paragraph from the comments might help in clarifying the argument about pure humanities to engineers :

Teaching pure humanities for example international relations to engineering students might enable them to understand basics of global politics (which is good and important) but do not guarantee that this course  will encourage engineering student to  think about engineering through a political lens ( e.g the politics of design or artifacts) or reflect on how their labor is utilized in the broader social and political context or think they could use it to create a better world. I think understanding the political dimension of engineering is as critical as understanding the basics of international politics if not more since it empowers engineers to think about making a change in their circle of influence not just enrich their circle of interest. You might find many engineers enlightened in broader topics of life through taking pure humanities or personal reading of other factors ( which is good and important) but their understanding of engineering is conventional and narrow which make them more susceptible to be utilized for creating harmful products or engaged in unresponsible activities. So balancing both parts is important, being enlightened in the general sense is so important ( taking pure liberal art courses help in this regard, I know engineering education is still behind in this area) but being enlightened in your specialization(e.g understanding its broader implication, recognizing critically its embedded ethics and politics.. ) is essential and interdisciplinary courses work better in acquiring this mindest than pure conventional humanities. I do not see them contradictory actually they complement each other.

GRAD 5104: Future Professoriate, Uncategorized

Blog 6: Using Kotter’s model to establish a sense of urgency for addressing global warming

Global warming is disturbing every country by raising the intensity of heat waves, increasing floods and hurricanes and impacting ecosystem and species including human health (Karl et al., 2009). However, most people do not recognize the effect of climate change impact on their own rejoin. For example, only two third of Americans adult understand that global warming is happening, and around half of these are just ’somewhat sure’ or ‘not at all sure’ that global warming is happening. Only third of the US adults believe that they or their families will be harmed.  (Renouf, et al. 2014). This low level of certainty in the threat of global warming implies low level of engagement and less willingness in taking action to address the problem. Based on this reasoning I think it is an urgent need to create a climate for change based on Kotter’s model to address global warming. So, this essay aims to suggest specific actions for climate change advocates to establish a sense of urgency, create a guiding coalition and develop a vision for haling global warming. The essay will focus mainly on the US since it is ranked as the leading country in contributing to global warming (Matthews et al., 2014). Also, because changes in the US usually have a potential to impact many rejoins in the world.  

Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 9.15.04 PM

Establish a sense of urgency:

Many scientists have emphasized the is an urgent need to reduce human greenhouse gas emissions in order to address global warming. Yet majority of population on the US today do not have enough sense of urgency to participate in this issue by reducing their emissions and changing the unsustainable lifestyle. One reason for this complacency with the current unsustainable lifestyle is the absence of significant climate change-related crisis on people daily life which makes them perceive global warming threat as distant. Another reason that contributes to this complacency is the human nature with its capacity for denial (Kotter,1996). Despite the widespread agreement among scientist that global warming exist many people still deny it (Myers, 2013). Also, there is a lack of sufficient performance feedback on climate change issue especially in the local and individual level. Moreover, the demanding modern life pushes people to focus on short-term personal and functional goals more than environmental and global level challenges. The following points suggest specific actions to establish and raise sense of urgency among people on global warming issue:

1-    Create simulation games, art projects and educational technologies that engage people in experiential learning activities related to global warming. Climate change information is usually offered in abstract analytical terms which is hard for people to process and connect to their daily lives. Studies have shown that “people who say they have personally experienced global warming are far more likely to be engaged with the issue than people who say they have not” (Myers, 2013).

2-    Set so high target for individuals and organizations carbon emission reduction.

3-    Create feedback system that monitor individual and communities carbon emission.

4-     Elaborate through awareness campaigns on opportunities and rewards for capitalizing on sustainable business and sustainable lifestyle. Social media could be a powerful tool in supporting climate change advocates reaching people.  According to Pew Research Center social media is the way that seven-in-ten Americans connect with one another and engage with news content.

5-    Send and spread more data on climate change, especially the information that show the link between current natural crisis and global warming.

6-    Set broader measures for climate change impact today and in the near future in local and national level. These measures should show the possible link between global warming and the hazards in ecosystem, health and financial sectors.

Creating the Guiding Coalition:

Addressing major challenges such as global warming requires a powerful coalition. Climate change advocates in the US did a relatively good job in educating the public on topic related to climate change.  Also, they established national and international collation which achieved some successes. However, the pace of change in the US is still not enough to effectively reduce CO2 emissions. There are many influential people in government, corporate leadership, and institutional investors who not on the board of halting global warming. Also, there are so many parties and people among the climate change coalition, but they fail to accelerate the required change.  Thus, climate change advocates need to focus on building a coalition that can make change happen not just increase the number of supporters. The following points outline essential actions to form a strong coalition based on Kotter’s model:

1-    Search for the right people who have strong position power, broad expertise high credibility , leadership, and management skills.

