Material taught vs. assessments about them

I feel old and rusty having not written in ages.

I have so many draft posts and so little time to formulate a blog post. Thankfully this whole time wasn’t a writer’s block, rather a writer’s-lack-of-time.

So excuse me if my style’s clumsy as I haven’t been writing for quite a while.

Ready to hear me rant? Let’s do it. (haha)

I’m currently taking six courses this semester, with six different professors and six teaching and learning styles for each course. One of the courses is an Electronics course with a professor that also taught me another Electronics course about a year ago. My critique lies with the fact that this professor’s teaching style is, in my opinion, a weak strategy, or one that doesn’t push me, as a learner, to learn.
What happens is that the professor teaches the most basic principles of the course in class, and can repeat the same concept over and over throughout the class to ensure that it’s well engraved. Naturally, the basic concept of anything is not a challenge to understand, so in class we are under the impression that this concept is a simple one, and we will be able to tackle problems based on it easily.

I am fully aware that we must read beyond what the professor teaches in class and beyond our notes, but we must be encouraged to do so, or given hints that what is being taught is insufficient.  That is unfortunately not the case with this professor. We are constantly told the exact opposite: that if you understand what is being said in class and take class notes then you’ll be more than fine. (Yes, I also know that understanding the basics is important to understand the rest- but the rest isn’t even touched on inside the classroom)

The first time I was told this; I was ecstatic. The course is easy, I know it from the inside out; perfect. I sat my first exam and had a mental breakdown after it. No joke.
I couldn’t solve most of the questions on the exam, I felt completely betrayed. I barely scored a passing grade.
I started attending classes with an indifferent mindset, just taking notes and waiting for it to be done. Before the second exam, I started looking for a textbook (no textbook name was even written on the syllabus!). I spent weeks before the exam self learning, watching tutorials for how to solve, and developing a technique to tackle the problems. And that paid off, big time, because I scored drastically better on the second exam. But I noticed that if I hadn’t done that preparation, I would’ve done worse because the difficulty level of the exams was increasing.

After that, I attempted to communicate with the professor by asking questions in class relating to difficult problems, or what-would-happen-if questions. These too, failed as he continued to bring me back to the loop of knowing the basic concepts and understanding them alone.

I decided to work independently from then on wards, I took notes in class just in case I needed to look at them later, but went home and stepped up my learning and problem solving on my own. I did generally well on the course, but with extensive effort and time.

There was an undeniably huge gap between what was being said in class and the assessments. But that wasn’t the only problem. The problem was that the need to refer to other references and to train for challenging problems was never communicated or emphasized. There is no way a person can use these class notes to solve the types of problems on the exams; they were just too advanced. It’s like learning the alphabets in class and being asked to write a two sided essay on the exam.
Not only did I spend so much time and energy, but I lost the learning motive, and was practicing just to pass the assessments.

So that was me, as usual complaining about everything.

The 30-day no-makeup- challenge

I wasn’t challenged by anybody but myself to try this out. But I was starting to feel that I could use the morning time I take to apply make up to sleep. And the 30 days of having absolutely no make up on taught me more that I expected to learn. I thought it would be this playful thing that I’d try out for a week and wouldn’t be able to stand. But I can proudly say that I fully completed the 30 days and I wouldn’t mind doing more. I say this was a big thing for me in the beginning because without any makeup on, I look dead. And not just normal dead, but dead-in-the-grave-dead.

The first few days, a lot of people were asking if something was up. And I deliberately wore bright colors to emphasize that I’m absolutely fine. I had “Are you okay?”, “When did you last sleep?”, “You look tired.”, and all sorts of comments, even from my grandparents in the house.

About two weeks later, I had a family gathering in the evening, and I was very tempted to have some on. Just concealer, please I kept telling myself that day. But I gathered all the willpower in the world and went with nothing on. I also sometimes wear contact lenses if I’m going out to any place other than uni. I didn’t do that. I figured that the contacts would make my “tired” eyes pop, so I resorted to glasses.
It didn’t go very smoothly because not only was I bombarded with questions, but I was criticized and told So engineering girls really can’t take care of their appearance.

