Work and play in South Africa: Teaching and sightseeing in Jo’burg

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I was filling in for Dr. Kate Roach, and she provided many of the slides. Fortunately, I was able to draw from three decades of running group learning activities and from my own research on teamwork and Problem Based Learning. It helped me bring the topics to life.

What a memorable four days Shade and I had in Johannesburg, teaching the master class on teamwork I recently blogged. In this post, I’m sharing photos Shade mailed me in addition to snapshots I took on our day of sightseeing.

This master class was one of eight organized by the University of Cape Town to help engineering educators in South Africa develop new knowledge and skills. The overall set of workshops is being taught by my employer, University College London and its Center for Engineering Education.

This was the fourth workshop in the series. This particular session was held at the OM Tambo conference center–the site, the weather, and the food were all amazing. The experience transformed my impression of Johannesburg and has me wanting to return. The overwhelming sense of Apartheid I felt on my prior visit had left me feeling anxious, but gaining insight and making diverse friends has me seeing the place with a new, more optimistic outlook.

Two engineering professors from the University of Johannesburg graciously offered to show us the city on the last day of our trip. Thanks to Johannes (Yannis) Bester and Zachary (Zach) Simpson spending the day with us and giving us an insider perspective of what it’s been like to live, work, and teach in Johannesburg.

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Dr. Folashade (Shade) Akinmolayan and me visiting the University of Johannesburg campus where Yannis and Zach teach engineering.

Thanks to Yannis and Zach we got to visit two campuses of the University of Johannesburg–including a stop off to Yannis’ home which is located on the main campus. We also got to visit two sites of my choosing: the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill.

The Apartheid Museum explains the history and events surrounding the system of Apartheid used in South Africa (1948-1991) to segregate people by race. It’s a scary history indeed, but one that we must not forget.

Of our sightseeing group, only two of us had visited this particular museum before.During my 2005 visit I’d not had enough time to absorb everything, and the same happened again. In the gallery below, you’ll see two fo the special exhibitions in the museum right now. One focuses on Nelson Mandela. The other focuses on Winnie Mandela.

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Visiting the Apartheid Museum is a very solum experience.

We broke for lunch at the Apartheid Museum and then continued on to Constitution Hill, a former jail where Nelson Mandela was briefly kept before he was moved to the prison on Robins Island. Political prisoners were considered the most dangerous to the Apartheid “leadership” and they were kept separate from other prisoners. During Apartheid one could be jailed for nearly anything and life in jail was truly awful for most. Nelson Mandela did convince many of the jailers on Robins Island to see his point-of-view and some to advocate for his release. Nevertheless, he spent 27 years behind bars for promoting his political beliefs.

Before seeing this exhibition, I hadn’t known how important his mother’s Christian values and his early schooling by Western missionaries had been on shaping Nelson Mandela’s outlook on life. I had wondered how he’d maintained his determination to resit Apartheid so peacefully, when even Winnie (his second of three wives) promoted violent resistance at times.

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Shade and I after the tour at Constitution Hill we took with Yannis.

Today, Constitution Hill is the site where South Africa’s Constitutional Court meets. This group of judges deliberates on constitutional matters only. The front door of the Court illustrates the fundamental principles of today’s South African Constitution. However, this court is constantly considering how to best protect and balance individual and collective rights.

At Constitution Hill we took a guided tour and we visited the formal court chambers as well as the former men’s and women’s prisons. The old stair wells have been left standing to help show the extent of the former prison, though much of the prison building was removed and the bricks used in the modernization. The entry lobby and the court chamber are lovely modern buildings designed by OMM Design Workshop and Urban Solutions. For more on the design of the building, please visit “THE STORY OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT.”

I’ve posted seven separate photo galleries below:

  1. Conference center and workshop
  2. Driving through the city of Johannesburg and visiting the University of Jo’burg
  3. Apartheid Museum
  4. Nelson Mandela
  5. Winnie Mandela
  6. Constitution Hill court
  7. Constitution Hill former jails

Conference center and workshop

Jo’burg city and the University of Johannesburg

Apartheid Museum

Nelson Mandela

 

Winnie Mandela

Constitution Hill court

Constitution Hill former jails

 

Engineering Education in South Africa: Facilitating Teamwork and Celebrating Diversity

My sister and I just crossed paths, like (air)ships in the night, at Johannesburg’s O. M. Tambo airport. At precisely the time my University College London colleague, Dr. Folashade Akinmolayan, and I were taking off from Tambo yesterday, my sister, Heather Massie, was boarding a plane in New York City. Heather was en route to the same airport.

