Notes from HELTASA conference, 09

Day one

Opening and welcome

Prof Ihron Rensburg (Vice Chancellor of UJ)

Is it the job of higher education to “fix up” high school students? Or is it the job of public service and schools? Questions that arise in Senate meetings.

80% of university enrolment is drawn from the top high schools in the country, which means that only about 20 000 of 900 000 students comes from lower income groups.

3 million students who are of university entry age have no access to education (of any kind) or employment.

What is the role of HE?

  • Economic utility
  • Transformative learning
  • Critical thinking
  • All three?

Core of teaching should be about “learning to be”, as opposed to “learning about”.

Success is dependant on how students can respond to the world, as a result of how well they have learned at university.

Double jeapordy: the risks of action and inaction in international higher education in the 21st century

Joy Mighty (Society for teaching and learning in higher education)

“What would you stand for” - asked questions where we should stand if we respond “yes” Have you spoken to a complete stranger? Have you taught a class you weren't an expert in?

Taking chances

Risk implies voluntary exposure to harm or danger, but we can manage risk (what are the ways that we do this?)

Increasing numbers of students mean bigger venues, and more investment in physical space, BUT students are investing more in virtual spaces

Risks when using innovative pedagogies → students are unfamiliar with new approaches

Risks with any change, but change is necessary i.e. the risks when not making changes are even greater

What makes the 21st century different:

  • The world is both larger and smaller (population is exploding, but advances in ICT make things smaller)
  • Globalisation makes the world a global village, with economic and cultural integration → is this a good thing?
  • Rapid spread of disease because of improved travel
  • Changing weather patterns, shortage of food, use of agricultural land for development

Implications for teaching and learning:

  • Require new ways of thinking about students
  • Cultural gaps between older people → but there've always been cultural gaps?
  • Integrated with technology
  • Technology can either assist or hinder learning
  • What do we really know about how students learn?
  • Content should be portable, releavant, dynamic

How do we cross boundaries to engage with students to fulfil their needs?

New pedagogies, and new relationships between communities and institutions

Students can feel disillusioned with university when they are disengaged (“Dude – where's my education?”)

The first year is the first opportunity to move students to an innovative and revoluationary form of learning. Instead, we throw them into bigger venues, with bigger texts, to write bigger exams. A bigger version of the 12 years of prior education. The goal is simple…to get through.

Problem is with the system, not with individuals

“Cookie cutter graduates”

“Fail to foster reflection of what we are being taught, and no focus on how we are being taught”. Also, we are “being taught” - emphasis is on a passive receiving of education. What the teacher does, rather than what the student does.

Education packaged as a product, so why don't students consider themselves shareholders in the business?

The brain can hold 7 ietms in short term memory, and can only process 4 ideas simultaneously, before cognitive overload. Students can only remember 10% of a standard lecture given in a standard format.

Using the “instruction paradigm” persists, even though there is all this evidence that says it doesn't work → is the least effective for student learning. “Learning paradigm” is risky to change.

Taking ownership of the material.

Engagement = sustained involvement, both behavioural and emotional → impacts quality of learning

“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand.”

ICE = Ideas, Connections, Extensions (active learning)

Active learning pedagogies:

  • first year experience programmes
  • community service learning
  • inquiry based
  • team based
  • problem based
  • collaborative
  • focused discussion

The 3 C's:

  • What Content should be included in the curriculum?
  • What learning processes (Conduct) should we use?
  • What learning environments (Context) should we foster?

What action will you take to re-invent yourself as a teacher? When will you take it?

Research based learning: Experiences in the UK

Salochana Hassan

GMC (1993) → “Tomorrow's doctors” → encourage research in medical education

Led some universities in the UK to adopt research-based learning in medical education, not particularly widespead

Student Selected Modules (SSM's) → students pick a topic of interest during medical degree and then conduct research in that area, is usually multidisciplinary, place emphasis on students to take responsibility for some learning tasks / manage own learning / become self-directed, lifelong learners

Skills learned:

  • communication skills
  • numeracy
  • information gathering

Teaching is only evidence based when it is linked to research (Griffiths, 2004). Four types:

  • Research tutored
  • Research led
  • Research based → SSM's
  • Research orientated

Micro-politics = how power is dispersed in everyday interactions. Useful to understand how power is managed between academics and students (particularly undergraduate students)

A change in the status quo would be to enable students to see themselves as academics

Research based learning = higher intellectual development

This is exactly the same as our fourth year research project that we've been running for more than 10 years…is this new?


