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Understanding the student experience through the lens of academic staff development practice and research



This chapter was researched as part of a broader ESRC/NRF project, exploring student pathways within higher education understood as a public good. This chapter explores what we know about student experiences of higher education learning and teaching through the lens of academic staff development practices, and argues for these to be theorised and contextually focused so as to create more meaningful learning and teaching within the disciplines.
This is a postprint. Not for citing. For citing, please see the open access e-book:
Clarence, S. 2018. Understanding the student experience through the lens of academic
staff development practice and research. In Ashwin, P. and Case, J. Higher Education
Pathways: South African Undergraduate Education and the Public Good.
Bloemfontein: African Minds, 204-215.
Understanding the student experience through the lens of academic staff
development practice and research
Sherran Clarence
The term academic development is used in a few ways in South Africa and usually
encompasses both staff and student development. When focused on lecturers, it is
usually termed academic staff development. Most universities have centres for
teaching and learning, such as the Fundani Centre for Teaching and Learning at the
Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and CHERTL (Centre for Higher
Education, Research, Teaching and Learning) at Rhodes University. These are staffed
by researchers and practitioners who work with both staff and students to improve
teaching and learning, such that formal access to higher education translates into
success for greater numbers of students (see Scott 2009). The Higher Education
Quality Council (HEQC) defines academic development thus:
A field of research and practice that aims to enhance quality and effectiveness
of teaching and learning in higher education, and to enable institutions and the
higher education sector to meet key educational goals, particularly in relation
to equity of access and outcomes. (HEQC 2007: 74, cited in Scott 2009: 22,
emphasis added)
The emphasis on ‘equity of … outcomes’ is particularly important in considering
how academic staff development in particular understands its role in relation to
students. Success - a positive outcome - in higher education, read most commonly in
the attainment of a qualification that enables the graduate to work, and develop a
career, is a key aspect of a path to the private goods of education: work, income,
ability to support one’s family, and a desirable lifestyle. But, success for greater
numbers of especially black students in South Africa (CHE 2013; Scott 2009) is also
central to advancing higher education as a public good.
Formal access to higher education is largely, although not completely, assured for
many more black students now than it ever has been in the past. In practice, this is
difficult to achieve for many students, for reasons of finance, preparedness linked to
prior education and home literacy background, and family support (CHE 2013). But,
in principle, anyone who meets the entrance requirements and can pay the fees can
come to university, regardless of race, class or gender. In terms, though, of what
Wally Morrow called ‘epistemological access’ (2009)- access to the means of
acquiring, critiquing and creating knowledge - both access and success are still
notably skewed in favour of white students, and students with a more ‘congruent’
home and school literacy background (CHE 2013; McKenna 2004). This means, in
practice, that participation and graduation rates of especially poorer black students
remain worryingly low, almost 30 years into democracy (CHE 2013; Dietrich, Moja
& Pazich 2014). A significant implication, in terms of seeing higher education as a
public good, is that fewer qualified back graduates are entering the professions than
should be, and that fewer black graduates are contributing in meaningful, formal ways
to innovation, practice and development within their chosen fields. The overall effect
of skewed success rates means that higher education, as both a public and a private
good, continues to be constrained.
What can academic development do about this? Focusing specifically on academic
staff development, this chapter will draw on the literature published in and about
South African academic development between 2007 and 2017. Through a critical
review of the available literature, the chapter will argue that significant strides have
been made in the field towards developing a more robust, latterly theorised approach
to improving teaching and learning. Yet, in spite of these developments, persistent
deficit conceptions of the sector, and both lecturers and students, continue to constrain
the transformative and emancipatory potential of the field, particularly in relation to
constructing higher education as a pathway to both public and private goods.
The chapter begins with an overview of the history of academic development in South
Africa, before moving on to consider current foci and trends in the literature.
A brief history of academic development work in South Africa
Academic development work in South Africa has its origins in the 1980s, when
relatively low numbers of black students began enrolling in historically white
universities. These students, coming from poorer socioeconomic and poorly resourced
school backgrounds, struggled to meet the academic demands of these universities,
created for a traditionally homogenous, middle class, white student body (Scott 2009).
