Sunday, 29 December 2013

A useful resource for our project

I have just finished reading Researching Student Learning in Higher Education: A social realist approach, by Jennie Case (Routledge, 2013). This book is a useful resource for our project. Firstly, She writes lucidly and she explains the work of Margaret Archer really clearly. She also brings this together with the work of realists on the curriculum, ie. Bernstein and Maton. So for people who struggle to read Margaret Archer's work, this is a good way in. Secondly, I found the way Jennie discusses student agency interesting, and the fact that she brings this together with considerations of how to make the engineering curriculum more accessible for students. This is towards the end of the book. This is also closer to an interest I have, in how to make links between issues of agency and issues of knowledge and - to use a term of Archer - 'knowledgeability'. This is the kernel of the matter regarding social justice in education, both regarding students, and academics themselves.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Writing together

We are interested in the process of collaborative research amongst a large group of individuals (18) across a series of sites (8). In our case this collaboration is made more challenging due to the fact that we work in academic development in South Africa. Whilst it is increasingly viewed as necessary that academic developers undertake research on teaching and learning and their own practice, there are still universities that do not see this as necessary or valuable. Some of us in the team have been working collaboratively for a while now, but some are working collaboratively for the first time, and find this daunting.  There is also a group with very little research experience altogether - this makes for an interesting collaboration. We have found that each 'group' takes something away from the collaboration. Three years after the inception of the project, we have decided to write a second reflective group paper on our experience, with a working title, Identity, emotion and expertise: reflections on a large group, multi-site collaborative research project. We worked on this paper at our most recent meeting in Pretoria on 26 November 2013. Here we are at work planning the paper:

There were ten of us at the meeting, and another four on Skype.  Those present at the meeting (in the photo below) are:

Back: Clever Ndebele (Venda); James Garraway (Cape University of Technology)
Middle: Vuyisile Nkonki and Patricial Muhuro (Fort Hare); Jo Vorster (Rhodes); Chris Winberg (CPUT); Vivienne Bozalek (Western Cape); Jean Farmer (Stellenbosch)
Front: Nicoline Herman and Brenda Leibowitz (Stellenbosch)

Heltasa Conference 2013

Our team made several presentations at the annual Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (Heltasa) conference, which was held at UNISA in Pretoria in November 2013. Here are two of the presentations.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

We were concerned about the findings and the process

This project has had a primary aim, namely to consider how contextual influences influence the take-up of professional development opportunities by academics in South African universities. The research design has been participatory, where the investigators are members of centres for teaching and learning, and thus have a key stake in the outcome of the research. The data has been collected at macro and micro levels: we analyzed national higher education policies and initiatives; we interviewed senior managers at each institution and we interviewed a minimum of ten lecturers at each of the institutions. we also generated descriptive and reflective reports on the conditions for teaching and learning at each institution. By December 2013 we have collected all the data (over 120 interviews transcribed) and have completed four of the eight case studies and have sent a number of manuscripts to journals.

It became clear early on in the project that the attention was both on the research findings and on the research process: we were concerned to build the research capacity of the team members and to reflect on the optimal conditions for researchers to collaborate and support each other's identity development as researchers. Here we were in session, learning about social realism, coding and talking about collaboration:

Short summary of the project

This was a National Research Foundation (NRF) funded project entitled “The Interplay of Structure, Culture and Agency: contextual influences on the professional development of academics as teachers in Higher Education in South Africa” which was undertaken by researchers at eight universities during 2011 – 2013. The project was an investigation into contextual influences on the professional development of academics as teachers in higher education in South Africa. It was based on an analysis of the national context and eight case studies at public higher education institutions. The eight institutions and sites for the case studies were: Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, Fort Hare University, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University, University of Cape Town, University of Venda and the University of the Western Cape. The lead research institution was Stellenbosch University.

The project emerged out of a call from the NRF for educational research to be undertaken collaboratively, by researchers from at least three institutions, of which one should be rural. A team of 18 researchers were motivated to become involved in this project as they all work to enhance teaching and learning in their universities. The team saw this project as an opportunity to reflect on their own institutional contexts and on quality teaching and the way professional development with regard to the teaching role is supported at their institutions and their academic development units.

The purpose of the research was threefold:
·       to make suggestions about how to enhance professional development with regard to teaching at each of the eight participating institutions;
·       to make suggestions at the national level for appropriate and context-sensitive policy to enhance teaching and learning in South Africa;
·   to contribute to the international debates on professional development with regard to teaching and learning with specific reference to the concepts of ‘structure, culture and agency’ as developed in the work of social realist Margaret Archer. 

Research team members:

Cape Peninsula University of Technology:
James Garraway
Chris Winberg
Durban University of Technology:
Gita Mistri
Julian Vooght
Rhodes University:
Chrissie Boughey
Lynn Quinn
Silvana Barbali
Jo-Anne Vorster
University of Cape Town:
Jeff Jawitz
June Pym
Kevin Williams
University of Fort Hare:
Vuyisile Nkonki
University of Stellenbosch:
Nicoline Herman
Brenda Leibowitz
Susan van Schalkwyk
Jean Farmer
University of Venda:
Cosmas Maphosa
Clever Ndebele
University of the Western Cape:
Vivienne Bozalek
Wendy McMillan

The principal investigator was Brenda Leibowitz, from the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Stellenbosch University. 

A new funding proposal has been submitted to the NRF for 2014 - 2016. The team is awaiting the outcome.