Wednesday, February 23, 2005

History Lesson: Marcus in Arabia.

As I said earlier I hired on with the United Arab Emirates University. The job was "Instructor of Mathematics and Computers". And that I did. I taught students leaving the secondary schools and going into a university. The problem was many of the students were NOT prepared for university level material especially in mathematics, English, and yes Arabic. Our students were 18ish years old (some much older though) and for the most part local.

Many managed to bully/fake or otherwise make their way through the primary and secondary school systems without learning the important fundamentals so the program I taught in was set up as a remedial program by the guy who hired me.

What made the program special was its use of computers to aid instruction. Each student had a workstation and as the instructor I was able to do many things with these workstations. Among them was being able to create quizes and exams via the computer and to administer them via the computer. Instant grading and feedback! I could design a lesson and utilize the programmed exercises to serve as examples or to give to the students for homework. They would then upload the results to my workstation and then I would upload those results to the administration (however this only applied during my first year there).

The students I typically taught were arts track students and so were even less well versed in math than most. English levels ranged from "not at all" to fluent Wisconsinese (I met one or two students who had spent time here in Wisconsin). None the less I quickly discovered it was easy to teach a student with some basic math abilities and no English than one with good English and no math abilities. One student Yasser stands out.

I would ask Yasser a question and all I would get back is a look that screamed "I have no understanding of what you just said" but boy he would ace the quizzes and tests. Perhaps he did so by cheating but I never got the feeling he was into that (others yes and they were good at it). OTOH I had students who were pretty good with the English but just could not get simple math.

From time to time students would complain they knew the math but not the English and hence they were in my class learning to add and subtract. Wrong, one of the placement exams was translated into Arabic and given to a sample, that sample performed no better.

More about the teaching later on, but my next installment will be life in the UAE....