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#CelebratingTogether: Mona Alqassim

#CelebratingTogether: Mona Alqassim

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s Student-Led Teaching Awards are back to recognise outstanding members of learning and support staff. After a challenging year for everyone, we’re celebrating our worthy nominees by shouting about their successes across our digital platforms. 


What is your full name? 

Mona Yahya Alqassim 

What school or service do you work in? 

School of Informatics 


Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role. 

Informatics Forum is where I started my teaching journey. I had a teaching support role as Teaching Assistant, tutor, and marker since 2019. I have recently granted the Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). 


What does it mean to you to have been nominated for a Teaching Award this year? 

It set a strong foundation for me to be able to see with my student’s eye and continuous development as a teacher.   


What’s your favourite part of your role and working with students? 

The interaction with my students in a friendly and approachable manner. 


How have you adapted your approach to teaching and supporting students under the Hybrid Model this year? 

The content of the course that I had teaching support role is closely related to my own research area and interest. Therefore, I used my relevant background knowledge and experience of the course content to inform my teaching during the tutorial. Around 200 Masters students were enrolled in this course, representing an international mix.  I was responsible for groups with 9 members in each. Groups were required to write a case study of a particular system and consider it from a variety of perspectives that influence professional behaviour.

Inspired by Kolb [1], I first identified my students’ learning patterns before starting the process, to take these patterns into account. According to SCQF [2], Masters students come under level 11, where students are expected to demonstrate a critical understanding of the concepts being studied. Moreover, it is anticipated that Masters students will apply their acquired knowledge by using a range of professional skills associated with the course. According to the above criteria, I then planned the session to be student-focused and to give students a deeper insight into the topic studied. To supplement my knowledge of the key methods used in the field, I read selected articles on various Informatics topics to obtain insights into appropriate methods for teaching a group of students and better understand how to lead them to achieve their goals [3][4][5]. Some of these methods are working in pair, peer assessment and open discussion which were practiced in the Informatics field and shown to be effective through promoting participation and critical thinking. Therefore, I planned to use open discussion with the entire tutorial groups as this method help group to explore complexity, sharpens intellectual ability, and endorses collaborative ways of working and collective generation of knowledge [3][4][5][6]. To this end, I designed and planned an ice breaker activity to introduce the group member to each other by asking them about their names, favorite food/sport, and the program they are studying because working effectively as a group requires a mutual understanding within the group [4]. Moreover, I designed the session to be an informal conversation to encourage discussion and exchange of knowledge with a lot of crafted questions (e.g., How do you feel about the course so far? Is there a particular aspect you are looking forward to?) to understand their levels of knowledge in the area/subject, and to identify their main challenges so that I can help them identify their next step toward achieving the goal. While designing the session I was baring in mind my own experience when I had group coursework during my Master study. This influenced me to apply best practices I know to offer them with the most honest advice with empathy.

Supporting the students without giving them direct answers are important to motivate them and increase their confidence [7]. Therefore, to assure the deep learning of the students I asked them questions (e.g., Why should we consider the influence of information communication technology in professionals practice?) to provoke my students to think ”out of the box”, to critically review and to encourage students to distinguish between different techniques used in the field. Throughout the conversation, I better understood each group’s goal and discovered the possible options to decide what direction to follow.

The University of Edinburgh decided to take an online approach for teaching first semester courses, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, as a tutor, it was particularly important to find ways to interact with each student I am teaching. It has placed emphasis on the importance of engaging the students equally by making sure that everyone in the class should be heard, involved, value the contribution of other’s, and accommodate their needs so there is no discrimination going on in the class [8]. As a result, I offered multiple online participation methods, as some introvert students may shy away from speaking on camera. For example, I ensured there were various ways for students to participate, using their preferred channel (e.g., mic (voice), chat (text-based)) so that the online learning process would be more effective and sustainable. I found that in this way students engaged properly with the tutorial, as those who didn’t open their mic, actually did participate by typing into the chat. Morss and Murray emphasise the positive role that diversity can play in teaching [8]. I considered the diversity of and individual differences among my students. For example, I don’t make opening the camera mandatory; I leave this optional to students, as some people are not comfortable using cameras in online teaching. I am also aware that internet connection is an issue in some countries; hence, when the voice sometimes was not clear enough to be heard, I asked the students to ask questions and interact with the tutorial activities by using the chat channel. Moreover, I tried to apply the notion of diversity in the class, which, in turn, brings the student’s attention to the existence of different points of views and perspectives. I provide extra resources to support the learning environment and consider students with different intellectual capabilities. For example, I point the students to the Belbin or Myers-Briggs type of indicators [9] and explain that these theories can be helpful when working in groups, as they allow them to consider their preferences and skills – these typologies help people to define their own strengths. While I have not provided any reflective mechanism to observe whether they were using these ideas and maybe report back at peer level or to me, I would consider doing this in future. Moreover, for future online teaching, I would ask students to update their profiles to display their names and add their preferred pronouns.

