26 September 2009
The former President and Founder of the Nation, Sam Nujoma, did not do SWAPO any favors this week, in terms of public relations, when he gave a wandering speech that called on Namibians to prepare to go to war (Mr. Nujoma led the fight for Independence, so may be getting a bit bored with peace) to stop the British and American influence that seems to be directed at Zimbabwe (Mugabe, who is ruining that country, is a friend of Namibia and vice-versa). Mr. Nujoma suggested that Namibians be prepared to smack British and American citizens on the head with hammers (literally what he said...) if they stood in the way of Namibians getting what they need.
So, we've been very accommodating at traffic lights and grocery store queues this week...
An interesting facet of elections in Namibia--residents have to register to vote each and every time there is an election. So, the country is no in the middle of a massive 'Get Out and Register' campaign. We chuckled when we received the mass-marketing cell phone text messages reminding us to go register. It was especially funny when Tristan received his message. For a moment, he thought it actually might be possible to vote--pretty cool!
The Registration process involves (as any process in southern African should) 5 tables, and a long queue. In case you want to go Register, here's a poster showing the process.
Just inside the entry gate. It cost about US$10 for our family to enter.
Had to put this photo is for all of our "GREEN" friends back in the Midwest! Nothing runs like a Deere, even in Namibia. See the Picasa site for some other brands, though.
The livestock barns were fun to explore. This breed of goats (which we never actually got a name for) has to be one of the oddest animals we'd seen. Look at the tail. It looks like a dog tail.
25 September 2009
When asked about how to solve a problem presented to students--in which two people were engaged in an argument relating to the conflict--one of the students, Atti, replied: "The two people should just meet under a tree. That is how we solve our problems here."
Sounds good to me. Perfectly good use of a shade tree.
19 September 2009
I think if you talk to any teacher, they will tell you about a teacher or teachers who inspired them to enter the academic profession. And, by the time you go from kindergarten to a graduate degree, you have a lot of examples to learn from. It has been a most rewarding experience to interact with my colleagues at Polytechnic this year. Just more people to watch and learn from.
My teaching colleagues in Namibia do an excellent job and they work very hard. My previous post shares some things that have enhanced my understanding of education. This post is harder to write...as it is about the things that I will be satisfied to leave behind. Perhaps I shall put a positive spin on the list--these are things that I have learned to appreciate about teaching in the US. The list reinforces my appreciation for my Namibian colleagues, as they are working in a system that is not always built to enhance their efforts.
Flexibility of course schedule:
My courses in the US are designed around units that provide material to meet course objectives. Each unit ends with a test or group project assignment. The dates for the tests and projects are up to me as I design the course. At Polytechnic, as in most of southern Africa, test dates are prescribed before the semester starts and you must fit your teaching around the dates given to you.
Autonomy of faculty:
In Nebraska, my course is designed to fit into a curriculum. But, when the course is taught, I design the course, I teach the course, and I assess the students. In southern Africa, there is a history of corruption in the educational system--so, the method that has been developed to address corruption is the Moderator System. Each course has a lecturer who teaches the course, and there is also an outside Moderator assigned to the course. At Polytechnic, these are often professors from South Africa or professionals with expertise who live in Windhoek and work for the Ministries or other businesses. The final exam has to be written one month before the end of the course, and the exam is submitted, with the Memo (the list of acceptable answers to the questions), to the Moderator. Now, the moderator has never set foot in the classroom, and often is unaware of any goals of the course or the curriculum. But, they must approve the final exam. When the exams are marked, they are also sent to the moderator, who may disagree with the number of marks given to a student for a particular answer. This, of course, would make most of my colleagues in Nebraska resign in protest. But, it is an interesting lesson about the effects of culture and politics on education. It is all designed to combat corruption.
I received my teaching assignments at Polytechnic about 1-2 weeks before the semester started. It happens that way for every lecturer every year. Most people have a good idea what they will be teaching, but there are surprises. It makes for grumpy people and prevents any kind of advanced preparation for the course. In contrast, my department at University of Nebraska just sent out the first draft of the teaching schedule for Summer session 2010 (about 8-9 months in advance). Sometimes we groan about the advanced planning, but I can attest that the opposite system should not be desired!
