All posts by giovanna

So this is Wathsup

I am looking forward to sleeping until 8 am on a Saturday morning after a long week and a number of early mornings, but I tend to forget that here you cannot plan much. This time there is something going on with my phone, it keeps beeping and beeping.

Screenshot_2015-09-19-10-09-23[1]It doesn't take me long to realise what is going on - The students using our Whatsup class groups to exchange views about the current Kenyan politics, and sharing concerns  about the ineffectiveness of many NGOs. Electronic versions of books are also shared (the very last of W.Easterly's books!) "here is the picture of the cover, I have the electronic version of the book, send me your email address if you would like me to send it to you", and so now we can include the book in the list of main textbooks for the course. I think I have just realised the potential of tools like Wathsup  as tools for education here. The student who started the discussion on Kenyan politics is a very polite, young man who hardly talks in class, he'd rather have other students speaking in public. (I now look forward to seeing him performing in our role-plays...)

Screenshot_2015-09-19-15-31-51[1]I have had early morning classes most days this week. Not found all the students in class, they are still 'coming', or still 'settling in'. The admin doesn't facilitate the process. Most in-campus accommodations are taken by the increasing number of first year students of which Maseno praises itself at the beginning of each academic year, although no new facilities have been built in the past few years, and students sometime have to stay in huts far from campus with no power or running water, and poor security. Sometime classes are not allocated a venue, simply because there are no venues available, and it is common that large classes of 200 students are given small rooms that can accommodate max 50 students.  Lecturers may come to class from week 5. And then, why coming to class if all you need to pass the exam are notes to cram, and you can get them from your classmate?

Screenshot_2015-09-19-10-10-59[1]I was harsh when I told to my students that coming to class on time shows commitment and respect to each others. I made serious jokes about many still being in vacation. But how can I blame any of them when I think of how this whole system (mal)functions.  This week I was proud of the students who came to class, and who were there before 7 am, and gratified by the interactions with a good number of them. I am flattered to be woken up on a Saturday morning by students chatting about the course, and will do my best to respond to them and address their comments, while motivating all the group to follow and contribute.


Students' video-assignments using Gapminder

Since AMI introduced me to Gapminder ( I share it with my students and usually try integrating the use of the software in the introductory modules I teach to younger students.

This gives them an understanding of development issues based on data and therefore an evidence-based approach to the discipline. In many ways, this also challenges students' thinking about reality (often disproving misconceived ideas) and about relationships between indicators.

In courses where Gapminder is used, one of the continuous assessment tests given by the students consists in submitting a video-assignment using the software, recorded using their mobile phones.

Generally I ask to first year students (Introduction to Development Studies) to discuss in 30 seconds an interesting idea or finding. Most students learn a lot from using the software, but also preparing the video-presentation.

The time limit pushes them to practice and improve the presentation making the discussion as much effective as possible, while remaining accurate. This enables them improving summary and communication skills. Since students start presenting to an audience (the class) only during their fourth year, this enables them to start building these skills much earlier - While also gaining self-confidence.

In a course called Theories and Strategies of Development, second year students are given one minute to discuss a development theory of their choice, and provide evidence through Gapminder of one or more countries which development process could be explained (or not) through the theory.

A number of the students' works are remarkable and show how much can be achieved using Gapminder and video assignments:


20/03/2015 - Students' riots

On the first day of exams, students are demonstrating.  It appears that even thought they cleared their fees they have not received the exam cards that they need in order to sit in the exams. They also claim they have not been given enough time to prepare for the exams. In fact, due to incumbent Easter vacation, exams have started at the end of the last week of the semester.100_2906

The situation has been complicated at the beginning of the semester by the fact that (as per routine) most classes start only during week 3 of the term, due to delays in the Administration but also to general disengagement by some of the lecturers.

To face the situation, the University has asked for the intervention of the Police armed with guns and tier gases. And students react throwing stones.100_2897

Hard to see this, difficult to believe that this is the only way to deal with students' protests, and hard to think that there will be a positive follow-up where the University will engage in discussions with the students.

Today, we should reflect on the quality of the service we are providing to students, and how to learn to listen and understand their needs, and discuss with them having at core their interest.

19/03/2015 - "Appreciation"

The title of the post refers to the object of one email sent by one of the second year students.

The email is similar to many others I receive by students each semester. It shows how big can be the little we do here :-)

"Hello Dr,

I would like to honestly thank you for being my lecturer since the semester began. I've gained a lot; not to just pass exams but to acquire the knowledge and apply it in the real life situation.

I enjoyed every bit of your sessions because you ensured that we actively and positively participated.

Still,  I gained more because you not only cited historical examples in most of the lectures but also the contemporary ones too.

Be blessed and keep up the good job doc.


18/03/2015 - Students' analysis of the data collected with ODK

On the last week of the semester, when most lecturers have already "concluded" their sessions, all students are present for this classes - In itself a great achievement.

Fourth year students come to work together on the data they collected using ODK, a short survey on people's time-(in)consistent preferences.  We have a good record of 468 interviews. Danny and John provide their valuable support, and by the end of the session the students know how to use Excel pivot tables and charts to show statistics and trends, and understand the data.  They compete for marks, but it is clear that what they enjoy most is to come out show to the class what they found out from the data.

At the end of the session I mention that data collection is still open and the students have the opportunity to collect more data within the week - Although I do not expect them to engage more with this work, since they are busy revising for their exams that will start two days later.

But, as sometimes still happens I misjudge what drives them, and by the end of the following day, we hit 490.

