Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘university

Something on my university period in Lebanon, (continue 15)


I had thus to enroll in PC (physics and chemistry) at a preparatory French university and could not join any formal university for engineering. My life of failure started big time in education, and my self-esteem was bruised badly, but I persisted and managed years later, out of sheer stubbornness, to grabbing a PhD in industrial engineering at the University of Oklahoma at Norman in 1991.


From 1970 to 1975, I didn’t focus on studying and loafed around, participating in political demonstrations and sit in and student elections: it was the most effervescent and active period in the drive to effect drastic changes in the social and political structures in Lebanon. 


Backed by a dynamic force of the Palestinian factions, firmly established in Beirut and the south, the Lebanese leftist movements surged ahead and defied the status quo, a reality that scared the hell out of the political and religious elite.  The elite classes of feudal, financial, and religious sect-caste decided to burn Lebanon by a civil war, instead of agreeing to reforms that would impinge on their interests.


I spent much time boarding buses to burial ceremonies of martyrs and getting all confused when the Party split; two factions claimed variations in philosophical positions that I had no idea what was the angle.  The split was basically meant to convey the extent of political affiliations to the Baath regime in Syria.  For example, should the Party be a mousepiece to Syria or ally to the Palestinian factions? This confusion carried out with strong-arm tactics affected deeply all those naïve and well-meaning comrades who invested so much time and effort to grow and be accepted within an organized body.


All alone in Beirut


I roamed Beirut alone, all alone, attending theaters and movies.  For all my convictions I was just an added number or a fill in because of my lack of rhetorical or conversational abilities and my endemic shyness. With all the new comrades and university acquaintances I could not find the courage to befriend even one companion to roam Beirut with me. 


From morning to late evening, I kept moving from one location and one street to another, mostly walking since Beirut is not that vast for a young body, and because the important theaters and gatherings were located around the Hamra Street area or Ras Beirut in general.  The fares for buses, taxis, theater, and food were cheap and inflation was nonexistent then; the dollar was worth less than two Lebanese pounds because the Palestinian movements invested and poured in large sums in the economy.


After failing many courses and repeating them I finally graduated with a master’s in Physics from the University of Lebanon in Choweifat. The next chapter would resume my grueling higher educational experience in the USA.


I recall, while in my second university year, my cousin Nassif Ghoussoub lived with us while he was studying for his final secondary class or “matheleme” year.  Nassif was extremely studious in studying “deb shoghl” and used to spent most of the night in his tiny room solving all kinds of math and physics problems, all the exercises and problems, no exceptions.  Nassif ended up ranking second among all the Lebanese students that year and was first in his promotion in the university and received a grant for higher education to Paris.


I failed my second year at the preparatory university and transferred to the Lebanese University in Chouwefat majoring in Physics.  My dad used to go to the university to check on the results of my exams and he was disappointed many times. I graduated with difficulty in May 1975 with Nassif who majored in math; thus Nassif overtook me by two years.

My shyness maybe due to lack of practice in conversation and my silence among gathering lasted for a long time.  I still feel a huge fright standing in a gathering or a lecture and asking a question, even though I have lately taught classes at universities.

I am always questioning the validity of my queries and how stupid I would sound: I guess I lacked rhetorical classes and verbal abilities to expressing myself. That is why I prefer to express in writing and sending written questions when feasible.

Right now, my shyness in asking questions might be due to large knowledge base and my traditional humility for not showing off as an erudite.

