Yesterday I was speaking with one of my colleagues, a new aspiring lecturer and we moved on to the topic of online courses. My colleague noted that “one cannot truly connect with students online.” I definitely beg to differ and I asked my colleague “have you attended a class with a lecturer in flesh where that lecture failed to connect with students?” He replied, “yes!” We both agreed that the most essential ingredient to connect is the lecturer herself or himself. Delivered with the right tools, an online learning experience can be as effective or even more effective that a traditional lecture.

Last year I offered a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that focuses on developing success habits and Emotional Intelligence amongst engineering students studying at Taylor’s University. I opened the course to whoever wants to join online and the course was a great success with few thousand students from more than 130 countries participating. One of the main features of the course is a daily activity that is called “Brain Rewiring.”

Although the human brain seems to be hard-wired to respond to negative stimuli as a survival necessity, research shows that the brain is a plastic organ and repeated deep practice of a certain thought pattern can literally generate new neuron connections, rewiring the brain. To impact this wiring process positively, Brain Rewiring required the students to report 5 things that they are grateful for on a daily basis. This is done online on the MOOC platform and is meant to develop self motivation, optimism and adaptability.

Few weeks into the courses, students starting reporting amazing success stories of their experience with it, especially the “Brain Rewiring” component. My on campus students reported that they were able to appreciate their parents more and have more positive relationships with them. Online students also reported inspiring stories ranging from being able to come to terms with the loss of loved ones to being able to convince their children to eat broccoli!

The success of the “Brain Rewiring” activity when offered within a MOOC can be attributed to the fact that the MOOC allowed the creation of a supportive learning community in which students encourage and inspire each others to see the positive side of life.

When we measured the growth of different traits of Emotional Intelligence among the students and compared that to a control group (students who did not take the Emotional Intelligence course) we were pleased that our MOOC students exhibited a significant growth in Emotional Intelligence. The real surprise was that the control group, a similar group of students, exhibited decline in different Emotional Intelligence traits over the semester were the measurement was done.

This was a step in a life journey to develop emotionally aware engineers. Many of the lessons learnt while running the course are reported in my book “Think Like an Engineer” which outlines how we can educate a generation of graduates who are emotionally intelligent and able to think systematically. The MOOC is now self paced and you can still join it and start your journey of Brain Rewiring at

Creative Commons License
Brain Rewiring and Success by Professor Mushtak Al-Atabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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