26/02/2015 - Fourth year students and ODK

The fourth year students have now set up ODK on their mobile phones, the aim is to run a short survey on risk behaviour in the area of Maseno/Luanda/Kisumu. The survey was designed with the students, and does not take more than 5 minutes of participants' time.

John, a fourth year student from Kenyatta University and currently involved with AMI was very helpful during the process.  He accepted to take the lead of the ODK session with my students while Hannington was unable to come, and Danny and the other guys at AMI were busy. And he did really well, in explaining while at the same time helping the students at each step.

I threw him into this late the night before, when I asked him to prepare the session and replace Hannington. I later got to know that he went to sleep at 1 am, after reading carefully the ODK tutorial, which was all he could do off-line. This morning he worked on ODK independently, and under the pressure of having to deliver a session at 2 pm. He basically learnt by teaching to himself in half a day.
I am impressed by his determination and boldness!


10/03/2015 - Reflections on the use of role plays to present scientific papers.

Now that the semester is almost at the end I can finally make sense of what we achieved in the course of this new module, called ‘Social aspects of development’. There was a student today, a young lady, one among those presenting. She ran behind me after I had left “Madam, I wanted to thank you. I have never stand in front of an audience before. Today I have presented a paper and I have also performed a play in front of the class. I never thought I could be able to do this. Thank you”.Fullscreen capture 3102015 114700 PM

If anything will remain with the students after our meetings, this is it. I have seen students that I knew since last year transforming from being very quiet and not daring to look into my eyes, to making interventions and acting in a way that left me speechless. I have seen them becoming confident, and participating, even more than others who had been extrovert since the beginning. I have seen them blossoming.  Today they amazed and inspired me, once more!Fullscreen capture 3102015 114438 PM

And I see other wonders that this method (role-play) can do – It enables students to learn and communicate using new ways of thinking. One week ago I asked to the students whether they can feel the difference in the way they think and they said that in this module they use their imagination, and they had never done that before. In order to prepare their role play they use the scientific paper they have been assigned, and I actually believe that they are more accurate than they usually are when asked to present and discuss the same paper in a standard way (which is what we do in the other module, the ‘Seminars’).Fullscreen capture 3102015 114151 PM

So much we achieved working together in a short period of time.

20/02/2015 - First impressions at the beginning of role plays.

First session with students on preparation of role plays - 4 and half hours!!!!!!

So here is the summary (because I'm too excited to self-contain!): We started preparing role-plays based on the papers I have given them, these are very good journal papers on e.g. the impact of missionaries & colonialism on local populations, the failure of a micro-finance program in a village in India, the link between democracy and violence, decentralisation of natural resources & disregard of local institutions in Malawi, slums upgrading and elite-appropriation in Nairobi, etc. By the end of the session they had had a first red of the paper, and started thinking of which roles should be played in the role-play (the characters and their role). I gave them 10 minutes break at 10:20 and two groups stayed to work. Most of them are really involved and see how much they can learn and enjoy this, so I'm very happy.

10/11/2014 - Online session with Leiden University and Coursera staff

so where to start from?

I should not start from the very beginning I think - with most of the students arriving at 1 pm when the sessions was supposed to start (as if I had not mentioned that we would need at least 15 minutes to brainstorm before the call), while at the same time the organisers of the session send a last-minute email suggesting to have the students asking questions to Prof. Griffiths, since this was now intended to be a real session like the ones recorded with students in Europe or US.

but it obviously was our day, and Prof Griffits had 10 minutes delay (the fault of public transports in Leiden!) and that enabled us to put together a nice set of questions which could also prompt a debate around interesting themes... like the ICC as a tool to improve governance, or the difference between the Chinese model and the Western model of development (discussed the other day with the help of Dambisa Moyo), or tribalism and how this affects trust and institutional quality...

so by the time Griffiths ("call me Richard please") reached, we were all set up and also in a very good mood, because I also had the time to explain what a positive attitude means, why taking the risk to waste such a nice opportunity - of meeting with people there in Leiden and show them that we can discuss together interesting topics and have an opinion that could actually add to their understanding or knowledge of the same...

that feeling of confidence (or pride) and enjoyment coming from knowing things and being able to discuss them, that was what made the session theirs. sure, much to be learnt (for them and especially for me!), literally a lesson given by him, but they really did a good job - all attentive, listening carefully, taking notes (including myself on the board) and sensibly trying finding the right time to intervene, through sharing their views or asking more questions.

what at the beginning was scheduled as "a 30 minutes session with 4-5 students" became in fact an interactive lecture and discussion of 1 hour and 30 minutes, all the class present.

you tend to say I am doing a good job, and I believe you are objective, but sometime feel (gratefully) that your assessment is perhaps more an encouragement.

Richard started and ended the call by praising the work I do with the students - in his words, the first attempt of this kind in this context. he says that the intention of the module was indeed to enable this same process ie flipping the classrooms and having students learning through multiple tools, and to his knowledge we are the first successful experiment. he had seen the demo of the materials I prepare which I sent to him, and was extremely appreciative. now I see how and why this may seem impressive and the more I reflect the more I believe it.

we spent the last half hour discussing Richard's idea (not ours! but the two can fit well together). Richard asked us to develop materials for a new module to be launched in Feb 2015, which requires to prepare a set of case-studies about local organisations that are achieving goals in an effective, exemplary way in the development field. case studies to document also through video interviews and (I suggest) storytelling. the main aim is to give a positive insight into the good initiatives that are present and developing here and in the region - a very positive view of the continent. and among other things, there is the possibility to create forums for discussions with students and staff in Leiden, regularly.

what do the students think? valued and empowered, hence excited. and though it is not going to be an easy task (starting from building attitude in them) well this is a good start.

one last thing - guess which organisation we are going to interview first?