This was the first lesson I learned. People judge on appearance even when they say they don’t. And it’s up to you to let their words make you or break you. I must admit I wasn’t very happy that day but on my way home I realized that this is how I look like and no one has the right to comment on it. If they are unable to accept it, or find it amusing, then that’s their problem. I’m not at fault. In fact, I’m perfectly fine without my makeup kit. I feel fine, it’s not like I’m going around with withdrawal symptoms.

Very ironically, ALL the gifts I got for my birthday were makeup products. And this happened halfway through the month.

The other thing I noticed was that my skin was breathing more and by the end of the month I felt I was becoming more natural and worry-less about my appearance in general.
And I think that if I had any insecurities about my looks before this, then they’re now non-existent. If people can’t accept my true color then that’s none of my concern.

I was glad I was able to do this. It’s freeing, it makes you breathe and become more confident. It makes you more straightforward, honest and strong and definitely an eye-opener despite how silly it might seem.

Anyone in?

Letters to Egypt (II)

I write to you, my beloved land, at a very critical time.

It is with utmost despair that I say this, but a humble citizen of yours has lost their glimmer. Their motives no longer push them forward, their dreams only remind them of the obstacles they face daily. I’m saddened by a few harsh realities that I’ve always been told but chose to ignore. I now accept these realities because there’s really no running away from them. You see, Egypt, one is at a helpless position at certain points in life, and this happened to be my point. Perhaps quite early you may argue, but it is inevitable.

Truly, I have made promises to myself. To you. But I’m afraid I’m no longer able to hope. I can only try, Egypt.

I aspired to be “it”, and we both know what that meant. I didn’t have all what it takes, but I aspired. And lost heart.

If one cannot cope or deal any longer, what could one cling to?

Public Speaking (II)

So I’ve done 2 speeches so far for this course, and I must admit that the one I did today was all right compared to other presentations that I ever did in my life.

The first speech was a story telling speech where we speak about any event in our lives to the class. The key here of course is how to story tell. We were assessed on basis of voice, animation, body language, pace, plot and characters, building up the story and creating a likable character that the audience would sympathize with. Another key point was choosing a story that would be relevant or suitable to amuse the audience and entertain them. Overall, some stories were really good, we were all nervous though. As for me, I had practiced very well for it but the first few minutes of the story were disastrous.

The one I did with my collegue today was an informative one, as the professor divided  the chapters of the book for us to present. The first speech was about the ways in which you can speak to inform and some general ideas about informative speech, the second one, which was the one I was part of, was about coming up with topics and organizing the content of the speech. The one thing we had to work on a little was giving the audience the space to understand and communicate back to us. We had some great activities and examples but we should have highlighted them better so as not to bore the people.

As a side note here are a few tips that I noted over the past few lectures:

  • Any speech can be considered persuasive because you’re usually trying to convince the audience to believe something, someone, or a fact.
  • You have to establish credibility and authority
  • Tailor the speech for the audience taking into consideration the topics that bring them together and set them apart, their interests, challenges, beliefs, backgrounds, knowledge and expectations.
  • Be very careful with jokes
  • Interact with the audience to keep them engaged
  • Inform people either in a chronological or thematic fashion
  • Incorporate stories or personal examples
  • Know what level of knowledge is in the audience so that you’re not too high or too low.
  • When in a debate, know the opposition extremely well and anticipate their arguments.
  • Use rhetorical appeals and avoid logical fallacies while debating.
  • Be organized! And let your audience have an outline for the speech
  • The most powerful argument should be the “thesis statement” of the speech
  • Remind the audience of the purpose and argument every once in a while throughout the speech
  • If you find that the audience is not interested, act and involve them immediately.
  • Exhibit many types of energies as the speech flows.

Coming up, is a debate and a formal informative speech, which we will be preparing for over the next week or so…. Can’t wait. (JK-I’m dreading it.)

Public Speaking

As a way to fulfill my 2016 resolution of becoming a better public speaker, I enrolled myself (with great fears) in a public speaking course. I say with great fears because I have serious issues with presentations and talking in front of large audiences. And it was becoming chronic because every time I felt that a lot of attention was on me, I would immediately stutter and fidget and become an absolute mess. Not good. Not good at all.