The period of 1970 to 1975 was the most glorious period for university students in Lebanon, and I failed to taking all the opportunities and advantages that were available to enterprising souls.  I refused to demand a weekly stipend, though my family could afford it, and I might have rented an apartment and cultivated a higher sense of entitlement and liberty…

Sabbaticals for thinking and disseminating thoughts (November 16, 2008)


There is this system among universities to offer sabbaticals (a paid period of one year after seven years of work) for the tenured teachers and professors.  Most of the intellectuals spend the year teaching in other universities abroad in order to save more money, which should not be the purpose for taking sabbaticals.  I am not acquainted with the various conditions for sabbaticals but I would suggest to rich States to allocate funds for those intellectuals to focus the sabbatical year on studying and reading in other fields of their specialties, and most importantly, to disseminate their thoughts in writing or audio-visual mediums.  It would be of more interest to humanity if the researches in the sabbatical years are oriented toward human rights, the frequency of genocides, the environment and those fields that need closer attention for our survival in this century and the next.

I would suggest that instead of waiting seven years to offering a sabbatical that intellectuals be permitted the alternative of taking a semester off after two or three years of work for the following reasons. First, a whole year out of teaching might be counter productive for the teacher when he returns to his job emotionally and practically. Second, spending a whole year on subjects not connected to the specialty might not encourage much focus or sustain enthusiasm.  Third, the world is changing so fast and the moral values degrading so sharply that more minds should be involved in thinking out our difficulties at any period of time.  I also hope that the system of sabbatical be generalized to all kinds of professions.

            I believe that any one who re-publishes excerpts of manuscripts that contributed to changing emotional behavior of the reader and felt the need to disseminate the corresponding idea then he should be considered a co-author with rights.  It is our responsibility to read and disseminate what contribute to our survival and elevate the quality of our moral values.  The key work is to “disseminate” the need to think, think, and reflect as individuals away from the prevailing paradigms.

Article #24, (June 11, 2005)

“Students’ feedback on my teaching method for the current semester”

After many unsuccessful attempts to generating students’ feedback on my teaching methods and how this course might affect their perspective and behavior in approaching the remaining core courses before graduation and in their career I decided to include two questions in the final exam that I expected would shed some insight.

The required question, which I told class two weeks ahead of the final exam that it will be part of the exam, directed the students to focus first on the diligent A and B students and then to target the C and D students in their teaching methods in case they might have to teach a course in Human Factors and the third part was to restructure the course materials and which chapters should have to be developed further. 

Now, any logical person would expect the students to have prepared detailed answers to these questions since it is an open book and open notes exam, but unfortunately, I didn’t have any shred of evidence that any student did prepare a written answer. 

You would also expect students to be lenient in teaching this course but their reaction was even harsher.

 Students required that drop quizzes be delivered on a weekly basis after students hand in a chapter summary, that case studies be debated in class, a few lab workshops and many more assignments. 

A student suggested attaching a CD copy of the course material so that they would not have to carry books.

They suggested that summarizing chapters as assignments might force students to read, a suggestion that I did try in a previous semester but was discouraged because the endeavor ended up with students heavily copying from one another and I carrying home heavy loads and wasting more time flipping through useless pages.

I think that frequent and consistent drop quizzes are an excellent tool although it will cost me dear time for grading and from teaching time.

Actually, I didn’t expect even the most diligent students to read the whole course materials. 

I provided hints and suggestions on the best way to assimilating the material that would help them navigate through the content of the course. 

I encouraged them to browse through the whole course contents and focus on the graphs, tables and figures and try to comprehend the subject matters by analyzing and using them as facts in their analyses.

May be you would have a better assessment of the students’ harsh requirements, if given the opportunity to teaching, after I expose the load they shouldered throughout the semester.

Besides the mid-term and final exams, each student had to submit two assignments, two lengthy lab projects; three extensive take home exams that covered most of the chapters, three quizzes for 45 minutes each, two presentations to class of graphs, tables and figures, reading revised articles that I assigned them and a take home exam on a research paper concerning hand tool design. 

Not a single student was exposed to a research paper before and it was a pretty tough awakening for the students planning for higher education. 

I think that the students lacked an appreciation of the time allocated to managing a class that prohibits many well meaning teaching plans. 

In many instances, I had to read in class the assignments and take home exams questions and provide directions because I noticed that the students tended to dig these assignments up from their folders before a long lapse of time. 

