Teaching Beyond the College

Dr. Ali Hadi, Associate Professor and Program Director of Computer and Digital Forensics in the Information Technology and Sciences (ITS) Division, is a dedicated teacher and mentor to his Champlain students. But his commitment to teaching does not stop at the edge of campus. Since 2006, Ali has given his free time to creating free content to help people learn new computing technologies, from Linux to cutting-edge cybersecurity techniques. In the summer of 2020, Ali created instructional videos in both English and Arabic for cybersecurity students and professionals around the world. In addition to that, he is also a great supporter of the CLT! 

Ali shared some of his wisdom with the CLT’s Caroline Toy, which we’ve co-edited here.

On Teaching Beyond the College

Cybersecurity is a quickly-changing field and staying abreast of current high-demand skills can be challenging. At Champlain, Ali is able to teach various high-level specialized courses for seniors, but he cannot share all of his expertise every semester. And many cybersecurity professionals do not have quick access to this kind of training.

Ali is a very active Twitter user, and he receives requests from around the world to share his work on “offensive security.” Offensive security uses different techniques and methods to attack systems, applications, and networks to find weaknesses and gaps in order to fix them. It’s better to find the weaknesses yourself than have a threat actor find and exploit them. He decided to create a video series on YouTube covering much of what his course would cover — and he provided it in both English and Arabic! This was his summer project in 2021. In summer 2022, he created another series on data representation for digital forensics, which he describes as a foundational topic, but one for which many people don’t have the full context.

Ali made his videos specifically for his YouTube channel (which now has nearly 3,500 subscribers), rather than repurposing COVID-era recorded classes or recap videos. Doing the project this way means he has videos that can stand on their own and help his students. With such complex topics, students often need to hear a lecture or watch a video more than once to review. And if a particular course isn’t offered on-campus at the right time for some students, they can access all the content independently. To serve all his audiences, Ali also includes supplemental material like slide notes and labs. You can find links to the videos and materials at the bottom of this post.

Ali spoke eloquently about generosity, serving his field, and the impact of his labor. He described making these video series as addictive and time-consuming–“I don’t sleep much”–but well worth it. Making his knowledge freely available to cybersecurity professionals, Champlain students, and teachers and students at other institutions is his goal–not payment. Ali noted, quoting a saying of the iconic early Muslim leader Ali ibn Abi Talib, that “the charity of knowledge is spreading it.” What better example than these projects?

Advice for Fellow Faculty

If you’re interested in doing a project like Ali’s, or even just making some lecture videos for your classes at Champlain, here is his advice:

  • Do not worry about trying to be perfect. Be human! 
  • Record your videos while you are preparing for class–you’ll do two things at once.
  • If you make a mistake in one video, just do a follow-up. You’ll be telling your audience “I’m like you — we make mistakes.”
  • Don’t focus on editing and scripting. This is not a Hollywood production environment — these are educational materials!

Making videos is an advantage to you because it helps you remember your material and how you like to teach it semester-to-semester and year-to-year.

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