CIE Hosts an International Café Without Borders

Lamiaa EidLamiaa Eid, CIE’s 2023 Endowment Fellow, is the organizer of a "Café Without Borders" to bring together a community of graduate students from around the world in monthly meetings to talk about issues of common concern. She said: As graduates, we need to be prepared to live and work in a global environment. We need opportunities to gain relevant skills and knowledge, including the ability to communicate with people in different economies and cultures and a strong awareness of professional contexts at the international level.


The group currently has about 60 registered members from 12 different countries including the USA, UK, Belgium, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Germany, Australia, Russia, Canada, and the Philippines.




Education Reform and Policy. The March 30 session of Café Without Borders featured a panel discussion moderated by Tony Pham that focused on the challenges and opportunities presented by education reform.


Dr. Teklu Bekele, an Associate Professor at American University Cairo, spoke about the African context, specifically the role of the African Union in re-contextualizing global Sustainable Development Goals to address local educational needs. He explored how the African Union interprets and implements these global goals within the unique socio-political and cultural landscape of Africa.


Laura Valvidiezo HeadshotDr. Laura Valdiviezo, a Professor in the College of Education at UMass Amherst, brought insights from her work in Peru, discussing the marginalization of indigenous identities in education and the need for genuinely inclusive and multicultural education policies. She highlighted the challenges of aligning education reforms with the diverse cultural and linguistic realities of indigenous communities


Dr. Cliff Meyers, the interim Director of CIE at UMass Amherst, presented a case study from Laos, examining the impact of external donor demands and national policy decisions on the education sector, particularly in relation to teacher hiring practices and the utilization of volunteer teachers. He described the tensions between international funding requirements and local educational needs and the effects of those tensions on the implementation of education policies.


A variety of other examples arose during the discussion.  One participant shared perspectives from Canada, particularly the historical and ongoing challenges of integrating and respecting indigenous cultures within the education system. She highlighted the importance of local initiatives and dialogues in bridging cultural gaps.


Another participant expanded the discussion by reflecting on the broader global phenomenon of marginalizing indigenous and local knowledge systems in education reforms. She questioned how this trend relates to broader patterns of cultural hegemony and the colonial legacy, emphasizing the need for education reforms that genuinely respect and integrate local knowledge and identities.


A third participant expressed appreciation for the diverse perspectives shared and noted the value of discussing education reform across different cultural and geographical contexts. Her comments underscored the complexity of education reform and the importance of considering a wide range of experiences and challenges.


Each participant brought a unique perspective based on their specific geographical, cultural, and professional contexts, which contributed to a rich and multifaceted discussion on education reform.[4-24]



Introduction to Financial Literacy with Khan Academy.  The February 24th session of Café Without Borders was led by Tuan M. Pham.  He is currently a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Western Kentucky University with a focus on student-centered approaches. As a licensed Financial Representative, Tuan brings a unique perspective to investment, retirement, and financial planning. Beyond academia and finance, he is deeply committed to nonprofit work, focusing on sustainable development, SDGs, and fostering international collaborations, especially between Vietnam and the US.


The discussion focused on learning about financial issues by using the Khan Academy’s “Financial Literacy” course. The video provides an easy way to learn about important financial terms and topics that can empower your financial journey, like budgeting, investing, and tax planning, Topics of particular interest to participants included student loans, consumer credit and career planning. Also discussed was the threat of scams and how to recognize and protect yourself from them. Participants were reminded that tax laws and financial regulations vary depending on the country of residence, so getting local advice is advisable. [3-24]

A Trauma-Sensitive Approach to Education in Crisis and Conflict Settings.  The December 2nd session of Café Without Borders featured Professor Ian Barron from the College of Education at UMass Amherst as the presenter.  Dr. Barron’s research focusses on identification of the most effective methods of child trauma education, prevention, and recovery. His research seeks to develop a unique cross-cultural conceptualization of intergenerational and developmental trauma in children.


The presentation focused on the importance of using a trauma lens in education, frameworks for trauma exposure and resultant symptoms, the neurobiology of traumatic memory, the impact of trauma on learning, multi-tiered systems of support, and the development of sustainable and culturally sensitive programs and research.


The session, moderated by Nangyalai Attal, a Ph.D. candidate at UMass Amherst, explored the critical aspects of trauma-sensitive education in a variety of contexts.


At the suggestion of one of the participants an innovation tried for this session was to add a WhatsApp group for those without access to a strong internet connection who preferred a call option.  The result was that nearly 30 people attended using the auditory option, adding substantially to the 14 members who participated using Zoom. [12-23]



The Role of AI in Practice-Based Education Reform Worldwide: A Practicum Vision. The October 21st session of Café Without Borders featured a roundtable discussion with five presenters and a moderator.  The panel was organized with the help of Mariam Makramalla. More than 30 participants from various countries, contributed valuable insights to initiate the development of a paper intended for publication.


The takeaways from the discussion were diverse, ranging from the endorsement of AI by influential figures to the examination of education and assessment through the transformative lens of artificial intelligence and information and communication technology (ICT). The session discussed the challenges faced by teachers in adopting AI reform, contrasting concerns about market-driven education with the potential benefits of personalized learning and professional development. The discourse also focused on the critical skills teachers will need for adapting instructional design.