The time allocated for students’ presentation takes up more than a third of the teaching hour and fielding questions takes the best of the second third 

There are no lab credit hours for this course and still students believe that they can set aside free hours for doing lab projects necessary for assimilating this course.

The alternatives restructuring of the course materials did not differ much from mine.

The optional question for bonus points asked the students to select 3 topics of interest to them, provide catchy titles and explain in two paragraphs for each topic how it might apply and improve their careers. 

Although I have assigned to the students articles that I wrote as an introduction to the course materials only one student offered complete sentence titles; the rest just named the topics. 

It appears that their preferred topics were: risk and errors, designing interfaces, work environmental factors that might affect performance, human-computer interface and hand tool design. 

A couple students interested in medical technology engineering wanted more emphasis on the biology aspects of the body structure. 

Only one student mentioned the cognitive preference for this single course.

Many students signed petitions to re-include the elective course of “risk assessment and occupational safety and health” for the fall semester but the administration refused to consider these petitions two years in a row.

Why?  I still did not receive any feedback either written or verbal. 

It appears that the meaning of asking students to deliver petitions for any demand is less a matter for taking their cases seriously but to erect roadblocks and present a procedural façade to secure grants as a professional institution.

Actually, students’ apathy toward the effectiveness of the student council is strikingly telling.

I had to harangue my class to grab and snatch their rights by persistent pressure on the administration for the demands in their petitions.

Article #23, (April 24, 2005)

“What undergraduate students care about university courses?”

In the mid of the spring semester I had finished writing 20 articles that covered most of the topics of the Human Factors in engineering course.

I had more than once asked the following questions in exams: “How would you like to define Human Factors regardless of the various textbooks definitions and how your perception of this discipline could enhance your career?”

Invariably, the undergraduates preferred to rely on textbooks definitions instead of providing me with any meaningful feedback as to how my message was conveyed.

I decided to generate statistical responses through a simple questionnaire.

The experiment was to discover their preferred topics from the titles of the articles and then, when all the articles have been read to class, to acquire their new responses as to their personal interest in the topics.

I then went ahead and submitted to class the 20 titles and asked them to select only three titles they would be interested to read more about and to grade them according to preference such as first, second and third choice.

Before analyzing the gathered data I found it useful to group the current 20 titles according to meaningful dimensions or components which could be reduced to four dimensions; first dimension related to career orientation or job market availability for Human Factors practitioners might be represented by articles (1, 5, 6 and 19), dimension 2 of design improvement for engineers represented by articles (3, 8, 9 and 20), dimension 3 related to safety in workplaces represented by articles (4, 10, 15 and 16) and dimension 4 difficulty of the course or related to difficulty of passing the course represented by articles (2, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 18).

After collecting their responses I distributed the articles according to their choices with the following assignment; every student had to recopy the assigned article, reedit it according to his understanding using the words that might suit better his writing skill and style and then to read his version to class.

This experiment was intended to encourage the class to focus on the topics that they are more willing to assimilate and apply in their careers.

Seventeen students submitted their response sheets in class.

A preliminary analysis of the preferred choices generated the following statistics:

Title #19 generated the highest number of 7 responses among the choices; titles #5, 6 and 10 came next with 5 responses, and third in place titles #1, 3 and 4 with 4 responses.

Titles #12, 13 and 14 that concerned error and task taxonomies and methods did not generate any responses although my conjecture is that these esoteric nomenclatures might have generated at least many third preference choices.

Titles #4, 5 and 10 had the highest number of first choice which was 3 responses.

It appears that the majority of undergraduates are interested in career orientation or more precisely they need confirmation that they selected the appropriate major and would like to know how this course can help them secure a job or make a dent in their career behavior with a total of 21 choices.

The safety dimension came second with 16 choices and if we assume that safety engineering was implicitly considered a career alternative then a total of 37 out of a grand total of 51 choices was clustered around anxiety toward their careers.