The evaluation of teaching and learning is stated as one of the strategic priorities of all University of Edinburgh staff, to enhance the teaching quality [10]. Moreover, empirical studies have revealed the importance of self-reflection for achieving high quality teaching [11]. Therefore, it becomes crucial for me to inform my teaching from my own self-evaluation.  To provide a personal reflection on my teaching I use my teaching diary to summarise what happened in the tutorial, what worked well and what didn’t, as well as my reflection on the students’ learning, evaluating the degree to which it seemed to have taken place.  Based on my notes, I noticed that many students still had problems articulating their arguments when writing their case study report. Therefore, I invited my groups to contact me if they were struggling in writing their argument and I allocated more time to discuss with them the challenges they encountered while writing.


What’s been the biggest challenge in your role this year? 

Lack of body language, and engaging the students with the discussion. However, I thought it might be helpful to encourage the students to participate more, for example, by asking each student individually and calling each by their names. For the next tutorial, I started calling students by their names and asking them individually if they had something to share or to ask. I found this works quite well and students engaged more deeply with the discussions and learning with my tutorial plans. In future teaching, I will make learning all the students’ names and use the knowledge of their general profiles as part of my preparation for courses.


However, I think that my teaching would benefit from also gaining feedback from students [12]. In future teaching, student feedback will help me better understand how to shape the lectures and tutorials, and deliver them in a more enjoyable and engaging way. For example, I may ask students to summarise the tutorial’s outcome orally. This might help me to evaluate their understanding of the lecturer’s explanations and help them to solve the problems and go forward to the next step in their coursework. Another suggestion is to tell the student at the end of the tutorial that I will welcome their feedback related to the tutorial or even on my way of teaching.


What would you say to the student(s) who nominated you, or students who are considering submitting a nomination for a staff member who has had an impact on them? 

Thank you for everyone who nominated me, this has been impossible without your support.  If I can inspire my students to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then I can consider myself as a teacher

To find out more about the Teaching Awards and browse nomination categories, please visit the Students’ Association’s website. 


Mona’s References:

[1] Kolb, D. A. (1984 p.38). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 

[2] SCQF (2012) SCQF level descriptors.  Retrieved from at 6 December 2020 

[3] Akcayir, G., Chen, Z., Epp, C. D., Pandeliev, V., & Munteanu, C. (2020). Two Case Studies of Online Discussion Use in Computer Science Education: Deep vs. Shallow Integration and Recommendations. In Handbook of Research on Online Discussion-Based Teaching Methods (pp. 409-434). IGI Global.‏ 

[4] Roberts, T. S. (2005). Computer-supported collaborative learning in higher
education. In Computer-supported collaborative learning in higher education (pp.
1-18). IGI Global. 

[5] Gall, M. D., & Gillett, M. (1980). The discussion method in classroom teaching. Theory into practice, 19(2), 98-103. 

[6] Preskill, S., Brookfield, S. D. (2012). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. Germany: Wiley. 

[7] Thorpe, K., 2004. Reflective learning journals: From concept to practice. Reflectective Practice, Volume 5, pp. 327-343. 

[8] Morss, K., & Murray, R. (2005). Teaching at university: A guide for postgraduates and researchers. Sage. 



[11] Wood, M., & Su, F. (2017). What makes an excellent lecturer? Academics’ perspectives on the discourse of ‘teaching excellence’in higher education. Teaching in higher education, 22(4), 451-466. 

[12] Coffey, M., & Gibbs, G. (2001). The evaluation of the Student Evaluation of Educational Quality Questionnaire (SEEQ) in UK higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 26(1), 89-93. 

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