The session also provided a wealth of resources, including websites for teachers transitioning to instructional design, AI-powered instructional design initiatives, and platforms promoting student-centered constructionist learning environments. Notable mentions included the ZNotes Ecosystem and Real-Time Emotion Detection through the EZ-MMLA website. [11-23]


The members of the round table included:


Mairam MakramallaThe Synergy of AI in Educational Reforms and Assessment. Mariam Makramalla – PhD student at Cambridge University. As a Cambridge Partnership consultant, she has been engaged in the post-reform activity at the Ministry of Education in Qatar and is currently consulting the Ministry of Education in the UAE on matters of educational reform. As a researcher, she has been heavily engaged with the post-curricular reform educational context of Egypt, trying to unpack ways in which practitioners relate to the mindset shift that is underpinning a given curricular reform setup.   




Lamiaa EidExploring AI's Role in Education Reforms: Addressing Teacher Burnout and Hidden Assumptions. Lamiaa Eid – PhD student at UMass Amherst. Lamiaa's mission is deeply rooted in her personal encounters with oppressive systems and social inequalities, which have fueled her commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive educational landscape. She actively engages in capacity-building projects as a researcher, with a central focus on empowering teachers as change-makers and shifting schools into examples of equity and anti-oppression.




Noha NagyAI-Powered Instructional Design for Modern Education ReformNoha Nagy – MA student at American University Cairo. At the heart of Noha's career lies a fervent dedication to instructional design—a passion that aligns with the global transition of educators from traditional teaching to innovative instructional methods. Noha is the visionary founder of Tutorlia, a pioneering platform dedicated to enhancing teacher training.




Zubair JunjuniaAI's Social Impact and the Evolution of Digital Learning Platforms. Zubair Junjunia – MA University College London. Zubair Junjunia is an award-winning social entrepreneur dedicated to ensuring fair and equal access to education globally. Zubair founded ZNotes at the age of 16 in Jeddah, an online learning platform that ensures all students have a level playing field when tackling high-stakes, school exams. He currently serves as the UK Youth Leader for the Global Partnership for Education and as a board advisor at the Digitial Education Futures Initiative, Cambridge University.




Lamiaa NailTransforming Learning Environments: AI and Makerspaces in Education ReformLamiaa Nail – MA American University Cairo. Lamiaa holds the position of Education Manager at San3a Tech, the parent company of Fab Lab Egypt, where she leads the design and development of learning experiences and educational programs for makerspaces, such as Maker DiplomaGirls Make, and Maker Classroom.




Ahmad ElZorkaniModeratorAhmad ElZorkani – MA American University in Cairo. Ahmad ElZorkani is a Manager for Instructional Video Production & Multimedia Services – Digital Education, at the Center for Learning & Teaching at The American University in Cairo. He is a member of the digital education team at AUC. Ahmad also acted as a co-designer of a MOOC about STEAM education in Arabic that is hosted on Edraak.





Unlocking the Potential of AI and ChatGPT. Engineer Mohamed Saieed, the speaker at the September 9th session of Café Without Borders, has worked as an entrepreneur and as an AI consultant and digital transformation global expert. He has been a lecturer at Tokyo University and Hong Kong University. Mohamed is also a renowned motivational speaker, inspiring audiences with his insights and wisdom. Mr. Saeed presented by Zoom from Morocco and also put the group in contact with other Moroccan scholars.  The session with organized by Amira Azzam and Lamiaa Eid, both from Egypt.


The meeting started with a detailed presentation on the rapidly evolving world of AI, shedding light on its multifaceted presence in our lives. From self-driving vehicles to virtual assistants, AI has revolutionized countless industries, setting the stage for even more remarkable breakthroughs. With the emergence of Chatbots, attendees were treated to a glimpse of the exciting developments that are reshaping businesses and the landscape.


The speaker, Mohamed Saeed, acknowledged the breakneck pace of AI adoption, citing one company's astonishing $2.7 billion valuation, nearly rivaling Tesla. He posed a compelling question: how can we effectively manage this rapid acceleration of AI?


Sai Gattupalli, originally from India and a graduate student at UMass Amherst, introduced the concept of "Techno-solutionism," cautioning against the belief that technology can solve all problems without considering the long-term consequences and potential damages. His comments emphasized the need for a ChatGPT usage policy, offering tangible examples of critically analyzing ChatGPT responses while substantiating arguments with scientific references.


Hassan Aslami, a CIE/UMass graduate from Afghanistan, emphasized the need for schools and academic institutions to reconsider their approaches to student assessment in the context of AI. He advocated for discussions on practical usage and policies to protect academia and student assessments.




Lamiaa Eid, an Egyptian graduate student at UMass Amherst, highlighted the inherent conflict of interest between businesses and educators in the AI era. She noted the business sector's emphasis on market control and profits, contrasting that with educators' concerns about responsible tool usage to preserve students' mental health and skills. She also addressed the societal inequalities and educational disparities that are exacerbated by AI tools, sparking a conversation on control measures.


