I understand it snowed a little back in America this week. The big weather news, though, is that it rained on Sunday in Ouagadougou. According to Wikipedia, the average precipitation in Ouagadougou in January is 0 mm. Nevertheless, when I got up Sunday morning and went out to feed the chickens, there were raindrops on my driveway:
Later, while I was in church, there was a ten-minute or so downpour (speaking relatively) that you could hear rattling on the tin roof. The rain laid a little of the dust, though continuing winds have kicked it all back up again and I am coughing again as of Monday afternoon. Everybody is talking climate change. I guess this could be a result of the powerful El Nino we are experiencing, though the UN seems to think that West and Central Africa will experience drought instead of unseasonable rains.
Monday was the first eight hour class day for me in quite a while: back when I was adjuncting in three places, I had a couple of days where I was teaching from 7 am until 10 pm in three different institutions separated by 75 km or so. But this was the first time I tried to go eight hours in one classroom with 300 students where the temperature was over 30 C (85 F) the whole time.
Thanks to the late start we got to the fall semester because of the coup, and the student strike in November, and also my own absence for a couple of weeks in November for a family emergency, we are terribly behind on the number of hours required for the class to carry credit in their system. This is not an issue for my US History class, since that one runs through the spring semester. I added two more hours of lecture, making four on Thursdays. But for European Expansion in the 19th Century, the class needs to be done with the appropriate number of contact hours and the grades turned in by February 5th, in principle. As of this week, we were 30 hours behind. So, I went all day on Monday, I’ll see them again for four hours on Wednesday (and they will then take their final exam in the afternoon, proctored by somebody other than me). I will have them again all day on Monday the 1st and in principle again all day on Wednesday the 3rd. They are doing oral group presentations, so all I have to do is remain attentive and take coherent notes for eight hours. Easier said than done. This gives me great sympathy for the students, who have a task similar to mine except that at least they get to look at my Power Point slides.
The student presentations are interesting. There are anywhere from eight to fifteen students in a group. They all file up on stage and introduce themselves. Only people who are there for the presentation can get a grade. This is because, as mentioned earlier, there are a lot of imaginary students in this university. It costs 15,000 CFA to register for classes (that’s about $25). For a year. With their registration, they have the right to rent a student apartment at 1,000 CFA a month (about $1.50) and buy meals in the student cafeteria for 100 CFA ($0.15). But they have to pass classes in order to stay registered. So people cover for each other. By requiring them to show up for the presentation, we can at least catch some of the freeloaders.
The students have prepared a paper, which they then read; shades of many academic conferences I’ve been to. They give me a copy of the paper, nicely bound, and it is good that I have the paper in my hands so I can read along with the presenter. It gets pretty noisy in there sometimes. And the PA system wasn’t working for most of the day. Some of the students put illustrations and graphs in their papers; I would have loved them to have had Power Point slides so everybody could see the illustrations. After reading their paper to us, each one taking a turn at a paragraph, it’s time for questions. There were several students who asked a lot of questions of different people in the group, taking the burden off me and allowing me to see which members of the different groups actually understood the subject and thus might have been actually involved in doing the work.
Now, I have to grade the presentations, and try to figure out who deserves credit and who is a freeloader. I can’t really distinguish all the time, so what I have done is give everybody a collective grade on the basis on the overall quality of the presentation/paper and then single out individuals who appeared to be particularly knowledgeable or thoughtful and give them extra points. There was only one group where all the members seemed entirely at sea and so they didn’t get a good grade. But in those groups where a couple of people more or less obviously carried the rest, all members will get at least a passing grade. It doesn’t seem completely just, but I don’t know what else to do. Individual presentations or papers are an obvious answer (until people start getting the smart kids to write their papers for them). However, who has time to grade 1,000 research papers? The real answer is that if Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo is going to have 5,000 history students, it needs more than 10 professors. Grad students might be an answer, and we do occasionally press master’s students into duty as exam graders, but even so there is a labor shortage.
After the marathon session, I went out for a beer. Instead of my local open-air drinking establishment, I visited a spot near the art school that has a roof and air conditioning. My Ingress-playing friends will appreciate the tee shirt my waitress was wearing:
Still no Smurfs (Ingress style) in Burkina Faso, though.