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February 25, 2010

Teaching Beyond the Textbook

Bethlehem University Instructor Explains His Approach to Education

TextbookBethlehem University alumnus and English Instructor Imad Jaber Skakiya (’86) is determined not to fall into a teaching rut. In fact, Jaber pursued teaching at Bethlehem University, where he has been teaching full-time since 2006, because, he says, he wanted “to work for a challenging institution which offers professional development and growth potential.” Already holding a master’s degree in Teaching English for Specific Purposes from Aston University in the United Kingdom, Jaber continues to develop his skills in both subject-specific teaching and evolving teaching methodologies. His latest effort was the January 2010 completion of a two-part AMIDEAST seminar for excellence in teaching.

TextbookPart of the Palestinian Faculty Development Program, the 80 seminar hours covered “a variety of teaching approaches and key issues associated with course design and development,” Jaber explained. Developed by the Central European University’s Curriculum Resource Center, the program explored the implications of more active learning mechanisms on student, teacher and university roles. In his own follow up to the seminar, Jaber has spent time reflecting on the lessons learned and how they have changed his classroom approach.

Changing the teaching model

 Instead of viewing themselves as simple trainers in a given subject, the seminars put forward a view “of the university teacher as a professional scholar ready to engage in teaching that is informed by research and by models of good practice,” Jaber says. Part of that scholarship model also involves spurring critical thought in students, rather than simply reviewing a set of core topics. The idea, Jaber explains, is to help students move beyond the textbooks to really engage with the material and with each other in the learning process.

Ultimately, the goal is to encourage students’ creativity and their ability to turn information into integrated knowledge. The latter, termed an integrative learning approach, “requires connecting skills and knowledge from multiple sources and experiences,” Jaber says. “Thus, the job of the learner is to make links while applying theory into practice.”

One way to reinforce that job is by encouraging students to learn from each other. In his current courses, for example, Jaber says that he has already “modified the requirements to include group work projects to promote collaborative learning.” The students are excited about the new group work model, he continues, which requires them to work in groups and collectively present their work to the class. Once the group project is over, each student will submit an individual written reflection on the project and on the group learning process.

Practicing dynamic teaching

Not surprisingly, helping students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to successfully integrate information places added demands on teachers. “There is a place for critical thinking in every discipline,” Jaber says, “but how to translate critical thinking into our teaching is a demanding duty that requires creativity. We need to think about our creative thinking assignments and how to make them specific tasks.” That thinking involves preparing course materials that speak not only to the academic topic at hand but to the reality of the students themselves. For instance, Jaber explains that “when selecting case studies, one should make sure that the cases are familiar, relevant to the context, relevant to the course and have a dramatic appeal (a strategy problem or policy problem).” These choices help students connect academic concepts with events that seem more concrete, prompting them to compare ideas with experience to draw their own conclusions.


Even with engaging assignments in place, teachers still face the challenge of creating more dynamic assessment mechanisms. Doing so requires judgment calls about the relative weight of the skills students employ in an assignment and the variety of assignments themselves. Grading methods, Jaber explains, should be diverse enough “to ensure that we are not measuring the same thing again and again,” and they should “highlight the concept of assessment as a learning tool.”

Altering assessment tools – essays versus multiple choice tests versus presentations, for instance – helps teachers explore the range of skills students possess and ultimately aids students in identifying where their strengths lie and where they still need improvement. “Above all,” Jaber says, “our students should be encouraged to use self-reflection assessment. In almost all the courses I am teaching this semester, I continuously ask students to reflect on their own work.”

Rethinking university functions

These more comprehensive teaching and learning approaches also suggest multiple social roles for the university. On the one hand, the university has an economic role to play by preparing students to serve in a given job market. On the other, and perhaps most importantly, it provides a social good by training students to be better human beings.

This emphasis on a university’s dual contributions has always been central to Bethlehem University’s mission. As for Jaber, who describes himself as “a proud graduate of Bethlehem University,” the seminar experience has suggested ways he can participate more fully in that mission. “I have gained a lot of ideas and insights relevant to my work at Bethlehem University,” he says. “They will definitely reshape my stand regarding learning-oriented teaching that works on the whole development of the learner as a better individual who is aware of his human role worldwide and who is well-equipped with the knowledge and skills required to meet the business needs of the community."

Jaber emphasized that his participation in the seminars, held in Ramallah and Jericho, would not have been possible without the support of the University and of the English department. He expressed his deep gratitude to AMIDEAST and to the Palestinian Faculty Development Program team headed by John Fitzgibbon for providing the seminar opportunity, and he  offered sincere thanks to the three Central European University seminar leaders: Dr. Sophie Howlett, Tatiana Yarkova and Joanna Renc-Roe.

