Category Archives: Third year students

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?

25/09/2014 - Correspondence with Prof. Griffiths, Leiden University, on sharing materials through MOOCs

Dear Richard

Thank you very much for your kind reply, for the information and encouragements.

I have used today two of the video clips you developed, in a module called "International Development" which I teach to third year students in the department of Development Studies. I did follow the exact instructions you give in your email, which I happened to read on the day after emailing you, in the web page indicated at the end of the video clips.

Before sharing with you impressions from the experience I think I owe to explain a bit more how I used your videos, and give some information on the context - Apologies for the long email... I am hoping it will answer your question.

The tools I use in class include videos (mainly your materials and relevant TED talks), data sources (e.g. the "worldometers.info" and others) and a software for data visualisation (Gapminder, developed by Hans Rosling's team in Sweden). The aim is to provide students with a practical, evidence-based approach to learn the subject while at the same time stimulate their thinking, and of course keep their interest high and give them an enjoyable experience.

This is pretty much exceptional in the context of a public university here in Kenya where teaching is still very traditional and lecturers rely mostly on not-so-updated textbooks, and the only source of knowledge for students are (unfortunately often bad) lecturers' and their notes. Students who join the university in their first year are usually keen and bright, some still are so in their fourth year, but many more become sadly passive and much enthousiasm and willingness are killed in the process. Such a shame.

You ask for an evaluation of this 'experiment, well I asked to my students for feedback, to say openly whether they find this informative, useful and enjoyable. The response by the students is overwhelmingly positive. Your videos are powerful learning tools, I can use them not only to provide students with high-quality knowledge and to engage them, but also to enable them to build a set of skills which they lack - And while I didn't have any doubt on the former results, the latter is a discovery that became clear today while I was running the 'experiment'.

I gave to the students a number of questions before playing the videos, which could be answered while listening, I did this to keep their focus and attention high. I then realised that while learning about the topics discussed, they were also at the same time building listening skills, the ability to pay attention to details, the skill to select information, to summarise it and take note effectively. Not least, a better understanding of proper English pronunciation. And these skills are at least as important as the knowledge they are gaining.

Believe me, these skills are hardly built by students in this context: many students in their fourth year are unable to identify relevant information, summarise it and communicate it effectively, and do not pay attention to details (they constantly misread exam questions or instructions); sadly the only thing they become good at is taking note of what the lecturer say in a non-selective, a-critical passive way (and then memorise it for the exam). Students are generally not used to ask questions, are not used to discussions or group work.

So, basing on my experience and not only on students' feedback, the use of your videos is a total success, and I am grateful (in fact we all are) for the materials you developed and made freely available, which bring so much value to our learning experience.

I have discussed with the students the origin of the materials, which also gave me the opportunity to introduce them to the MOOCs. They felt like the world was opening up to them. They hardly knew before where the Netherlands are but they definitely know Leiden University now, and Professor Griffiths there. It would be great to have the chance to meet you on Skype, and a wonderful opportunity for the students.

With much appreciation,