In the U.S., Graduate Engineering Schools normally are full of foreigners (I am referring to people who English is not their first language). If you are doing a Master’s or a PhD in computer science or electrical engineering you may never have an American classmate in any of your program’s required classes. A Chinese lab-mate told me that during his two year masters he never took a class that was taught by an American. All his professors were Chinese except for one Lebanese and one Indian.
Last semester (Spring 09), I took a graduate level course. The course was research oriented. Such classes usually have no exams but students are required to do some sort of a small research project. The project is usually presented twice; first time during the midterm in front of the instructor and the students and the second time during the finals. All the students in this class including the instructor were foreigners. The students’ presentation sucked big time. Generally, because the instructor didn’t explain to the students what he is expecting from them and because he assumed that all students have at least some sort of experience in presentation skills an assumption that was definitely not true.
The education here is based on observe, learn, and share rather than read, learn, and reserve as in the Middle-East. In observe, learn, and share method students learn by watching and observing things. They go to the zoos, visit museums, take trips somewhere, etc. Students need then to share their experience with the other students in class in a form of an oral presentation and a written report. The teacher will evaluate the students based on their presentations and reports. While this method might look like something that is used in precollege only it is actually used in college as well. Undergrad students do lots of oral presentations and written reports. Students are not only evaluated through their success in exams. Evaluating students’ Critical Thinking is something very important in education.
In the Middle-East and some parts of the world the read, learn, and reserve method is unfortunately still being used till this time. Students in both precollege programs and colleges read and learn from books and they keep what they have learned to themselves because they never share it with the other students through presentations. They are only evaluated through exams.
During my 12 years in school and four years in college as far as I can recall I have never stood in front of the class to present a project. Actually, the only times I was asked to stand in front of the students were either to be scolded or punished by the teacher. In general, this is the case for almost all the students in the Middle-East. We have no experience in giving an oral presentation or commenting on a presentation.
As a Jordanian who is hoping to one time go back and be a college professor I believe we need to change our education methodology in both schools and universities. We need to teach students to evaluate, analyze, and share the information they learn. Better we need to prepare them to business-oriented projects or research-oriented fields. Our students learn to receive the information only not to evaluate it or criticize it! It is a shame that a 21 years old fresh college graduate doesn’t know how to write a report or give a presentation in front of people.