Choosing the ink of my choice:
A colleague at University of Dubuque once told me that red ink has a harsh effect on students, and they will not learn as well from their mistakes as they would if you use green ink. Although my colleagues at Polytechnic think that shows how we pamper students in the States, I like the option to use whatever color of ink I want to mark/grade papers/exams. Polytechic's rules are: red is for the lecturer to mark (and only red), green is for the moderator to make their marks and comments. You never use blue or black ink to mark papers (it kind of makes sense because students write in those colors). But, it is outlawed. Polytechnic also has a rule about signing contracts in black ink. I signed a little contract for my distance course using blue ink, and it was sent back to me.
Flexibility of assessment methods:
The rigor that I reported about in my last post has one drawback. Lecturers love to give tests that assess individuals. Some are interested in other methods of assessment, and I've worked with some to develop problem-based cases in their courses. My courses in Nebraska often include one or two group projects that are graded. Group work is discouraged here, because "it's hard to know who did the work". It is true that the bane of group work for a teacher is that it is hard to do individual assessment. But, to teach problem solving and critical thinking, and to prepare students for the real work (where they will work in groups and the boss doesn't care who did the work--just that it got done), group work seems to be important--in my book, at least. Every course at Polytechnic (and U. Namibia) is required to have a final exam, where students sit for 3 hours and write the exam 'paper'. There is no option to use a term paper, a group project, or other means of assessment. I think this will change in the future, as there are glimmers of hope among lecturers who want more flexibility. But, the exam/test system is really ingrained in the culture here.
Students who have textbooks and other resources:
The biggest problem with teaching in southern Africa is that many students can't afford to purchase the prescribed text. Each course has one, but no one really expects the students to purchase the text. Instead, lecturers often prepare a study guide that condense the textbook (or in some cases actually contains copied pages from the textbook...), and the study guide is sold to the students. Some can't even afford that. So, a lecturer always has to remember that the students really haven't read the chapter before coming to class...and never will. It really makes the quality of the lecturer critically important, doesn't it? They are the only resource for many of the students.
Virus free computers:
I had no idea how good the virus protection systems in the US were, until my first week teaching at Polytechnic. I took a powerpoint presentation to the computer in the classroom, and loaded it for a lecture. Students asked after the lecture if they could copy it, which is a common way to share the information (remember, no text books). Well, because that process had happened before, when I took my memory stick back to my UNL laptop, alarm bells went ringing....I had about 8 viruses just from that one incident. I had a student come by my office this week, and she wanted to print out her assignment for another course--she couldn't afford the printing fees to print it elsewhere. So, I took her memory stick and stuck in in my computer. Ding, ding, ding. At least 25 viruses were detected. Students who have access to computers at home do not have additional money to purchase Norton Protection! Polytechnic faculty often have their computers crash because of viruses, and there is an office on campus where students can stop to 'clean' their memory sticks before bringing them to class or to a lecturer's office. When I arrived at Polytechnic, the school was using a free, share-ware virus protection system. They've since upgraded it. But, wow.
Finality of the semester's end:
This one may seem strange. But, the system in place throughout much of southern Africa allows a student to take a final exam 4 times. But, you can only take it once each semester. So, it is possible for a student to be re-taking a final exam two years after the course ended. It works like this...the final mark (percentage--no A's B's or C's here) is a combination of the semester marks and the final exam mark. But, you can't pass a course without passing the final exam. So much for our UNL students who flunk the final but still pass because they've done well during the semester. At Polytechnic, you would have failed the course. You come back for 'second chance' exam at the end of next semester. Now, this exam will be 'similar' to the first exam, because it was written by the same professor who taught your course and gave you the first exam. In fact, lecturers have to submit BOTH exams (the first and second-chance) at the same time to the moderator. But, the crazy thing is what happens after the second-chance exam. Let's say you flunk that one, too. Well, someone else may be teaching the course the next year, so that person will write your third- or fourth-chance exams. It is possible that the person will cover completely different material in the course! And, the student doesn't attend the course--they only show up for the final exam. Not only does this seem quite odd from an educational perspective, but it makes it very hard for the Registrar to record all these grades. It makes it hard to interpret an academic transcript. And, it makes it hard for lecturers who have to remember whether they have a student from a previous year coming to take the exam. The nice thing for the University is that students pay Exam Fees. So, by failing the students, the University can make more exam fees...