Furthermore, if the design improvement dimension with 14 choices could be viewed as an affirmation of their career selection then everyone was concerned one way or another with his future job prospect.

.Once all the articles have been read I intend to redistribute the titles of the 20 articles and find out if there is any significant change in the responses based on contents.

I provided the class a feedback to the statistics and my own interpretations and did not receive any negative comments.

Thus, for my final take home exam I inserted questions related to their career. 

One question was for them to take stock of their knowledge and training capabilities and limitations as engineers based on 3 job descriptions, then to investigate their deficiencies when they select a graduate major from the catalogue of required courses and then what courses or workshops they would attend in order to strengthen their promotional opportunities.

For their final exam I hinted that a question will deal with how they would teach this course from two perspectives: the first perspective is targeting the diligent students of grades A and B and the second method when targeting the C and D students. 

They were told to be ready to restructure the course materials given that it will be the unique course offered as Human Factors.

I expect from this exam question to receive valuable feedback as to my teaching method and which topics are of interest to the students.

I also expect that the students will start evaluating their potential in a teaching career.

Article #22, (April 22, 2005)

“How can an under graduate class assimilate a course material of 1000 pages?  Why so much material for a single course in the first place?”

Assimilating a new discipline or new methods in a single course is too strong a term. 

You indeed can scarcely describe the process of comprehending a topic and assimilating it, even within a specialized discipline, without overshooting the mark.

Now that the title might have captured your attention let me describe my teaching methods that may permit students to cover an overview of such a vast discipline as Human Factors in one semester course.

I encourage my students to learn and read as trained engineers should.

They are to locate first the graphs, tables and figures in a chapter, try to understand the topic by concentrating their attention on these tools of learning and then read the preceding and following sections if they fail to comprehend the graphs, tables and figure on their own merit.

You should all know that if a picture is worth a thousand words then a graph, table or a figure might be worth ten thousands words.

I assign a graph, table or a figure to students to hand copy it, write a short presentation, and then copy it on a transparency sheet to present to class.

After the presentation of a unique graph the student will field a few questions from class and then I take over and explain and expand on the content of the transparency.  

This method of training students to learn through these learning tools and giving them an opportunity to appreciate them, as engineers should, I am able to cover most of the course material throughout the semester.

Another method is by handing out two take home exams in addition to the regular exams.  Take home exams are handed out three weeks in advance of the due dates and cover questions from all chapters that need to be read thoroughly and supplemented from other sources for substantiation. 

Students are encouraged to take very seriously these take home assignments not only because they weight heavily in points but also because a few of the exam questions will be selected from the take home assignment. 

Assignments and lab projects are other methods for revisiting the course materials and other sources.

The quizzes and regular exams are open books, open notes and whatever printouts from the internet students are willing to carry to class. 

I even encouraged students to use an efficient cheat sheets technique that might convey the message effectively based on the fact that most of the chapters are interconnected. 

The main subjects such as designing interfaces, displays and controls, occupational safety and health, environmental and organizational factors in the workplace, designing workstations, capabilities and limitations of human users, sensing and perception capacities, and physical and cognitive methods have links to many other chapters in addition to the main one. 

Thus, if a student selects a subject as the central item he would be able to link different sections of other chapters to it by writing down the page numbers of the source section.  These cheat sheets could be excellent learning methods to answer open book exams without the need to fumble through hundreds of pages for each question.

A different technique to assimilating course materials is through questions. 

The catch is that asking questions on assignments, lab projects or take home exams have to be submitted in writing. 

The written question has to follow a certain process: first, stating in complete sentences the subject matter; second explaining how the question was understood and the last step is expressing the problems with links to the chapters they had to read in order to comprehend the subject.

I am still waiting for a single written question and it might be for the best because it eliminates a host of redundant questions that are asked out of laziness, failing to carefully read the whole question sheet or shirking from diligently doing their best to browse through the course materials.




February 2023

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