(posted by Tom) - I’ve been teaching two courses at University of Cape Coast for three weeks of a twelve week semester. As part of the History Department, I was asked to teach HIS.406: History of Political Thought (similar to our POL 231: Introduction to Political Theory), and HIS.407: History of U.S. and Russia, 1840-1917. I spent the first few weeks before the semester started putting together readings for the courses. The three boxes of books I shipped from the US (that included several political theory texts) had not arrived, so I needed to find backup readings (the boxes finally arrived last week). I searched the main library on campus, as well as the ‘reading room’ of the History Department. Both are collections that are thin and not very current. This is apparently a typical situation at universities in Ghana. There are scarce resources available for building library collections. I was able to find a few histories of the Romanovs and imperial Russia, and several U.S. history textbooks, the most recent being from 2002. It’s actually interesting to see the older textbooks (I have two from the early 1960s). These are actually good sources for 19th century US history – a lot more detail and content, and less ‘filler’ (pictures, etc.) Accessing OhioLink to get to the Electronic Journal Center and JSTOR has been invaluable as a supplement to the texts.
Despite being a large, 20,000 student university (with an additional 15,000 students in distance learning courses), UCC does not distribute final teaching schedules until the Friday before classes begin. Yes, you read that correctly. Students start registering for classes, not knowing the schedule of meeting times, the week before the semester starts. They then check posted schedules at each department where they are taking courses, and then figure out meeting time conflicts with scheduling adjustments through the second week of the twelve week semester.
I asked the department head for a schedule that would allow 1-2 days at the beginning or end of the week free of classes (if I’m only teaching two, I figured this was possible) to enable me to travel to Accra and Kumasi periodically for research interviews. The schedule I received that Friday: classes scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I was told that I could ‘reschedule’ class days and meeting times with the students. This involved Victor, the teaching assistant, talking with each class to figure out a consensus about days and times. We were able to move the Thursday and Friday meetings to Tuesday and Wednesday. This resulted in the Political Thought course meeting on Mondays, 2:30 – 4:30 pm, and Wednesdays, 7:30 – 8:30 AM, and the US-Russia History course meeting at 6:30 – 8:30 AM, and again at 12:30 -2:30 pm on Tuesdays. Yes, some classes meet at 6:30 am (a few even convene at 5:30 am!) Some professors schedule classes for 7:00 on Friday evenings.
Finding rooms for classes: the class gathered at the History department 15 minutes before the class started, and students then checked out various lecture theaters to see if one was empty. We then moved to that room. This is fine for a one hour class. However, the Tuesday morning class last week had to leave the room at 7:30 am for another professor, and then wander about looking for another room. The same thing happened again this week. There does not appear to be any kind of centralized schedule of room usage. Experiencing this makes me deeply appreciative of our wonderful BW Registrar and department staff for all the work they do to avoid this kind of chaos! (a special shout out to Judie May and Donna McKeon!!)
Course enrollment fluctuated quite a bit the first two weeks. Fortunately, I do not have the 200-300 students per class that I was told to expect (this is typical of introductory courses; I am teaching two 400 level classes of primarily History majors). As it turns out, the courses I am teaching only have 45 (US and Russian History) and 15 (History of Political Thought). The first week of class, I had 30 in the first course, and only 4 in the second. Apparently, students start showing up the first week of classes, but the numbers don’t settle until the third week. Oh, and there is no course enrollment list; that arrives to record final grades.
The students are diligent, taking notes during ‘lectures,’ and a few asking good questions about the material. The style of teaching that is expected is lecture format. Classrooms are in large buildings called lecture theaters, with room capacities that range from 50 to 500. The rooms I use each have old whiteboards, a table for notes, etc., and a few creaky overhead fans to move the hot air around a bit. Some of the newer lecture theaters have overhead projectors to plug in a laptop for visuals. The room where I teach Political Thought has a projector that I don’t need; the rooms I use for the US-Russian +History course, where projected visuals would be very helpful, do not have projectors. I am still working on my speaking style, which needs to slow down a lot for students to understand my ‘funny accent’.