Colloquium: Contextual Approaches to Professional Academic Development. 27 July 2015


27 July 2015
Devon Valley, Stellenbosch


This report provides an overview of the colloquium entitled “Contextual Approaches to Professional Development with regard to the Teaching Role” held in Stellenbosch in July 2015.

1.1       The purpose of the colloquium

As explained in the welcome address by Brenda Leibowitz, the leader of the Structure, Culture and Agency Research Project, the colloquium provided a forum for delegates to consider issues related to research on professional academic development in higher education in South Africa, with particular regard to the teaching role.  Delegates included researchers in the Structure, Culture and Agency Research Project as well as academic development practitioners from other South African and African universities, and from universities in the United Kingdom and Australia.

The aims of the colloquium were to assist professional academic developers in strategizing their work, to advise senior managers at universities and to contribute to national policy decisions and funding strategies.

1.2       Overview of the programme[1]

The programme began with two plenary sessions that set the scene for the later parallel sessions: a presentation by Nan Yeld, the Director of the Teaching and Learning Directorate at the Department of Higher Education and training (DHET) and another by researchers in the Structure, Agency and Culture Project. The latter covered the design and approach used in the project along with its key findings. 

The parallel sessions that followed included presentations on the following themes:
  • Student learning and implications for professional development
  • Context
  • Enhancing critical reflection and reflexivity – in PG Dip in HE
  • New directions for AD work
  • Context (and agency)
  • Methodological resources
The thematic sessions were followed by a short report-back session with the final sessions focused on theory for researching professional academic development. Here the emphasis was on critical and social realism, and practice-based approaches informed by socio-materialism. In addition, consideration was given to how to treat theoretical resources while remaining creative and critical and faithful to context, and how to work with apparently disparate theoretical approaches.

While the powerpoint presentations are available independently, this report identifies issues that were foregrounded highlighting their importance in addressing the aims of the colloquium. All presentations were followed by questions and discussions, the contents of which are also included in this report.  


Professor Nan Yeld, the Director of Teaching and Learning Directorate in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) provided an overview of current national considerations and concerns, and possible new approaches for the future.

3.1       The importance of learning environments

Recognising variations in different institutional contexts, Professor Yeld foregrounded the importance of learning environments for both staff and students – including issues related to finance, housing and wellness. She explained that the DHET recognises that for supportive facilities to be optimised, integrated planning is required. In addition, it has been recognised that the traditional staff categories of academic and non-academic, and the binaries associated with research and teaching functions need to be addressed, for example through provision of incentives for staff to take up development opportunities. Other considerations being taken into consideration at the national level focus on the ways in which research contributes to policy and implementation, including the prioritisation of high-impact practices.

3.2       Achievements in the area of Teaching and Learning

Professor Yeld acknowledged that there have been a number of achievements in the area of teaching and learning, not least of which is the acknowledgement that teaching makes a difference! Other important drivers of change mentioned in her presentation included the development of institutional teaching and learning strategic plans, the establishment of senior committees with accountability at institutional and faculty levels, the inclusion of teaching in promotion requirements, and the recognition of the professionalization of teaching as being important.

3.3       A new ‘University Capacity Development Programme’

Professor Yeld outlined the new “University Capacity Development Programme” currently being finalised by the DHET. It is anticipated that this will be implemented at three levels:
  • professional doctorates through blended learning;
  • short courses / modules focusing on managing / learning processes (as opposed to teaching);
  • expert seminars / study visits / workshops.   
3.4       Complexities around funding

Much of Professor Yeld’s presentation, and the subsequent questions and discussion, focused on the complexities around funding and funding management. While a number of areas have been earmarked for 2015 / 2016 grants[2], the recent funding review process has given rise discussions about the possibility of one grant to cover the following subsections:
  • Established processes such as mentoring, tutorial systems, Writing Centres, core TLC-type staff
  • Teaching and Learning development
  • Research development
  • Extended programmes with increased focus on teaching and learning and curriculum development, monitoring and evaluation (moving beyond numbers reached)
  • A capacity development programme for professional staff. 
One of the key questions on funding facing the DHET is: How can development costs be distinguished from normal “maintenance” costs? A comment from the floor highlighted the importance of achieving a balance between earmarked funding and the block grants. While the former acts as a catalyst and drives new projects, the block grants need to keep pace with the costs of general provision. Another response from the floor suggested that development grants focus on “people” rather than “projects”. A third delegate reminded the audience that people development needs will vary from one institutional context to another, while a fourth argued for the need for “sustained engagement” rather than one-off workshops. 

3.5       Urgent Teaching and Learning concerns

Professor Yeld listed a number of urgent concerns in the area of teaching and learning, leading with the inability to spend and account for activities, and poor management of processes. At present, she said, there is little evidence of the impact of efforts of the SOTL.

In addition, there continues to be a lack of clarity as to what is understood by key terms used in the area of teaching and learning, such as “tutorials” (who may become a tutor and what training is required), “mentorship” and the role of student evaluations of lecturers. There is no consensus as to what counts as “high impact practices” - or which three interventions could be prioritised for immediate attention. Professor Yeld drew a distinction between “data” versus “evidence” suggesting the lack of “evidence” is partly responsible for the lack of strategies.

As indicated by a delegate during the discussion session, research findings and conclusions do not immediately translate into policy or practice. Professor Yeld commented that a forum such as HELTASA[3] could compile a list of constraints to implementation and suggestions on how to address these. 

The final concerns highlighted were disjunctures between institutional development plans, insufficient awareness of the wider higher education policy environment and development, the use of the TDGs as “income relief” and the effect that “projectivised” approaches have on funding.

3.6       Major issues for future funding cycles

In conclusion, Professor Yeld pointed to major issues requiring attention in future funding cycles. These included sustaining professional expertise and structures in the teaching and learning areas, and continuing “proven” good practices once they become institutionalized. In addition, the need to match management and accountability efforts with value / yield, and to deal with profligate spending, where this occurs, were mentioned. Delegates were asked to consider the possible benefits of central steering and the contributions and limitations of research in their deliberations.


Jo Vorster (Rhodes University) introduced the presenters – Susan van Schalkwyk (SU) and Clever Ndebele (UniVen) – and the respondents - Martin Oosthuizen (NWU) and Stan Mukhola (TUT).