And so I’m going to be blogging for this course (even though I’m not required to) because I’m very determined to document everything in it, as well as find out really, what is it that turns me into an idiot in front of people.

I didn’t attend the first class because I registered late and so I emailed the professor to know what I missed. She sent me the link to her site and as I read the syllabus, I came to discover that there are so many debates and speeches throughout the course, that I sort of dreaded my decision for a bit.

But I pulled myself together and thought this is one of my chances, and I’m so not chickening out, because I really need this.

The first class that I attended was pretty inspiring.

Here’s a summary:

What makes a bad speaker? What makes a good one? As a class, we listed some things that automatically made us think the speaker isn’t good and why.

These included:
-Monotone
-not moving
-stuttering/playing with hair
-Reading off a paper
-Using a language/terminology that they’re uncomfortable with

After that, we were shown a video of an example of a bad speech, that we couldn’t even reach half of, because of how bad it was, and the way we never even understood what the speaker was talking about. She looked uncomfortable, forced, uninterested, and it was a disaster to have to look away from the screen to try to make out what she was actually saying. Also, she’s standing behind a desk behind a paper, which shows that she’s not at ease with facing the audience.

Nowadays, speeches aim to make the audience feel that the speaker is talking specifically to each and every single one of them. Which means that every listener must relate to the talk on some level.

It is very important to ensure that the speaker establishes a credible image and makes use of the appropriate body language to give the audience an authentic feel.
The first thing to note is the place where one stands while speaking. This means that to project dominance, control, expertise and authenticity one needs to claim space appropriately so that there’s a balance between the speaker who is standing in front of a seated audience and has more power, and also the audience’s ability to feel comfortable (and not cornered) enough to listen attentively.
If the speaker was to kneel down and speak, the audience would feel that both of them are on the same level, and this is why when speakers stand, it gives a superior feeling. Therefore, it is important to be worth this stand.
The space behind a speaker is their “territory”, and so the closer to the audience the more the space, and the stronger the energy given off from the speaker to the audience.
It’s very important to stand facing the audience because this shows that you’re not creating barriers between you and them.
2 of the interesting examples that I liked were that in martial arts, the fighters would stand sideways in order to protect their chest area (which is the most important), and so if she (the professor) were to stand in such a manner while teaching, we wouldn’t be very happy. If she were to tell us a story and at the same time move along with the events of the story, or if she stood to the left then to the right while comparing 2 items, it would make understanding a whole lot easier.
The other case was that if one student was disrupting her class by playing with their phone for example and she wanted that person to stop doing that; it is not wise to pause the class and ask them to stop. Because this would then make her less powerful. The better thing to do is to position herself close to the person causing the trouble. This would make that person feel excluded and would leave whatever they’re doing to focus back on the class.

This video was also proof that exhibiting the right energy at the right time can influence an audience greatly. And although this is about a dog, it inspired me on a personal level not only because I have a fear of dogs but I have the main fear of facing crowds.
And I think what Cesar did was heroic, and it taught me that maintaining balance is important, giving off the right energy is crucial, claiming territory is essential, and when it comes to dogs, it’s best not to look them in the eye and not to energize them.(haha)

Lessons of 2015

So let’s be real. 2015 was a monstrous year. At least for me. Yes, I’ve learned and all that, but really does one have to learn in such awful circumstances and gruesome ways?

I started off with a bundle of issues carried from 2014, and I must say I was the one to blame for some of the problems that I went through at the start of that year. And honestly, when I started my fourth semester last year, I sort of gave up on trying to be a better person, for the time being. I don’t know, I had this resignation that maybe this is the person that I am and that I’m incapable of changing further.

As the semester went by, I came to discover a few things about myself:
1- I’m itching for change
And this meant that something within me still required my effort to be changed. Throughout that semester I evolved into a person who can pin-point faults very easily and very quickly. Which made me reflect a lot on myself with respect to the new habit that I’ve acquired.