Although Heather and I didn’t physically meet at Tambo airport, we were together in spirit–united by common causes and with more than just our flight itineraries overlapping. Finding ourselves in southern Africa at the same time would seem to be chance, but it also reflects who we are as people. It reflects values—of science, of learning, and of equality among people—that our parents instilled in us from our earliest days. Heather and I learned well from our mom (Cynthia Mara) and dad (Don Massie), and the values they gave us shape how we see the world, and how and where we work today.

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Shannon with Cynthia and Heather one Christmas after Mom’s trip to Japan.

Heather and I are both STEM (science, engineering, technology, and maths) educators, but of wildly different sorts. We both do outreach and community engagement activities with groups of diverse people and in under-served places. We both use “audience” participation to share our passions in STEM with others. We teach in spontaneous, improvisational, and highly interactive ways. We both see people as individuals and we bond quickly with others. We value our diverse friends, colleagues, and communities. We see diversity as an essential feature of creativity and we view it holistically—believing that identity is dynamic and ever-evolving and that people work everyday to develop their own identities with regard to gender, race, ethnicity and nationality, belief system, physical ability, sexual orientation and the intersection of all these and more.

As a result, Heather will be in Zimbabwe and South Africa for the next five weeks, performing her critically acclaimed one-woman play about Heady Lamar. Lamar was a Hollywood screen star, an impassioned inventor, and a self-educated engineer. She developed technology that makes all our wifi and bluetooth devices work!

Shade and Shannon workshop title slideSimilar to Heather, I was in Johannesburg this past week, facilitating a workshop for 26 engineering educators from all over South Africa.

Via this workshop, Dr. Folashade “Shade” Akinmolayan and I shared what we have learned and implemented in practice. We shared what we know from our research on group-based learning and from what we have lived, by assigning team projects to students at University College London (UK), Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland), and Hampton University (USA).

img_0621Shade and I were invited to teach this Master class (one of eight multi-day seminars on teaching and learning coordinated by South African engineering educators) because we are both part of UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education. Shade is a chemical engineer with a doctorate in engineering and a focus on team-based learning. She coordinates group- and problem-based learning for the Chemical Engineering Department at UCL, though she will soon move to a new university where she will contribute to the development of an innovative new curriculum in chemical engineering–from the ground up. As for me, I’m an architecture professor from the USA who uses group-based approached to teach students in architecture, engineering, and education. I’ve taught workshops on such topics to other higher ed teachers at DIT, Hampton U, and William and Mary.

Shade intro slideShade and I found the 26 South African participants in our two-day workshop on facilitating teamwork in engineering education to be extremely energetic and engaged. They were passionate about teaching. They were enthusiastic about learning, sharing ideas, and creating new knowledge. We discussed ways to address the specific challenges they face and strategies to help support the range of diverse students in their classrooms. Drawing from experience teaching in many different places really helped.

All 26 participants were eager to discuss techniques, goals, and challenges surrounding their own efforts to facilitate learning in teams.

Shade and I made a pretty dynamic duo, if I do say so myself. We really worked well together and delivered a workshop of top quality. We will look for opportunities to offer this workshop again. Please let us know if you have ideas for future venues–for our team building workshop, or for Heather’s play.

Shannon intro slideAlthough Shade and I had literally just met—finding each other at the airport as we departed London for Johannesburg—we made great use of the day we had before the workshop to refine our plans, get to know each other, and learn to work together.

The workshop went off without a hitch, and the learning the 28 of us achieved was highly impressive. As Shade remarked, the event was a great confidence booster for us as workshop facilitators. It was, in my view, a confidence booster for all 28 of us (participants and facilitators) because we are all engineering educators trying to innovate our teaching practices so that students learn more and develop a wider range of skills crucial for engineers to have, and we all walked away with stronger and more robust strategies.

We received this very kind email at the conclusion of the workshop:

Dear Organisers,

Good day.

I wish to express my heart-felt gratitude to all the organisers and funding partners for the invitation and funding to participate in the Master Class programme of 24 – 25 April 2018.

It highlighted, in a detailed and understandable manner effective teamwork fundamentals, strategies and ethics.

The facilitators showed quality planning, timeliness and precision in delivery and coordination that motivated active participation: leading to a hugely successful programme.

While looking forward to participate in future programmes, kindly please accept my respect and regards.

Thank you.

With kind regards,

Williams Kehinde Kupolati

What a lovely message to receive!

This wasn’t the first trip to South Africa for Heather or me, although it was Shade’s first time going there (she’s a British citizen, born and raised in London).