These students were thus labeled as ‘unprepared’ for higher education. Academic
support programmes were created ostensibly to give them more of what white
students had had access to in their prior schooling, so that they could progress in their
studies. However, academic development practitioners in these universities began to
realise that these ‘add on’ programmes were patronising, and limited in their reach
and outcomes. What was needed, rather, was wider or broader teaching and learning
development, focused on staff development as well as on student development
(Boughey 2014; Scott 2009).
From these beginnings, academic development, or AD, work in higher education has
focused on four different areas of influence: student development (particularly in
foundational and extended curriculum programmes); staff development; curriculum
development; and institutional development (HEQC 2007, cited in Scott 2009: 22).
This chapter focuses on research that is concerned primarily with staff and curriculum
development work, but it should not be seen as completely separate from student and
institutional development work, as these areas of focus are necessarily intertwined.
The student experience of higher education is primarily one of learning: attending
lectures and tutorials, writing assignments, working with peers, reading, and so on.
These experiences are varied, of course, but it is worth noting the amount of literature
devoted, in South Africa and globally, to improving teaching and learning such that
students have less alienating, difficult, and trying experiences of higher education (see
Quinn 2012b, McKenna 2004, 2012; Jacobs 2007). This, in my view, is the primary
value of academic staff development: to contribute to the student experience by
working in constructive, theoretically sound ways with lecturers, such that teaching
and learning is significantly improved. Improvement, influenced by the literature
explored in the following sections, can be understood here as enabling teaching and
learning to be more inclusive, thoughtful, socially and environmentally aware, and
cognisant of diversity and difference. It also encompasses creating curricula and
assessment structures that are fit for purpose, and can enable the greatest number of
students to achieve meaningful success.
This chapter now moves to explore what we know about academic development in
South Africa, from the perspective of published research primarily focused on staff
and curriculum development. It seeks to connect to this research the question of how
students experience teaching, learning and assessment in South African universities.
While staff development is directly focused on building the relevant educational
knowledge, skills, and confidence of lecturers and tutors, it is always concerned with
doing all of this to enhance ‘equity of access and outcomes’ (Scott 2009: 22).
However, there are different understandings in the field of academic development,
and higher education more broadly, about what constitutes ‘equity’ in terms of access
and outcomes, what paths would lead us to greater equity, and how to enable students
to achieve the best possible educational outcomes. Thus, this chapter also adds a layer
of critique to the literature on staff development, to explore to what extent the
ideological or theoretical underpinnings could influence outcomes or experiences of
learning for students.
Reframing the student experience through the lens of AD
Students are the core ‘stakeholders’ in any higher education system. Without students
we would not be working in universities; we would be working in research institutes.
Thus, teaching, learning and assessment aimed at enhancing or enabling success for
the greatest number of students is - or should be - higher education’s core goal.
Research, innovation, policy development and so on should all contribute towards
achieving this goal. Yet, as several researchers have pointed out over the years, in
South Africa and elsewhere, teaching and its allied practice-oriented activities are
often under-valued and under-rewarded compared to research (Ndebele & Maphosa
2014; Scott 2009). In many university contexts, academic development work
struggles consistently with an ongoing tension between focusing on practical,
teaching-and-learning-oriented development work, or research and scholarly work.
Following this logic to one possible conclusion, should teaching remain systemically
under-valued, students who come to university to learn, grow and graduate with the
capacity to advance the public good, as well as their own private goods, are
shortchanged. Their experience of learning will be compromised. Students, in
particular, have highlighted this in recent protests across universities in South Africa.
Among many demands made, a relevant one here is demands for more equitable,
open, and socially just teaching and learning environments.
Currently, then, higher education in South Africa is on the verge of change, although
the forms this will take are as yet unclear. Calls for curriculum renewal and changes
to staffing and teaching approaches, primarily from students under the broad coalition
of the #FeesMustFall movement, implicate issues of race, class, gender, systemic
(under)privilege and systemic (in)equity of both access and success. Parts of the
academic development field have been grappling for some time with these questions,
and these protests have reinvigorated this space and opened it up to new debates, and
consideration (see Luckett 2016; Quinn 2012a, 2012b; Shay 2016; Vorster & Quinn
2017). Since the 1980s, and especially since the end of apartheid in 1994, South
African universities have been widening formal access especially to previously
excluded students, primarily black students. Yet, success is still skewed in favour of
those students who are better prepared academically and financially for study at
tertiary level (CHE 2013; Scott 2009; Scott, Yeld & Hendry 2007). Many students
who are less able to achieve this seemingly elusive academic success can see that
systemic inequalities, privileges and structures, such as the curriculum, need to be
addressed for that success to be realistically in reach of academically and financially
underprepared students (Cooper 2015).
