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AUS students volunteer to teach orphans basics of programming
Student volunteers from American University of Sharjah (AUS) have taught orphans and underprivileged adults the basics of physics, programming and the applications of microcontrollers in nine online classes. The initiative forms part of the university’s community engagement program.
In collaboration with the Community Services and Outreach office at AUS and the Sharjah Social Empowerment Foundation, 25 students in the IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology) Chapter at AUS taught learners between the ages of 15 and 22. Students learned how to work with a microcontroller, a small computer on a single-circuit chip used in automatically controlled products and devices such as automobile engine control systems, implantable medical devices, remote controls, office machines, appliances, power tools, toys and other embedded systems.
“We wanted to create an impact in society, and being part of this project helped us achieve that. We wanted to give back to the community using the knowledge we gained at university. This experience taught us that going through hard times does not mean we cannot stop and help others,” said IEEE Sight Chapter President Nadeen Tarek.
Student volunteers prepared guidebooks, presentations and other educational materials for the classes. They also translated these materials into Arabic to accommodate the majority of those participating in the classes.
“We created weekly sessions where we taught the learners in small study groups—each group had two to three learners taught by two volunteer students. I was responsible for teaching the small English-speaking group where we covered together the functionalities of microcontrollers such as making an LED light blink, creating sounds from a buzzer, using distance sensors and displaying text on a screen,” said computer science student and volunteer Aamna Ahmed.
One of the main challenges faced by the volunteer students was working with the learners from a distance.
“Since the program was aimed not only at teaching theory, but to also make learners practice connecting real circuits, we had to adopt a number of teaching approaches. We started off by showing the learners how to work out the circuits’ connections on an online simulator (almost similar to the real circuit). None of the student volunteers left the sessions before making sure their group of learners fully understood the process and connected the circuit on the simulator,” said Tarek
She added: “Also, to make sure that the learners had hands-on experience, we delivered hardware kits (microcontrollers) to them. Our team worked on creating videos that explain and show the circuit connections on the actual hardware step by step, so the learners can follow along. We were also available to answer any questions on a WhatsApp group we created to facilitate communication between us and the learners.”
Keeping learners focused is a challenge of online learning, so the student volunteers made sure they created a competitive and exciting teaching environment.
“We created a point system to get learners to compete with one another, which encouraged them to participate, answer questions, and interact in the sessions. They were worried about burning the hardware kits if they use them, and implementing the point system encouraged them to work with their hands. We had leaderboard at the start of each session to show them their total score and that encouraged them to exert more effort to move to higher places. At the end of the program, we rewarded the two most active learners,” said Tarek.
The training proved to be a success. Student volunteers organized a competition at the end of the training, which showed that the learners had a good understanding of microcontrollers and were able to successfully complete the circuits as asked. An anonymous survey also showed a high level of satisfaction with the training with 85 percent of the learners saying they would attend similar trainings in the future.
“This experience was truly insightful and very engaging. I firmly believe that it was beneficial for both sides, the learners and the volunteer students. This experience really enhanced my communication skills, especially when it comes to delivering new information to an audience. This experience sharpened my presentation and teamwork skills remarkably,” said Mohamad Raja, a mechanical engineering student and treasurer of the IEEE Sight Chapter.
Speaking about the project and its impact, Aisha Ali, Community Services Manager at the Community Services and Outreach office, said: “As part of the Community Services and Outreach Office’s mission, we offer AUS students the opportunity to share the knowledge they gained from university. We need to shoulder the responsibility of helping the underprivileged explore new venues. The importance of this project is driven by the change the volunteers made with the learners and with themselves.”