PhD alumnus and affiliated researcher Ayo Adedokun was awarded the Leiden University Student platform (LUS) teaching prize, for best lecturer of the year, on 6 September 2021. “Teaching is not merely a profession; it’s a calling,” said Adedokun, who was clearly moved upon receiving the award from the LUS Chair. The prize itself covers 25,000 euros to spend on innovation in teaching and learning, and membership of the University’s Teachers’ Academy.
Adedokun started as lecturer at Leiden University College The Hague (LUC) in January 2020 and was honoured for, among other things, his original way of keeping in touch with students amid the pandemic: including taking them for walks. “That was the best way to find out how they were doing.” He also introduced some entertainment into his class: putting on jazz music during breaks to soothe his students. Plus, he organised special coaching sessions for his final year students: “coaching sessions are an opportunity for LUC students to discuss life beyond LUC, such as potential career paths, opportunities for self-development, and more.”
A political scientist and international development specialist by training, Adedokun specialises in conflict, peacebuilding and development, with a regional focus on Africa. At the LUC he teaches students from two specialisations – Governance, Economics and Development; and World Politics – as well as a wide range of courses, including Politics and Development of Africa; Human Security; Public Policy Analysis; Institutions of Governance and Development; and Peace and Conflict Studies.
What is your teaching style?
“I have three overarching goals for any course that I teach: i) to foster critical thinking, ii) to promote mastery of course content, and iii) to encourage application of course materials to real-world contexts. I emphasise problem based learning (PBL) in all of my courses. I am committed to an interdisciplinary approach to scholarship and teaching. I believe the solutions to global challenges, such as Climate Change, the Covid-19 pandemic, poverty and conflict cannot be found within a single discipline.
“So, I encourage my students to draw upon many disciplinary sources so that they can synthesise those sources and use them to explore complexities fully and then to take a stand. To model inclusive approaches to intellectual inquiry, my courses have been ‘decolonised’. In terms of the course materials, the reading list emphasises the voices of authors from both the Global North and the Global South.”
How is teaching a ‘calling’ for you?
“Being a teacher gives you the opportunity and privilege of making an impact on society by shaping the minds of the next generation. It takes passion, patience, empathy, dedication, and the ability to do more with less. And that’s why for me, teaching is not merely a profession; rather it is a calling, a vocation and an opportunity to bring out the best in my students and to inspire, motivate them to strive for greatness, to believe in possibilities and dream big dreams.
“My teaching philosophy is that I believe all students are capable of learning. However, they do not learn at the same rate. So, I use a combination of lectures, tutorials, seminars, and problem-based learning (PBL) approaches to engage my students. My teaching style is designed to accommodate all types of learners from different races, ethnic groups and socio-economic backgrounds. But I am also flexible and I know how to adapt my teaching whenever necessary.”
What have you learned while teaching during the pandemic?
“A lot. For example, to address the challenges of online learning, such as distractions, screen fatigue, less social interaction, anxiety and depression I devised strategies to improve student engagement. I strongly believe that human connection is more important than ever in these difficult times. Creating a personal connection means taking time to interact with each student, getting to know them and knowing their hobbies and interests. I used the first ten minutes of each lesson to have a chat and ask students about their well-being. I also introduced the ‘tutorial system’, a student-centred approach to collaborative learning. Here I had my students give a presentation to their peers, followed by a debate. I also created debate and group discussions in breakout rooms on Microsoft Teams.”
How will you spend your prize money for educational innovation?
“I have some cool ideas on innovative teaching and learning strategies, and I’m looking forward to brainstorming with other colleagues at the Leiden Teachers’ Academy.”
Adapted from an article by Corine Hendriks, Leiden University, NL.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Leiden University / M. Shaw