By Edward Fox
Professors from the University of Tripoli, in Libya, have been taking intensive courses at the University of Southampton this academic year to learn teaching practices that are standard in higher education in the United Kingdom.
The University of Tripoli, with about 80,000 students and 4,000 teaching faculty members, is the largest public university in Libya. But while many of its professors have years of teaching experience in their subjects, little attention has been given until now to their professional development in practices that can make them more effective teachers.
The intensive course, which lasts about two weeks, is based on a program that Southampton gives new members of its own teaching staff, said Paul Riddy, coordinator of accredited programs at the university’s Centre for Higher Education.
A group of 29 Libyan professors from a variety of disciplines completed the program this month. They were the second cohort to get the training this year.
“The program is basically about teaching new lecturers how to teach,” he said. “It’s about the design and delivery of learning, including consideration of such things as diversity within the student group.”
Official accreditation in teaching practices is increasingly a requirement at universities in the United Kingdom, but there is no official body that offers this type of accreditation in Libya. And the University of Tripoli is so far the only Libyan university to provide faculty members with this kind of training.
One of the participants in the course, Fauzi Jarushi, an assistant professor of engineering, said that the teaching experience he gained while working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Florida did not prepare him for teaching the large classes that are typical at the University of Tripoli and public universities in the Arab region in general.
“In Tripoli, we lecture to 90 students, compared to 20 to 25 in the United States,” he said. “When I went back to my country to teach, I prepared for 90 students the same way I prepared for 20 students in the United States, and it didn’t work at all. I was giving them all homework every week, and quizzes. It nearly killed me!”
The way professors typically teach such large classes is by lecturing, while students take notes. This teaching method is not suitable for all students, Riddy said.
“If you have students that are naturally deep learners, they can deal with that transmission model effectively. But for students who don’t have that level of ability, or inclination, they need more support in their learning,” he said.
Accordingly, the course gives special emphasis to techniques that can be used in teaching large classes. This includes the technique of peer instruction devised by Eric Mazur, a professor of physics at Harvard University in the United States.
In this form of teaching, Riddy said, the teacher “presents students with questions, gets them to think about answers and to discuss their answers with each other. The teacher then gives them some input, students are asked to re-discuss their answers, and the teacher monitors their answers through a feedback system,” which can be a mobile phone.
The University of Tripoli’s connection with the University of Southampton was established by Bashir Lwaleed, an associate professor of pathology at the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Health Sciences, after a visit to his alma mater in 2013.
After the overthrow of the Qadhafi regime in 2011, the University of Tripoli’s administration prioritized improving the quality of education on offer as well as keeping the university separate from the country’s political turmoil, Lwaleed said.
He discussed professional development for faculty members with Madani Dakhil, the University of Tripoli’s president (now Libya’s representative to UNESCO). “One of the things I identified was this kind of training,” Lwaleed said. “This was because everyone I knew at Tripoli would simply finish their doctorate and then go straight into teaching.”
Arrangements for the Libyans’ travel to Southampton, including visas, were made by the British Council in Libya. On their return, Lwaleed said, participants in the course will train their colleagues in applying the techniques they learned in Southampton.
Top Photo: University of Tripoli professors at the University of Southampton (Photo: Bashir Lwaleed).
Edward Fox – Associate Managing Editor – Al Fanar Media. Edward is a journalist and author. He has worked as a daily newspaper reporter and as a magazine writer in the United States and the United Kingdom. He has worked for Saudi Aramco in Dhahran and is an associate lecturer in creative writing at the Open University.