4.1       Overview of study approach and design

Professor van Schalkwyk introduced the project and its background, acknowledging Brenda Leibowitz’s leadership of the large team of researchers. She explained that the eight universities included in the study represented many different contexts or spaces so provided for different ways of looking at teaching and learning. A multi-level case study, the project drew on collaborative and reflective research modes as participants sought to understand practice within their institutional contexts.

The study aims as to advance professional development by making suggestions for national policy and contributing to international debates, with specific reference to the concepts “structure”, “agency” and “culture”.  

The project began with desktop research to identify national and international trends in the teaching role of academic staff. The researchers generated documents institutionally – “critical pieces” – with each institutional leader writing a more reflective response to these. After this initial phase, a survey (with approximately 700 staff responses) and in-depth interviews (with approximately 15 members of staff at various levels) were conducted.

Analytical work involved synthesising all the documents generated using Archer’s framework, thus laying the foundation for the case studies. Descriptive statistics and thematic analyses were included. An overarching report will be completed. In the meantime, the case study reports have been used within the individual institutions to influence institutional-level policy.

4.2       Main findings and high-level recommendations

In introducing his presentation Professor Ndebele pointed out that a number of the project findings are closely related to issues raised in Professor Yeld’s earlier presentation. For example, the project had found that Teaching and Learning Centres offer support for professional development and that a number of policies have been developed. The project has also revealed, however, that most of the programmes on offer target only the less experienced lecturers rather than cater for all levels and categories of staff.  Generally, the programmes offered do not provide for the sustained engagement required for new learning with lecturers working in isolation.

The issue of context loomed large in this presentation – with differences noted between the historically advantaged institutions and the historically disadvantaged institutions. The high staff turnover was noted in the rural universities included in the study along with the challenges associated with the casualisation of staff.

The project has also found that institutional leadership has a direct impact (positive or negative) on the success of academic development initiatives. In addition, differences in conceptualisations of teaching and what counts as good teaching were revealed in the data. In some cases, successful teaching was determined by throughput and graduation rates, while a broader vision informed other views. For some interviewees, teaching was a “common sense” activity rather than an area for professionalization. Traditional tensions between research and teaching and the value accorded to each of these were also recorded. These findings speak directly to the issues of context and culture.

Possible recommendations arising from the project could include those that focus on the following issues:
  • National recognition of teaching needs – teaching needs to be uplifted nationally
  • More and improved professional development opportunities
  • Teaching conditions need further investigation
  • History, geography and resources all impact provision and delivery
  • Tenure for staff – casualisation militates against investment in development
  • Infrastructure, leadership and administration all have an impact
  • Central organisation is needed to assist teaching development
  • The binary between teaching and research functions needs to be addressed
  • Learning from peers within programmes needs further attention.

A number of papers have already produced by researchers on this project. The list can be viewed at the end of Professor Ndebele’s powerpoint presentation.

4.3       Response from Martin Oosthuizen

In his response to the two presentations in this session of the programme, Professor Oosthuizen commended the Structure, Culture and Agency Project for “opening up the black box of teaching and learning” and identifying levers that impact this area of work. The collaborative nature of the project was seen as having been important in this regard.

Professor Oosthuizen linked the concept of “context” to stratification of the higher education sector and, therefore, the important material conditions in which the institutions operate, including their histories, geographies and legacies – all of which have an impact. Differentiation, too, both horizontal and vertical, continues to feed into the binary of teaching and research.

Professor Oosthuizen argued that the findings of the project indicate that national policy needs to support differentiation and ensure parity in the research and teaching functions within and across institutions. He suggested that the establishment of a national body for teaching and learning would provide a structure where issues impacting on professional development could be discussed. This body could then inform DHET after which Institutional leaders and managers could decide how institutional-level policy (e.g. conditions of service, tenure etc) would follow the central direction provided.

In responding to the view of teaching as a “common sense” activity, Professor Oosthuizen argued that professional knowledge needs to underpin professional development programmes – and that programmes should include information on the nature of knowledge and how it is generated in different disciplines. He went on to say that professional development programmes need to be based on the systematic study of various issues, include explanatory frameworks (including grounded theory) and
evidence for why some initiatives are successful. The programmes need to be realistic in terms of what can be achieved in allocated time periods, take into informal learning opportunities, and be reviewed in relation to enhancement themes. 

4.4           Response from Stan Mukhola

Professor Mukhola began his presentation by asking a number of questions:
  • Are academics really less prepared than other professionals, e.g. lawyers, doctors and high school teachers?
  • Are they less prepared than academics in other countries for their world of work?
  • How do we ensure that academics know how to facilitate learning in their disciplines (and beyond)?
In addressing these questions, Professor Mukhola argued that academic staff need to engage in professional learning to enhance their facilitator of learning role. He referred to both formal and informal learning opportunities, including reflection. Agreeing with previous speakers, Professor Mukhola highlighted the importance of sustained engagement in broad and continuous learning platforms where the focus shifts from teaching skills to the facilitation of learning.

Professor Mukhola outlined the approach to professional academic programmes followed at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). This implied passionate scholarship, quality enhancement, change throughout the whole university environment (including policies and strategies); informed curriculum change, transformative facilitation, and excellence across the range of academic practices. He went on to describe a number of the professional development programmes offered at TUT, along with their positive outcomes and limitations.

Many of issues raised by previous speakers were also given emphasis by Professor Mukhola: the difficulties of catering for the range of needs amongst academics at different levels, especially in a large university, and, therefore, one-size-fits-all approach with the focus on full-time academic staff; the length of the programmes on offer (one day to one week) that does not provide for sustained engagement and informal learning activities; and insufficient commitment amongst academic staff to attend programmes.

In considering professional development programmes to be offered in future, Professor Mukhola suggested that realities of academics in universities of technology be taken into account (e.g. workloads, large classes and student preparedness), that varied learning processes and practices be included, and that relevant theory be linked to practice. The professional development programmes already on offer in other countries could provide a platform for the development of programmes in South African universities.

These suggestions were taken up in the open discussion where the importance of tailoring professional development programmes after conducting needs analyses was highlighted. A key question raised “How much needs to be covered in these programmes and how should this be done?” was later addressed in a parallel session. 

