Teaching for Transformational Learning: Facilitating Educational Development in Tanzania, Fall 2011

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By Debra Dawson , Director, Teaching Support Centre

This past summer, Mike Atkinson from the Department of Psychology, Arja Vainio-Mattila from Huron University College, and I facilitated a three-day instructional skills workshop (ISW) for 15 faculty primarily from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Our participation in the workshop was supported by a CIDA grant to Arja on Building Civil Society Capacity for Poverty Reduction. This was an exciting opportunity to share with our colleagues a workshop that has been implemented at campuses globally but had not yet happened in Tanzania. The ISW is an intensive program involving 24 hours of instruction. Faculty members teach three mini-lessons plus discuss teaching issues that are critical to them. Critical reflection on those issues is essential for the ISW to be a success. As the topics discussed are dependent upon the group’s interests, no two ISWs are the same.

Many of the issues facing our colleagues in Tanzania are, however, identical to those of our Western colleagues--for instance, how to cope with large class teaching and how to use technology in the classroom. Yet other issues are unique, such as dealing with power outages in an 800 seat classroom--a not uncommon experience. Our colleagues at the University of Dar es Salaam find that students seldom lack the motivation to learn as university participation is both highly valued and highly competitive--it is not an exaggeration to say that classes can be standing room only.

As in our classes, there has been an increase in students with disabilities at the University of Dar es Salaam, yet providing the services they need may be challenging. Similar to when we do the ISW here at Western, it was the sharing of resources and expertise among participants that led to deeper learning for all involved. We were inspired by our colleagues and the rich expertise they brought to our discussions. Part of the discussion also centred on the use of active learning techniques in class as didactic techniques are the most commonly used teaching methods in large classes where the teachers, not textbooks, are the primary method for knowledge transmission. To ensure that the workshop would not be a one-off occurrence, Mike and I also spent another week with eight faculty members teaching them the facilitation skills they would need to repeat the ISW without our being present. This was an intense week where colleagues who had completed the ISW in Tanzania, or participated in our August course on "Teaching at the University Level" here at Western, became more familiar with the ISW program and developed course materials they could use in teaching the ISW at the University of Dar es Salaam. Again the conversations were rich and deep--often continuing throughout dinner. Here we delved more deeply into the role of gender and age on classroom interactions and student success. At the end of the week, we all recognized the power of reflection and how it leads to transformational learning. I can truly say I am not the same person I was before my trip to Tanzania.