  • Design and implement a research project
  • Undertake a literature search
  • Collect data
  • Analyse data
  • Draw appropriate conclusions
  • Identify limitations
  • Design and present a poster


  • Introduction lecture
  • Supervisor selection
  • Ethical approval
  • Proposal submission
  • Course on research methodology


  • Design questionnaires
  • Data collection
  • Analysis and evaluation
  • Design and create a poster


  • Poster presentation
  • Oral defence of poster
  • Scientific approach, visual presentation, oral presentation

Time + research = prestige and money. Time + teaching does not. Why do academics bother to develop their teaching?

Nicoline Herman & Francois Cilliers

Academics expected to perform in 3 core areas. Teaching is not a priority and teachers are not given incentives to improve teaching

Does participation in a Professional Academic Development module (that runs for a year) translate into changes in teaching practice?

Educational development activities = modify and adapt other teaching and assesment practices = behavioural change

Extended curricula at UJ: Exploration of staff perceptions on the impact of alternative pedagogical practice on mainstream teaching

Jenny Clarence-Fincham

“supercomplexity” (Barnett, 2000)

Emphasis on “becoming” a practitioner of knowledge within a particular domain “learning to be” (Bruner in Brown and Duguid, 2000), rather than “learning about”

Significant learning enables students to act purposefully in response to situations that they will encounter in the future i.e. to engage with the world

Teaching students to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge

“Social” must be integrated with “academic” for learning to occur → social networks seem like a good place to start


  • Staff now engage in conversation on teaching and learning, not just research
  • Lecturers engage with students as people
  • No longer teach theory, but ask questions which lead to students building theory
  • Lecturers more concerned with what they are assessing and why
  • Lecturers more reflective re. how stdudents are learning

Student profiling to inform interventions

Holding students accountable for the quality of their work

All interventions must be integrated into curricula, not separate modules (re. foundational programmes / extended curricula)

Need to translate institutional policy into institutional practice

The visible effects of invisible networks

Herbert Thomas & Nalize Herbert

Mentions connectivism – a “learning theory for the the digital age”

Metaphors to create understanding (e.g. rhizomatic networks, see also Dave Cormier - Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum)

Learning theories traditionally look at how individuals learn, but connectivism looks at how organisations / groups / networks learn

Social networks are emergent and pre-determined by structure

Social network analysis shows us the invisible networks that exist within organisations / groups

Social networks / structures can also impede development in organisations

Institutional ICT policy and strategy to mitigate risk: Perceptions of academic staff at Rhodes university

Markus Mostert (used Prezi)

Strong policies at Rhodes re. teaching and learning practice, but experienced resistance when trying to implement an ICT policy

History and culture of an institution has a role to play in how policy is accepted.

Used “Cathedral and Bazaar” metaphor to explain the difference between top down and bottom up approaches to policy implementation

No national policy on ICT implementation in higher education

“Do you think an ICT policy / strategy is necessary? If yes, what kind of issues should be addressed?“

How do you make sure that technologies are used in appropriate contexts?

Policies should not be prescriptive, but should rather enable alternative approaches

Question: Do you think that there's a tension between the learning management system and it's top down / prescriptive / heavily structured approach to education, as opposed to the use of personal learning environments that facilitate a more student-centred approach to learning?

Doctoral risk and success: a potentially useful ontological framework

Eli M. Bitzer

Universities and contribution to development:

  • Producers of science
  • Producers of mass education
  • Producers of entrepeneurs

In lifelong learning, knowledge is recycled and renewed

Producing flexible citizens with core values

The rigidity of disciplines need to be negotiated, beware of knowledge being contained in inidividual silos, where knowledge can't move between boundaries

Universities should operate in the public interest, an autonomy from the State should be earned by public accountability i.e. not only accountable to themselves

Not all universities need to train doctoral students, and neither do all disciplines

Doctoral inquiry should reflect the public interest (rather than only private / institutional). Forms an important basis for the scientific quality and strength of a country

