Ugandan history teaching is becoming dangerously irrelevant.
This is the concern of Dorothy Sebbowa, a lecturer in history education at Makerere University. “The country risks losing knowledge of its own past,” she warns. But through changing the way history is taught, that knowledge can be saved.
by Tewodros Alemayehu
Makerere is Uganda’s largest university, and still uses a teaching model where one lecturer addresses a class of over 500. In Sebbowa’s view, this model encourages “cram work” and a singular interpretation of history facts. At the same time, it makes it hard for the professors to assess how well each education student is learning. This leads to low-quality education – both for these trainee teachers, and for the students they will go on to teach.
Sebbowa’s solution is to use technology to provide a more collaborative learning process. The difficulty of one-on-one interaction in a class of 500 can be overcome in a virtual classroom. She believes that wikis can foster a deeper understanding of Ugandan history and how to teach it.
Wikis are websites where the users can create and edit the content. One of the major advantages of wikis among education technologies is that that they are free and easy to use. A good example is Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia. In Sebbowa’s project, a more specific wiki was created to be accessed by the history education class at Makerere.
In December 2013, the students were invited to join the wikispace by email. Once they had been trained in how to use it, they were asked to give themselves online identities and log into the virtual classroom. There, the lecturer had posted a welcome message that told them to propose a history topic. The next task was to describe their thoughts on history education, and explain how they would facilitate a lesson about their proposed topic – Neo-colonialism, for instance – at the secondary school level.
This interactive online teaching was continued for three weeks. Sebbowa’s experiment encouraged the participants to carry out constant research about the subjects under study, and ‘prevent substandard findings’ from being accepted by the community. As a result, the students gained a more thorough understanding of their topics than when they were simply taking notes from a lecturer.
In addition, the participants were able to create, edit and delete each other’s content through a collaborative peer-review process. Sebbowa found that because of this, the students were better able to understand the “collaborative meanings of history topics” – in contrast to the one-way lecture model that fosters “accepted” interpretation of the events in Uganda’s past. The students would be better equipped to pass on a more nuanced understanding of history to their future students, when they became teachers.
Not only did the project lead to a deeper understanding of the nature of Ugandan history, it also improved the quality of teacher-student interaction. The teachers could easily contact students “anytime, anywhere” by email, and provide follow-up assistance about specific issues by mobile phone or in person. Sebbowa explains that “in the lecture teaching model, students prepare questions before they attend the class, but are not always given equal opportunity to ask them”. The wiki allowed the lecturers to overcome the limitations of large class size, and communicate one-on-one with more tailored learning and assessment.
In this way, the trainee history teachers learned better teaching methods, which emphasise the importance of collaborative learning and tailored communication – rather than just the memorising of facts as told by one authority.
However, Sebbowa acknowledges that there are challenges to be overcome. During the trial, the internet service often fluctuated, disrupting the online classroom, highlighting the need for adequate internet provision in education centres across Uganda. The students also required constant direction from the teachers, suggesting that additional training – both in how to use wikis, and how to guide wiki learning – will be necessary for the model to become successful.
Sebbowa wishes to stress the importance of follow-up communication procedures, by mobile phone or in face-to-face meetings, for an effective pedagogical process. “Educators have to rethink their role in order to help students understand values during the learning process.”
Her study, she explains, promotes the teaching of learner-centred methods that embrace the use of widely-available technology – like mobile phones and wikis – to enhance “anytime, anywhere” collaboration. In this way, the gap between lecturers and students can be bridged.
Sebbowa is confident that the successes of her teaching model can be achieved anywhere. “These technologies have the potential to improve both learning and the quality of education throughout not just Uganda, but throughout Africa.”
Find out more about Dorothy Sebbowa’s session here.