Doug: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Rusul. You’re another person that I’ve never met in person so I’ll skip my normal first question. We met on Twitter, right?
Rusul: Indeed we did. You started following me through a list of Ontario Educators.
Doug: OK, confession time here. I love your writing but I suspect that I miss a great deal of it since you publish in many places other than your blog. Where can we find the complete works of Rusul?
Rusul: My own website: www.rusulalrubail.com Actually, I will be launching a new website soon, hopefully with the same address, and I am really looking forward to it! I try to cross post everything on my personal website, but often forget or don’t have the time. I also write on Medium.com, Edutopia, Teaching Tolerance, PBSNewshour, and Education Week.
Doug: One of my favourite posts appeared over the summer. “Students are not allowed in here.” http://rusulalrubail.com/2015/08/10/students-are-not-allowed-in-here-ilooklikeaprofessor/ It inspired me to write a reply about assumptions in education. Other than a youngish professor misidentified in the staffroom, can you give some more examples of assumptions you’ve encountered in education?
Rusul: Thank you so much, and I equally appreciated your assumptions post, because many of us encounter assumptions. That post highlighted assumptions about my age, and also about my wearing a hijab. When I taught at Seneca, there were many Muslim female students who wore the hijab, but hardly ever a professor. Some of the assumptions I’ve encountered: teachers were surprised I don’t have an accent when I spoke, because I look young some teachers feel that I don’t have enough experience, or that I don’t have enough knowledge base on the content being delivered.
Doug: Some assumptions can be so hurtful. It would be nice for students to have a do-over. Is this a realistic option?
Rusul: I think everyone deserves to be treated fairly with respect. Some of the assumptions that hurt students are built around biases that many of us have innately grown used to, and are systematically developed. It’s important that we recognize our own biases, so that students can be provided with the best solutions and opportunities in education. On a practical level, this can be a realistic option, if the teacher knows her students. Knowing and building a strong connection with your students creates excellent opportunities for student achievement.
Doug: In among the other things that you do, you’re an edcamp organizer! Can you tell us a bit about edcamptoronto? I see that it has been postponed. Can you share details about its focus and when the rescheduled date will be?
Rusul: EdCampToronto is an unconference that is organized by educators who believe in the power of connection and collaboration. Sessions are proposed the day of the event and attendees decide on the schedule by voting for their favourite session. It’s really a day of sharing, learning and connecting with other educators who believe in creating positive change and advancing thought in education. This year our theme is Education for Social Impact. This theme focuses on how education can drive change on a social level through many different elements and pathways: policy, pedagogy, technology, strategy. And most importantly, through the people: teachers, students, and parents. The new date for EdcampToronto will be held at Design Cofounders’ office at 96 Spadina Ave on Saturday November 28. We’d love to see you there!
Doug: Your teaching experience comes from Seneca College. Can you share the similarities and differences between K-12 and college teaching from your perspective?
Rusul: There are so many similarities and differences so I’ll try to be brief! One of the big differences between K-12 & college teaching is agency both student and teacher’s. K-12 we’re teaching children/adolescents, whereas college you’re teaching mainly adults. I say mainly, because I’ve had 17 year old college students in some of my classes. So by agency, the adults are there because they chose to be there on some level, whereas K-12 students have to be there. This changes classroom management, dynamics, and a lot of other teaching strategies. Another difference is the hours spent in a college classroom is by far less than classroom hours spent in a K-12 classroom. So college instructors have a very short time to try and build a connection with their students, as most of the time is usually spent on marking and planning.
One big similarity is that all teachers build a relationship with students to get to know them, their backgrounds, and interests. And that motivation and engagement is something by which both college instructors and K-12 teachers are impacted.
Doug: As a college instructor, your approach to social media is different. I’ve seen you engage with educators world-wide and not just in the higher education realm. Is this on purpose?
Rusul: It’s not “strategic” per se. I just really enjoy learning from all educators, because I believe that we all offer an essential and unique piece to the puzzle of education, teaching and learning.
Doug: Your Twitter profile indicates that you are #educolor driven. Can you share some thoughts on that?
Rusul: #EduColor is a movement that focuses on issues of race & ethnicity in education. The founding member is Jose Vilson @theJLV. I was invited to be a member last January and ever since then digital social activism in education is one of the main focuses on social media (Twitter) for me.
Doug: Most of the readers of this blog are K-12 educators. What does this mean for them?
Rusul: I am actually heading the Canada chapter of #EduColor that will be announced shortly, and many of our members are K-12 teachers. Issues of race and ethnicity impact most of our students and teachers of colour, and in order for solutions happen, we need to have the conversation. Equity in education is something that we all strive for on a daily basis, and that’s what #EduColor’s main mission is all about.
Doug: Where and how will it be announced? Can I help get the word out to others?
Rusul: #EduColor Canada will most likely be announced after our first meeting, which will be happening November 28 during EdCampToronto! It would be great to have your support in helping spread the word to Canadian educators. We’ll be tweeting and blogging about it to share our mission with educators in and outside of Canada.
Doug: Will it be #educolour since it’s a Canadian chapter?
Rusul: The hashtag will still be #EduColor for now.
Doug: Finally, I need to ask about The Writing Project. http://thewritingproject.com/ The website indicates that it is used by a number of students and the list is of higher education institutions. Can you tell us about The Writing Project?
Rusul: The Writing Project is an essay writing platform for students. We initially created it as a workbook. Through a great deal of student and teacher feedback, we sought to turn this workbook into a digital app for students to use to help them write their essays. We’ve built TWP as a solution to a problem that we’ve encountered over the years with student writing: TWP helps by bridging the gap between writing a structurally coherent essay, while still demonstrating critical thinking, analysis and synthesis.
Doug: How successful has this project been? Where do you see it going?
Rusul: It has taken some time to design, develop and build. Our summer soft launch gave us lots of opportunities for product testing and iteration with students and teachers, presenting at several schools in Toronto as well as the Ontario TESL conferences, and we’re looking forward to a formal and widespread launch this winter. I see TWP to be a successful platform that students use to help them with writing. My aim is to make writing seamless, approachable and most importantly, enjoyable for students.
Doug: Is there an opportunity here for K-12? Your partners on the website are all post-secondary.
Rusul: Most definitely! Many of our classrooms that tested TWP were grades 10-12. Literary essays, research papers, and argumentative writing, whether by essays or paragraphs, are still being taught and assigned in 9-12, and many of those students will benefit to have a platform that guides them through the steps to write meaningful and relevant work.
Doug: This sounds like an interesting piece of software that OSAPAC may be interested in reviewing.
Doug: Since your job ended at Seneca, you’re now an educator on the move. Can you share your plans?
Rusul: Thanks for asking! I am focusing a lot of my time on writing at the moment. I see it to be a powerful outlet that impacts a lot of educators, and I feel blessed at continuing with those opportunities. Also, a lot of my focus will go towards building out #EduColor Canada chapter this year, and of course The Writing Project’s launch.
Doug: Thank you so much for the interview and all the best with career and all that you’re currently juggling.
Rusul is a good follow on Twitter. She’s online at: @RusulAlrubail. Follow her blog at http://rusulalrubail.com/. She promises that all of her excellent writing will appear there.
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to do a number of interviews and post them to this blog. You can check them all at the Interviews link available by clicking the “hamburger” button at the top of the screen.