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I was in Jo’burg and Cape Town in 2004, when Professor Brad Grant and I brought a group of Hampton University students there to study urban design. Wee looked at how urban design has been used to enforce racial and ethnic segregation. We also studied how contemporary architects and designers are working to counteract the adverse effects of decades of segregation and strife. I produced a booklet about the HU trip to South Africa. I can’t get the blog platform to upload the document for you, but please just email me to get a PDF copy. My email address is: irelandbychance [at] gmail [dot] com.

Heather was in Zimbabwe and Cape Town last year, performing as Hedy Lamar and conducting play-writing workshops. That followed a visit she made with our dear family friend, the late African-American playwright Leslie Lee. Leslie’s memory lives on the in the work Heather does every day. Now, Heather is back in Zimbabwe and South Africa again, with an action-packed itinerary that will look something like this:

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For details and performance dates, see www.HeatherMassie.com/HEDY

Harare International Festival of the Arts – Harare, Zimbabwe – May 3, 4 & 6, 2018

Unizulu Science Centre, Science Festival – Durban, South Africa – May 9-12, 2018

Women in Tech – Cape Town, South Africa – tbd May (17, 21 or 22), 2018

Thope Foundation – Cape Town, Khayelitsha, South Africa – May 18 & 19, 2018

Makukhanye Art Room – Cape Town, Khayelitsha, South Africa – May 20, 2018

George Arts Theatre – George, South Africa – May 24-26, 2018

Sci-Bono Discovery Centre – Johannesburg, South Africa – May 28 – June 1, 2018

As of this past Wednesday, the only definite dates with set show times were the Harare ones, but she will probably be performing on all of the listed dates. Please check Heather’s website for specific show times.

Here’s a gallery of images from the workshop:

I hope to share images from our tour of Johannesburg in a future post.

Learning London: University College London

During a recent workshop for development of research skills, the facilitator warned that people from other universities might approach us to work as a collaborator simply because they want to associate with UCL and they might not have genuine interest in actually working with us as individuals.

Funny enough, I was too naïve to have joined UCL just for its reputation. I’m only now beginning to understand the prominence of this institution and understand its very long, egalitarian history. As noted on the university’s website, “UCL was founded in 1826 as a secular alternative to Oxford and Cambridge by prominent intellectuals such as James Mill and Henry Brougham. UCL was the first university to be established in London, and the first entirely secular university to admit students regardless of religion. It was also the first university to admit women on equal terms with men.”

UCL’s surrounding neighborhood, Bloomsbury, hasn’t been portrayed as a center of equality and social reform in the various books, webpages, and exhibits I’ve consulted, but I see roots here. Near UCL’s main/Bloomsbury campus you’ll find the Quaker Meeting House, a symbol of religious tolerance (it has a lovely restaurant underground that offers discounts to UCL staff, and it has a cafe at street level) . You’ll find that huguenots and other religious minorities arrived in this neighborhood as immigrants seeking freedom from oppression in their homelands. You’ll find a former residence of Charles Dickens, whose tales show a deep concern for improving the lives of the oppressed.

IMG_7554As for breaking my naïve on the reputation and standing of UCL: QS’s most recent “world university rankings” ranked this institution seventh… in the world! Up there with MIT, Oxford, Harvard, and Cambridge.

I’d applied to work here after meeting some folks from the  university’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) and traveling over from Dublin for the launch of the CEE. Back in the States, I had heard of the Bartlett, UCL’s world-famous school of architecture, but not of UCL itself.

I applied to work here because I wanted to learn from movers-and-shakers and highly-accomplished teacher/researchers like Nick Tyler, John Mitchell, and Emanuela Tilley.

As explained in a case study of Nick’s past work overhauling engineering education published by MIT, this institution encourages quick and decisive action. It behaves more like a business than a typical university, and implements changes swiftly. The results can be impressive, as demonstrated with the increase in grades and diversity of students at intake and at graduation among students in civil engineering at UCL following the implementation of major curricular changes. And, who wouldn’t want a chance to observe in action a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), Nick’s current title? An article in The Sun describes the British ranking system.

Today, I am enjoying learning my way around UCL. The photos in today’s gallery were taken on and near campus, in my adventures seeking out workshop, library, and lunch locations.

 

 

Learning London–one month in!

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Tower Bridge selfie in the mirror above to the bridge floor and Thames River, far below.

Learning the lay of the land in London—the best way to spend the cold, wet month of January. I’ve been in my new position as a Marie Curie Research Fellow at University College London’s Center for Engineering Education for one month.

In this time, I’ve also settled into a new apartment, where I’m flat-sitting for some friends. They travel quite a bit, so it all works fine.