A final comment from a delegate in this session stressed that research into (and including the evaluation of) professional development programmes should take into account the differing aims of the programmes, a variety of measures of success (or impact) that can be used, and the time-periods over which success might be measured.  


This session, chaired by Nasima Badsha, provided the opportunity for the rapporteurs to report back on key issues raised in the parallel sessions. (The abstracts for these presentations are in Appendix 2 to this report.) In summarising the report backs, this section of the report illustrates the linkages between the three concepts “structure”, “culture” and “agency” by foregrounding another two - “context” and “identity”.

Context was seen to be central in many of the presentations. It was viewed as multi-layered from the South African national policy level with its principle of differentiation to the varied institutional contexts (for example, historically disadvantaged versus historically advantaged institutions, traditional universities, particularly those seen to be research-intensive, and universities of technology, and rural versus urban campuses). In most presentations, context was linked to identity not only across institutional sites but within individual universities – the divisions of labour between academic and non-academic or support staff, and between researchers and teachers, and even between lecturers and academic development staff. The need for “border crossings” and greater levels of trust was highlighted in one presentation.

Alongside context, the concepts structure and culture were used since different institutional sites have different structures (or ways in which the organisations are arranged) and different ways of doing things, reflecting norms, values and traditions. 

The purpose of the universities was seen to be another aspect of their institutional identities. Many presentations throughout the day acknowledged the increasingly complex role played by these institutions with terms such as “the entrepreneurial university” being introduced and debated. These debates then raised further questions about the role of academic development in universities – and how this area of work needs to reflect the ever-evolving role of academics in universities. As a result, no final definition of academic development can be given as this will remain a dynamic set of roles. In other words, academic development remains a complex process within a complex system.

A number of presentations focused on the structure and content of the professional development programmes that could be offered in future.  These moved away from the “one-size-fits-all approach” to a more “tailored” and needs-driven approach where a number of possible “target” audiences could be identified. A “ladder of learning” with three different levels was described one presentation – the emerging level, the developing level and the distinguishing level.

Other presentations gave emphasis to a strong knowledge base, theories of change and learning, the national policy context, immersion, blended modalities, reflection and writing. There was agreement that staff could be strongly encouraged (rather than coerced) to attend these programmes through support from (distributed) institutional leaders who act as critical enablers in making strategic policy decisions.

Context and identity were, therefore, also linked to power and power relations in several presentations with some presenters urging academic development practitioners to take “ownership” of and view themselves as scholars in this field. Other presenters urged leaders and managers to reconsider the output-driven system and to provide greater emphasis on input, including the resources and tools used in teaching and learning.

The possibility of using (and even combining) different theoretical approaches in research on academic development was considered in the report back session with the final session of the day providing a greater focus on theory. 


The panelists in this session were:
Peter Kahn (University of Liverpool) speaking on critical realism
John Hannon (La Trobe University) speaking on socio-materialism, and
Kibbie Naidoo (University of Johannesburg) speaking on using theory.

The two respondents were:
Lucia Thesen (University of Cape Town) and
Chrissie Boughey (Rhodes University).

In her introduction to this session, Brenda Leibowitz argued that “how we conduct research is not just a technical question or a matter of semantics” – the theories used frame what is seen and found. Theories give and shape and from the project.

6.1           Peter Kahn – critical realism

Peter Kahn began the session by providing a reason for choosing critical realism: he said that this offers an explanation of why the world is as it is and provides for critique and change. Margaret Archer’s theory, based as it is on emancipation and social justice, provides a framework for researchers to develop understandings of “rich landscapes” and why things are as they are within different university. Based on their understandings, researchers can then assist in re-framing policies to make a difference to these landscapes. For example, new funding policy can steer social relations and mechanisms (e.g. tutorials, mentorships) used for learning.

6.2           John Hannon – socio-materialism

In his presentation, John Hannon explained key concepts in and value of a socio-material approach. Part of the “family of practice studies”, socio-materiality gives emphasis to materials and spaces, building on the notion that “things only exist in relation to each other”. Technological developments require a re-thinking of spaces of work and teaching and learning theories. In this century, “hybrid spaces” mean that our “knowledge practices” have changed and, so, our ways of thinking about what we do and how we do it also need to change.

Theorising about these issues is “a messy thinking business that requires effort” and further complicated because our everyday world is constantly being co-constituted – it is co-evolving, performed and co-emergent. Socio-materialism provides a useful framework for focusing on materials and their relations and tracing these through an empirical process. A relational ontology is used to address the question: how do things hold together? In this way, the “logic of practice” (including pedagogical practice) and the disconnections in practice may be identified.

6.3           Kibbie Naidoo – on using theory

Kibbie Naidoo’s presentation focused on the ways in which researchers can use theory in the process of knowledge production. She suggested that researchers use theory much more critically in relating it to their own local contexts and experiences – in her words, use theory as “a vehicle for (building) outrageous hypotheses”! In this way, higher education should be thought of as “a site of struggle” for social justice.

Researchers were urged to use “the power of the sociological imagination” and see things anew rather than merely employing traditional grand theory and sociological empiricism. Similarly, rather than relying on one theory, Kibbie suggested that researchers enter into dialogue with different theories, particularly where different knowledges have different values. In doing so, researchers may need to take risks and make themselves more vulnerable in conducting analysis and synthesis tasks.

These suggestions were taken up by a delegate who recalled how he and other academic practitioners had spent time “chasing credibility through theory” rather than foregrounding lived experience.

6.4       Lucia Thesen’s response

In her response, Lucia Thesen spoke about two moments in her own personal experience where she had faced “dilemmas with theory”. The first was when she realized that she and her colleagues were pursuing an identity (and definition) for academic development at a time when the value of interdisciplinary work was being recognised. The second was in relation to context, the question being “How much context do you give?” when writing for publication purposes. Underlying Lucia’s second dilemma was the recognition of the ways in which concepts and theories are interpreted differently within the contexts in which they are used.

6.4           Chrissie Boughey’s response

Chrissie Boughey picked up on the value of critical realism which she termed “a philosophy of reality” and distinguished it from explanatory theories which are used in “making the data work”. She, too, agreed that theories could be combined – and possibly even “pitted against each other” – in helping researchers understand the world and changes that they would like to see in universities.  In arguing for a non-dualistic approach to the use of theory in research, Chrissie suggested that it is the concepts within theories (e.g. structure, agency) that help us “see beyond the obvious” of our lived experience. In this way, concepts are tools which researchers “have a duty to use”. If possible, these concepts might be linked together in a coherent theory with explanatory value.


