Reflections Newsletter

International Visiting Scholars @ Western, Spring 2011

Langa Sarakikya, University of Dar es Salam

By Debra Dawson, Director, Teaching Support Centre

For the past four years, the Teaching Support Centre has been pleased to host two to three faculty members from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The faculty members have participated in our August course on Teaching at the University Level as part of Arja Vanio-Mattila’s Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) project on Building Civil Society Capacity for Poverty Reduction. This is a collaborative project between Huron University College and the University of Dar es Salaam. Langa Sarakikya was one of the faculty members who attended the course last summer. She spent the fall semester at Huron working on her doctoral research on how new media constructs the concepts of gender and development in the urban population of Tanzania.

Debra Dawson: Tell us about your university.

Langa Sarakikya: We have around 16,000 students at the University of Dar es Salaam of which about 38% are women. The language of instruction is English although Swahili is the national language. Most of the students attend our central campus in Dar es Salaam. As part of the undergraduate curriculum, all 3,000 first-year students must take two compulsory courses in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Studies where I teach regardless of their Faculty of registration. Students are grouped by Faculty so that all education students are taught these courses together. These sections of the courses range in size from 350 to 800. These teamtaught courses are a mixture of lecture and seminar. Assessment is by essay examinations never multiple-choice questions. Therefore grading of exams takes about a month. All of these large classes are taught without the aid of computers in the classroom—typically the only electronic equipment is a microphone, and that is only available when the electricity is working.

DD: What is your role at the University of Dar es Salaam?

LS: Well, I started teaching at the university part-time and it is only in the last year that I received a permanent position in the Institute of Development Studies. Unlike in Canada, the university does not differentiate my time in terms of teaching, research and service, but similar to Western, the focus seems to be more on my research than on my teaching. Given the tremendous need we have for ensuring that more of our people receive post-secondary training, this seems surprising. It is problematic that although effective teaching is needed, the focus is strongly on research. Given that perspective, perhaps it is not surprising that until I participated in the summer course on Teaching at the University Level, I had never really talked about pedagogy before with colleagues. There are five different ranks faculty can have from assistant lecturer to full professor. To teach at the graduate level you must have a PhD. We also have student evaluations of teaching, but they do not impact our annual reviews. They are used for quality control of courses more than for formative feedback of instructors. Many large first and second year courses are team taught. The quality control of courses also means that external examiners review syllabi and graded examinations, and look at exam questions to see if what is being asked is related to the course material. The results of the external examiners are distributed to the chief course coordinator to aid them in curriculum improvement.

DD: What are the similarities/differences between teaching at Western versus teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania?

LS: Well, the biggest difference is the access that students and faculty have to the resources you need to teach and learn. In Tanzania, our students have limited access to books or journals, so at the undergraduate level we typically teach without required texts and this is even in very large classes of up to 800 students. Even at the graduate level, our classes can be large and access to materials can be limited. This means that even though we as instructors want to go beyond transmission in the classroom, the instructor IS often the only source of information for our students. In these large lecture classes, the involvement of students in discussion is not a common concern. Students are more likely to have the opportunity to participate in the seminar portion of the course. Our style of teaching therefore tends to be very teacher-focused. In addition to the lack of textbooks, our library resources are also extremely limited. We lecture with just a blackboard to these large classes without use of electronics such as PowerPoint. Students have to hang on to our words as we are the only source of information that they have. Exams tend to be based on what was transmitted rather than written materials. Although faculty put some readings in the library, it can be very difficult for students to access them. As there are multiple sections of the introductory courses, we need to ensure that students hear the same material so they are prepared for exams. Therefore, there is not a lot of variation in what faculty members actually do in the classroom. Learning in this environment can be challenging for both our students and our instructors. To communicate with our students we use our cell phones rather than email. Everyone has a cell phone whereas access to the Internet can also be limited. In other ways students are the same everywhere. When I compare our students at my university with the students here at Western they seem very similar … they are late with assignments, they skip class on occasion, etc. and they love engaging in deep learning experiences. Teaching also seems to be teaching worldwide.

