Monday, November 10, 2008

"We defeated the British"

I am teaching a section of the third year contemporary politics course (British politics) on American politics, with some history (including the defeat of the British). The class started at 10 but reached an enrollment of 40+ quickly. Most students seem used to lectures and feedback on the all-important final exam worth 70 percent of their grade. That’s fairly typical in the U.S., too, though the final is usually worth less.

But my style is different. I use debates, role playing, lots of discussions, and quizzes to keep students focused on the readings they need to have intelligent discussions. So when I divided up the class into teams to be in charge of presenting the next week’s readings in some interesting form, they were surprised. When I sent the first team out of the room to prepare, I had to ask several times for them to stand up, move out, and prepare. Outside the door they began talking in loud voices about their topic: the U. S. Constitution. So I asked one of our two class representatives to ask tell them to move down the hall - and not shout. My other class rep told me quietly: the students are not used to this kind of teaching, but they like it. We’ll see; I hope so.

My third class (comparative politics) is with graduate students: a grand total of three, when they all come. We had no classroom assigned, so we meet on the shaded balcony of one of the buildings. So far we’ve focused mostly on how to do research. I’m just glad classes finally started (early November); a Fulbright fellow in Mali says classes there won’t start till December.

Research isn’t easy in a country where almost all students can not afford books; and where book are mostly unavailable anyway. The internet cafes charge about $1 to $1.30 an hour with slow downloading. Campus computers (there are about 80) often have waiting lines formed behind the users. The university library suffers from students cutting out pages or even throwing books out the window because there is no copying facility available before the checkout and because copying costs money (though not much: about 3 cents a page). Still there is a reserve section (no check outs allowed). And the librarian, Mr. Oliver L. T. Harding, is enthusiastic and experienced.


slccmh said...

It sounds like you are teaching a new teaching 'style' as well as course content. Your students are fortunate to have an opportunity to be exposed to a new way of learning, in particular a way that allows and encourages them to have greater ownership in the educational process.

The practice of cutting pages out of university library books is, based on my experience, also very common in the US (where copying machines tend to be widely available). I'm sure that students here would likewise claim cost as the rationale. Unfortunately, this practice is destructive in two ways: first,it damages books; secondly, it limits or restricts others' access to information of interest.

Jeff Mattison said...

This is a fascinating view into an African university class. Thanks for sharing these stories Bob and I look forward to reading more!

Private said...

I can see Bob smiling to the class rep in that discussion ;)

Great work and awesome stories and pictures! I've loved the blog!

Paul S