Bethlehem University alumnus and English Instructor Imad Jaber Skakiya (’86) is determined not to fall into a teaching rut. In fact, Jaber pursued teaching at Bethlehem University, where he has been teaching full-time since 2006, because, he says, he wanted “to work for a challenging institution which offers professional development and growth potential.” Already holding a master’s degree in Teaching English for Specific Purposes from Aston University in the United Kingdom, Jaber continues to develop his skills in both subject-specific teaching and evolving teaching methodologies. His latest effort was the January 2010 completion of a two-part AMIDEAST seminar for excellence in teaching.

Part of the Palestinian Faculty Development Program, the 80 seminar hours covered “a variety of teaching approaches and key issues associated with course design and development,” Jaber explained. Developed by the Central European University’s Curriculum Resource Center, the program explored the implications of more active learning mechanisms on student, teacher and university roles. In his own follow up to the seminar, Jaber has spent time reflecting on the lessons learned and how they have changed his classroom approach.

Changing the teaching model

 Instead of viewing themselves as simple trainers in a given subject, the seminars put forward a view “of the university teacher as a professional scholar ready to engage in teaching that is informed by research and by models of good practice,” Jaber says. Part of that scholarship model also involves spurring critical thought in students, rather than simply reviewing a set of core topics. The idea, Jaber explains, is to help students move beyond the textbooks to really engage with the material and with each other in the learning process.

Ultimately, the goal is to encourage students’ creativity and their ability to turn information into integrated knowledge. The latter, termed an integrative learning approach, “requires connecting skills and knowledge from multiple sources and experiences,” Jaber says. “Thus, the job of the learner is to make links while applying theory into practice.”

One way to reinforce that job is by encouraging students to learn from each other. In his current courses, for example, Jaber says that he has already “modified the requirements to include group work projects to promote collaborative learning.” The students are excited about the new group work model, he continues, which requires them to work in groups and collectively present their work to the class. Once the group project is over, each student will submit an individual written reflection on the project and on the group learning process.

Practicing dynamic teaching

Not surprisingly, helping students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to successfully integrate information places added demands on teachers. “There is a place for critical thinking in every discipline,” Jaber says, “but how to translate critical thinking into our teaching is a demanding duty that requires creativity. We need to think about our creative thinking assignments and how to make them specific tasks.” That thinking involves preparing course materials that speak not only to the academic topic at hand but to the reality of the students themselves. For instance, Jaber explains that “when selecting case studies, one should make sure that the cases are familiar, relevant to the context, relevant to the course and have a dramatic appeal (a strategy problem or policy problem).” These choices help students connect academic concepts with events that seem more concrete, prompting them to compare ideas with experience to draw their own conclusions.


Even with engaging assignments in place, teachers still face the challenge of creating more dynamic assessment mechanisms. Doing so requires judgment calls about the relative weight of the skills students employ in an assignment and the variety of assignments themselves. Grading methods, Jaber explains, should be diverse enough “to ensure that we are not measuring the same thing again and again,” and they should “highlight the concept of assessment as a learning tool.”

Altering assessment tools – essays versus multiple choice tests versus presentations, for instance – helps teachers explore the range of skills students possess and ultimately aids students in identifying where their strengths lie and where they still need improvement. “Above all,” Jaber says, “our students should be encouraged to use self-reflection assessment. In almost all the courses I am teaching this semester, I continuously ask students to reflect on their own work.”

Rethinking university functions

These more comprehensive teaching and learning approaches also suggest multiple social roles for the university. On the one hand, the university has an economic role to play by preparing students to serve in a given job market. On the other, and perhaps most importantly, it provides a social good by training students to be better human beings.

This emphasis on a university’s dual contributions has always been central to Bethlehem University’s mission. As for Jaber, who describes himself as “a proud graduate of Bethlehem University,” the seminar experience has suggested ways he can participate more fully in that mission. “I have gained a lot of ideas and insights relevant to my work at Bethlehem University,” he says. “They will definitely reshape my stand regarding learning-oriented teaching that works on the whole development of the learner as a better individual who is aware of his human role worldwide and who is well-equipped with the knowledge and skills required to meet the business needs of the community."

Jaber emphasized that his participation in the seminars, held in Ramallah and Jericho, would not have been possible without the support of the University and of the English department. He expressed his deep gratitude to AMIDEAST and to the Palestinian Faculty Development Program team headed by John Fitzgibbon for providing the seminar opportunity, and he  offered sincere thanks to the three Central European University seminar leaders: Dr. Sophie Howlett, Tatiana Yarkova and Joanna Renc-Roe.

 

 
Bethlehem University Foundation
Email: brds@bufusa.org
Phone: +1-240-241-4381
Fax: +1-240-553-7691
Beltsville, MD USA
Bethlehem University in the Holy Land
E-mail: info@bethlehem.edu
Phone: +972-2-274-1241
Fax: +972-2-274-4440
Bethlehem, Palestine