I’ve been getting to know Shoreditch and its surrounding areas. Turns out, Shoreditch is one of London’s hippest addresses and my place is surrounded by local markets, many dozen vintage clothing stores, and Boundary Estate, the world’s first social housing community, which is architecturally stunning. I’ve joined Nuffield Gym and have been enjoying its pool and yoga classes. I got a wonderfully positive health screening when I joined and will soon meet with a personal trainer to get anti-aging tips!

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One of the many vintage shops off Brick Lane, buzzing on Sunday afternoon. Surprises at every turn–here a photo booth at the back of the shop and selling vintage clothes by the kilo downstairs.

Mostly, though, I’ve focused on making headway with my fellowship work. In the four weeks I have been working at UCL, I have:

Completed UCL induction/orientation

  • Got my employment contract, work visa, and bank account set up and obtained my British Residency Permit
  • Completed including face-to-face and on-line training and earned certificates in (1) Safety, (2) Green Awareness, and (3) Green Champion
  • Updated my research profiles, including UCL Engineering, IRIS, and LinkedIn

Contributed to peer reviewed conferences

Provided leadership in evaluation

Made two research trips to Dublin

  • Conducted four research interviews, and successfully scheduled five more for February
  • Was invited to collaborate on a policy project with 6 civil service professionals in Dublin
  • Met with several dozen DIT colleagues about current and future projects
  • Transcribed two interviews
  • Was invited to present at DIT research event on March 2nd
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UCL workshop on “Leading Collaborative Projects.”

Completed researcher development workshops at UCL

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A slide from architect Ken Yeang’s lecture on eco-architecture, delivered at the Bartlett.

Attended lectures at the Bartlett School of Architecture

Scoped research funding programs

  • Attended an information session on opportunities to collaborate with UK-based researchers, hosted in Dublin by the Irish Research Council
  • Identified promising funding program for gender studies and downloaded guidance materials

Reviewed literature pertinent to my research projects

  • Three PhD dissertations using phenomenology
  • Seminal texts in epistemological development
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Professor Nick Tyler (left) at PAMELA (Pedestrian Accessibility Movement Environment Laboratory) aiming to improve transport and access to transport for people with barriers to mobility.

Studied art and design

  • Met twice with Kindall Brantley, NYU grad student in sustainable urbanism
  • Attended transportation design class at PAMELA, UCL’s transportation research hub
  • Joined the Tate and visited three times
  • Studied the special exhibition on Modigliani
  • Studied the special exhibition on “Impressionists in London” at Tate Britain
  • Studied bridge design topics at Tower Bridge Exhibition
  • Studied transportation and product design topics in two visits to London’s Science Museum
  • Even learned a bit of history by watching The Post at the RichMix cinema near my home, with a new membership to help support local culture and arts.
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Tower Bridge as see from below. The glass-floored walkway joins the two, tall middle tower (nearly visible to the left of this image).

Met with colleagues at UCL

I’ll say that of all this, the interviews I conducted in Dublin were probably the most fun. Two of the participants provided two-hour interviews that were chock full of insight. These are follow-up interviews with students I’ve previously interviewed. They are women studying engineering at DIT and hearing how their stories unfold from year to year is fascinating.

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A reflection from the Liffey River in downtown Dublin, taken during one of my two January overnights to the city.

I’m working hard to get participants in Dublin scheduled for follow up interviews in February — before the final-year students get too busy with final exams and graduation.

Stay tuned for more work photos from the places I visited this past month.

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UCL’s central library building.

Life as a Roving Academic

Shannon teaching at HU Point

Flashback: Teaching architecture students about sun angles at Hampton University, circa 2007.

I keep shifting roles in higher education so I can learn new skills. I spent 15 years teaching in the USA (advancing my way up to Professor of Architecture in 2014) before coming to Ireland as an education researcher and now Lecturer.

Transitioning from teaching to researching was more difficult than I had anticipated, partly because the work is more sedentary, but mostly because I missed interacting with students every day. And while I do enjoy engineering, I also miss discussing architecture and urban design on a daily basis. Fortunately though, I also enjoy interviewing engineering students.

As part of my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship to Dublin Institute of Technology (2014-2016), I conducted 60-90 minute interviews with 47 women in Poland, Portugal, and Ireland. The interviews I conducted as a researcher allow me to connect with students in new ways.

 

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Flashback to Portugal, where my colleagues and I have interviewed 11 women studying engineering.

Since the end of that initial Marie Curie fellowship, I’ve continued this research project alongside new responsibilities. I’ve recently conducted follow-up interviews with 11 of the 47 women in my study, for instance.