Gita Mistri thanked all presenters and delegates for their participation in the colloquium. Brenda Leibowitz promised that all the powerpoint presentations would be uploaded onto Google drive for the benefit of colloquium participants -  (
The Structure, Agency and Culture research team will work with the data from the project and the presentation at the colloquium to develop a more comprehensive and substantiated set of recommendations to be shared with the delegates before being disseminated more widely, including to policy makers. Further deliberations about professional development in higher education in relation to context will be arranged by the HELTASA Professional Development Special Interest Group.

Appendix 1

27 JULY 2015


08.30       Welcome and Introduction: Brenda Leibowitz, UJ

08.45       Professional Academic Development in South Africa – National Considerations: Nan Yeld (DHET)

09.45       Presentation of the Structure, Culture and Agency Project and Key Findings
                  Structure, Culture and Agency Research Team (Susan van Schalkwyk, SU; Clever Ndebele, UniVen) 
Respondents:  Martin Oosthuizen (DVC, NWU); Stan Mukhola, (Acting DVC, TUT)
Chair: Jo Vorster (RU and Convenor, Heltasa PD SIG)
11.0         TEA

The Workshop
Student learning and implications for professional development
Enhancing critical reflection and reflexivity – in PGDip in HE
11.20 – 11.45
Winberg and Garraway
Quinn and Vorster
11.45 – 12.10
Dresselhaus and Viljoen
Ndebele, Muhuro,  Nkonki
12.10 – 12.35
Govender and Pallit

12.30       LUNCH
The Workshop
New Directions for AD Work
Context (and agency)
Methodological Resources
13.35 – 14.00
Van Schalkwyk and McMillan
14.00 – 14.25
 Woods and Cameron
14.25 – 14.50
14.50 – 15.15
Pitso, Lebusa and Tjabane
Context (and difference)
Bozalek and McMillan

Note: the S, C and A project members (above names in italics) to serve as chairs of sessions.

15.15       Report back from parallel papers: recommendations for policy, practice and further research
                  Rapporteurs from S, C and A Research Team
                  Chair: Nasima Badsha (CHEC)
15.45       TEA
16.15       Panel Discussion: Theory for Researching Professional Academic Development with Regard to the    Teaching Role 

Focus on critical and social realism, and practice-based approaches informed by socio-materialism. The discussion will consider: considerations for choosing theoretical resources;                    how to treat theoretical resources as useful whilst remaining creative and critical and faithful to context; how easily one can work with apparently disparate theoretical approaches; and what can be gained by            working with these two approaches.
                  Peter Kahn (University of Liverpool  - on critical realism)
                  John Hannon (La Trobe University - on socio-materialism)
                  Kibbie Naidoo  (University of Johannesburg - on using theory)
                  Lucia Thesen (UCT)
                  Chrissie Boughey (Rhodes)     


Appendix 2

BOZALEK, Vivienne and McMillan, Wendy
University of the Western Cape

Teaching, learning, and research: Diffracting the interviews of Deputy Vice Chancellors of Teaching and Learning

Traditionally, teaching and research have been conceptualized as binaries, which has had crucial consequences for professional academic development in the higher education sector.  This chapter uses new feminist materialisms, particular the work of Karen Barad (2007) to trouble the dualisms of teaching and research.  In order to do this, we draw on Barad’s relational ontology.  This ontological position holds that entities do not pre-exist relationships and agency does not reside uniquely within a human individual, but is a performance within a relationship. Barad  (2007) uses a diffractive methodology to ascertain ‘patterns of difference that make a difference’ (p. 72). A diffractive methodology is used in this chapter to examine the entanglements of ideas both within and between interviews which were conducted with eight deputy vice chancellors teaching and learning in South African higher education institutions.  A diffractive methodology requires a close and attentive reading of the fine details of a text to ascertain ‘patterns of difference that make a difference’ (Barad, 2007, p. 72).  Diffractive methodologies can be used to move beyond the dichotomies which have traditionally emerged between teaching and learning and research, to provide inventive and creative provocations.  A diffractive approach also alerts one to the effect that the researcher, the participants, the selection of research methods and the interview guide intra-act as specific material-discursive practices which open up possibilities in the research process while excluding others.  Thus the analysis of research findings is understood as an enactment amongst research-data-participants-theory (Mazzei, 2013). In analyzing the interviews diffractively, our focus was not upon the human intentionality of individual participants in the study, but on ‘a complex network of human and non-human agents, including historically specific sets of material conditions that exceed the traditional notion of the individual’ (Barad 2007, p. 23).  In the case of the interviews considered in this chapter, this complex network included the entanglements of the legacy of apartheid and global neoliberal discourses emphasising outputs, research and student throughput, which were read diffractively through Boyer’s (1990) theory of the scholarship of teaching and learning.

DISON, Laura
University of the Witwatersrand

Demystifying reflective practice’: the role of reflection in a Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education

One of the main aims of the Diploma in Higher Education (PHDip) at the University of the Witwatersrand, is for participants to reflect on their role and practice as teachers, course designers and assessors in their disciplines.  Ashwin et al (2015) describe this as a systematic re-evaluation of teaching experiences in order to ‘change future teaching practices’. A key assumption of the programme is for participants to engage deeply in the ‘artistry’ of reflection in order to ‘turn (their) experience into learning’ (Boud 1985). In implementing the first module, Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (L &THE) in 2015, it became apparent to the course presenters that the fundamental goal of instilling critically reflective practice in the participants needed to take into account the different forms and levels of reflection required for ways of knowing and learning in an ‘epistemically diverse curriculum’ (Luckett 2002).  It was assumed that students would operate at a fairly high level of meta-awareness without recognizing that certain disciplinary fields do not have a tradition of reflective practice (Stierer, 2009). This paper contributes to a critical understanding of what it means to reflect meaningfully to achieve foundational, practical, personal and reflexive competencies in relation to the key learning outcomes of this professional course. The study reports on methods for integrating strategies and tools for stimulating reflective practice in the module T&LHE. It also shows how the different forms of reflection have been incorporated and ‘front-end loaded’ into the assessment criteria of the digital portfolio, the key assessment task of the PGDip.