There are aspects of university structure, culture and practices that influence how
students and lecturers are positioned relative to one another. These structures and
cultural elements also influence how academic development work is understood,
practiced, resourced and supported. The sector is currently comprised of a mix of 26
traditional, comprehensive and technology-oriented universities, located in both rural
and urban areas, and with markedly diverse staff and student bodies. It stands to
reason, then, that there is a wide range of structural, cultural and practice-oriented
contexts. Academic development work, thus, needs to be understood as a
differentiated body of practices; there is one definition of academic development,
according to the HEQC, but there are many different ways of realising the espoused
goals mentioned in the Introduction.
The following sections unpack the key discourses and issues affecting academic
development work, and attempt to tease out some of the more important differences
and divergences in AD praxis and research.
The primary systemic discourse that appears to be implicated in much of the literature
is termed the ‘deficit discourse’ (Smit 2012; Quinn 2012b). One could argue that all
students and academics have some kind of ‘deficit’ in relation to the expectations set
for achievement and success; otherwise there would be no real need for staff and
student learning and development workshops. However, the deficit discourse as it is
operationalised in academic development is politicised, and underpinned by certain
ideological assumptions about learning and success. These assumptions tend to
construct education as a journey undertaken by an autonomous student, who is
primarily responsible for her own success, which must be achieved through
motivation, commitments and hard work (Boughey & McKenna 2016; McKenna
2012; Pym & Kapp 2013). This instantiation of the deficit discourse largely neglects,
or obstructs, a view of the deeper structures and systems at play in higher education
that can enable, and constrain, equitable access and outcomes for students (Boughey
2014; Boughey & McKenna 2017; Smit 2012). These can also further enable and
constrain staff engagement, agency and learning (Vorster & Quinn 2012), primarily
through locating ‘problems’ with teaching and student success in individual lecturers
or departments, rather than seeing these issues from a whole-system perspective. This
deficit approach to teaching and learning development, pinpointing problematic
lecturers and departments that need to improve, or update their practices, can be
isolating for lecturers and departments. This is counter-productive to improving
student learning experiences, as well as lecturers’ own teaching and learning
The deficit perceptions of academic lecturers, students, and the university itself need
to be critically and carefully deconstructed. They are not new; Akoojee and Nkomo
(2007) show, for example, through a critical review of research into student success,
that the problem of students’ underpreparedness and poor success rates have been
researched and debated since the 1930s in South Africa. A striking difference, though,
between the pre- and during-apartheid higher education sector and that of the present,
is that the student body now is increasingly diverse, linguistically, culturally,
socioeconomically and in terms of their prior education (CHE 2013; Scott 2009).
Politically, the problems are different now - specifically, apartheid is over and we are
no longer fighting for everyone to have the same rights and opportunities. We all have
the same rights and opportunities in principle, but in practice the vast gap between
rich and poor, and systemic poverty and inequality is significantly constraining of
realisation of these for many South Africans. There is perhaps, then, a more urgent
sense that the notion of deficit from a systemic perspective needs to be addressed if
we really are to construct and enact higher education as a public or social, as well as
private, good, that makes a meaningful contribution on micro and macro levels
(Boughey 2007; Singh 2001).
Neoliberal ideologies that cast the system and its standards as unproblematic and the
students and staff that cannot fit in as needing support, coaching and a stronger work
ethic, arguably underpin deficit discourses that currently hold sway in higher
education (Smit 2012, Boughey and McKenna 2016). Internationally, there is a
dominance of the meritocracy discourse writ large, connected with more conservative
political stances that tend to obscure systemic inequalities and privilege by focusing
on a discourse of success being a result of hard work, grit and determination. These
are connected with neo-liberal constructions of the university understood in narrower
terms as producing workers for the knowledge economy, obsessed thus with
measuring skills and knowledge in transparent, standardised ways (see Hargreaves
2002; Sellar & Gale 2011; Shore 2010). Hargreaves (2002) argues that the knowledge
economy serves the private good; thus, if universities pursue the current neo-liberal
path, it may become increasingly challenging to centre the public good, and legitimate
pathways to this within higher education. This has implications for how students are
positioned, supported and educated, too.
