Direct engagement spurs active learning at technician training workshop in Ghana

posted on November 17, 2016 10:42am

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BHEARD hosted a technician training program in bioanalytical chemistry at KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) during the last week of July 2016. In the photo at right, participants learn about the principles of electromagnetic radiation and spectroscopy using a simple spectroscope and colored solutions. (Photo by Karen Duca)

USAID/Washington, recognizing the need to develop additional capacity in research labs, opted to use part of its BHEARD Institutional Capacity Development mini-grant to address this important area. BHEARD reached out to former AWARD (African Women in Agricultural Research and Development) fellows and the CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) system to recruit participants and also help catalyze the formation of a technician network.

The model for training had several key elements, each designed to accomplish a particular goal. The program was crafted to be essentially developmental in nature, with a strong focus on deep understanding of scientific principles, critical thinking, independent discovery, and problem solving on the technical side. A professional development component focused on growth mind-set, leadership, communication, scientific integrity, and mentoring.

The program was very intense, with both day and evening sessions. The workshop was attended by 18 participants representing research labs, universities and the private sector. There was minimal lecturing, active learning was central with hands-on exercises and small group discussions.

Participants assembled their own colorimeters in small groups of four people, calibrated them, and used them for all of the experimental work throughout the workshop. Participants learned how to use simple chemical tests for water and food analysis, as well as more advanced spectroscopic methods, for routine testing of lab samples, as well as advanced research work.

All participants reported that the active style of teaching was new and quite exciting to them and that they felt they had mastered the content through direct engagement.

The workshop was organized and planned by BHEARD/Ghana in-country coordinator, Saviour Badohu (a graduate of KNUST) in collaboration with USAID/Washington BHEARD activity manager, Karen Duca (a former faculty member at KNUST). In addition, eight staff members of KNUST from the College of Science and School of Medicine volunteered their time to take part in the workshop as instructors and mentors.

Two BHEARD students who hail from KNUST and are completing their Ph.D. degrees at Michigan State University—Nana Pepra and Mary More-thanblessed Adjepong—also participated as teaching assistants during the weeklong workshop. The participants were encouraged to think about aspects of the workshop that they can do themselves at their own workplaces. The colorimeters and other materials remain available at KNUST and can be checked out for use in other locations.

On the final day of the workshop, the technicians planned out the next workshop on the topic of molecular biology. They opted to retain the hands-on style of this first workshop, but would prefer to have a shorter day. They requested that all of the soft skills training be done in a single day at the outset of the course with a plan to really put it into practice during the course of the week to consolidate the learning.

Overall satisfaction with the workshop was high, with all participants rating it very good (17 percent) or excellent (83 percent) and setting up a WhatsApp group to keep in touch and share experiences in bringing the training back home to their work sites.

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The following URL has a short video of some activities in the workshop and participants’ statements about their experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAc1MLaMBgk