Monday, December 1, 2008

Strikes on a college campus

Strike at Fourah Bay
The staff went on a strike a few weeks ago to demand back pay, settling recently for part of what they sought, to be paid over a period of time. Then the faculty went on strike for non-payment and benefits. One university official says the state has not only been slow to pay employees at the university, but also to pay students their scholarships, which dragged out enrollment for weeks, causing many students to miss the start of classes.

To honor the strike but still honor students’ need for education, I offered to show up at our regular times for a free “tutorial” and not a class. I announced attendance would not be taken, nor tests given until regular classes resumed. Roughly 20-50 percent of my students have continued coming to these informal sessions at which we have been having good discussions. In my large (130+) freshman class we have spent a good deal of time discussing research methods since they have to complete a research paper (the first ever for most of them) and do ten hours community service (teaching human rights in local schools and other institutions).

One student in that class asked a very basic and important question: “How do I learn.” So I spent some time with him suggesting ways to get more out of the assigned readings. It has made me rethink how I present materials. My students have gotten me to shift my approach slightly to first preview readings before holding them responsible for knowing the material. It gives them some study questions and points to ponder, which I hope will help address that question: how do I learn?

Class update: in a recent session of my freshman class on human rights, where we focused on civil rights, including the life of Malcom X, two female and one male student presented the topic in such marvelous detail and context that I applauded their example. In my third year class, student teams have been presenting the week’s theme with great skill and fielding touch questions from the class. These students are not only eager but very capable.

3 comments:

S. Hoem said...

I am amazed that your student asked such a simple yet profound question: How do I learn? Wish our students would think that way.
I'm also wondering how they would do research projects? Are there libraries? Do they rely on the Internet? Does the university get books ordered for you in their bookstores? But then how do students buy their books.
Most interesting. In regard to a previous email, I keep wondering how loud the generators are since the ones used after hurricanes here are obnoxious sonding.

S. Hoem said...

What an interesting group of students--very committed to learning how to learn. Wish our students would ask such questions. How do they do their research. Do they have library facilities or do they rely primarily on internet sources? If you can not even access the restrooms, how on earth do students buy books, or how do you order books for them, how do they pay for them. How can an institution that has trouble even in the U.S. function under such challenges?

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