In conclusion, the "Unlocking the Potential of AI and ChatGPT" meeting provided a stimulating exploration of AI's capabilities and the pivotal role of ChatGPT in shaping our future. The discussions underscored the urgency of responsible AI usage, ethical considerations, and the importance of reevaluating our approaches to education and assessment in an AI-powered world. As AI continues to redefine our society, these insights serve as both a reminder of our responsibilities and a source of inspiration for harnessing AI's potential for the greater good. [9-23]



Exploring the Impact of Artificial Intelligence in the Field. Professor Emeritus Andrew Barto, a renowned researcher and expert in computer science and artificial intelligence, shared his extensive knowledge during the June 2023 session of Café Without Borders. Dr Barto was previously the Co-Director of the Autonomous Learning Lab at UMass Amherst where his research focused on the intersection of reinforcement learning and neuroscience, focusing on unraveling reward signals in the brain and developing biologically inspired approaches for artificial neural network learning.


During the session Dr. Barto emphasized the crucial importance of safety measures in AI. His lab has been at the forefront of pioneering reinforcement learning techniques, which play a vital role in preventing AI applications from engaging in harmful actions. By incorporating elements from neuroscience and psychology and emphasizing long-term goals, the lab's research has revolutionized the reward system in AI models.


One of the highlights of the meeting was the discussion surrounding deep language models, exemplified by the widely acclaimed GPT system. Professor Barto marveled at the transformative capabilities of these models, harnessing the power of transformers to grasp contextual information efficiently. These language models can potentially revolutionize numerous domains, including assisting in research output and facilitating data analysis.


Participants were concerned about the existential threats posed by AI. Some said that the ability to generate fake content and manipulate public opinion through social media algorithms has already had detrimental effects on government and politics. The long-term implications of generative AI, such as GPT, were also raised with ethical considerations surrounding their use taking center stage.


During the Q&A part of the session participants to asked thought-provoking questions and engaged in meaningful discussion. Lamiaa Eid, the moderator, posed a question about the potential impact of AI on employment rates. Professor Barto acknowledged that AI would inevitably reshape the job market, as had been observed in previous industrial revolutions. While new job opportunities may arise, there is also a risk of certain occupations becoming obsolete. The professor stressed that employment is just one facet of the many challenges presented by AI.


Rami Wasfi, a participant from Egypt, expressed concerns about the ethical use of AI and the potential for ethical AI systems to detect and apprehend unethical AI entities. Dr. Barto acknowledged the ongoing efforts in this domain, highlighting the use of reinforcement learning to combat false or harmful behavior. Detecting fake content and enhancing educational practice were mentioned as areas where AI could make a positive contribution.


Ciera DeSilva, joining from Canada, raised the need to redesign educational practices to promote critical thinking, as excessive reliance on AI could impede students' growth. She proposed limitations on device usage during certain portions of class time. Professor Barto concurred, emphasizing the significance of practice and interaction in developing critical skills.



Alia Attia, also participating from Egypt, expressed concerns about the ethical use of AI tools and the potential issuance of certificates earned through AI-generated efforts. Dr. Barto acknowledged the importance of balancing the use of AI tools and fostering critical thinking skills, ensuring students actively engage in learning.



The presentation and discussion provided invaluable insights into the impact of AI on various aspects of society. From addressing safety concerns in AI development to exploring the potential of deep language models, the meeting underscored the need for responsible and ethical deployment of AI technologies. As AI continues to evolve, it is crucial to approach its integration thoughtfully and to proactively address emerging challenges to ensure constructive and non-harmful use of AI.


Finally, a heartfelt thanks was extended to Professor Barto for graciously accepting the invitation to be the presenter on this topic. [6-23]



Lamiaa EidThe inaugural meeting took place in May 2023 via Zoom with about 15 participants. The meeting was moderated by the organizer, Lamiaa Eid. In the first meeting participants had the opportunity to learn about each other's backgrounds and interests, and collectively discussed how to effectively organize future gatherings. Lamiaa conducted a poll within the group to determine the first theme for discussion.


During the meeting they made a series of organizing decisions:


Preference Poll:  They decided to initiate a Preference Poll to determine the most suitable day and time that works best for the majority.  Additionally each participant was asked to provide a brief bio to introduce themselves.

Monthly Google Doc: To streamline the attendance process and accommodate different time zones, they agreed to utilize a shared Google Doc. Each month, interested participants can add their names to indicate their intent to attend. This will help effectively manage scheduling.


Session Recording and Sharing: Participants recognized the value of capturing their discussions for future reference. They decided to explore ways to record the sessions to ensure that members who miss a meeting can still benefit from the content.


Guest Speakers: They decided to enrich the meetings by inviting guest speakers who are experts in the topic to be discussed. Speakers can provide the Cafe with unique insights and diverse perspectives on that meeting’s topic.


The theme for the next meeting will be: "AI Challenges and Opportunities and Their Impact in the Field." This controversial topic of current concern will allow participants to explore the intricacies of artificial intelligence and its implications in various contexts.


By implementing these initiatives, the group hopes to foster a collaborative and engaging environment within the community, where knowledge sharing and networking thrive. [5-23]


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