Learning London: Fabulous February


Visiting the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels.

I maintained a quick pace of work during month two of my Marie Curie Research Fellowship at University College London.

I have a grant-funded training fellowship and my activities are designed to build skills in specific areas, organized around the six “work packages” outlined below. This blog summarizes my academic achievements from February 2018.

Work Package 1: Qualitative Research

Analyzed data for a policy paper to improve women’s access to STEM education in Ireland. Located relevant policies from Poland to use as precedents and translated them into English with the help of Google Translate.

Prepared and submitted two draft papers to the Association for the Study of Engineering Education (ASEE) with:

  • Emerging Findings of a Longitudinal Study of Middle Eastern Women’s Experiences Learning Engineering Abroad
  • A model for spurring organizational change based on faculty experiences working together to implement Problem-Based Learning

Met with UCL’s Dr. Inês Direito to discuss how I can help with a future qualitative research study of women at UCL.


Brushing up on research methods.

Collected follow-up interviews in Ireland (with 2 Middle Eastern and 1 Irish student) and connected with researchers in Portugal who will collect interview data to add to the Portuguese data I’ve collected with Dr. Bill Williams.

Reviewed literature relevant to my own research (Perry, 1999; Evans, Forney, & Guido-DiBrito, 1998; MIT case study on UCL’s Integrated Engineering Program)

Brushed up on methods for Qualitative Data Analysis by reading three chapters of Grbich, 2012

(Work Package 2: Mixed-Methods Research will build on findings of WP1, eventually.)

Work Package 3: Special Focus Journal Issue


Visiting the Institute of the Arab World in Paris.

I pitched the idea for a special focus issue to the Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education (ToE) on the topic of my current fellowship, got it accepted, assembled an all-star panel of guest editors for the issue, wrote and distributed the call for papers. It’s posted here, in case you or someone you know has interest in the subject of Using Design Projects to Spur Cognitive Development of Students in Science and Engineering.

I continued work on IEEE ToE’s upcoming special focus issue on social-cultural diversity. I saw one manuscript through to completion and worked closely with the Administrative Editor and Chief Editors to help our team of guest editors get the schedule moving forward, since work had stalled. I’m hoping for publication in August 2018, if we can keep our momentum going.

I only promised one special focus issue in my grant proposal–but why not aim to deliver two?

Work Package 4: Outreach (including Peer Reviews)

I drafted and submitted a 1000-word entry for The SAGE Encyclopedia of Higher Education on the topic of Problem-Based Learning and its use in engineering disciplines.

Reviewed ten proposed activities for a new children’s book by Usborne Publishing called “Scribble Engineering” and submitted an evaluation to the publisher.

Peer-reviewed a manuscript for the European Journal of Engineering Education and two others for IEEE ToE.

The Editor in Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Education (ToE) appointed me to the journal’s editorial board, so now I’m a full Associate Editor with a three-year term. In this job, I’m giving feedback to the Editor as to which manuscripts to forward though the peer review process and I’m managing the peer review process for one new manuscript each month.

Working with the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) in February involved a sub-committee meeting to edit guidelines and application forms for people interested in hosting a future Research in Engineering Education Symposium (REES, in 2021, 2023, or 2025). Our next symposium will be held in Cape Town, South Africa July 10-12, 2019. I also attend the monthly online meeting of REEN and followed up by contributing to the REEN Discussion Forum on LinkedIn, inviting colleagues to join the discussion.


Meeting with Civil Service professionals in Dublin.

Work Package 5: Research Training

During this fellowship, I aim to develop skills in supervising PhD students and post-graduate level research teams. This month, I met face-to-face with four of the six Irish Civil Service professionals who I’m sponsoring in the training module they are taking related to policy and research.

Built new skills by attending:


Hearing Louise Archer (left) and Angela Saini (right) speak at UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education.

I met with UCL’s Dr. Claire Ellul who teaches Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at UCL.

Joined the UK Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE) and registered for future training sessions.

Met with Prof. Rao Bhamidimarri, VP of London South Bank University, about the engineering education center he runs, the STEM secondary schools he created, and PhD thesis projects I may be able to advise.

Work Package 6: Management

Met with my supervisor, Prof. Nick Tyler, for my one-month probationary review and to keep my Career Development Plan up to date.


Studying urban design at London’s Building Centre.

Ongoing professional development:

Attended lectures at the Bartlett School of Architecture:

  • Fabio Gramazio of ETH Zurich and Gramazio Kohler Research
  • Jeremy Till, Head of College and Pro-Vice Chancellor at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London

Transit maps at the Building Centre.