DRESSELHAUS, Fritz and Viljoen, Margaret
University of Pretoria

Experience Innovation through Action Research in a Financial Management Module: An emergent paradigm in professional academic development

Retention and pass rates in the teaching, learning and assessment of a Financial Management Module remain a concern at a South African University. Interventions were implemented. Research data however showed that the students liked and favored the new approaches; yet pass rates remained well below the expected norm. Students seemed to lack the ability to convert these positive opportunities into real learning success. In an extended sense this condition is described by Amartya Sen as a ‘conversion handicap’, where Sen poses that individual factors unique to each learner may hamper the conversion of educational opportunity into real success in learning. To discover the reasons why some students are unable to convert learning opportunities into real success, a number of instruments have been developed nationally and internationally. Kuh recommended four high impact practices to promote learning success.  Improvement practices in the Financial Management Module were not based on Kuh’s recommendations; practices were rather based on quantitative and qualitative data analyses derived from self-reported student experiences – experience innovation driven by learners and through learners. The effect of experience innovation on professional academic development will be that the classic divide between teaching and research is closed; that future professionals should be empowered to interpret to design an intervention, to develop a story board for action research to generate own data; to implement and to measure success – and start the process again and again in the never ending quest for excellence.

DWAYI, Valile
Walter Sisulu University

Academic Monitoring and Support as Reflexive and Dialectical Practices of University Leadership and Management

This paper reports on the work in progress about the role of academic leadership and management in promoting and monitoring student success. The bigger project of which this paper forms part seeks to explore the factors that condition academic decision making events and processes about student performance which thus eliminate or perpetuate student exclusions, marginalisation and disadvantage in a developmental context. Monitoring practices by higher education leadership and management are ideally about evidence based practices which should derive from prior defined performance targets about student success and graduation rates. Such practices entail monitoring for educational improvement/development by means of data management and developmental research as students are journeying from university entry to program completion. Academic leadership and management practices should also provide opportunity to build organizational capacity for continual, coordinated and collaborative enhancement that produces organizational learning. How students then get excluded from such an ideal higher education monitoring system, and in the context of the equity of access and the quality of student success, presents the dilemmas and tensions of leadership and management agency especially in the contexts of education as the public good. The bigger project frames higher education practices in reflexive and dialectic terms, and thus draws from both professional practice in general and Archer’s social realist theory, in particular. For the social interaction phase, data was collected from four academic programs by means analysis of organisational records. Survey questionnaire were distributed to Heads of Departments and followed by a focus group interviews. Discussion of this paper will involve exploring the potential implications for capacity and capabilities development for academic leadership and management along integrated academic development.

FARMER, Jean, Carolissen, Ronelle and Leibowitz, Brenda
Stellenbosch University

Narratives of Black Women Academics’ Trajectories in South African Universities

Data for this study emerged from my own trajectory and an interest in the narratives of other black women who successfully reached academic positions in higher education institutions. I am interested in why and how underprepared and under-supported black women, would desire to persist against all the socio-historical threats to impede their success. Often blacks are blamed for their own failure or arguments that many black graduates prefer to enter the private sector because there are higher paid positions. This however does not account for those black women who do stay in academia and do not progress. This thesis investigates the structural, cultural and contextual affordances and challenges inside and outside of the institutions, as well as the sense of agency of these women, on their trajectory. I investigate the notion from the data that these women feel a ‘burden of proof’ or encounter a visible or invisible ceiling which is not a reality to others. I analyze the data of these stories of past to see whether they feel that lack of comprehensive schooling, parentage and socio-historical background had an influence. Which are the issues, in our minds, which have distanced us from attaining positions in higher education and how do we navigate our way through or around these. The interwoven narratives include the profiles of seventeen black women academics at four different institutions in South Africa in response to the research questions:
I.               What in past and current contextual experiences are perceived as influences in our trajectories to higher education?
II.              In which way does the interplay of individual, social and institutional contexts further influence our trajectories?                   

GOVENDER, Shanali and Pallitt, Nicola
University of Cape Town

Getting messy with critical reflection: How shifting modes support developing professional identities of emerging academics

Despite posing substantial challenges for emerging academics, written critical reflection is extensively used as a tool for academic development. The affordances of alternative modalities for critical reflection have been largely under-researched in the local context. This research seeks to understand the affordances and constraints of shifting the modality of these submissions and the implications this has for academic staff development activities involving critical reflection.  Using data, including written texts and video interviews, produced by an emerging academic attending a professional academic development course at a local university, we explore how a shift in modes enables or limits the critical reflection activities of emerging academics on a professional development course. Drawing on notions of identity and voice from New Literacy Studies and multimodal discourse analysis, we explore her shifting professional identity and her developing understanding of key concepts from the field of Higher Education Studies.

Our analysis suggests that modal specialisation produces different forms of critical reflection. Supporting the emerging academic’s experience of writing critical reflections as isolating, time consuming, and a distinctly theoretical and ‘academic’ activity, textual analysis offers examples of an authorial disconnect, a reliance on disciplinary discourse and a loss of the values that underpin learning and teaching. The emerging academic experienced video interviews as a more accessible form of critical reflection. Our analysis of the video submissions suggest that this modality allows for the expression of a stronger practitioner voice, characterised by use of anecdote, first person singular and emotive language. In light of these findings, we encourage staff development practitioners to consider alternative modalities for critical reflection.

HERMAN, Nicoline, Bitzer, Eli and Leibowitz, Brenda
Stellenbosch University

‘I make learning about teaching a priority, but that is MY choice, not that of my faculty or department’: Caring for the well-being of university teachers as a potentially productive approach to professional learning (PL)

The purpose of PL for university lecturers is to bring about change in their teaching and assessment practices for quality student learning and takes place within a complex and challenging higher education environment. The purpose of this research was to explore the influence of context on the decision-making of academics to participate in the process of PL for their teaching at Stellenbosch University. This was done to inform PL practitioners, such as myself, about the potential effect of contextual influences as perceived by academics themselves. My PhD research focused on ‘context’ as the everyday reality of academics created at the intersection between the spheres of their professional and personal life-worlds.

