Tom Deans’s Experience Teaching in Africa

The University of Connecticut has an impressive writing center where all students have accessibility for feedback, and guidance from fellow college students or professors in order to write grade A work. The man who started it all is named Tom Deans. Tom has a clear passion for writing and developing a workshop based process for student writers at the University of Connecticut. His role at Uconn is not only active in the English department as a professor of many introductory writing courses, but he also teaches graduate level courses and STEM based writing courses. It is important to recognize Tom’s teaching philosophy; he encourages a project based curriculum where there is more room for collaboration and creativity for one’s writing. His courses contain a lot of peer reviewing and mentoring where there is development of many drafts before the finished project. This perspective of writing is similar to what the Connecticut Writing Project practices and encourages all students and professors to do. In fact, Tom Deans has done direct work with Jason Courtmanche and other colleagues for CWP and developing this different styled curriculum of writing. 

Tom’s experience with this writing workshop based curriculum has progressed into many different collegiate courses. For example, Tom now assists with introducing this curriculum in STEM major W courses. His work goes further than the University of Connecticut, he is currently teaching at Uganda Christian University to develop the same curriculum there and launch a writing center as well. However, Tom has faced some challenges during his time in Africa so far. There are distinct differences between the education in Africa compared to what Tom was used to at Uconn. A few differences are the status of COVID-19 and how it has affected their classes, the expectations between a professor and the students, the curriculum, and flexibility with studies. Uganda currently has in-person classes but when I spoke with Tom he said one of his challenges was that his two courses were online. He teaches a graduate level course, which meets on zoom, and an undergraduate course. However, there is a disconnect between him and his students for the reason that many do not have access to a device in order to join the daily classes. The U.S has an upper hand with technology and staying connected despite the pandemic compared to third world countries. This level of disconnection presented a challenge and caused Tom to have to adjust to the living circumstances. Uganda is only 3% vaccinated and that demonstrates their lack of resources in order to create normalcy in their school systems.

Tom also mentioned how his relationship with his students in Uganda is very different from his relationship with his students at Uconn. The graduate students there do not feel comfortable calling Tom by his first name, rather they view him as an authority figure and will call him Professor. They treat class as a time where the professor speaks and they listen and do the tasks given to them with little to no collaboration. Tom was used to a different type of classroom where he prefers students call him by his first name and he encourages students to voice their opinion and converse with one another. He realized he needed to find a common ground while he was introducing this workshop based curriculum so he accepted being called Professor and adjusted to what was normal for his current students. Another major difference he learned was that his students in Africa do not have the same privileges as Uconn students when it comes to flexibility in their studies. The students there chose a major and stuck with it throughout their collegiate education. They did not have the option to switch majors. 

Tom reflects on his experience by realizing how fortunate American higher education is. He has a greater appreciation for the accessibilities and support American universities provide for their students. Although there have been difficulties in his time in Uganda, Tom does recommend this experience to others. He feels it supports cultural immersion and allows people to make lifelong connections with the students there. He feels those who have an interest in teaching abroad will enjoy the experience. Tom’s goals going further will be to develop a strong writing center at the  Uganda Christian University and he hopes to start launching writing centers in highschools as well. Tom’s devotion to strengthen writing programs abroad and in the U.S, is an inspiration to the work CWP does.