Visited and studied at:

 Other fronts

I had a bit of time left over for fun and adventure. I joined the UK’s Art Fund, which provides free or reduced entry prices at about 240 cultural sites in the UK. I also:

  • Using comp time, I took a three-day weekend in Paris to visit two lovely retired linguistic professors, Prof. Nancy Stenson from the University of Minsseota and Prof. Arthur Spears from CCNY. It was my first time through the Chunnel and my first time to meet Arthur, a friend of Nancy’s from grad school!
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    Professors Arthur Spears, Nancy Stenson, and Shannon Chance in Paris

    Cheered on my partner, Aongus Coughlan in completing his coursework (in health, safety and legal aspects of building construction in the UK) and securing necessary certifications. He found a job after a grueling one-day search—he CVs emailed on Monday, interviewed on-site Tuesday, accepted a job offer on Wednesday!

  • Visited former colleagues and students in their bridge projects class at DIT during my Febraury research trip to Dublin.
  • Kept up my yoga and swimming, and at least 10,000 steps 6 of 7 days per week.
  • Celebrated my birthday with a massage, the play “Beginning” on the West End in London, pints out with my electrical engineering colleagues in Dublin, and a Turkish Bath at Ironmonger Row Baths in Islington.
  • Kept up with the achievements of my former architecture students via Facebook and LinkedIn. I’m thrilled with their achievements—books launched, exams passed, registrations earned, lives well-lived. For instance, I saw both The Shape of Water and Black Panther – the second being a movie to which my former students contributed.
  • We played in the snow on the last day of February, since the “Beast from the East” closed Dublin Airport and prevented a trip over to Ireland for research and speaking.


Learning London–one month in!


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!


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

UCL workshop on “Leading Collaborative Projects.”

Completed researcher development workshops at UCL


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

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.

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.


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.


UCL’s central library building.

Research Internship at DIT

Learning to train new and upcoming researchers, I recently welcomed an intern from the States. Allison “Allie” Wagner has been here at DIT since the start of January, as part of the Masters in Higher Education Administration she is completing at the Central Michigan University. She is working with me for a total of two months.

In her time here, Allie is learning about how we manage programs at DIT and what it is like for students to live and study here. She is also doing a research project with me. We have conducted phenomenological interviews with five female students from the Middle East, and we hope to interview 2-3 more. This adds a “longitudinal” component to my prior research, since I interviewed all five of these women two years ago. Allie and I are following up to see what new expediences these women have had and how things have changed for them.

Overall, we want to produce a journal article with findings to help teachers do a better job in supporting international students — and particularly Muslim women studying engineering in Western contexts.




Constructing our Reality

Last week I got to talk with a group of 60+ architecture students and faculty about design thinking, student development theory, and my Fulbright research… as well as how they connect to what we do in our department at Hampton University.  Moments like these help us reflect on what we are.  I hope they will also encourage my compatriots to explore ideas about what we want to become.

My current research is situated in the constructivist paradigm.  What does that mean?

Well, my research ideas and techniques are founded on the principle that we humans construct the world around us — including the things we see and touch, how we know, and what we know — and that we are able to generate new knowledge.

By discussing such topics, and considering collectively what it means to “design” and to “know” and to “learn,” we can become more international, purposeful, and effective in the things we do each day.

One of our students, Rhama Mohammed, snapped some photos during the talk and loaded them into our Facebook page (I’m posting copies here).  This provides a little glimpse of our department’s reality… surrounded by teachers (unfortunately, we don’t have images of any students in the crowd)… and a highly animated presenter.

Testing Theory in Practice

Yesterday I got to share some of my Fulbright research as part of the weekly lecture series hosted by the Hampton University Department of Architecture.  It was a great way to catch up with the advanced students and introduce myself to the first year group.

The students were highly attentive, very receptive to learning about epistemology and cognitive development theories, and interested in hearing about how I am using  data from student blogs  to test existing theories.

The faculty seemed genuinely interested, too.  At the end, though, there was no time for the faculty to ask questions… the students had so many questions that I finally had to cut things short and send them off to their studio classes.

At the start of the lecture, I had asked the students to pull out their smart phones and look up this blog site.  As a result, they had many questions about what I’ve found in applying the new methods in the second year studio and sustainability classes I teach.

I also passed around the catalog from my photography exhibition, so they could see some of the artwork I created in Ireland.  I also encouraged them to look up pages about my adventures in Greece, Portugal, Belgium (which I still need to post more about), France, and of course, Ireland.

Lecture poster (produced by HU student Samuel Morgan).

Lecture poster (produced by HU student Samuel Morgan).

Ecology Rocks! (Especially in a Flipped Classroom)

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their "Roman Travertine" tile sample.

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their “Roman Travertine” tile sample.

Today we discussed “natural factors” that affect architectural design, such as rock and soil composition. This tied directly to yesterday’s studio class on the HU Point. Today, I was using a technique known as the “flipped classroom” to teach Architectural Ecology. I learned about this technique during my Fulbright fellowship at DIT.