Concerns (in an American context – Cohen and Cherwitz, 2006):

  • Time to degree / completion rate
  • Uneven supervision and mentoring
  • Poor research preparation

Moutton (2007):

  • It takes 40 UG to produce 1 PhD
  • Every 3rd or 4th Msc student goes on to PhD
  • Up to 40% of students who enrol for PhD don't finish
  • Problem is more with the quality of PhDs compared to international standards

Systematic issues affecting quality that need attention:

  • Overburdened and inexperienced supervisors
  • Insufficient research preparation
  • Insufficient financial support
  • Insufficient resources for PG support

Louw (2005) found that social and academic integration is important, and that it can influence attrition in UG students. This is also a problem at the PG level.

Factors influencing degree completion and creativity (Lovitts, 2005). Studies in Higher Education, 30(2):137-154 (important paper)

PhD student must show creativity in order to make an original contribution to the body of knowledge.

Challenges posed to doctoral success:

  • Moving from dependence to independence → ability to work alone
  • Diverse backgrounds → different backgrounds / fields of study / institutions (problem for supervisors and students)
  • Un/derpreparedness → lack of research training
  • Social and academic isolation → student needs to engage with work in other contexts, so avoid working in isolation with only supervisors

Other factors:

  • Full / part time → finance can be a problem
  • Funding
  • Infrastructure and resources

Are their other “supervisory models” that could better promote doctoral success?

A powerful learning environment for the workplace in the 21st century

Erna du Toit & Cobus van Breda

We are moving from an industrial, to a knowledge economy (Knight, Knight & Teghe, 2006). This has clear implications for education, in that we need to prepare students better to deal with this reality.

Using Apple's “Classroom of tomorrow” graphic as a framework

Digital literacy skills:

  • global awareness
  • inventive thikning, creativity, higher order thinking
  • communication, teamwork, collaboration, public speaking

How can we get students to actually apply technology to achieve something, rather than ICT being about using Word?

A curriculum for the 21st century must support active, real-life and engaged learning

Clickers allow true continuous assessment. Learning is cumulative, so immediate feedback and continuous assessment is important.

Should be a social and emotional connection to learning

Higher mental functioning is mediated by technical tools and social connections.

A culture of creativity and innovation embraces participation, collaboration, networking and experiementation. Drucker, P. (2002). The Discipline of innovation.

Everyone has access to technology on campus, but few have access at home. So why not use labs? Even 4th years can attend Friday sessions. I can schedule classes and instead of lectures, we can use labs to collaboratively work on topics.

The new teaching and learning strategies at UJ: Challenge for academic staff development

Kibashini Naidoo & Charlotte van der Merwe

“Staff expertise is the most important asset in a unversity”

UJ teaching strategy → learning to be

Requires learning the pratice of the discipline:

  • ways of thinking
  • competencies
  • ways of seeing

How to design learning tasks that will do this?


  • Perceived as a top down approach, imposed by management, detracts from the merits of the strategy
  • Strategy too focused on staff and not on the “real problem” - what is the real problem? → turns out that staff at UJ feel that the students are the problem!
  • Staff do not engage

Must showcase “best practice” within constraints, then others will see that innovation can happen, and stop complaining

The role is not in fixing the problem of unprepared students or lecturers who cannot teach, but developmental, as in facilitating dialogue amnog staff, on the practice of teaching and learning.

The risk of being oneself in higher education

Delysia Timm

All higher education students should be self-directed, autonomous learners who are able to solve problems and think critically (HEQC; SAQA)

Who is the self in self-directed learning?

Jousse → to find one's own direction → to direct is to take by the hand and lead according to a pre-determined plan (what are our students own pre-determined plans?)

Mezirow (important author in transformative learning) → becoming critically aware of what has been taken from granted about one's own learning (this is important in terms of the conversation about tribes and tribal practices → we forget what we already know)

Krishnamurti → understanding comes through self-knowledge

How does our past experience influence how we teach today? How can we use the past to reinvent ourselves? This doesn't necessarily mean major change → maybe we just revalue what was already there

What risks do our student's take to get into higher education? What lies do they have to tell in order to get in / to jump through our hoops?

How are we all different? Are we all different?