2-I’m not ready for change
I had trouble buying a new laptop, a new phone, and that’s just on a shallow level. I’m very reluctant to let go of what makes me comfortable. Even though my laptop was becoming an antique piece and my phone wouldn’t stop crashing.. Every time someone recommended a new phone model, I wanted to cry. Because I’m THAT attached to what I have. And this meant that point number 1 was not in my cards.

3-I have no idea what I want to do in life
Yes, I had ideas for change, I wanted to see things get better around me, but I had no idea how I will contribute to this. One would think, “but you’re doing engineering, of course you’ll be an engineer. What’s the matter with you?!” Yeah well, how do you become a creative engineer,  that’s the real question. Because to be honest, I must admit that I’m not the brightest person ever, and in a major like engineering, the ones who aren’t bright enough, don’t normally achieve much. Survival of the fittest sort of thing. So don’t they keep telling us that we’re talented? Is it too late to discover mine?

By the end of the Spring semester and the start of my Summer, things didn’t get better either. My previous posts are proof.

The Fall semester was by far my worst. And not only study-wise. Because like my colleagues, I was blessed with six incredibly unhealthy courses, and like a lot of students, I ranted about assessments and cited some study techniques. I was also shaken up by the death of one of my teaching assistants in a car accident, and it was one of the turning points in my life because he was one of the best people who taught me. A few days after his death, I learned that a very dear person to my heart was terminally ill.. Of course the stresses tugging at me during that time were uncountable, and I had no choice but to keep pushing myself forward through exams, projects, disappointing people and dealing with dissatisfying grades all at once. The number of times I was tempted to breakdown was way too high.
And as that awful semester went by I came to the following conclusions:

1- I still don’t know what I want to do in life, but I’m not going to worry about it anymore.

2- I want to learn to play a flute

3-I’m going to take a serious break from everything and everyone.

4- I’m indifferent towards many things in my life now, but the perfectionist in me hasn’t shaken despite that.

5- I’m never doing 18 credits again

6- I need to master public speaking

By the end of 2015, I had all the painful moments in my memory more than the happy moments. Which is why I decided that in 2016 I’m going to record all my happy moments and keep them to read at the end of the year.

However I just want to mention a few amazing moments in 2015 to end the post on a positive note.

1- Meeting Ahdaf Soueif in person and taking a picture with her.
2- Hamza Namira concert
3- Umm Kulthum puppet concert
4- Writing my novel plot summary
5- When I was announced senior writer for The Insider AUC
6- Finishing a beginner’s 8-week running plan
7- Walking all the way from Radisson Blu (Sheraton) to my house in Gesr el Suez on a winter evening because of the traffic.
8- Reuniting with my best friend after years.
9- Getting a henna that says (يا تموت و انت واقف يا تعيشش وانت راكع) like Ameer Eid
10- Getting a Kingsley pen for my birthday
11- Going to the Book fair for the first time in my life
12- Attending a creative writing workshop

Letters to Egypt (I)

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To the land where martyrs are buried, and rice is grown.
To the land where heroes come in all names and forms, where faith is engraved in the souls of the weak and miracles happen in the corners of alleys.

Greetings, Egypt, from the heart of one of your humble citizens.

I’m writing to you with sorrow and gratitude, unhappiness and hope; a mixture of emotions that I have yet to discover.

I apologize on the behalf of myself, and perhaps others for what we have done. I apologize for every time I underestimated my role, for every time I didn’t throw garbage in the right place, for misrepresenting you. I’m also sorry I’m not responsible enough, not proactive enough, not generous enough. I apologize for every chance, every moment, every time I didn’t give back to you what you well and truly deserve. I’m sorry for taking you for granted. For assuming you will continue to forgive me, and warmly welcome me in your arms every time I leave and come back. I’m sorry for not being with you during calamities and times of grief. I’m ashamed that we’ve gotten this far.

I’m however grateful, that you continue to give me chances, till this day to make amends. To become a better person and learn despite what we have become. I’m grateful for your people, your genuine,thoroughbred people, the ones who still smile, who help out and expect no return, who wear their faith on their sleeve. I’m grateful for your Ramadan evenings, your Eid mornings, your classic songs,your beautiful mosques. I’m blessed and heart-warmed by your stubbornness to stay, and your patience to always give.

Yours truly,
A humble citizen