Boughey and McKenna (2017) point to the powerful ways in which students are
constructed in institutional audit documents as ‘decontextualised learners’ that can be
helped to fit in better though teaching and learning interventions outside of
mainstream programmes and courses (such as English for Academic Purposes-type
courses). Pym and Kapp (2013) and Pym (2006) challenge these instantiations of the
deficit discourse though their account of an academic development programme for
commerce students at a historically white university. The programme they look at in
these papers challenges, as they put it, ‘assimilationist, deficit notions of the teaching
and learning process’ (Pym and Kapp 2013: 272). It does this through asking key
questions about:
what counts as ‘success’ and why,
what knowledge counts as legitimate and who determines this,
and whether and why we are unreflexively expecting black students to
shoehorn themselves into a vision of education and success that cannot or will
not account for their embodied selves, including their learning needs and
approaches (see also Case, Marshall and Linder 2007; Case 2013; Marshall
and Case 2010).
Teaching and learning, assisted with academic development work that is aligned with
transformation imperatives, then, needs to act on these questions by opening up
spaces for re-imagination and rethinking of the value orientations of curricula and
other structures within the university that work to construct success and failure in
particular ways.
One way to open up space, in academic development as a field in particular, is to
engage with theorised ways of thinking about learning, teaching, student development
and higher education.
Ways of theorising practice, and practicing theory
An important starting point in choosing any theoretical approach to teaching and
learning development is to consider the context in which one is working. Theory acts
as a critical ‘lens’ through which we can ‘see’ our work, our context, our teaching and
so on with perhaps fresh eyes, connecting what we may experience to other contexts
that share similarities. In this way, using theory judiciously can lift us out of our own,
relatively narrow, contexts and connect us with the work and research done in other
contexts, from which we can learn. The South African context is a highly unequal
one. University spaces are shared by students particularly, with markedly different
levels of prior learning, literacy development, family support, financial independence
and preparation for the myriad demands of higher education (Badat 2012; CHE 2013;
Scott, Yeld & Hendry 2007). Thus, theory can help those working in academic
development to ‘see’ and critique their local instantiations of this broader context, and
deficit discourses.
Currently, there is a move in South African academic development research and
practice towards using critical theories that can shine new light on issues of diversity,
inequality, and the skewed outcomes of higher education (see CHE 2013; Scott, Yeld
& Hendry 2007). Yet, this move is limited, and tends to be happening in universities
that have a less overt divide between research and practice in academic development.
The authors included in this section also tend to represent primarily well-resourced
teaching and learning centres, and universities with well-funded and supportive
research offices. Thus, the field itself is significantly skewed in terms of where the
knowledge about current academic development work is produced, and notably, the
source of critiques of a-theoretical, outdated, and ideologically problematic academic
development work.
Particularly, this work draws on the work of Nancy Fraser on participatory parity
(Bozalek & Boughey 2012; Leibowitz & Bozalek 2016), Basil Bernstein’s work on
the pedagogic device and the discourses that underpin it, and education more
generally (Shay 2016; Vorster and Quinn 2012), Margaret Archer’s social realist
account of structure, culture and agency (Case 2013; Leibowitz et al. 2015; Luckett
and Luckett 2009; Quinn 2012b); Legitimation Code Theory (Blackie, 2014; Clarence
2016a; Shay 2016; Vorster and Quinn 2015), and Academic Literacies (Clarence
2012; Clarence and McKenna, 2017; Jacobs 2007, 2013). Notable too is the work
being done using Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s Capabilities Approach
(Walker 2003; Walker and McLean 2015; Walker and Wilson-Strydom 2016).
Responding to Scott’s (2009: 22) exhortation for academic development work to
focus on improving ‘equity of access and outcomes’ for students, all of this work has
in common is a firm grounding in theorised accounts of learning, teaching and
academic development.
