Thursday 4 May 2017 saw the launch of the very first New Academics’ Transitions Regional Colloquium at the University of Cape Town. The Colloquium brought together new academics from UCT, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Stellenbosch University (SU) and the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning at UCT Professor Daya Reddy opened the event by expressing how he wished that he had been exposed to the advantages that the respective new academic programmes provide, in a more systematic way than when he started out in academia. If he had he would have been better prepared to deal with the hurdles and mistakes new academics face. On that note he recognised that the higher education environment is much more complex today than before but as academics there is so much that we can learn from one another.
Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak, one of the main organisers of the event and educator on the UCT New Academics Professional Programme (NAPP), reiterated what Professor Reddy had said, “it is my firm belief that new academics’ both young and old come in with a rich resource that we can certainly learn from.”
As it was the first regional colloquium, representatives from each university including Dr Nicolene Herman (SU), Professor Vivienne Bozalek (UWC), Dr Misiwe Katiya (CPUT) and Dr Behari-Leak all shared the different models of induction practice used at the respective universities. A key theme across the programmes was that of critical reflection on practice.
After a short break delegates were broken up into groups where a number of academics from the various universities shared their specific experiences and innovations in the classroom.
In her presentation Dr Sisa Ngabaza, from the Department of Women and Gender Studies at UWC, shared how she has begun to use a blended learning approach in her classroom by making use of mobile phones. Before attempting to do this Dr Ngabaza surveyed her class and found that 100% of her students had smartphones and 96% were willing to use them for learning. After browsing many applications including Facebook and other social media platforms, she settled on Kahoot. Kahoots allows educators to create fun learning games that multiple participants can engage with. This technique proved to stimulate and encourage more participation amongst Dr Ngabaza’s students.
“It encouraged me to understand and not just memorise” was an example of feedback Jessica Stander, lecturer in Physiotherapy at SUB, received after she too introduced a blended learning approach in her classroom. Recognising that her students were unprepared for their practical classes even though they knew what subject matter was to be covered, Stander took a leap of faith and began to incorporate online learning into her curriculum. She produced a number of videos and online learning materials which she shared with her students. To her relief, this resulted in more and better prepared students in her practical sessions. She emphasised that physiotherapy is “very practical but you need a theoretical base.”
A particularly poignant presentation was given by Asanda Ngoasheng from CPUT, a lecturer in Political and Business Reporting as well as Editorial Management who commented on how she needed her ‘ahistorical students’ to understand the concept of privilege so they could look at the world with new eyes. She spoke passionately about the need to decolonise the curriculum and more importantly the way of thinking of many of her students, “we need to decolonise the coloniser but also the colonised.”
In order to do this she uses intersectionality theory in her classroom which is actualised by making her students do the Privilege Walk. The Privilege Walk lines students up and asks them a number of questions related to privilege, for example, “If one or both of your parents were "white collar" professionals: doctors, lawyers, etc. take one step forward” or “if you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one step back.” This experiment put students’ own privilege into perspective in a way it never had before.
After the presentations and a quick lunch the delegates reconvened to reflect on the day. The panelists then shared what they felt were the main themes to come out. According to Dr Herman, what stood out for her was the passion the new academics present showed for their students and their discipline. Dr Katiya echoed that sentiment. She believed that the ideas shared that day showed that “we, as academics care and that attitude is what students need.” Her remarks that many academics chose to implement strategies in the classroom without asking permission elicited chuckles from the crowd, but she affirmed, that “sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do”.
The day rounded off with thank you’s to all those involved in the event and the hopes that this would turn into an annual exchange of ideas and knowledge.