Cecilia Lynch, a Professor in Political Science at UC Irvine (UCI), is an expert in international relations, religion and ethics, and humanitarianism. She is the recipient of an Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Post-Doctoral Fellowship for her current research on Islamic and interfaith religious ethics in world crises.
As my first faculty spotlight blog, I decided to write about my experience working with Professor Lynch in developing an online course: PS 147E – Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa. This course was one of my first projects at UCI as an instructional designer. From the beginning, I knew it would be a unique course involving many guest experts from the Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa (CIHA) blog, providing credible knowledge and awareness about humanitarianism in Africa. Professor Lynch also recognized the wide range of student learning needs in the subject, so she extended the class beyond UCI and offered it to students from all UC campuses and Africa. A UC Berkeley student indicated:
“I do work on infectious diseases internationally and want to learn to not fall into /actively fight against the structures of neo-colonialism that the global health field can sometimes fall into.”
Professor Lynch had received previous grants from the Henry Luce Foundation to co-edit and expand the CIHA blog and a UCOP ILTI grant to build this course out of the blog’s transcontinental relationships with African scholars and students. Because of diverse speaker involvement and diverse student enrollment, it was very crucial that the course was designed with maximum clarity and accessibility. The course was designed in a weekly module format for easy navigation, and each week students access an overview, learning objectives, preparation activities, participation activities, and assessment. Every weekly module has the same format for consistency, which provides students with clear expectations for students as they go through the course.
In addition, Dr. Lynch recognized the diversity of the student demographics in her class and students’ learning needs in humanitarianism. Therefore, she integrated videos and readings from African scholars of humanitarianism in the curriculum with three language video subtitles (English, French, and Arabic) to avoid language barriers for international students taking this course. a UCI student indicated:
“I am enjoying the class very much. It is one of the most eye opening classes that I have taken so far. My understanding of humanitarianism has greatly shifted and I have really enjoyed hearing the arguments presented to us as well as the dissuasions [sic] that students are having online.”
A student from South Africa also indicated:
“Thank you for the opportunity to participate in such a professionally stimulating and challenging course….”
Students taking this course are primarily upper-level undergraduates from the UC system and Senegal. However, several graduate students have been requesting to enroll in this course. Currently, the third student cohort includes approximately 60 students from across the UC system and 33 students from African institutions, including Gaston Berger University (St. Louis, Senegal), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa), and the Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (Nairobi, Kenya). I am impressed by the diversity of the student cohort in this course, where students are given opportunities to learn and exchange perspectives throughout the course. For example, Hekima Institute recruits master-level students, and most of them work in humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In addition, many practitioners and faith leaders also enroll in this course. A student from Africa expressed:
“I’m super excited to be taking this course as I grew up in Zambia and there aren’t any courses at UCSB for this kind of immersive class.”
South African NGO leaders also value the impact of this course:
“This course sharpens ones thinking …· It enables one to analyse and understand his socio-political environment and how it impacts our work. … The CIHA course gives you a much wider and deeper perspective of your work which ultimately assists in strengthening your ethics and values.· … It was indeed fulfilling to help to rewrite the story of Africa in general and the South in particular. Finally, as people who are in the centre of humanitarian support the course leaves you with questions in the light of charity vs development, Who gives you Aid? What kind of Aid? What are the terms and conditions?”
Students of the course constantly express their excitement about the opportunity to engage with professors and students from African institutions, the transnational discussions, and the perspectives offered, including those that question conventional understandings of the relationship between donors and recipients in humanitarian aid. A UC student from the fall 2021 class commented:
“I really like the summarized discussion on the reading from last week’s reading by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o. Professor Lynch worded it well that we need to ‘reverse the lens.’ … Hearing everything in French is also so interesting to me! I’ve never taken a course taught in multiple languages before and its [sic] so cool to see professors from other universities and people from different parts of the world interact.”
It has been absolutely my pleasure working with Professor Lynch and her TAs to develop PS 147E online. I am impressed by Professor Lynch’s endeavor in cultivating a cohesive student community that fosters learning collaboration among students in Africa and the United States.
About the Author
Bo Choi, M.A.Ed
Instructional Designer, Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI)
Bo is an instructional designer at at Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation, University of California, Irvine (UCI). She has been serving in higher education as an instructional designer over a decade, with training and many years of experience in creating effective teaching and learning experiences and materials for technology-infused, hybrid and online learning. Bo uses campus learning technologies to great effect, with attention to universal design principles that provide meaningful and inclusive learning opportunities for students with different strengths and abilities. She joined the DTEI team in August 2019 after serving as an instructional designer at Cal Poly Pomona for 12 years. She has a BS in Engineering Technology and a MA.Ed in Multimedia Education.