Professor Muhyieddin Al-Tarawneh and His Interactive Approach to Teaching
MSD is a great program. We have students who come with zero background and I tell them it’s possible after completing this 12 to 18-month program to find a good job as a software developer.
When they arrive, many MSD students don’t know how computers work and they have no idea about writing code. It’s amazing that they have no knowledge of computers and we start teaching from scratch. I teach them the fundamentals at the beginning of the MSD program and when I meet with them after a year when they are 2/3 finished, they are completely different people. They are talking about coding, databases, and complex material.
~ Professor Muhyieddin Al-Tarawneh
Meet Professor Muhyieddin Al-Tarawneh Ph.D., who received his doctorate in Computer Science from the University of Jordan. Professor Dean, as he likes to be called, came to MIU’s MS in Computer Science program because he loved the inclusion of meditation in the program. He was impressed by the benefits for both students and faculty, such as helping the mind settle down and increasing the ability to focus and learn. He has a very interactive approach to teaching because his goal is to make sure every student in his class feels comfortable asking questions, and engaging in discussions, so they fully understand the subject.
Interview by Christine Albers
CA: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Professor Dean. Let’s start from the beginning. How did you learn about MIU?
Professor Dean: I was at the University of Jordan working on my Ph.D. Thesis and planning to go to Saudi Arabia, but my plans changed when I chatted with a friend who graduated from the MS in Computer Science program (ComPro). He told me about MIU’s computer science programs and their serious approach to meditation, called Transcendental Meditation. I was always obsessed with the idea of meditation because I had problems focusing and a scattered mind, thinking too many things at one time, and I thought meditation might help settle my mind. When I heard about MIU it was like hitting two birds with one stone because I could get a job at MIU and learn TM. So, I came here and I loved it as soon as I arrived.
CA: Did you get the benefits you hoped for?
Professor Dean: I practice TM daily because I receive so many benefits, and I share my benefits with my students because they like actual outcomes. I tell them about my previous sleeping problems due to always thinking, thinking. Sleeping was a hard task because I couldn’t stop my mind. But since I learned TM, I started sleeping.
Meditation also helps me absorb information while reading. I tell my students to try reading after meditation. Sometimes you’re reading a piece of paper without focusing, and not putting it together. With TM you are reading and processing at the same time.
Recently I finished my Ph.D. Research where I had to read multiple papers to get the idea and put it into one or two paragraphs. It requires extreme focus. In the past, I had to read each page once or twice, but it’s like magic when I meditate, because I can read and go through it in one shot and get the concept. I’m the same person. Nothing changed in me. The only change is that I started meditating.
CA: It’s wonderful that you received such benefits from TM. How do your students like their TM?
Professor Dean: Most of my students like TM, and many love it. But some students come up to me and say, “Professor I don’t feel those benefits. I don’t feel anything.” I ask them, “Are you practicing TM daily? Are you giving it a shot? If you’re not serious about it, you won’t see the benefits.”
I tell them to go and practice it twice a day for one month. If they trust the process of meditating twice daily, they will see the outcome. Practice every day for a month and then we will have a talk. After a month, the student comes back and says he notices the benefits and feels more of an urge to practice meditation.
I explain to my students that if they think of a computer, the memory is inside the computer, and when it is stored on the hard disk it can be scattered. So, we introduce a process of defragging the memory, where the computer starts organizing the memory parts and puts them next to each other, so when you search for data it’s not all over the place.
Meditation is like defragging the mind, settling down, letting all the colliding thoughts settle down, and allowing the mind to become more orderly. Stop, give your mind a break, and let it recognize itself. We need some time to stop adding thoughts. When we calm down, we let go of those thoughts that accumulate in the mind.
CA: What’s your experience of teaching MSD students?
Professor Dean: This is my 10th year of teaching and my third year of teaching at MIU. I originally came to MIU to teach in the ComPro Department. Teaching ComPro requires half the work of teaching MSD because ComPro students already know the basics and they can start at a higher level. The MSD students have no background and this is also a Master’s level, so we have to start from zero.
With MSD, I am teaching the Standard Track foundational courses, which is the part I love. They are learning how a computer works and how to communicate with it before we explain the main subject. From my point of view, a lot of professors can succeed in teaching people who are already experienced, but you have to be a professional educator to teach people with no background – to teach the foundations of knowledge.
One of the courses that I love is called “Problem-solving,” where they are learning how to think like a developer. This course is the phase where they completely start thinking in a different way. They start breaking down real-life systems to understand the variables, functioning algorithms, and all other aspects to make it a fully functional program.
CA: What is your philosophy of teaching?
Professor Dean: My philosophy of teaching, in general, is that students feel more comfortable if they can interact with each other and with their professors. I encourage my students to ask questions so I can explain. My lectures are not a one-way delivery. Some people just stand at the front of the room and lecture until the end of the class. I tell my students to raise their hands and ask anything as long as it’s relative. They shouldn’t be shy to ask simple questions and can ask anything about computers, such as network, security, operating systems, and coding. As a result, in my class, you will see every student raise their hand.
CA: What inspired you to teach in this interactive way?
Professor Dean: When I was a student, I was curious, and had many questions. Most of my questions were simple. I would ask my professor, why am I taking this course? Then I realized that most professors were offended because they thought I was questioning the course, but I just wanted to learn more. Some students reach a level of understanding that indicates there is a gap in their knowledge, and if the professor doesn’t help him fill the gap, the students won’t continue learning at all.
I make it a point to answer all their questions and make sure that every student understands. I tell them I’m pretty competent, and I should be able to answer your questions, but if I don’t know the answer, I will simply look it up. When we get to a level where students are discussing and asking questions, that is when I feel I have reached the goal of education, the process of imparting knowledge to a group of individuals.
CA: What do you find is the most surprising aspect of software development for new students?
Professor Dean: Writing code is much more involved than just following a few steps, it requires a lot of critical and logical thinking. Many students are shocked when they realize the deep level of engineering required for software development. It’s not just writing instructions. The world nowadays has proven that this is one of the highest levels of engineering. Simple codes make decisions on resources that cost billions, and if a software developer writes something that works but is an inefficient code, it can cost a company millions of dollars.
CA: What advice do you have for students who want to take this program and become successful software developers?
Professor Dean: I would tell them that the IT field is challenging because our domain keeps evolving. My father is a professor in Accounting, but Accounting doesn’t evolve very frequently as a domain. Our domain keeps evolving and you have to be prepared for non-stop learning. This is not a program where you graduate and get a job and you’re done. You have to keep on learning and get used to reading about the latest applications and developments.
Our Dean, Dr. Keith Levi, is still teaching coding. He is continuously learning because he likes what he’s doing. He’s interested and he wants to learn, regardless of age. You have to like problem-solving because with coding you are continuously breaking down problems and solving them. Some people don’t like solving problems. If you don’t embrace problem-solving and continuous learning, you may have difficulty with coding. You have to love coding, see the beauty in it, and you will succeed.
CA: Do you feel that the MSD program is preparing students to become competent software developers?
Professor Dean: MSD is a great program. We have students who come with zero background and I tell them it’s possible after completing this 12 to 18-month program to find a good job as a software developer.
When they arrive, many MSD students don’t know how computers work and they have no idea about writing code. It’s amazing that they have no knowledge of computers and we start teaching from scratch. I teach them the fundamentals at the beginning of the MSD program and when I meet with them after a year when they are 2/3 finished, they are completely different people. They are talking about coding, databases, and complex material.”