Mohamed Ismail, an Egyptian academic, has won a YouTube Creator Award for his easily understandable physics channel on the video-sharing platform.
Ismail’s channel, “Physics for Engineers,” has more than 160,000 subscribers and its videos, in Arabic, have attracted millions of views. The channel started to go viral during the Covid-19 pandemic, attracting European and American students as well as Egyptians and other Arabs.
Ismail, who is an assistant professor of physics at Egypt University of Informatics’ Faculty of Engineering, won a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at Kansas State University in 2015. During his six years of study there, he learned a lot about distance education and was determined to apply that knowledge in Egypt.
Channel Started with Students’ Help
In an interview with Al-Fanar Media, Ismail said he YouTube Creator Award came after seven years of effort to develop the channel, which carries the subtitle “Physics for Everyone.”
“Teaching a subject like physics, which many students find difficult, is a challenge You have to provide scientifically accurate content in an attractive way to encourage students to watch and enjoy a lecture of almost three hours.”Mohamed Ismail, an assistant professor of physics at Egypt University of Informatics’ Faculty of Engineering.
He started it with the help of a group of students he was teaching at Zagazig University, where he had earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The goal was to deliver information to students in the simplest way, not only at his university but at all Egyptian universities.
Ismail took advice from Professor Alaa Atta, who was then Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Zagazig University, about his idea. Ismail’s dream was for the college to have an open learning source similar to those of major universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, in the United States. However, for reasons beyond his control, the project did not go as planned, so he limited it to the YouTube channel.
Millions of Views
Since launching his YouTube channel in 2016, Ismail’s videos have garnered nearly 11 million views.
“In the beginning, I was known only to my students at Zagazig University,” he said. “But as the videos circulated among our students and those at other universities, we slowly began to be more visible.”
Things took off when students shared clips in which Ismail gave advice to students on both science and general issues. “This is part of the role that a university professor must play,” he said.
Covid-19 and Distance Learning
When face-to-face classes were interrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ismail’s channel went viral. “It was among a few channels that provided content on physics for students of engineering, science, computers,” Ismail said. “Some dentistry and STEM schools’ students also found what they needed.”
“During the pandemic, the YouTube channel began to attract viewers not only from Egypt and the Arab world but also Arab students at European and American universities. I also received positive comments from non-Arabic speaking students who managed to understand my content.”Mohamed Ismail
“During the pandemic, the YouTube channel began to attract viewers not only from Egypt and the Arab world but also Arab students at European and American universities,” he added. “I also received positive comments from non-Arabic speaking students who managed to understand my content.”
However, the experience was not without challenges. During the pandemic, Ismail was keen to teach on the Google Classroom platform and to talk to his students through live broadcast applications, such as Zoom. But he noticed that his students were not used to such teaching methods. Some underestimated it, some joined to harass other students or even the content provider, causing confusion.
Ismail was able to overcome such behaviours over time as students began to understand that online learning was the only way to continue their educations.
Based on his experience, Ismail believes there are some rules that all creators of online scientific content must follow. “Teaching a subject like physics, which many students find difficult, is a challenge,” he said. “You have to provide scientifically accurate content in an attractive way to encourage students to watch and enjoy a lecture of almost three hours.”
Football Goals and Lessons from Daily Life
To overcome these challenges, Ismail simulated physics experiments in front of students to see the impact and added interesting videos that underscored the same scientific message—on one occasion using goals in football matches.
To create a positive atmosphere in these lectures, a team of students designed and performed experiments in front of their colleagues. Ismail even asked his students to carry out similar experiments at home, which he hoped would add a sense of excitement to education.
He also created competition among students to present the best physics video, asking the rest of the students to vote for their favourite. “That added an enjoyably competitive element to the teaching,” he said.
Ismail observed a difference between delivering scientific content to specialised scholars and trying to do the same for the general public. He said that teaching the general public required simplifying content to things the average person can understand and linking it to examples from daily life.
However, Ismail stressed that simplification should not violate scientific principles. “Not everything can be simplified for the general public, or it would be useless.”
“I know many students who were struggling academically, but when I listened to them and tried to guide them, it made a big difference in their academic achievement.”Mohamed Ismail
Ismail recognises that not all scientists are able to communicate information well over social media. Those who undertake the task need to combine scientific qualification, explanatory and communication skills, and illustrative means such as videos and animation to help people grasp what the teacher is trying to explain.
He appreciates what distance learning has given to education. “Today, any student can study complete curricula delivered at major universities through their open educational platform,” he said. “If students need an advanced level in a subject and cannot find it in their university, they can get it from another university or educational centre somewhere on the planet.”
Despite his success in distance education, Ismail believes that face-to-face education, with teachers among their students, is the ideal format. “Direct contact is essential to build students’ confidence, but distance education can be used when a certain subject or help is not available in regular education.”
He believes a university professor’s role is to be a teacher, mentor, and parent to students. “The most joyful moments in my life are when I am among them, preparing or delivering a lecture. It seems like being at a loved one’s wedding,” he said. “I enjoy explaining and am even more pleased when I see my students are happily interacting and understand.”
Ismail said a teacher’s communication with his students was probably the most important key to academic achievement. “I have known many students who were struggling academically, but when I listened to them and tried to guide them, it made a big difference in their academic achievement.”
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