Home » Stories » Passion ignited through student centered teaching methods. A story of change from University of Zanzibar

Passion ignited through student centered teaching methods. A story of change from University of Zanzibar


RESUME: The Building Stronger Universities supported training in problem-based and online blended learning was a revelation for a university teacher in Zanzibar.  The author, Aziza S. Abdulkadir had become a teacher in spite of considering it to be a dull and tedious job. The training revolutionised her approach to her role as a teacher and this in turn brought about a new excitement and perception of learning amongst her students, passive uninterested learners until then. When her students were introduced to “cases challenges”, where they worked in multidisciplinary groups to find innovative solutions to real life problems, they became hooked. At the time of writing, the Aziza S. Abdulkadir was going through hundreds of requests from students asking to host a new case challenge. With such a response from her students, it is hardly surprising that she has fallen in love with her job!

By Aziza S. Abdulkadir (PhD) lecturer,  State University of Zanzibar

Teaching or working in academia was never my childhood dream. I always considered teaching a dull and tedious job. Nevertheless, I became a teacher. In the early days of my teaching career, I found myself immersed in a hectic work routine that took up a huge amount of my time. It was an endless loop of preparation, grading papers, and continuously repeating information to uninterested students.

My first memory of teaching is on a day that started with a walk through the university campus, alongside a beautiful white sandy beach on the Beit-al-Ras coast. It was a scene right out of a storybook. I could hear the birds chirping and the waves crashing onto the beach nearby. The sounds added to the ethereal feel of the place and the striking architecture of the buildings told stories of the past. I was on my way to the classroom where my students were waiting and my morning walk had lifted my spirits.

However, the moment I stepped in through the door of that classroom my peace of mind shattered. The students’ loud, incoherent chattering and the stuffy, humid air in the crowded room were overwhelming. There was no hope of a productive session. That was obvious from the expression in their eyes as the students stared up at me. They were simply waiting for me to fill them with chunks of information to memorize and regurgitate.

My greatest nightmare was grading my students’ work. I spent desolate hours bent over their reports, changing position every so often to relieve the sharp pains and numbness in my back and fingers. I was in turmoil. I was frustrated and exhausted. Was this how I really wanted to spend the rest of my life?

Things took a sudden and unexpected turn for the best when I was exposed to new transformative teaching methods through a series of trainings offered by Phase 1 of the Building Stronger Universities (BSU) programme. The training captivated my imagination. It opened up a whole new way of thinking and led me to explore what were for me novel pedagogical approaches to teaching. Not only did they include online blended learning, but also problem-based learning. Problem-Based Learning (PBL) encompasses case-based, inquiry-based and experiential learning. Previously, I had only read about these concepts and I had never really thought that I could apply them in my classroom.  Little did I know that this was to be the beginning of a brand new journey.

The journey started when I entered the classroom once again, this time as a tutor reborn. I was brimming with ideas and ready to surprise my students with new ways of teaching and learning. I had developed the urge to help them engage in their own educational journey. It would be naive to say that the new experience I brought to the class was received with open arms, but I could not help but notice a few enthusiastic faces that were ready to embrace this new chapter. Many were strangers to this new learning experience and I could clearly see the struggle they were going through to adjust to the new unfamiliar learning environment.

How did we get here?
Many continued to cling to the traditional method of learning, preferring cramming to power point slides and doing assignments. In an attempt to make problem-based learning a reality for everyone, we decided to embrace the case challenge as one of the BSU programme outputs and to host three case challenges. The challenges are packed with activities that offer students the opportunity to use their academic skills and competences across the disciplines.  Case challenges are a PBL activity that involve students from multidisciplinary groups working together to find innovative solutions to real life problems.  They provide them with an opportunity to network and learn from each other.

By the end of the first case challenge, we realised that the students were looking forward to this new academic transformation more than we had anticipated. There was genuine excitement in their expression as they felt a sense of accomplishment. Remembering how students used to shy away from involving themselves in any activity that would require them to work with others or present their ideas in front of the masses, I feel ecstatic. The transformation gives me tremendous satisfaction.

Fast forward to the present day, I am sitting in front of my laptop scrolling through hundreds of requests from students asking to host a new case challenge. I cannot say that we have revolutionised and totally transformed teaching, but I can see us getting there slowly but surely. I have fallen in love with the job as nowadays our students always contribute their unique experiences, passion, and satisfaction. I would have liked to have had that experience as a student, myself.

Edited by Kate Girvan




Go back to our stories