In June Debra Dawson and Michael Atkinson will travel to Tanzania to lead teaching workshops for faculty members at the University of Dar es Salaam. If you are interested in finding out more, follow Mike on his twitter feed at: dratkinsonmike or blog at


Tayo Nagasawa, Mie University

By Tom Adam, Teaching and Learning Librarian, Western Libraries

Last October, The University of Western Ontario, Western Libraries and the Teaching Support Centre (TSC) in particular, had the pleasure of hosting a visiting scholar from Japan for the second time. Tayo Nagasawa is an Associate Professor at Mie University in Tsu City, the capital of Mie Prefecture. Established in 1949 with the amalgamation of smaller teacher training schools and several agricultural research facilities, the university overlooks Ise Bay on the south coast of Japan about 400 kilometres west of Tokyo. Tayo is also an Educational Developer working out of the Higher Education Development Center (HEDC) at Mie, a facility similar to our Teaching Support Centre. The HEDC was established to assist in achieving Mie University’s educational goals with particular emphasis on developing Problem-Based Learning (PBL) tutorials for all faculties and taking the lead in support for creative development advancements in educational activities including recent developments in online learning. Towards the end of her week-long visit to Western, I had a chance to chat with Tayo about her work, her experience and perceptions of teaching and learning in Japan, and her observations about higher education in Canada.

Tom Adam: Tell us about your research

Tayo Nagasawa: The topic of my doctoral dissertation is building collaboration between faculty members and librarians. I have conducted three case studies: Earlham College in Indiana, University of Michigan, and Western. From the case studies, I identify successful strategies librarians use in order to build evidence of best practices.

TA: Why did you choose Western?

TN: While attending POD (The Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education) in Montreal in 2004, I was introduced to Nanda Dimitrov [TSC Associate Director]. It was interesting for me to learn that Western has a librarian working in their Teaching Support Centre. I had never heard of such a situation, so I got a grant for a research visit and came to Western first in 2009 and again in 2010.

TA: Can you tell us a bit about your center and what your rolethere is?

TN: Besides the Director, I have three colleagues in the center; however, I am the only faculty educational developer and the only person who works for the center full time. The center was founded in 2005, and I began working there in 2008. We have adjunct faculty members at the center; there are 20 who represent the five faculties in Mie University. In addition, there are three faculty members hired about a year ago who concentrate on education.

TA: What role do these adjunct faculty members assume; is teaching for the center part of their mandate?

TN: We provide two workshops a year concerning Problem Based Learning because it is a characteristic of our education in Mie University. We plan the workshops together. I’m very pleased to say that many faculty members participate in the workshops, but our Director still thinks we need more participants. He would like all faculty members to come to our workshops. Before I came to Mie, the approaches to faculty members by the center were too aggressive, and the faculty did not like it. Recently, I have tried to work with faculty members in an informal kind of situation, and I think that works well.

TA: Is there much opportunity for faculty to learn to teach?

TN: Many faculty members in Japan were not prepared for teaching when they were graduate students. Some universities now provide teaching workshops as well as orientations for new faculty members. However, even though they have teaching responsibilities, many faculty see themselves as researchers first and attending teaching workshops is not a high priority for them.

TA: Is the faculty librarian relationship different in Japan?

TN: It is totally different because in Japan it is very difficult for librarians to work with faculty members. In North America, I have noticed that many people work together and there is a lot of collaboration between faculty and librarians. I am trying to do this in my centre in Japan. I recognize that it would be beneficial to incorporate the professional knowledge and expertise of librarians into our programs. There are many faculty members who have never used libraries and believe they are just buildings of books. Furthermore, some faculty members have no idea that librarians manage the databases they use to find information online. Librarians are not regarded as specialists in Japan, and it is hard for librarians to accumulate knowledge and expertise. I feel very comfortable in London and The University of Western Ontario. The people are very kind to each other and help each other out. I have spoken with many librarians here who have established very collegial partnerships with faculty.

TA: Are there opportunities for distance studies and learning online?

TN: It’s available, but it has just started. There are some universities that just teach online, but at Mie University we don’t have a course that is conducted completely online. Our students are mainly commuter students, but the situation will change in the future as more of our graduate students study part time.

TA: What about information literacy, teaching students how to manage information effectively?

TN: In Japan, many faculty members think information literacy means computer literacy—it is a mainstream idea. It is important for librarians to let them know what information literacy is all about, but we are just at the starting point. I think the information explosion will be helpful to encourage Japanese librarians to work with faculty members both to teach information literacy and to help them manage and find information effectively.

Although oceans apart, both geographically and in the cultural foundations of our traditions, I was struck by numerous parallels in the experience of higher education revealed in our conversation. We do remain in contact. Although not untouched by the recent earthquake, tsunami, and resulting devastation throughout Japan, Tayo is safe and continues her work and research. She is moving this April from the HEDC to a new position in the Research Development Office in Mie University Library, where she will be able to concentrate on the coordination between education and learning and libraries more than before. We look forward to the results of her investigations and perhaps visit number three.

Teaching Support Centre
Room 122, The D.B. Weldon Library
Western University
London, Ontario N6A 3K7
(519) 661-2111, ext. 84622