I hope these topics provide a glimpse into a different system of education. It's a system in transition from a system built to prevent corruption. And, it has its roots in an English system of examinations. My experiences at Polytechnic have been eye-opening in many ways, and I've learned a lot by participating in the department. I've learned that I had many assumptions about how education 'had to be'. Perhaps some of my methods have rubbed off on my colleagues and vice versa. It's the only way to move forward, on both sides of the Atlantic.
So, things I've enjoyed in Namibia:
The Memo and Tutorial Letter:
When a lecturer gives a test in Namibia, there are two versions--the "test paper" that the students get and the "memo" that the teacher keeps. The "memo" contains the answers to the test, with explanations of how answers are derived. The memo is used to mark the test, and in the case of Final Exams, the memo has to be approved by an outside "moderator" (see my next post about the problems related to this). When the test (or even some large assignments) are given back to the students, they receive a "tutorial letter," which explains in detail the information on the "memo." The nice thing about the "tutorial letter" is that it provides a good opportunity for learning and feedback. Sometimes in Nebraska, I'm guilty of turning back an exam and then starting the next lecture without really talking much about the exam. At Polytechnic, it is common to take an entire hour to go through the test and discuss the tutorial letter--so students get the written and oral feedback on the test.
There is no grade inflation in Namibia. Students are happy to receive anything higher than a 50%, which is the "pass" level. This has taken me a long time to get used to. When I first arrived, I felt sorry for the students. But, there is something to be said for a bit more rigor than perhaps I instill back in Nebraska. Students should know that there are high expectations for receiving B's and A's. It will be interesting to see how I transition back to UNL; I'm guessing my classes will receive lower grades than they used to.
Powerpoint is Evil:
Most professors in the US have adapted to Bill Gates' marvelous invention: Powerpoint. Lectures are now glossy presentations, scripted lists, and contain a TON of content, because it is so easy to go quickly through it--no writing on the blackboard anymore. In Namibia, there are usually not powerpoint projectors to use, and if they do exist they are not reliable (in fact, even overhead projectors often not in working order). So, I've been doing a lot more blackboard work--like when I started teaching at Univ. of Dubuque. The bottomline: you concentrate on covering less material in more depth, you have more discussions with students, the lectures are more 'free form', and I have really enjoyed being in the classroom here. Powerpoint is evil, and has probably done more to ruin education in the US than anything I can think of. I will stop using it when I go home. Maybe.
Distance Learning Done Right:
Students in Nature Conservation at Polytechnic can graduate in three years with a National Diploma, after which most of them find jobs. To obtain a Bachelors degree, they have to take an additional year of courses...but because they are working around the country, the 4th Year is offered via distance. The format is great, and is a product of the lack of electronic mumbo-jumbo that we often try to use in the US to spice up distance courses. There are no video files to download; no one has an internet connection. There are no on-line chats between students; most students don't have a computer at home. The method used by Polytechnic is to bring all students together for a week at the beginning of the first semester--for lectures and introductions to the subjects by lecturers. Then, the students go away and rely on a textbook, study guide, and assignments. Usually there are 4 assignments, with one due every 2 months. On two occasions during the year, students come to campus for "Vacation School" which is held while on-campus students are on spring or fall break. And, an additional week of "Practical" is provided where students and lecturers spend the week doing field exercises. By the end of the year, the students have met 4-5 times with their teachers. I think it's Distance Learning done right--to accommodate students' needs. It's not Distance Learning done to accommodate 200+ students and bring in lots of tuition money (shame on us).
Sorry, UNL students. I'll be going back to essay exams when I return. All tests and exams in Nature Conservation at Polytechnic are essay form. They kind of laughed when I asked if they ever use multiple choice. Essays are more rigorous (see above point on Rigor) and they really show who has learned the material well. The down-side is that they take time to mark for the teacher. Thus, I have joined the majority of faculty in the States who do not give essay exams anymore. They take time, but faculty at Polytechnic will take an afternoon and close their door to mark assignments or tests--it's not something they do at home during family time. It is expected that lecturers will be unavailable for chunks of time to get assignments marked. That idea is something I'll take the time back in Nebraska. It will mean some other things don't get done, but I think it will be worth it.
