Theory as a verb: working with dilemmas in educational development – Ongoing reflections
Presenters: Lynn Coleman and Lucia Thesen
Lynn Coleman is a senior lecturer and academic staff developer with the Extended Curriculum Programme (ECP) Unit at Fundani, CHED at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Lynn was Visiting Academic at the Division of Teaching and Learning at Uppsala University, Sweden in April – May 2018. She was also the co-convenor of the HELTASA Foundation Special Interest Group between 2016 – 2017. Her research interests include academic literacies within the vocational higher education context, literacies associated with visual communication and media courses and curriculum design and development. Her research has been incorporated into edited volumes addressing the theme of literacies in the university context. She has also published in local and international journals on the topic of academic literacy practices in the vocational higher education sector.
Lucia Thesen is an associate professor in Language Development in the Centre for Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town. Having worked in academic literacies since the late 1980’s, I have a long view of the changing academic development field at UCT. My current interests are in the politics of writing and knowledge-making and alternative postgraduate writing pedagogies. I have co-edited two books – Academic literacy and the languages of change (2006, with Ermien van Pletzen) and Risk in academic writing: Postgraduate students, their teachers and the making of knowledge (2013 – with Linda Cooper).
We meet on and off over the years. It’s usually a dark café in Cape Town’s historically white suburbia. It’s usually on a Friday after work, prompted by coded messages, such as ‘feel like a pink?’ that signal the need for a particular kind of meeting. We talk a lot – always about our work as educational developers, sometimes straying beyond into ill parents, shaky partnerships, the broader political situation and how it positions us both. Our work-related topics almost always revolve around a dilemma or conflict we are grappling with. ‘I didn’t know whether to cancel my class because of the protests’; ‘I was dumbstruck when my workshop participants glorified corporal punishment’; ‘I’m sick of teaching these ‘pop-up’, ‘soundbite’ workshops on writing but I don’t have a choice’. Something important is wanting to come through from our late Friday afternoon ‘meetings’ - our café conversations.
This is the opening paragraph of our recently published reflective piece in the journal SOTL in the South. This piece is an attempt to describe and make sense of these ongoing café conversations and their implications for research. We will discuss how we see these research conversations as literacy events which then allow us to consider and interrogate the implications for our literacy practices as academic developers. A central concern in much of our conversations is the way in which theory is co-opted and used in our professional lives and specifically its enactment in written and published form. We suggest that a focus on literacy events and practices in the academic development field offers direct opportunities to re-energise and transform our work by honouring the dilemmas of practice that we live daily, rather than sweeping them under the carpet.