The Engineer's Impact - Shaimaa Ali

Your inside look at faculty’s research and its effect on society

In this new Q&A series, we’ll feature Western Engineering faculty members to gain a succinct overview of their research, understand its impact on society, and discover intriguing little-known facts.

Meet Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Shaimaa Ali. 

ShaimaaCan you describe your research?

As a teaching scholar, I work on research related to Software Engineering pedagogy. I am currently working on two projects described below: 

Designing undergraduate courses with comprehensive coverage of a given topic is not feasible or efficient in a rapidly changing and expanding field like software engineering. Overly crowded courses are more likely to leave students exhausted and overwhelmed, hindering their grasp of the topics and compromising their confidence in their abilities. Selecting a limited number of concepts is inevitable to create a feasible course plan with a limited timeline. However, not all concepts are equally important to achieve mastery over a particular topic and some concepts can be (sometimes more efficiently) learned as a self-study. So, carefully selecting the topics to be covered in a course is essential to creating quality educational experiences. Researchers discovered that there is a set of concepts that share specific features that make them crucial (therefore threshold) to the mastery of the field and these are the concepts that need to be focused on for efficient course design. In this project, we try to identify the TC from the students' perspective. In addition to that, we explore the possibility of using AI to assist in the process.

As the software development field keeps expanding rapidly, the need for qualified programmers also grows, widening the gap between available jobs and competent programmers. While most software engineering education methodologies rely heavily on students' natural abilities, there is significant evidence of particular cognitive functions involved in program comprehension and that cognitive skills can be enhanced through training. This research project aims to examine the possibility of improving the ability of struggling students to understand computer programs by enhancing related cognitive functions.

How does your research impact society in everyday life?

Software systems have become an essential part of our lives. Enhancing the teaching and learning process would prepare software engineers to create quality systems that improve the quality of our lives even more.

What’s an interesting, little-known fact related to your research?

The human brain is the most valuable tool in software engineering and we need to invest in our brains as much as (if not more than) we invest in anything else, whether AI or not.