This multi-methods, explorative case study formed part of a national research project, funded by the NRF and entitled: The interplay of Structure, Culture and Agency (ESA20100729000013945). Empirical research took place in phases. Phase one comprised an anonymous electronic questionnaire with open and closed questions, administered to all permanently employed academics at the institution. A 25% response rate generated quantitative and 120 pages of qualitative data.  During phase two, interviews were conducted with 15 purposively selected academics. Qualitative data was categorised and thematically analysed.

As expected, the considerations from the spheres of the personal and professional life-worlds as interpreted by the individual academics at SU is to a large extent not perceived as enabling to their decision-making for PL. In response to the findings, it is suggested that more attention should be paid to aspects facilitating the well-being of academics in creating an environment conducive to their decision-making for participating in the process of PL for teaching.

JAWITZ, Jeff and Perez, Teresa
University of Cape Town

Asserting Agency: Academics navigating time and space for teaching development

Within the context of research intensive institutions, a dominant discourse places time and pressure to publish as major constraints that interfere with the way academics engage with professional development (PD) opportunities for teaching. This study at UCT shows how a significant set of academics are able to overcome these constraints. Their practice is characterised by an assertion of agency driven by strong self-motivation to improve their teaching and successfully facilitate learning amongst their students. Enjoyment of teaching was evident across the majority of respondents surveyed and therefore doesn’t explain why some attend PD opportunities while others do not. Many say they would like to attend PD activities but can’t because of time, and the risks they associate with attending.  However, there are others with similar time constraints and research pressures who do attend. So what is it about their experience of time and the PD space that is different?  Our analysis of their narratives revealed an assertion of agency reflected in four areas of their engagement with the PD space. Drawing on a strong intrinsic motivation for self-improvement, these areas encompassed making time, applying new learnings to their disciplinary contexts, re-interpreting a perceived institutional disregard for teaching as a freedom to engage, and building support networks and communities.  Their stories reflect a taking charge of their circumstances and making choices to maximise the value they are able to extract from these PD opportunities.

University of Johannesburg

A tale of two paradigms – useful tools to research teaching and learning?

This paper explores the dynamics of being and becoming a good university teacher from the point of view of two theoretical approaches: the work of social realist Margaret Archer (1995; 2000)  on the interplay between structure, culture and agency; and practice-based approaches to situated learning (Wenger, 1998; Gherardi, 2012); Fenwick and Nerland, 2014). I use an account of how the research team implemented the Structure, Culture and Agency research project to show how social realism and the practice turn have much to offer researchers working within the field of higher education professional development, and what we have come to term “being and becoming a good lecturer”. Critical realism allows us to investigate “what type of social structures must be in place for learning to be possible, comprehensive, fruitful and ongoing?”Nunez (2014: xvii) whilst a practice-based approach would encourage us to consider “the practices in which academics engage and how these practices might be extended” as well as to “foster learning-conducive work, where ‘normal’ academic work practices are reconfigured to ensure that they foster practice development” (Boud and Brew, 2013, p. 214). 

The proposed presentation will provide a comparison between the two theoretical approaches, an analysis of potential contrasts and contradiction between the two, points of similarity and a consideration of the potential of each to contribute to an enhanced understanding of the task of professional development of academics with regard to the teaching role. The presentation also considers the feasibility of conducting a research project based on one conceptual framework, and moving to an alternative or additional framework when the project is well into the implementation phase.

MERCKEL, Vanessa
University of Johannesburg

Academic Development that fosters transformation: Exploring thoughts on troubling dialogues and love as acts of transformation.

In this paper, I wish to offer up for consideration one approach adapted from a teacher education module aimed at transformative practice, for academic developers to explore productive ways for how we can engage with issues of transformation in ethical and non-violent ways. Underpinning this paper are three main ideas. The first links to Einstein’s notion that problems cannot be solved with the same thinking that created them. If we acknowledge how our past experiences of exploitation and oppression resulted in hatred, violence, shame and marginalisation, then to raise the level of thinking about these, we could also explore issues of healing, peace, forgiveness, and love and how these could shape teaching and learning. I will focus more specifically on unpacking the notion of (radical) love as transformative educational practice. Secondly, painful past experiences have contributed to all of us operating with difficult (Britzman, 1998;117;  2000:35; Zembylas, 2014) or troubled knowledges (Jansen, 2009)  which tend to shape how we relate to one another. Therefore the third idea is that we should purposefully cultivate an ethical and non-violent context for troubling dialogues to occur.  I draw on the work of contemplative scholars who refer to an approach called an “epistemology of love” (Zajonc, 2006; Zajonc & Palmer, 2010: 94-96) which incorporates aspects guiding engagement characterised by respect, gentleness, intimacy, vulnerability and participation, amongst other things, and which go beyond intellectual academic knowing, towards fostering  extended or enriched ways of knowing and being. I offer up these three ideas for exploration and interrogation in the hope of forming more nuanced ideas for how academic/professional development with lecturers can potentially contribute to transformation in the academy and possibly make recommendations for practice and further research.

Durban University of Technology

Connections and disconnections in professional academic development for the integration of digital technologies in learning and teaching: Searching for causal mechanisms

The varying and often underwhelming response to the integration of digital technologies in higher education teaching and learning by academics has been cause for concern.  It has been noted in developed countries that despite substantial institutional and systemic commitment such as the provision of infrastructural facilities for successful integration as well as training and support for staff, the level of technology utilisation remains disturbingly low.   This trend has drawn attention in developing countries and reaffirmed the need for research-informed, contextually relevant and responsive approaches to digital integration in teaching and learning.

Professional academic development has been recognised as a critical factor in the process of meaningful integration of digital technologies in higher education.  However academics have been varied in their responses to invitations to participate in professional development workshops, ranging from enthusiasm to reluctance.    It is this range of reactions that is the point of departure of this paper.  The main focus of this paper is not on the adoption of digital technologies nor on the design of professional development programmes for the integration of digital technologies in teaching. It centres on finding causal explanations to understand what it is that influences the participation and engagement of academics in such programmes.  Using a social realist approach, I argue that that we need to look beyond the superficial appearances or events to understand the ‘connections’ that produce the reality we experience (Sayer, 2000).