I had assigned my students to read a chapter before class. When they arrived, we started class with ten minutes of journaling.  I asked them to write about the aspect of the chapter they thought was most important to them regarding our site at the Hampton University Point, and to explain why.  I also asked them to identify a topic in the chapter that they didn’t fully understand and explain why/what they didn’t understand about it.

Journaling is my own way of assessing students’ level of understanding of the content.  After ten minutes, I collected journal papers then “flipped the classroom”.  Each student joined the other members of his/her learning group, discussed the issues of confusion they’d each identified, explained to each other what they understood (this is known as “peer teaching”), and researched information on line using their laptops and smart phones.

I circulated around the room, listening, observing,  pointing them in the right direction where necessary,  and making sure they were achieving accurate interpretations.

It became clear that soil and rock composition was the major topic of confusion, so I went ahead and distributed the rock samples I have on hand.  Each group got their own unique rock type to analyze, research, and introduce to the rest of the class. The students did a great job of staying on topic in their discussions, learning, and teaching leach other.

They made sense of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock. They began to understand issues of texture, particle size, expandability, drainage, and bearing capacity while they were talking among themselves with my guidance.

A member of each group presented findings to the class and we discussed overarching issues.

Then I projected the Prezi file on the screen, which I’d formatted using a table of contents so we could zoom directly into whichever specific issues were causing confusion. In this case, we needed to go over the soil classification pyramid a bit, but they had already developed pretty strong understanding through the group discussions and rock presentations.

Amazingly, everyone stayed engaged for 1.25 hours!

I didn’t have to nag students to pay attention.

By the end, they seemed to have very good understanding of all the content of the chapter.  I found I had ten minutes to spare at the end to bush on topics of my choice (ones I thought a student or two might still have misconceptions about).

I am loving this new, more interactive, way of teaching.

It’s called “flipping the classroom” because the content is delivered before class (in this case, through a reading), and class time is used to gauge accuracy and depth of understanding and to build upon that base.  It seems to be a much better us of time than presenting everything with equal emphasis, before assessing if the students already understand it!

Not everyone came into the class having read, unfortunately. This problem should correct itself in the future because each student gets a grade for each journal entry. They have to show basic understanding of the reading in order to earn points. They generally start seeing the importance of this after a day or two.

Constructing a Student-Centered Studio

The incoming second year architecture studio cohort at Hampton University.

The incoming second year architecture studio cohort at Hampton University.

Today I applyed what I learned about problem-based learning (PBL), group learning, and student-centered pedagogies while I was on my Fulbright fellowship at Dublin Institute of Technology. I met the students in my second year architecture studio for the first time. Studio looked unlike Day One of this class (ARC201) ever looked before!

We started outside, with team building activities and a name game. Then we formed the teams (i.e., learning groups) that we’ll use for the first five weeks of this semester.

Next, we conducted initial site analysis in a way that was much more engaging than normal. We held a “scavenger hunt” to identify qualities of our project site (the Hampton University Point) that have to do with water.  The students managed to generate a much more interesting list of factors than I’ve ever been able to get them to achieve before; 63 about water alone!

For Friday, each team (of three students) has two assignments due.

Assignment 1 is to draw a plan of our project site to an architectural scale to fill an 18″x24″ sheet of paper.

This problem prompt is pretty specific (close-ended), but it still leaves a number of variables for students to consider and make choices about.  I hope they’ll get a bit competitive and prove they have pride in their work!  I asked the groups to follow a standard PBL format in starting work on this assignment. I asked them to figure out:

  1. What is this assignment asking?
  2. What will we need to know to do this?
  3. What do we already know about this?
  4. What will we need to learn/find out?
  5. What resources will we need?
  6. Who will do what and when?
  7. How will we check for accuracy before it’s due?

Assignment 1 is more straightforward than you might expect for an architecture studio. However, it will lay groundwork for upcoming activities, and it will help me assess where the students are skills-wise and with regard to collaboration. The second assignment is much more open-ended.

Assignment 2 is to make a beautiful object that reveals the essence of water.

I asked the groups to start by watching one of the YouTube videos listed below, and assume that the astronaut/scientist had made the video in response to this assignment. I asked the students to consider the questions above (which are intended to foster “self-direcetd learning”) and to bring to our next studio meeting a final, beautiful object as well as at least three study models that investigating the “essence of water”.  I’ve got my fingers crossed!

The students were more  active, engaged, and enthusiastic about learning than is typical on Day One of this course and I have high hopes for this new method of teaching.

NASA: Amazing Experiments with Water in Zero Gravity – YouTube

NASA: Amazing Experiments with Water Balloons in  – YouTube