We need to know everything in relation to everything else, because living man is an integrated living whole (Jousse, 2000)

In higher education we tend to focus on the mental / cognitive and physical components, and leave out the spiritual and emotional ones.

Surfacing race in academic teaching practice

Jeff Jawitz

Very little research that's looking at the concept of race, other than stats that quantify performance

Wanted to interrogate the notion of “white academics”

Selected 4 highly motivated white academics, who are committed to teaching

Higher education is a racialised space:

  • The language of race
  • Black and white students and academics
  • The contexts named
  • The researcher → the nature of the research was influenced by race

“Got turned on to education”

What does “being white” mean? How do other's see us? Does being white make us part of the system, because the system is white and dominant, putting down the students?

What is “critical race theory”/ It brings forward the “black” voices, but the presenter is looking for something to bring forward the “white” voice.

White academics feel safe being hard with white students, they feel that they can't be as hard on black students because they'll be crossing a boundary.

Black academics are harder on black students

Exploring transformations within literary practices: the relationship of referencing and agency in learners at HEI

Catherine Mary Hutchings

Participants had “broken educational journeys”

Used journals as data i.e. not academic writing

Used both narrative and discourse analysis (what is discourse analysis?)

Narrative theory – the stories we tell ourselves determine which aspect of experience we select out for expression

“Every field has it's own politics, now the educated are claiming ownership of knowledge”. They strategically use plagiarism as a trap to catch those who do not belong.

They come to university to share knowledge, but then find out that knowledge is “owned”, and that they have to attribute ownership to the authors i.e. knowledge cannot be freely shared, sharing is conditional

Clearly a misconception of what referencing means, there is a lack of understanding

We expect students to memorise texts and reproduce those texts in response to questions. We set them up to plagiarise. There is a passing over of “truths” from textbooks, so there is no need to reference.

Handouts don't explain enough. Just giving them content doesn't help them understand.

Students think they might “miss the boat” if the use their own words. Probably the case when you're not writing in your mother tongue. Cultural factors are involved.

It seems that this is an infertile environment in which to try and generate new ideas.

There is no understanding of what referencing means, rather it is done mechanically to avoid punishment. Just because they can do it correctly, doesn't mean that they understand it.

Refencing means that it “is not your own voice”, but it can also “set the writer free to explore the ideas of others”.

Referencing can allow students to gain confidence, which in turn inspired them to participate in lectures. However, it made them uncomfortable when returning to spaces where free thought and critical discussions were not encouraged.

Day Two

Risk, Resilience, and risk taking: paying attention to "R" words

Mark Schofield

Learners need to be resilient → to be able to cope with challenge, and adversity in the university and in their life contexts. Teachers need to be resilient to support this. Policies and infrastructure need to be resilient if they are not to be just rhetoric.

Without resilience, all are inherently in a risky situation in terms of student success.

Taking a risk = trying the untried, something new, being creative. Give them permission to make mistakes.

Intelligent risk taking = using new and different approaches

“At risk” → pathologising students: a deficit model may obscure recognition of capacities and strengths

A balance of support and challenge is needed

Four new “Rs”:

  • resourcefulness – ready to learn in new ways
  • reflection – ready to be more strategic about learning
  • relationships – ready to learn alone and with others
  • resilience – be able to lock onto learning, stick with difficulty and cope with fear

Curriculum design as a vehicle?

What specific plans do you have to ensure a managed and supported learning experience?

Good teachers model the acts of writing, reading (language), discourse, argument in the discipline, that will allow students into the “secret garden”. Let them know how I assess. This allows students to develop internal scaffolding.

Give them permission to attempt trial and error

Showing students how the discipline works → scaffolding. We have to consciously articulate competence.

Teachers and students hold the main responsibility for improving undergraduate education. We have to listen to the student voice.

Model how we assess students, consciously let them see the cognitive processes we use to assess them.

“Doing better things”, as opposed to “doing things better” (Sir Lewis Elton)

“Modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope, that it so seldom achieves great results. The wish to preserve the past, rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the mind of thiose who control the teaching of the young” (Bertrand Russell)

“Tall tales in teaching”

Panelists were award winners for teaching exellence. 3 of the 4 on the panel were medical doctors. Aim of the award was to showcase good teaching. Panel for selection received thousands of hardcopy documents as evidence submitted as good teaching practice. One submission included 67 files containing evidence. Someone was employed to scan all of the documents, so that they could be distributed to the selection committee. Basically, this session is about these award winners telling us their personal stories of how they got to where they are.

