Home » Transforming teaching and learning at Gulu University – a positive path for community transformation. A BSU story of change      

Transforming teaching and learning at Gulu University – a positive path for community transformation. A BSU story of change      

23-01-24

RESUME: Gulu University is located in northern Uganda, a region that still suffers the effects of a devastating insurgency that went on for twenty years. Leaders in the region expect the university to collaborate with the local communities to help them solve their problems.

The Building Stronger Universities programme started at the university in 2011 and introduced problem-based learning at a training workshop in Denmark for some of the teaching staff from Gulu. This was to be a major turning point for their university’s approach to learning. They could see that amongst other positives, the method provided a basis for meaningful interaction with local communities. Therefore, it introduced to master students in the first instance to prepare them for doing research anchored in local issues.

Another strand in improving the quality of learning was the development of an eLearning system with the help of BSU partners Maseno University in Kenya and Aalborg University in Denmark. The reaction of the staff was mixed until the Covid-19 pandemic hit. This helped make slow adopters appreciate the importance of using PBL and ICT in teaching and learning. During the lockdowns, the university engaged students in a mode of Open and Distance eLearning (ODeL) and the response was impressive. There was a marked increase in the use of online services.

Bringing about change is a slow process. It is a case of trial and error and being persistent.  Nevertheless, the introduction of problem-based learning and eLearning at Gulu University marks a turning point for students, teachers, and the wider community.

By Tabo Geoffrey (PhD) Lecturer, Gulu University

To understand the transformation that is taking place at Gulu University, you need to understand the context. Gulu was the epicentre of a devastating insurgency in northern Uganda that went on for twenty years. A peace agreement was signed in 2006, but the region still suffers the aftermath, not only because of the physical and psychological scars survivors have to bear but also because normal life ground to a halt during those years. Almost the entire population was moved or fled to camps for the internally displaced. Many of the young people in the north today were born in the camps and had next to no education.

Regional and local leaders have become interested in the relevance of Gulu University for people in the region. There is the expectation that the university should collaborate with communities to help them solve their problems. This has led the university to rethink its approach to learning.

Problem based learning
Gulu University has been a partner in the Building Stronger Universities (BSU) programme since 2011.  The programme included training in problem-based learning (PBL) at Aalborg University in Denmark for some the Ugandan researchers and staff. As the participants were a mix of master students and teachers from a wide range of faculties, – science, education and humanities, and business and development studies – it was obvious that the approach could be applied across the board back home in Uganda.

In Gulu, phase 3 of the BSU programme focused on two areas: “Transforming Education”, and “Rights, Resources, and Gender in Post-War Development”. These two thematic areas were seen to be critical for opening pathways to the local communities and carrying out research activities that were relevant to them. The new methodology PBL was introduced to students on the master’s course in the first instance. They learned about problem formulation; developed tools for fieldwork; collected and analysed data collected during their fieldwork; wrote reports; and learned how to present their research findings to academics and stakeholders with confidence. No wonder that by the end of their course, the students were highly appreciative of the changes that the new learning approach had brought about. A student observed, “I learned how to do research practically and that made it easy for me to complete my master’s on time”. A teacher called it “innovative pedagogy” – active learning in contrast to passive learning that had otherwise always been the norm. This “innovative pedagogy” is slowly taking root throughout the university and becoming part of the teaching culture.

ICT and e-Learning
Increasing the use of information and communication technology (ICT) was another strand in improving the quality of education offered by the university. One of Gulu’s BSU partners is Maseno University in Kisuma, Kenya. Maseno has two campuses, an eCampus (a virtual campus) and a physical one. The programme partners from Aalborg and Maseno assisted Gulu in getting to grips with the eLearning concept. Together they developed a learning management system tailored to Gulu University’s needs using the open source Moodle system. (Moodle is a free, open-source learning management system written and used for blended learning, distance education, flipped classrooms and other online learning projects.) The reaction at Gulu University to the introduction of eLearning was mixed, partly because the university had not yet developed a coherent policy for its development. However, through the persistent use of blended learning during workshops and cross cutting courses even the most reluctant teachers are beginning to accept the learning management system.

The new eLearning system put a strain on the ICT infrastructure. The university found funding to increase the internet bandwidth and the number of access points; developed ICT user policies; boosted the IT infrastructure; and increased the number of internet based library services. The institution has raised the budget to increase and sustain these services.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped make slow adopters appreciate the importance of using PBL and ICT in teaching and learning. During the lockdowns, the university engaged students in a mode of Open and Distance eLearning (ODeL) and the response was impressive. There was a marked increase in the use of online services.

Bringing about change can be a long process. It is a case of trial and error and being persistent.  Nevertheless, the introduction of problem-based learning and eLearning at Gulu University marks a turning point for students, teachers, and the wider community.

Edited by Kate Girvan

 

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