2-     Creating trust with those people/ organizations through offsite events with a lot of talk and joint activists not related to climate change directly.

3-    Invite them to initiative and activities related to climate change impact and understand how they perceive this issue.

4-    Find common interests and opportunities for developing projects with them in climate change.

5-    Develop a common goal of reducing carbon emission and make sure that the target sensible to the head and appealing to the heart.


Developing an effective Vision:

The goal of halting global warming through reducing CO2 emissions seems to unify most climate change, advocates.  However, there is a need to create a compelling vision that conveys a picture of the future and shows how reducing climate change would serve the interest of stockholders (ordinary people, people in government, business…etc.). Also, the vision should be clear enough to provide guidance in decision making and flexible enough to allow initiative in light of changing condition. Moreover, the vision should be easy to explain in less than five minutes. After creating the vision, a feasible strategy should be developed to achieve the vision. The following points outline specific actions for developing an effective vision on haling global warming based on Kotter’s model:

1-    Writing a first draft vision that reflects how the future of humanity will look like based on a sustainable way of living. This step usually starts with a single individual.

2-     The guiding coalition modifies the initial draft over time. They should perform analytical thinking and a lot of dreaming in this activity.

3-    Conduct multiple meetings and allow enough time for developing the vision.

4-    Make sure that the produced vision can be explained in five minutes and it conveys the picture of a future that is desirable, feasible, flexible.



Karl, T. Melillo, J. & Peterson, T. (2009). Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, Cambridge Univ. Press. Retrieved from:

Kotter,J. (1996). Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press.

Matthews, H.  et al (2014). National contributions to observed global warming, Environmental Research Letters. 9 014010 Retrieved from


Myers, T. Maibach, E. Renouf, C.  Akerlof, K. & Leiserowitz, A. (2013). The Relationship Between Personal Experience and Belief in the Reality of Global Warming. Nature Climate Change. 3. 343-347. 10.1038/NCLIMATE1754.

Renouf, C. Maibach, E., Leiserowitz, A. & Zhao, X, (2014). The Genesis of Climate Change Activism: From Key Beliefs to Political Advocacy, Climate Change, 125: 163.


GRAD 5104: Future Professoriate, Uncategorized

Blog Post 3 – Open Access

Assignment :”Find an open access journal in your discipline and write a blog post to cover the following points:

  • Where (location, organization, university, etc.) is the journal from?
  • What are the purpose, goals, scope, etc. of the journal?
  • How does the journal address/explain open access? How (if at all) does it position itself within the open access movement?

In this blog I will write about  “Systems” which an international peer-reviewed open access journal on systems engineering and systems management, published quarterly online by MDPI. The journal aim to ” encourage scientists to publish their experimental and theoretical results in as much detail as possible. There is no restriction on the length of the papers. Full experimental and/or methodical details must be provided.”

The scope  of the Journal include the following topics:

socio-technical systems
social systems
management systems
complex systems
systems engineering
systems architecting
systems engineering management
network theory
decision theory

The journal is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). MDPI takes the responsibility to enforce a rigorous peer-review together with strict ethical policies and standards to ensure to add high quality scientific works to the field of scholarly publication. MDPI is a pioneer in scholarly open access publishing since 1996 and it is based in Basel, Switzerland.Its mission “to foster open scientific exchange in all forms, across all disciplines” It has 203 diverse peer-reviewed, open access journals are supported by over 35,500 academic editors”. It serve scholars from around the world to ensure the latest research is freely available and all content is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).

Articles published in Systems are distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The copyright is retained by the author(s). MDPI will insert the following note at the end of the published text:

© 2018 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution License (

Systems home page:

GRAD 5104: Future Professoriate, Uncategorized

Blog Post 4 – Tech & Innovation in Higher Ed

Assigned Task:

MOOCs: What role do they have in higher education?

by Randy Riddle

After working in the field of Instructional Technology for almost twenty years, I’ve seen many technologies that might impact higher education come and go.  In the initial stages, universities often experiment with the latest gadgets or Internet services without thinking too much about the concrete, real-world applications the technologies might have.

MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses – are a new model for online courses that have quickly gained interest and support among universities in recent months.  We still find ourselves at the experimental stage, but it’s not too early to think about what kind of long-term impact MOOCs might have in higher education.