NDEBELE, Clever, Muhuro, Patricia and Nkonki, Vuyisile
University of Venda and University of Fort Hare

Rurality and the Professional Development of University Teachers

What are the cultural, structural and agential conditions which enable and constrain the professional development of academics in their role as teachers, which either encourage or discourage them to take advantage of professional development opportunities in a rural university environment? In order to answer the above question, this study which is part of a wider NRF Research project involving eight universities, sought to examine the context of rurality by examining the enabling and constraining conditions with regard to the professional development of academics as teachers at two historically disadvantaged rural based universities that were part of the project. An electronic survey with closed and open questions was distributed to all permanently employed teaching academics at the two historically disadvantaged universities. Audio-recorded interviews at the two institutions with five members of the senior management (Vice Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor responsible for teaching and learning and three Deans and ten academics) provided additional data for this research paper. Thematic analysis of both questionnaire data and interview transcripts revealed amongst other things constraints around policy and subsidy for staff development, as well as the development of discipline-specific competencies that require collaboration with industry and corporate firms. The study identifies enabling structures and the judicious use of technology in the mitigation of the challenges imposed by rurality. Implications for the reconsideration of theoretical frames that inform professional development and the need to bargain for pragmatic issues when planning for professional development interventions in a rural setting are drawn.

Strathmore University

Systemic Conditions as Prompts for Lecturers’ Professional Growth
The identification of systemic conditions in different contexts, and how they prompt and challenge lecturers to learn to teach can be useful in developing suitable academic development strategies.  In this paper Archer’s (1995) morphogenetic approach is applied as a methodological and conceptual framework to analyze lecturers’ accounts and explain the systemic conditions that prompt and challenge them to learn to teach. The data was collected using semi-structured interviews of twenty- five lecturers from four private universities in Kenya.

The systemic conditions that include students’ composition, teaching and learning conditions and universities policies/strategic intent, were found to pre-date lecturers’ intentions to learn to teach. The analysis suggests that lecturers are prompted to learn to teach by their interaction with students who have diverse work, educational and cultural backgrounds. Lecturers are also influenced by the university’s structures, that is, large class sizes and multi- and inter- disciplinary programmes and university’s policies. In such instances lecturers find themselves in situations that challenge them to critically and reflectively think about their teaching. In the process, knowingly or unknowingly, they learn to teach more effectively. Although systemic conditions shape the situations that lecturers confront involuntarily, these conditions only prompt them. The conditions do not ‘determine’ the lecturers’ learning to teach. It is the interplay between the powers of the systemic conditions, for example, students’ work experience and the lecturers’ powers to plan for uncertainties that are decisive for the lecturers’ professional growth.

PITSO, Teboho, Lebusa, Malefane and TJabane, Masebala
Vaal University of Technology

Towards an Entrepreneurial University: An Institutional and Academic Development Response

The role, identity and positioning of Academic Development (AD) within higher education have been and will continue to evolve and change depending on the overall institutional goals it supports at a particular point in time. While it started by supporting the improvement of teaching through organizing training workshops in the late 1970s, its role shifted to researching teaching and learning and more recently on researching graduate attributes. Flowing outwardly from Academic Development inner logic is the notion of an entrepreneurial university where AD role is extended to supporting conversion of research outputs into economic and social utility, turning units and faculties into quasi-firms, contributing to curriculum innovation, developing enabling entrepreneurial pedagogies and assisting management to incentivise these efforts. In this article, we provide a framework for developing an entrepreneurial university and the results of a study that aimed at examining the response of one particular university to the idea of becoming an entrepreneurial university. Online questionnaires, documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews were used to elicit data. Results show a university that is coyly initiating efforts on becoming an entrepreneurial university which provides AD with huge opportunities to redefine its role, identity and positioning within the university. We briefly zoom into AD strategic realignment in light of supporting institutional entrepreneurship efforts and how that affects its role, identity and positioning within the university.

QUINN, Lynn and Vorster, Jo-Anne
Rhode University

Pedagogy for fostering criticality, reflectivity and praxis in a course on teaching for lecturers

Using the concepts of criticality, reflectivity and praxis (Stierer 2008), the paper presents an analysis of our reflections on participants’ responses to the assessment requirements for a course for lecturers on teaching. The context in which the course is being taught has changed considerably in the last few years in terms of the mode of delivery as well as the number and diversity of participants. Our analysis has generated insights into ways which the course is not meeting all the learning needs of the participants nor preparing them adequately to demonstrate, in writing, their learning. Using insights gained, we suggest pedagogic processes and strategies for ensuring that the course focuses on both writing to learn and learning to write; and for assisting participants to acquire the practices to demonstrate their learning in written assessment tasks, using the requisite literacy including criticality, reflectivity and praxis. 

SHALYEFU, Rakel Kavena
University of Namibia

The Impact of the Interplay between Structural, Cultural and Agential factors on student learning and academic development work - a trajectory at the University of Namibia

This is a position paper interrogating the impact and the implications of the context on student learning and academic development at an institution of higher learning in Namibia. The Social Realist theoretical framework of the interplay between structural, cultural and agential factors has been utilized as a lens to interrogate the impact of the context on the institution. The data is based on empirical experiences, observations and documents analysed by an academic developer. In the light of the analysis of the constraining and enabling factors, a new path to enhance student learning and academic development work is suggested.

This paper will be an argument piece that will be based on the lived experiences of an academic developer at an institution of higher learning in Namibia. The paper will  employ the lenses of a sociological theoretical framework on culture, structure and agency. In order interrogate the academic workplace as a collection of community of practices, the paper will interrogate the impact of the context at macro, meso and micro levels. Then it will highlight the contextual imperatives for the institutions of higher learning in Namibia and the implications for student learning and academic development.  Given the prevailing contextual factors, the paper will propose appropriate learning activities and academic development approaches that may enhance effectiveness in teaching and improvement of performance in learning. It is hoped that the paper would conclude with a proposed model to improve teaching and learning in the context of higher education in Namibia.

