Because both Chandni and Andrew have so much to share about this unique experience, we thought they could recap the first few days of teaching in their own words. Please enjoy the following post from Andrew.
Yesterday was my first opportunity to teach the students for an entire day. To accommodate the number of PROWIBO lecturers available, the classes have been combined into a single group made up of the first, second, and third year students. At home, this would present a real challenge – but here, it works remarkably well because the students all know each other and engage with one another as if they are all members of a single group.
Spending 6 hours with one group of students (and one group of students spending 6 hours with a single lecturer) is not at all what I’m used to at my home university. Back home, we hold 50 minute lectures, and the students might spend only 6 hours a week in lectures. How to maintain motivation levels and enthusiasm across the day was definitely on my mind. However, this also presented a special opportunity: We could spend the entire day on a single theme, exploring it from many different perspectives.
And so for this reason, I chose the theme “the scientific method” and specifically, how the students could use a scientific approach to answer questions about their studies and personal interests. We started by defining science as “the process of asking questions, seeking answers, all to improve the quality of life of self and others”. Until now, I don’t know if I’ve ever taken the time to think about what science is in this way before, so already it was turning into a learning and growth opportunity for me as well as the students.
We then transitioned to listing the components of a good experiment (should include hypotheses, design, analysis plan, etc.). I then invited the students to suggest their own experiments based on what they might be interested in – and not surprisingly, they came up with some excellent suggestions. Examples included assessing whether a traditional medicinal herb, spiderweed, is more effective in treating malaria than a commercially available drug; whether locally purchased chickens produce more eggs of better quality than ‘exotic’ chickens; and how to evaluate whether their interventions with local communities meaningfully improved conditions for that community. We went through the process of designing experiments to address these questions, and in doing so, ended up covering more advanced topics like sampling bias, placebo effects, and the differences between quantitative and qualitative data collection approaches. The students caught on to these principles really quickly, particularly when associated with ‘practical’ applications.
Just before the lunch break, I asked the students to take me on a tour of the ARU Demonstration Garden, where they experiment with different agricultural technologies like planting systems and forms of pest control. Initially, it was a simple tour but once I admitted that I am an absolutely terrible gardener, I had all the students taking turns teaching me about the different technologies, species of plant, and growth trajectories of certain fruits.
One particularly fascinating moment was when I casually asked one of the students how to say “pumpkin” in the local language. This resulted in about 6 different answers as the students come from many parts of Western Uganda, each with their own language. And yet, the differences were subtle enough to spot that the words were all referring to the same thing. And as per usual, they all seemed to find my efforts to learn their language charming yet hilarious.
After lunch, we continued on from our experience in the demonstration garden, and I tasked them with designing a series of experiments to help me determine which of the different technologies might help me grow better vegetables in my garden back home. They had no trouble with the assignment, and were suggesting experimental refinements that had not occurred to me.
I then introduced them to a “Prism Goggles”demonstration loaned to me by another PROWIBO professor, which they seemed to thoroughly enjoy. Prism goggles shift your visual field so that things appear either to the right or to the left of their actual position. Wearing them makes you miss objects when you reach for them, or bumping into things if you try to walk. However, you rapidly adapt and are then able to grasp objects without difficulty. At first, the students appeared mystified as to what was going on – but as soon as we went through the process, I once again got that “sly smile” as if to say “Ahhhhhh. Now I get it!”, which is always such a treat as a teacher (alas I foolishly forgotto get any pictures). We conducted a short in-class experiment using the goggles, and then headed into the final part of the day.
We finished the long day with a discussion about statistics (probably a mistake), including the dangers of misusing statistics. Turns out, I grossly underestimated the students’ maths abilities and we ended up going into much greater depth into concepts surrounding descriptive statistics than I had expected to.
After I dismissed the students, a few of them were kind enough to stick around to teach me a few more words in the local dialect.
So all in all, it was a long day but a productive day – and one in which it’d be safe to say I learned as much from the students as they learned from me.
Until next time,
Orare Kurungi (Good Night)
Many thanks to Andrew! To read more updates from our lecturers at ARU, please visit our blog.