Respect for Professors:
I have never been called anything in the classroom here, besides "Prof," "Doctor," or "Sir." No one has ever called me "Powell" or asked if they could call me "Larkin". I like having students being comfortable with me, but I certainly have enjoyed being in a culture where respect is paramount--and it goes beyond the salutations. This is the same culture that we found in Georgia (USA), where students would almost always use "sir" or "ma'am".
Extra Pay for Extra Work:
Polytechnic asks a lot of their lecturers. They teach at least two courses a semester, mentor student research, and help with distance courses. The 'moderator' system also requires them to spend a lot of time marking other lecturer's assignments (each exam gets marked by the lecturer and the moderator). But, they are paid for the extra work. They are paid for moderating (about US$1/student/exam), and they receive about US$2/student/assignment to mark assignments for distance courses. It's not a lot, but the symbolic gesture of paying something for the extra work sure beats the pants off of the system that I'm used to--where you just suck it up and get on with the extra work.
It's been an interesting ride. These are some things that I've enjoyed, and it was a nice surprise to be treated to some unexpected learning experiences. Stay tuned for the 'other' list.
13 September 2009
We ended up coming in 1 point away from third place. Pretty good, we thought.
Photo of Dad catching a train. Check. Near Windhoek Train Station.
Photo of Mom/Dad with giraffe. Check. They didn't say 'a live giraffe.'
Photo of Mom/Dad with elephant. Check. Craft Center. Get back in the car...10 minutes to get back to Joe's!
By the way, it's a 'crash' of rhinos. And there are 29.5 meteorites on display in the Post Street Mall (I know--how can you have 'half' a meteorite?). The Land Rover is only N$490,000 (7.8:1 exchange rate $N:$US at the moment). And, one night in the Presidential Suite is N$6000. And the Sunday lunch buffet at Joe's Beerhouse is a carnivore's delight. Just wonderful. Thanks for asking.
Today, we nabbed him on tape. With apologies to Dr. Seuss, we offer the following.
From the far reaches of Windhoek
On the banks of the Meeter
Comes a small bird, a trim bird
Called the Seedonfloor Eater.
The Seedonfloor Eater
Is a Kitchen Floor Cleaner.
It nests in a hole
Of a tree called a Squeener.
An Eater can go months
Without eating a thing.
But once it finds a new floor
The dinner bell rings.
An Eater will clean up
A floor for you quickly.
It flies in and finds crumbs
It’s really quite nifty.
Not everyone’s kitchen
Can satisfy an Eater.
It takes crumbs that are too big
For mice or mosquiters.
If your kitchen needs cleaning,
Then try calling an Eater.
They come to the sound
Of trumpets and beaters.
Just beat your big beater
And trump your big trumpet.
If you play loud he may come
If you offer a crumpet.
The Seedonfloor Eater
Is such a rare bird.
If you get one just stand there.
Don’t utter a word.
For the Seedonfloor Eater
Is a valuable addition
To the housecleaning efforts
In any subdivision.
So if your name’s Johnny
Or Suzie or Peter.
I know you will want to get
A Seedonfloor Eater.
12 September 2009
10 September 2009
I had to share these videos I took a few weeks ago of a preschool class singing not only their school song but also the Namibian National Anthem. They are very proud to be able to share their Namibian songs with me. I am attempting to carry on something of a "Fulbright Tradition" of helping the teachers at the Future Professor preschool once a week. Two previous Fulbright spouses, Janet and then Joy, volunteered at this school before me. I am not an official preschool teacher but I try to sing some songs, play games, and read stories to the children and we work on colors, shapes, numbers, and letters. This preschool caters to lower income families - many of them are newly arrived in Windhoek from rural areas/villages and some of the children do not speak English very well yet and need to learn English before entering the regular school system. The teachers at the preschool love to have Americans come read to and interact with the children so they can experience "English" from a native English speaker. Teacher Sussy (Susie) is in the background and instructs them to hold their heads up high while singing.
This preschool is actually in "half" of a house - the house and yard have been divided with walls - and they have two classrooms (in the two bedrooms) plus a main room with a playground in the front yard. The teachers are very dedicated and allow the children to attend when funds are short and the families are not able to pay. Some months the teachers have even gone without getting paid. They hope to increase the number of students and have enough paying students to cover the cost of those who have trouble paying the fee.