Vanessa Burch It's important to take the work to a level where the student's can understand it, rather than explaining it at the level that we understand it. Making something complex, simple.

Students do what you do

Take your books to the bedside, because you can't take the patient to the library

Teaching must take place in an authentic setting. You can't teach medicine in a library or classroom.

Adri Beylefeld I must aim to do excelleng things, excellently

Document, analyse and interpret teaching practice, so that others can learn from it

“Double loop learning”?

Teachers appreciate being appreciated

Didn't get the name of this presenter Learning should be meaningful for students

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge” (Einstein)

“What is educaiton, but a process where a person begins to learn how to learn”

Josef de Beer Preparing students for a world of super-complexity (UJ teaching philosophy)

Who are our students? What are their learning preferences?

We need to have empathy with students

Masters students compile profiles of first year students

“I can't teach properly because I don't have the right resources”, but we are the architects of our own destiny. If you don't have the resources, then you must be resourceful.

Uses “activity systems” to create insight

  • Tools
  • Subject
  • Rules
  • Community
  • Division of labour
  • Objects / outcome

Our task is to stimulate ordinary people to unusal effort. It's not about identifying winners, it's about making winners out of ordinary people.

Day Three

Risk and resilience in higher education in improving practice and generating knowledge

Professor Jack Whitehead

Turned the webcam towards the audience and projected it onto the screen. It was interesting to see how he saw us. Could this be used in the classroom? Show students how they look to me?

“The embodied knowledge in all of us, is enormous”

Tiered lecture theatres doesn't lend itself to the kinds of conversations we all want to have. They rest on a control mechanism, where the power resides on the stage in the front.

Values carry energy, the vital energy we bring into education. Multimedia captures the expression of that energy.

“Turn to you neighbour and talk for 2 minutes about why you're here. What's important to you? What are your values, and how do those values influence who you are, and what you're doing in this space? Why are you here, today, at this time?”

Academic tradition removes the “I” from the research, it removes the values

A huge range of values that give purpose to education

Don't lose contact with the living curriculum as you try to meet the requirements of the given curriculum (See TASC wheel, available on Prof. Whitehead's website)

ubuntu → a warmth of communion

Establishing a peer mentorship programme for physiotherapy students

Corne Nel & Carina Eksteen

Mentoring is a relationship, rather than a function → personal nurturing that involves personal and professional growth

A mentor allows you to see the hope inside yourself

In physiotherapy, the throughput rate is higher than other discliplines because we get to select our students

H onourable A pproachable P ositive attitude P roductive Y earning for learning

Mentoring programme's main aim was emtional support → “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou)

You mentor the person, as well as the professional

All first year physiotherapy students are assigned a mentor (because they don't know that they need help), but it's up to the student to organise meetings.

Took 5 years to get older students to want to participate in the mentoring programme. It takes so long because it requires a change of attitude within departments.

Mentors can have a huge impact in how mentees feel

Doesn't mix genders when assigning mentees, because it can be difficult to negotiate the dynamics in the relationship. But isn't the point to learn about new things and new ways of working together?

Try to match personality types → difficult when you don't know the students

Treat people as if they are what they ought to be, and you will help them become it

Learning through collaborative content creation

Nico Baird

A changing world moving away from the industrial method → broadcast model (radios and TVs), with no interaction

Drawing heavily on the “Did you know 3.0” video

Students using wikis to build the course reader / handbook

Putting students' names onto their work forces them to put more effort into their work

How do students judge information and relevance?

Can students create the exam questions as well? How about getting them to develop a pool of questions, where we can say that the exam questions will come from?

Mentions catering to the smarter students, and not putting in the effort for the students who are weaker. Isn't it more important to bring everyone up to a higher level? Challenge students to engage at the level that they're currently at, but constantly challenging them to find a higher level.

heltasa09.txt · Last modified: 2009/11/28 13:53 by Michael Rowe