Rethinking how university courses are taught to help meet the needs of students and community

Adapting how university courses are taught can ensure that students gain not just subject knowledge but also other skills that will be useful when they graduate. David Monk of Gulu University, Uganda describes the course redesign process within the TESCEA partnership and explains how Gulu chose which subjects to pilot this approach with.

How teaching is done in higher education is vitally important to the very fundamentals of what education is about: building conscientious, empowered, confident individuals.

Within the Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) partnership we are transforming the way that teaching is done in four universities in Tanzania and Uganda and how universities integrate with their communities to meet the needs of both community and students. One of the key components of the TESCEA partnership is adapting courses to ensure they better help students acquire not just subject knowledge but also the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they will need when they graduate.

In each university we have chosen three subject areas, and three courses within those subject areas, for initial redesign, with the vision for developing an approach that can be scaled beyond those courses, subjects and institutions. At Gulu University in Uganda, where I work, the three subject areas we chose were medicine, agriculture and business. These subject areas were chosen for their strengths and because they are already doing some of the elements that TESCEA aims to build on.

For example, medicine at Gulu University has a strong reputation for working in the community. This is something that hospitals tell us that they look for when hiring doctors; they all say very clearly that graduates need to spend some time going into the community and into the rural areas they serve to understand how people are living there. This can be a challenge for medical students who study in big cities like Kampala but Gulu medical students spend a lot of time during their courses working with people in rural areas and may come from rural areas themselves so they can have a better understanding of the conditions of working in these areas.

Similarly, Gulu’s Faculty of Agriculture is well known internationally and has a really strong programme in terms of community engagement. Our Business and Development Studies faculty is also doing a lot of a lot of work within the community, for example, sending the students into the community working at banks and small businesses.

What happens in course redesign

We recently completed our second (out of three) course redesign workshops, which was very successful. In course redesign workshops we bring together instructors, lecturers and professors from the three programmes so they can start to develop redesigned courses that they are going to be teaching in the next semester. In the latest seven-day workshop we also included some expert trainers at Gulu University who had been trained in the first round of course redesign and then supported by our Kenyan partners AFELT to co-facilitate the second round. These new trainers were integrating their teaching methods into the class and taking on a big role in teaching sessions (see this recent post for more about this so-called “multiplier” approach).

In our most recent round of course redesign we started the workshop by talking about transformative, student-centred learning, why it is important and how to help students think about their learning and about their role in society.

Next, we moved to thinking about the big picture – the place of each course within the programme. A typical outline for a redesigned course begins with the university mission and then the programme mission, the faculty mission and then the course objectives and outcomes for the course – and those will all be aligned very clearly. Then there will be three or four major concepts and themes that we want students to get out of the learning. The key thing here is to think in terms of themes or concepts rather than in terms of very specific teaching lessons based on topics as is traditionally done in lesson plans.

Then we moved into some very practical elements of redesigning the teaching and learning activities in the course to provide for appropriate balance of six learning types identified in the Conversational Framework. For this, we use a digital platform called Learning Designer. The Learning Designer sets out a template where instructors can input their lesson plans and think how they will divide up the sessions, for example how much time will be knowledge acquisition, how much time on practice and how much on collaboration. Framing it in that way allows you to think about how much time will be spent doing problem-based, active learning. If you have too much time lecturing at the front of class then you can go back and adjust your teaching plan. So it helps you to reflect on how you are designing your course and how that course experience hopefully will look.

Ultimately this approach to teaching aims to meet the various future needs of our students in order to best prepare them for their futures. Initial comments from students and lecturers suggest that these changes are already being valued. But this is only the beginning stages and we look forward to sharing more over the next year.


Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) is helping young people in Tanzania and Uganda to use their skills and ideas to tackle social and economic problems. With partners in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, TESCEA supports universities, industries, communities and government to work together to create an improved learning experience for students – both women and men. This improved learning experience fosters the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and allows for practical learning beyond the classroom that improves a graduate’s employability.

The TESCEA partnership is led by INASP (UK), working with Mzumbe University (Tanzania), University of Dodoma (Tanzania), Gulu University (Uganda), Uganda Martyrs University (Uganda), Association for Faculty Enrichment in Learning and Teaching (Kenya), LIWA Programme Trust (Kenya) and Ashoka East Africa (Kenya).

TESCEA is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) as part of DFID’s SPHEIR (Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform) programme to support higher education transformation in focus countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

To learn more about TESCEA, click here.

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