Find out what Naser Al Madi, new instructor in computer science, has discovered after his first semester at Hamilton, and learn about his research and “acting intensive” course.
Why did you start teaching?
I was fortunate to have many great teachers who influenced my life in positive ways; their kindness and advice serve as a constant reminder that as a teacher, I have the ability to help shape the lives of my students. I started teaching as a graduate student with the mimicry mentality of imitating my favorite professors, but I quickly realized that what worked for others might not work for me as a teacher. Therefore, I started the quest to find my own style of teaching and I have learned a lot from many people and from attending sessions at the center of teaching and learning in my previous institution. After a few years of teaching, I cannot say that I found my secret teaching recipe yet, but I am making progress, and I am getting closer every day. I often feel that I learn in each lecture as much as my students, and perhaps in that sense teaching is the process of learning how others learn.
What attracted you to Hamilton?
I recognize the value and how distinctive open curriculum learning is in the classroom. It brings students who want to be in your classroom and equips them with diverse skills to better face real-life problems after graduation. I believe that the diversity of concentrations, such as sociology and philosophy, provides students in my field [computer science] with much-needed knowledge of the impact of the technology they create on our world.
Second, I appreciate the equal attention and dedication to teaching and research, creating an ecosystem where teaching inspires research and research informs teaching. I found Hamilton to be an embodiment of my aspirational teaching philosophy, and a place that I am eager to contribute to its mission.
How has your time here been so far?
I will not deny that I have been overwhelmed with work [laughs], but I must admit that it is enjoyable and fulfilling work. I have had many rewarding interactions with my students that I am very grateful for, and my colleagues across campus have been really welcoming and just amazing.
I often feel that I learn in each lecture as much as my students, and perhaps in that sense teaching is the process of learning how others learn.
Talk about your research.
I work on the human aspects of software development to better understand the cognitive skills involved and simultaneously produce computer tools that facilitate computer education and software engineering. More specifically, I have been working with eye-tracking technology to understand the uniqueness of programming languages and how they differ from natural languages so we can find ways to make programming easier and faster.
This is significant in education and to large software companies, as 80 percent of software development time is spent on reading source code, and software maintenance constitutes the biggest cost in developing software systems. I am excited to work with four amazing students on two research projects that are planned this summer. Seeing how my passion for this area of research is contagious is very rewarding and I view it as a huge responsibility.
B.S., University of Jordan
M.S., Kent State University
What do you like most about your students?
I am truly inspired by my students. I find their hard work, dedication, and genuine interest in learning a constant source of motivation that fuels my effort to give them the best educational experience that I can provide. Perhaps the thing I like most about my students is their sense of “togetherness” and how they care and support each other. I was really impressed last semester with a student who made a huge act of kindness to a student that she only heard about.
What about your colleagues?
I am very impressed with my faculty colleagues, not just for their significant scientific contributions but also for their kindness and humanity. I find myself very fortunate as a self-proclaimed introvert to have colleagues who constantly reach out, start conversations, and offer advice. The cold weather is overpowered by the warmth and kindness of everyone in this exceptional community.
What experiences from your first year at Hamilton stand out?
Last semester, I started an activity in class were students acted out different code functions and variables. I designated my course “acting intensive.” To encourage/reward participation, I started giving students tickets for muffins that they can collect after class from Opus. What started as a reward system created in the heat of the moment shortly became a popular idea with muffins as a symbol of excellence and somehow I became the muffin man.
This semester I tried to use relatable example, like making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to illustrate the concept of an algorithm as a recipe, where I brought all the ingredients to my 105 class and students made sandwiches while we built our first algorithm. In another class, I had juggling balls to illustrate that many processes enter and exit the CPU quickly giving the impression that many programs are running at the same time while in fact only one process is in the CPU at given moment. I was very lucky that one of the students is in the juggling team who came to the rescue of my demonstration as I struggled to juggle more than two balls (thanks Josef!).