Some see MOOCs up-ending the whole model of higher education, allowing students to complete full courses of study in a non-traditional format, particularly with international students, which have made up a large part of the student body in early MOOC courses.  Others see MOOCs playing a much smaller role, with the MOOC system of “badges” or certificates for course completion integrated into programs higher education institutions already offer.

I am much more of a pragmatist when it comes to any technology – often, the promises of major change resulting from something new wind up being more subtle and nuanced.  In the case of MOOCs, it is difficult to imagine that the non-classroom aspects of the undergraduate experience can be easily replaced by a computer screen.

What makes a MOOC unique and, in the short term, what role could they play in the core educational mission of universities?

Features of a MOOC

There’s nothing particularly new about MOOCs.  Most universities have offered online courses for many years and the basic technologies involved – video lectures, discussion forums, tests, and the like – are the same we have used with on-campus and distance students.  The only difference is the scale.

By their very nature – large numbers of students, no direct faculty interaction with individual students, a “pre-programmed” course of study and assessments – MOOCs would appear to have what some have called limitations when compared with a traditional face to face course or smaller online credit course with high faculty involvement.  However, these aren’t limitations as much as features that make MOOCs unique.

MOOCs are built on efficiency of scale, giving access to the teaching of a world class professor to thousands of students at once.  The lectures, assessments and activities for a course – especially an online course – and the expertise of the professor behind the content isn’t cheap and, in many cases, is unique to a particular university.  A MOOC throws open the door of the professor’s classroom, allowing him to teach more than just a few dozen students at a time.

Because of the scale, “hands on” involvement by the faculty member is limited.  This shifts the responsibility for learning the material squarely on the shoulders of the individual student and their motivations to learn.  It also shifts conversation and dialogue about the content to a more diverse student population that could be worldwide – a community of learners.

MOOC courses aren’t fixed into traditional term and semester models of the university, so they can start any time and can be of any length.  That makes the MOOC compelling for short-term courses that are highly focused on a topic or a series of courses that might build towards a deeper understanding in a knowledge area.

Finally, MOOCs aren’t bound by traditional university credentialing – they can be offered with or without a certificate or “badge” indicating that a student has completed the course.  The credential can be separate from the class itself.

These features that make MOOCs unique – scale, learning communities, scheduling and credentialing flexibility – says that these types of online courses can solve certain problems in higher education that take advantage of the format, rather than trying to fit the MOOC into the more traditional university credit course box.

The Casual Course

The most obvious use for a free open course is promoting the university itself, giving the public an idea of the current state of inquiry and research in a particular field.  A MOOC, when offered for free or a minimal cost, can act as a “teaser” to let prospective students and parents see the type of teaching that goes on at a university and to reach out to alumni that might want to hear new ideas from a favorite professor or a topic they are following closely.  The format of the MOOC lets students experience lectures from the professor, go through computer graded tests or peer assessed essays or other work, and engage in discussion forums with others interested in the topic.  Already, many students sign up for a MOOC course and just listen to the lectures and engage in the forums, taking a more casual approach to taking an online course.

With these types of courses to promote the university’s work, the subject matter and syllabus used in a campus course might not be appropriate.  The intended audience isn’t necessarily interested in a credit or certificate for taking the course and a MOOC isn’t bound by the length of a semester or term or university departmental goals that dictate the material to be covered and the learning goals for the students.

What might work here are courses designed specifically for this more casual MOOC audience.  A professor who is an expert in his field might put together a MOOC experience that’s intended to explain current research and problems in his subject – topics that might be of interest because of larger debates in the media and culture about ongoing national or international issues.  A MOOC might look at current issues with climate change and other scientific developments, human rights, politics, or emerging trends in culture, literature or society.

With less of a focus on assessments as measures of learning goals, peer graded essays and forums could be used as a way to foster discussion, debate and engagement among the students in a casual MOOC course.

On the surface, there’s a public relations value to the casual MOOC course, positioning universities with world class faculty to explain and give background on important issues beyond the campus-based public forums universities currently offer.  But the MOOC casual course could also provide much needed revenue to many universities to offset the rising costs of their primary undergraduate programs.

Supplementing Secondary Education

A problem that many students face is how to have access at their high school to quality instruction that can lead to college credit for Advanced Placement courses or obtaining the right instruction that would prepare them for work at the university.  MOOCs can be a way for universities to offer high quality, self paced courses to fill these needs at a minimal cost to students.  While the MOOC model isn’t ideal for high-stakes, for credit testing or individual instructor help, a MOOC aimed at high school students could be supplemented by teachers in the school that provide encouragement and coaching as they go through the experience.  The “credit” for taking the course would be from tests administered by universities when the students apply to the college.