After that Marie Curie fellowship ended, I also found work as a Lecturer on the teaching staff in DIT’s School of Multidisciplinary Technologies and found my way back into the classroom. Today, I get to work with wonderful teaching colleagues, and to teach undergraduate as well as Masters-level students. I’ve included a photo gallery at the end of this blog, showing a typical week of teaching.

So these days, I divide my time between teaching in-class 16 hours per week, learning new content for the classes I teach, advising thesis students, serving as a year tutor in our MSc program in BIM technologies, and doing research. (I’ve taken a break from grant-writing this semester and have enjoyed the respite.)

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Planning for future studies in London.

I enjoy exciting new adventures, though, and so I’m preparing to transition back into full-time research for a while, so I can develop new skills by working for two years at University College of London. UCL’s website provides more details  via a press release about the fellowship).

I’ll look for opportunities to teach informally while I’m at UCL, as well, and I’ll look forward to my return to DIT’s classroom in two year’s time to apply what I’ve learned through observation and research.

DIT has granted me a Career Break so that at the end of the fellowship I’ll be able to come back to my current lecturing post. I’m excited about this because I feel I’ve found my feet and my voice teaching here. Aongus (my partner) says it’s clear I selected the right profession since my passion for teaching and for students comes through in the stories I tell at the end of the day.

Now, in the month before I leave for London, I’m trying my best to track down the 10 students from my DIT cohort who I haven’t yet met for follow-up interviews and move to this research project ahead.

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole, from Bath to London

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Beautiful “ferry” trees at Avebury in the UK’s Wiltshire region.

Last week I crossed the threshold into a brave new world. I traveled over to the UK, my soon-to-be home, twice to learn more about the place.

First, to celebrate Ireland’s bank holiday weekend, my partner Aongus and I flew to Bath. We rented a car so we could visit Stonehenge, the flight of locks at Devizes (the Caen Hill flight of the Kennet and Avon canal), Avebury which is similar to Stonehenge but larger, and the picturesque village of Castle Combe. In the city of Bath, we toured the ruins of the old Roman baths, the bell tower of Bath Abbey, Royal Crescent and the townhouse museum at One Royal Crescent, and weir and the Putney Bridge, as well as getting Watsu treatments and a night time soak with spectacular views from the rooftop pool at the Thermal Spa.

Stonehenge was spectacular, but Avebury had an even more mystical feel. The majestic old fairy trees with their thick boughs and knotted roots make it feel as if you’re stepping foot into C.S. Lewis’ Narnia or the Wonderland Lewis Carroll created for Alice. (Both of these were English writers, who could well have stood beneath the same magical trees we found here.) Wikipedia provides a quick reference to the meaning of ferry trees: “Many types of trees found in the Celtic nations are considered to be sacred, whether as symbols, or due to medicinal properties, or because they are seen as the abode of particular nature spirits. Historically and in folklore, the respect given to trees varies in different parts of the Celtic world.”

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Meeting with UCL’s Professor Nick Tyler.

After flying home, I flew back to London on short notice for four meetings on Wednesday–because my new colleagues at University College London had time to meet me and it was “review week” at DIT.

These meetings were in preparation for the start of my new Marie Curie research fellowship in January. The EU is providing funding for me to work at UCL for two years, to further upgrade my skills in educational research. During my short visit, I met with my primary supervisor Professor Nick Tyler who has an amazing record of research in transportation engineering and educational innovation. I also met with my secondary supervisor, Professor John Mitchell, who directs UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE). I also got to meet with the newest member of CEE’s research team, Dr. Inês Direito, who I’ll get to collaborate with in projects. All this in addition to visiting UCL’s European Office and quick chats with two other colleagues, Emanuela Tilley and Dr. Arnie McKinley, both originally from my own side of the Atlantic.

Overall it was a very productive day, and I even got two grant proposals read in route.

Across the span of the week, I had great experiences at work and at play. I can’t wait to get back to London, Bath, and the Wiltshire region of England for more learning, and more novel adventures.

 

Ready to Jump off a Bridge?

My Friday afternoons at Dublin Institute of Technology are filled with civil and structural engineering projects. Today, we performance-tested several types of bridges, all designed and built by first year students. Here’s my testing gear, provided by one of my lovely colleagues, Una Beagon:

I believe that hands-on design projects are chock-full of learning opportunities for students, and I’m thrilled to be part of delivering project modules at DIT.

It was the first time for me to personally conduct the testing of the full-size bridge, spanning six meters across the pond in the courtyard of our building. I’ve attached a video of the test of the full-sized bridges and another of testing the model bridges: