FACULTY MATTERS, DECEMBER 2005
The following interview with Sabri Bebawi was conducted by Kathleen Hanson for Faculty Matters.
Sabri pioneered online education at San Jose City College, making it possible for ESL students to have the opportunity to learn online from an instructor who shares many commonalities with them. His personal experience and insights are offered in the interview below.
When you were hired in 1999, the college had no online courses. You and Melanie Levinson were the pioneers. What do you think has accounted for the significant increase in the number of sections taught online today?
When I was hired, Dr. Melanie Levinson was working on developing and implementing online programs for the English Department. I started the ESL online program in 2000. Melanie and I were the first to offer this opportunity to our students. Our belief in the opportunities online education offers our students, and our dedication has helped enhance the college's online program. It now includes most disciplines.
This summer you completed a PhD program in Distance Education. What was your motivation in getting a doctorate?
There is always a room for learning and for improving. While I have always loved knowledge just for knowledge, I wanted to learn more about the theory and practice of this dynamic new medium.
Can you identify two or three important things you learned from the program and relate how they will or have already enhanced your teaching assignment?
Academic learning often focuses on theory; however, because of the content of my PhD program, there was a lot of practice and application. Certainly, I have acquired knowledge regarding the nature of online instruction in general, and this helps me in developing curricula for effective online delivery. Since the focus of my research was on retention and attrition, I have acquired some knowledge of the dynamics of online learning and its processes that have provided me with some skills in improving retention as well as the success rate in my classes.
On a more personal level, this is your third career after law and journalism. Why did you give up law and then journalism to teach ESL?
I practiced law only with my father in Egypt. Although I received some training in a law firm in Los Angeles, I decided not to pursue this career and did not sit for the Bar. One just knows what one can and cannot do; I knew that law was not for me. Journalism, on the other hand, has always been my passion; I have never given it up as I still write occasionally, and will teach Journalism at City College.
Having lived and worked in many countries, I have acquired some skills in languages and cultures. Teaching was just natural for me and I fell in love with it.
Do you see any connection among the three careers?
This is a very interesting question. In fact, I have always felt that these three careers were connected. The underlying principles in all three careers are to assist, to inform, and to educate. Teaching combines the three. Through teaching, I am still a lawyer protecting my students' interests; I am still a journalist informing and educating my students.
What do you enjoy most about teaching ESL at SJCC?
I enjoy teaching ESL immensely. There is nothing better in one's life than to be able to touch others' lives positively. I am still in contact with many of my previous students who are now MDs, lawyers, teachers, and pharmacists.
In what ways has your experience as a non-native speaker of English been a plus or a minus in your teaching of ESL?
Being a non-native speaker of English has been positive attribute in my teaching. Being a non-native speaker has given me several advantages. I believe I have an enhanced understanding of the students' needs and an ability to predict language problems. In turn, I can provide a much-needed skill in designing instructional material that targets these language problems. Understanding and, as sometimes is the case, sharing students' linguistic and cultural backgrounds are two factors that contribute to a positive learning environment. Furthermore, being a nonnative English-speaking teacher works as a model of successful language learning as I can empathize with my students' experiences as second language learners.