SHAVA, George
North West University

Professional Development for Higher Education, Integrating and Supporting Strategies to Improve Student Success in Zimbabwe

In the academic circuit, Professional Development (PD) has proved a vital source for quality and success in teaching and learning processes at universities. PD provides academics with job satisfaction and in the process helps to build better universities with competent lecturers. The development of pedagogical skills in our university academics in Zimbabwe and the entire Sub Saharan region cannot be addressed simply by running workshops at university level. More sophisticated integrated models like PD are most appropriate. The programme for PD at the university covered by this study seeks to enhance the professional skills set as well as the overall experiences that can position academics for greater academic success in teaching, research and community services. Professional Development is therefore imperative for the currency and relevance of a professional teaching force and in turn the quality of programmes delivered in the university.  The changing context of higher education in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole presents new challenges for academics which should be addressed through effective PD. Consequently the goal of this constructivist grounded theoretical study was to explore the challenges faced by university academics during their participation in Professional   Development at a university in Zimbabwe which is currently offering a Post Graduate Diploma in Higher Education (PGDHE) to university academic staff. The qualitative study which was framed within a Critical and Realist philosophy of culture, structure and agency established that academics in the university appear to be over whelmed by the demands of PD innovations which are also associated with university quality assurance processes.

SIPUKA, Precious
Council on Higher Education

Good teaching as ‘policy object’: A South African multi-site case study

In the era of vast technological advancements, massification, environmental and political changes, changing student population, mergers of institutions, changes to governance, new funding formulas, and new policies and legislation, higher education is faced with challenging times.  It is expected of higher education to fulfil its mandate of providing a quality education that will lead greater through-put rates, producing graduates with desirable attributes ensuring student success.  Achieving these aims is largely dependent on the quality of teaching that happens in institutions. Good teaching is not a linear static process but rather a continuum or interrelationship between ‘being’ a good teacher and ‘becoming’ a good teacher. Therefore, quality teaching should be conceived of as an ever evolving process that is perfected through time and practice. Using a novel way of analysing policy, the ‘policy object’ approach, the current study aims to explore how good teaching is conceptualised and enacted at five South African higher education institutions by different role players and at different sites. The ‘object policy’ approach provides us with a lens to consider actors’ understanding of the policy and how this understanding is translated through enactment in different contexts. Data was obtained from 5 universities and includes; institutional teaching and learning policies; Reflective and descriptive reports produced by Directors of Centres for Teaching and Learning; and 10 interviews with lecturers and 4 interviews with members of senior management. Interview data and reflective reports are analysed using thematic analysis.

VAN SCHALKWYK, Susan and McMillan, Wendy
Stellenbosch University and the University of the Western Cape

This duo-ethnographic account sets out to examine the lived experience of two academic development practitioners as insider-outsiders in a particular disciplinary space. Increasingly there is a shift towards situating such practitioners within faculties. This practice poses challenges when the practitioner comes from outside the disciplinary space. The literature related to cross-disciplinary work highlights how discourse and culture create tensions among the different role-players. Our study is significant because it signals potential ways in which the insider-outside location can be mediated to support teaching and learning successfully. We use “border crossing” as our theoretical lens. “Border crossing” draws conceptually on the construct of political frontiers and the identity work with which people located at the borders engage. Duo-ethnography is a collaborative research methodology in which the researchers work in tandem to critique, through dialogue, the meanings they give to social issues and epistemological constructs.  Our context is the Health Sciences where there is a growing emphasis on teaching and learning. The study highlighted the significance of the nature of border crossing and the symbolic and material issues related to it. Power, border identity, othering, acceptance, agency, resistance, theoretical influences, answerability, purpose of work, community of practice emerged as significant to border work.  Our study revealed that practitioners need dual citizenship, immersing themselves consciously and persistently within the disciplinary culture while remaining firmly grounded in the discourses and culture of teaching and learning.

WINBERG, Chris and Garraway, James
Cape Peninsula University of Technology

‘It takes a village’: attaining teaching excellence in a challenging context

The background to this study are changing understandings, nationally and internationally, about what comprises teaching excellence, how it is attained, what it might achieve with regard to student outcomes, and how excellent teachers might be supported. The focus of the research that is presented in this paper is higher education managers’ and university teachers’ understandings of teaching excellence and its potential to enhance student learning. The study consists of semi-structured interviews with senior managers, heads of department and university teachers. The interviews produced rich descriptions of university teaching, and revealed a range of different expectations around what excellent teaching might or might not achieve with regard to student learning.

The key findings from this study relate to the emerging understandings of what teaching excellence entails and how it might be supported in a particular institutional context. Context (in terms of the department, the nature of the programme, institutional constraints and enablements, as well as the needs of the students) shapes the form that excellent teaching takes. We suggest that teaching excellence is institutionally and departmentally embedded and that teaching expertise is distributed across departments and their programmes, rather than attained by the work of a single academic or ‘teaching expert’ alone. Teaching excellence emerges, not as a set of ‘best practices’ that might easily be shared across contexts, but as a set of deeply embedded and highly contextualized practices. The implications for academic staff development and the building of teaching expertise in departments, arising from this research, are considered and some tentative recommendations made.

WOODS, Christine, and Cameron, Anne
University of the Witwatersrand

A proposed ‘ladder of learning’ for academics’ professional development in teaching

In higher education institutions globally, academic development practitioners whose work is to develop academic staff in the area of teaching have historically come into the profession without specific formal training. Their ideas and practice stem from the context of their work and life experience, and their knowledge and practice grow with experience on the job. As a result, there is a variety of knowledge and expertise that shapes professional development activities in higher education institutions. The aim of this paper is to report on the findings of a study which drew on the collective wisdom of academic development practitioners who participated in a workshop of the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA) special interest group on professional development. The purpose of the workshop was to share what constitutes support and development of the professional development of academics’ teaching expertise and knowledge in higher education institutions in South Africa. With the consent of participants, the insights gained from the findings and recommendations will be offered to strengthen academic professional development practice and guide the professional development of academic staff focusing on teaching. Engeström’s version of Activity Theory was used as an interpretive lens to identify key contextual elements from the data and align these onto a ‘ladder of learning’ – a hierarchically structured framework to inform appropriate professional development activities, designed to support academics as they progress in their careers from emerging to developing to distinguished practice.



[1] A copy of the programme is in Appendix 1.
[2] Earmarked grants 2015 / 2016
  • Foundation provision
  • Teaching development
  • Research development
  • Infrastructure and efficiency
  • Historically Disadvantaged Institutions development
  • University Development Grant (arising from funding review).

[3] The Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association

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