Designing a course for a high school audience would require assembling material that fits certain standards that are widely accepted for Advanced Placement or college prepatory courses.  Since MOOCs aren’t bound by the academic calendar, a semester or year of material could be broken into smaller units of a few weeks that students can take during summer breaks or other times that fit better with their overall schedule.

MOOCs have a potential here for not only helping incoming college students succeed, but giving a preview of a particular university’s teaching style to potential applicants.  More importantly, it could help high school teachers shift their time to core courses at their school and give them the opportunity to work with students as mentors and coaches in new, innovative ways.

Professional Development

Some have speculated that MOOCs would help give individuals in the job market a boost – someone taking a course and receiving a certificate from a course taught by a world-class professor might have an edge when looking for a job.  I’m not entirely convinced this would be the case – some type of a permanent standardized record of course contents and official credentials for courses among different MOOC platforms would be needed for a MOOC to carry more weight with potential employers.

But MOOCs would seem to have a logical role for professional development in the workplace, especially when teams in a workplace take a course together.  The learning by the student and the benefit to the employer would come with engagement with colleagues in the workplace taking the same course and other online students involved in the same course experience.  The goals of the MOOC are transformed from simple attainment of skills or knowledge to applying the insights and research of experts in your own workplace.

Again, an “off the shelf” course taught at a university might not be appropriate for a shorter MOOC experience aimed at working adults dealing with particular types of issues in their workplace.  Designing a short-form course looking at a more focused area, free of departmental or programmatic goals, might be a refreshing break from the typical university teaching experience for most faculty and allow for more in-depth exploration than a conference presentation or short seminar.

What’s Next?

Duke’s MOOC experiment with Coursera is still in development, with the first courses going live in a few weeks.  The university has creative, passionate faculty teaching Coursera courses in a wide range of subjects of varying lengths and the CIT and Duke administrators will be looking at feedback from the students and data on how students use the courses in future planning.

In this little thought experiment, I’ve only highlighted a few possible paths that MOOCs might take in the future.  Duke’s experiment with Coursera will likely highlight even more ways this new online course model can be used.

The world of MOOCs is moving quickly – soon, all of us will be moving from experiments to applying what we’ve learned to problems in higher ed.  In my own investigations of MOOCs over the past few months, I’m convinced that the areas we need to address aren’t with technology or even basic pedagogy, but in matching the MOOC model to the most pressing needs that universities need to address for students and creating the institutional momentum to create the institutional partnerships to solve those problems.

What problems do you think MOOCs can solve?



GRAD 5134:DRRM, Uncategorized

Blog Post – Week 7:What is a model in ISE

Models can be classified as being mathematical or physical. In industrial and systems engineering (ISE) the term model generally used to describe a computational object that simulates a real system. A model is an abstract and reduced form of a real system based on a set of assumptions concerning the operation of the system. In ISE these assumptions are expressed in mathematical, logical and symbolic relationships between part of the system. Models in ISE could be further classified as follow:
• Static: represent system at a particular point in time or Dynamic: represent the system as they change in time.
• Deterministic: has no random variables and has known inputs and outputs or Stochastic: has random inputs which lead to random outputs
• Discrete: state variable change only at a discrete set of points in time or Continuous: state variables change consciously over time.
The model should include only essential elements that represent the critical aspects of the system and sometimes this could be the most challenging part in the modeling process since the construction of a model is an art and science. This could be one of the limitations in computational modeling since it relies heavily on the ability of modeler in defining the boundary of the system under consideration and capturing the most critical issues and the knowledge and data he/she has about the system under study. The figure below shows the required to build a simulation model.


I found the models discussed in the class quite similar to what I study in ISE. Maybe one difference I notice that in industrial and system engineering we are generally interested in modeling human-made engineering systems while some of the models presented in class were for natural phenomena. However, there is a growing interest in ISE for modeling natural social, especially in systems engineering.  Some specific examples of models used  in ISE would include but not limited to mathematical linear and non linear programing, regression and statistical modeling, system dynamics and agent based modeling.  The table below shows more types of model used  in system engineering.


Banks, J., Carson, J. S., & Nelson, B. L. (1996). Discrete-event system simulation. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall.

Mobus, G. Kalton, M, . (2015).Principles of Systems Science. Springer, London

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