Three (hundred and eighty) is a crowd

After a thirty minute wait outside the auditorium – students elbowed their way into their seats, with some occupying vacant spaces along the walkway using their thighs as tables.

An estimated 380 International Relations students were crammed into the confined space of West Campus’ Science Stadium.

“We are down to 380 now … 60 of them haven’t registered because the NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) didn’t come through,” said head tutor and Masters student Patricia Muauka.

Muauka, who was handing out course packs to the first years with the help of first-year lecturer Christopher Williams, confirmed that overcrowded classrooms are an issue, describing the administrative duties as “easier to manage… after years of practice and experience.”

“We get over 300 people in here and some are sitting in the aisles and some are standing”.
SIDELINED: First year students sit on lecture halls at West Campus Science Stadium aisles where they use their thighs as desks. Photo: Palesa Tshandu

SIDELINED: First year students sit on lecture halls at West Campus Science Stadium aisles where they use their thighs as desks. Photo: Palesa Tshandu

Lecturer Christopher Williams laments on the sizeable classrooms as having “a lot of administrative duties”. Williams, who started working at the department last year, said: “In the United States. I taught much smaller courses and so it’s harder to teach because you cannot interact with students the same way”.

Dr David Hornsby senior lecturer in International Relations agrees that overcrowding has a huge impact on teaching saying “it can really affect whether or not the learning and interaction environment is a safe space.’’

He mentions the difficulty involved in engaging large classrooms with lecture material saying that “lecturers design their courses for a particular number of students” suggesting that if there is a dramatic increase in these numbers it can significantly affect the approaches to learning.

BA Law student Rachel Jambo says the case is not only in International Relations lectures, but similar cases can be found in Psychology and Sociology classes.  “We get over 300 people in here and some are sitting in the aisles and some are standing”.

Jambo described the overcrowding as “uncomfortable” referring to the lack of ventilation in Senate Houses’ SH6 and SH5 lecture rooms.

First-year student Simpiwe Maseko however does not seem to be affected by the large classrooms saying that interaction with lectures has not been affected by the large classrooms, but cannot be certain because “it’s still like the beginning”.

She is however confident lecturers are “paying attention to every student…going to great lengths to ensure that everybody is on the same page”.

Hornsby advises that the university’s enrolment and registration process needs to be directed by the size of venues. “We cannot register more people for a course than caps allow. As the university moves to an online registration system –this problem should be addressed.”

Muauka confirmed that there will be 18 tutorial groups but remains uncertain on the number of tutors available to tutor these classrooms “We are holding thumbs that we have enough tutors this year.”

Students lament loss of Lord

STUDENTS have laid a complaint against the Wits International Relations department about their marks, saying that they are not being assessed properly following their lecturer’s placement on special leave.

Dr Lord Mawuko was placed on “special leave” pending an investigation about four weeks ago. Mawuko’s third year International Relations class has been merged with another class taught by Dr David Hornsby.

His former students have complained that Mawuko’s class is behind those of Hornsby’s, making it difficult for them to catch up.

Hornsby confirmed to Wits Vuvuzela that the classes have merged and acknowledged that Mawuko’s classes were a week behind. However, he said Mawuko’s class had a catch up session after the lecturer was put on special leave.

“With the departure of one lecturer the course hasn’t changed and the course is no different to how it has been run”

Student Concerns

Innocentia Kgaphola, 3rd year International Relations, said the department is “having difficulties coordinating the class. Why aren’t they taking responsibility that the standards are not the same?”

The student’s biggest concern was that due to Mawuko’s special leave their work will be assessed by lecturers whom they have never interacted with and do not know.

Third year student Nqobile Radebe said: “They have been bringing different people to lecture us. We have not been fairly assessed. We don’t get the marks we deserve.”

Mawuko had also been responsible for receiving presentation topic submissions from the third year International Relations class. However, due to being placed on special leave he could not be present and assess the presentations.

Instead, the presentations were overseen by Dr Mopeli Moshoeshoe.

Third year International Relations student Luzi Maposa said in a letter to the department that Moshoeshoe told students that he was “merely there to observe”.  But Moshoeshoe wrote comments on their presentations and Hornsby, who is also the course co-ordinator, gave students their marks.

Maposa wrote in his letter that the student’s “main issue” was that while Hornsby marked their presentations, he did not see them first hand and “all but relied on bullet points which he requested from each group, which did not reflect the image of the presentation since they were merely assistance tools.”

“The stand-in lecturer [Moshoeshoe], who did not even ask what topic each group was presenting on, cannot paint a clear reflection of the quality that went into the presentation since it omits all that was elaborated through speech and illustrations on the board,” continued Maposa’s letter.

Kgaphola said the situation has left students feeling confused and unfairly treated by the department.

“Nobody explained what was happening. Nobody explained why Lord [Mavuko] was put on special leave. It’s just a mess, we don’t know what’s happening,” Kgaphola said.

Hornsby responds

However, Hornsby denies this and said students are not just assessed by their presentation; they still have essays, exam and a participatory mark. Hornsby said he had consulted with Mawuko about the students’ assessments.

Hornsby said that immediately after the presentations he and Moshoeshoe had a meeting and Moshoeshoe recommended marks.

Hornsby said he doesn’t understand why there is confusion amongst the students as there was a talk last week to discuss Mawuko’s absence and marks would be assessed.

Head of department Prof Gilbert Khadiagala said the students complaints have been addressed by the department.

“We told the students that we are going to have an impartial person to deal with the marks. We have done everything we can; the final person to deal with the marks will be the external examiner”.

Additional Resouces

Wits Vuvuzela April 26 2013: Oh my Lord, wenzeni?