Online Classes: Lessons Learned

The Fall 2020 academic term is approaching the end. While many of us transitioned to online teaching and learning at the start of COVID-19 pandemic, or went through a full online course in summer, this was the first full-load academic term that was entirely online. We prepared for this all summer, as much as we could. We had workshops on how to design and run online courses, discussed how to keep students emotionally engaged, and shared our ideas on how to balance asynchronous and synchronous activities to make sure we don't lose the human contact when we go online. But nothing could fully prepare us for what was coming: having thousands of students taking full load of courses without ever seeing the instructors, TAs, and each other. Even for those of us who had done online courses before, this was a new experience as we were dealing with normal-size classes of students who, just like us, were isolated, who have been isolated for months, and still were taking regular number of co

Is There Anybody Out There? - Online courses and the need for connecting to students

Working from home and taking online courses are not new phenomena, but the COVID-19 global crisis made them household topics for all of us. Online courses saved our winter term (thanks to the great collaboration of instructors and students, and support from the university), and they are going to stick around for summer and possibly fall terms. They may even become a more significant and permanent part of our educational system. As we try to solve all logistic issues to move our courses online (and turn off our video streams to hide our messy hair and pyjamas), we may overlook something essential: the need for human connections and interactions.  The university community is planning and sharing experiences on how to run our courses online. Among many suggestions, one being raised increasingly is to avoid synchronous sessions. It is a good one that I have advocated myself ( ). We should not assume the students are physically and men

Towards a Well-being Framework for University (Part 3)

Last week, at the faculty meeting for the School of Information Technology, Carleton University, my colleagues unanimously approved my two-part proposal: That we formally adopt a set of recommendations on academic practices to provide a more emotionally supportive environment for students. That we allocate one day per term as "improvement day," when we set up workshops discussing how faculty can improve their teaching practices and open-houses for students to discuss their concerns and suggestions. The set of recommended practices are the result of a two-year project by myself and a few other colleagues, which I mentioned the previous parts of this blog post: These practices and some background information and resources can be found online   and include general and special themes grouped together in categories s

Towards a Well-being Framework for University (Part 2)

Last week, I attended the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS) conference in Halifax. It was an opportunity to meet with colleagues from other universities and discuss important topics related to graduate studies. It was also good to visit Halifax again and check out my favourite places like Humani-T CafĂ© and Your Father’s Moustache restaurant (with its collections of facial hair photos that put my Movember efforts to shame).   Many of the topics that were presented and discussed were quite interesting, such as the future of universities, the role of international students, and indigenous graduate studies, but I found the notion of holistic learning and student mental health one of the most important subjects that was clearly featured in many talks. This was in line with my recent efforts to investigate and discuss the role of emotions in learning. As such, the talks attracted my particular attention. They mainly fell into two categories: Students discussing surve

Global Climate Strike: Political Action vs. Political Correctness

September 20th and 27th are the Fridays for Future ( ) the global days for demanding action against climate change. Yesterday, Sep 20th, many cities witnessed large groups of students and their adult supporters leaving schools and rallying to tell their governments to act before it is too late. In Ottawa, this is planned for Sep 27th.  While there is a lot to say about this movement, the 15 years old Greta Thunberg who started it, and many aspects of the fight for environmental protection, the news about this event and what's going on in the political scene in Canada as we close to federal election got me thinking about the notion of political action vs. political correctness. I am from a Middle Eastern background and belong to a visible minority. Even though I have been blessed with a good life and supportive environment in Canada, I've witnessed my own share of discrimination and ethnic abuse. I cannot even begin to compare myself with man

Keep Canada Great (some thoughts and a short story)

This is not directly related to learning and technology but is about the principles we all should learn. We celebrated Canada Day this week. I came to Canada back in 1998. I am Iranian and love that country and its people and culture. I am also Canadian and grateful to Canada for the life it gave me and all the things that make it great. I love Canadians and our beautiful country, but above all, I love the principles that are the foundation of our lives here: multiculturalism, freedom, peace, compassion, and respect. I love that around the world we are known as peaceful, polite, kind, and open-minded people. For two decades, I have lived here believing that Canada is a great place where people are free to have different opinions, religions, cultures, sexual orientations, and abilities while getting a fair and equal chance to live and grow.  But recently, I hear and see alarming things. Losing our right to decide what to wear under the excuse of secularism or the right to speak our

Welcome to the "real world"

This is a re-post of something I wrote on Facebook a few years back. Last week, I attended another graduation ceremony and thought about how it still applies. A while ago, I attended the graduation ceremony of my Interactive Multimedia students. I never miss that. It always makes me a little sad to see them leave (that’s another topic on its own) but it is really an exciting, joyful, and proud day. While sitting up on the faculty platform watching all the students coming and receiving their degrees and medals, I noticed that a large percentage of medalists were female. Even though I’m a man, that made me feel twice as proud. Asking why? Well, hold that thought. I’ll get back to it. I’m a big Star Trek fan. Have watched and read them since I was a little kid. Like many sci-fi and fantasy stories, Star Trek is the brain-child of people imagining a better world when the human race has reached a state of peace and friendship among themselves and “boldly goes where no one has gone befo