Just this week there were three new students in this class - triplets!! - two girls and a boy who just moved here from Angola (just north of Namibia) and don't speak a word of English yet. They speak only Portuguese (Angola was a colony of Portugal) but one of the other students in the class is also from Angola and she is able to translate some of the lesson for them. The teachers say it won't be very long before they will start to speak English - especially on the playground where the fun game this week was racing tires - the kids enjoy rolling old tires down the hill in the front yard when they aren't on the playground equipment.
The next few weeks will be great fun for me as we have moved into animal themes. This week was reptiles and amphibians. I read a book about snakes and all the students talked about how dangerous snakes are - here in Namibia most snakes can kill you in less than 3 minutes! They had seen pictures of people touching snakes and holding them around their necks and did not think that was very smart. I had to explain that in other parts of the world there are snakes that are not poisonous and some people even keep them as pets (while also stressing that they should never EVER touch a snake here in Namibia - yikes!)
Coming into the preschool always is a great experience as the kids hug you and greet you with "Good morning Teacher Kelly!" The students and teachers often ask about Teacher Joy and Teacher Janet as they are greatly missed here at this little school.
08 September 2009
Today, I stuck the video camera out on the feeder surface to see if the birds would let me film them. I didn't capture video of the 15-20 doves that sometimes visit at the same time, but the video here shows some of our diversity during a nice, quiet morning at the feeder. Dogs barking and kids across the road at school in the background from time to time.
Towards the end, something scares all the birds away. You'll have to see what appeared in our yard. Shocker...
05 September 2009
Today, I was waiting for a couple cars to pass in the parking lot at our grocery, before I walked across the lot to our car. I felt a slight pressure on my wallet, and immediately feared the worst. Here was the moment I'd been waiting for all year. A pickpocket?
I whirled around, and was somewhat relieved to find out that I was actually about to be run over by a small truck. A gentleman was trying to back out of his parking spot. He could see me, and evidently I wasn't moving fast enough for him. So, he decided to back up and nudge me a bit with his truck to encourage me to move out of the way. Well, life is interesting isn't it? At least he didn't want my wallet.
I think I know where he lives. I'm thinking about going to 'TP' his barbed wire fence tonight.
On a more positive note, we had a great morning at Tristan's school. Today (Saturday) was Sports Day at Windhoek International School (WIS). Not required. But, I think most of the school showed up. A house vs. house competition for kids in some fun sporting events. The atmosphere was competitive, but fun. Everyone tried their best. They encouraged parents to get involved in several events, too.
The house concept is a good one. It's similar to the house system at Hogwarts School in Harry Potter, where students of all ages are grouped across years into 'houses'. During the year, if you get a detention, your house loses points. If you do something good, a teacher can award 'house points' as well. The houses at WIS are called the Lions, Cheetahs, and Leopards, appropriately. Tristan is a Leopard, and it was fun to see him interacting with older students in tug-of-wars, as well as helping younger Leopards and cheering for them in competitions.
I wonder if a 'house' system would be an effective way to build comradery among students in a Fisheries and Wildlife undergraduate program at UNL? Freshmen could be divided in Pronghorns, Prairie-chickens, and Bull Snakes.
Here's a toss to Tristan's blog, where he explains the day--you can also see a video summary we did of all the fun.
02 September 2009
One of the students from WIS. His smile says, "That was the first hit of my life!"
Kelly pitches. Larkin takes photo while missing the chance to tell the batter to get his elbows up.
The boys from Orlindi in their baseball shirts from Michigan. They miss Mr. Steve, so we took this photo to show him.
01 September 2009
Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!
As trees in Spring produce a new ring of tissue, so does every poet put forth a fresh outlay of stuff at the same season. --Wilfred Owen, WWI War Poet/Soldier from England
Break open a cherry tree and there are no flowers, but the spring breeze brings forth myriad blossoms. --Ikkyu Sojun, Japanese poet and Zen Master
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. -- Anne Bradstreet, American poet (1600s)
For every person who has ever lived there has come, at last, a spring he will never see. Glory then in the springs that are yours. --Pam Brown (absolutely no idea who she is)
Don't forget it's daylight savings time. You spring forward, then you fall back. It's like Robert Downey Jr. getting out of bed. --David Letterman, comedian/talk show host