Rather than proceeding from an account of students (and lecturers) as autonomous
individuals on whom success or failure solely depends, the more recent research that
draws on sociological and political theories of society, justice and equity implicates
the systems that we are all part of. Autonomous approaches to the study of student
learning, and by extension also the lecturers’ and tutors’ learning, tend to imply that if
individuals try hard, don’t give up, and apply themselves conscientiously, they will
succeed (Boughey & McKenna 2016, 2017). These approaches have been roundly
criticised in South African higher education, at the very least by the authors cited in
the above paragraph. Primarily, in such an unequal context, shaped by the legacy of
apartheid, focusing on individuals over the systemic structuring of inequality is
unjust. The social, political and economic systems that we are all a part of shape the
‘space of possibles’ to paraphrase Maton (2014). Those born into middle class homes,
with access to well-resourced schools, libraries, financial networks of support and so
on will have an easier time navigating their way through higher education than those
born into working class homes, and having access only to poorly resourced schools,
and little to no financial back-up (Letseka and Maile 2008; van Zyl 2016). Lecturers
who have been these different students will be shaped by those experiences, and also
by the opportunities that exist in their universities for further learning and teaching
development. Academic development opportunities are also unevenly provided, with
better resourced universities having more visible, funded and structured units for
academic development that run courses, one-on-one engagements and so on (Scott
2009; Moyo 2018). Hence, any academic development work that focuses on changing
the individual over addressing systemic inequalities and challenges will inevitably
create a ‘band-aid’ solution rather than deeper, more meaningful change or
Academic staff development work is thus moving firmly, albeit unevenly, toward
theorised, scholarly ‘praxis’ (theorised practice). To be relevant to disciplinary
academic lecturers, and to claim status and significance within universities, academic
staff development work needs to have its own theorised and scholarly positions from
which it works, and needs to be able to bring relevant theoretical tools to bear on
work within the disciplines (Quinn 2012a; Clarence 2016a). This is necessary to
enable academics to reflect anew on aspects of curriculum and teaching with these
tools and in collaboration with respected academic developers working as critical
peers. Following Quinn (2012a), academic development should be seen as a ‘meta-
profession’, and thus needs to have firm scholarly foundations of its own. All of the
authors writing from this understanding of academic development work are skeptical
or dismissive of academic staff (or student) development framed as ‘skills
development’ or individualised, ad hoc work. Rather, this work has become
increasingly focused on understanding deeper mechanisms and structures that
constrain or enable change.
Academic literacies, with its underlying ideological focus on transformation, and
equitable access to ways of making meaning and learning the ‘rules’ of the academic
game, has long been a guiding theoretical approach in South African academic
development work. Scott (2009) and Boughey (2014) trace the growth and shifts in
the academic development movement in South Africa since the mid-1980s. Their
work shows, in particular, how AD units that were created in the 1980s, and that have
been framed by a ‘activist’ stance have focused on moving away from a notion of
‘fixing’ black students’ literacy deficits, to changing the nature of teaching and
learning to account for a changing student body and wider social context. This move,
as noted earlier in this section, has not yet happened across the sector. The dominance
of deficit discourses, and their ‘common sense’ nature given apartheid’s educational
legacy that continues to constrain especially black students’ educational development,
means that not all academic development work is focused in the same direction. There
are still instances of ‘bolt-on’ student writing and ‘literacy’ courses, skills-
development programmes, and one-off workshops for staff focused on practical tips
for teaching without deeper underpinning. It is clear that far more work needs to be
done in changing understandings of social justice, equity, and criticality in the field of
academic development, for both staff and students. There is thus a need for expanding
the theory the field draws on in directions offered by social realism, LCT, the
Capabilities Approach, and participatory parity. The field will thus benefit from
theorising its work, and sharing these theorised understandings and approaches more
Such deeply theorised, scholarly approaches to academic development work are
changing both the nature and the status of academic development. Although the field
as a whole struggles against marginalisation and precarious funding and tenure (Scott
2009), there are more universities in 2018 with centralised, funded units or centres for
teaching and learning than there were ten or twenty years ago. There is also greater
recognition of the valuable role that academic development as a scholarly field of
practice and research can and should play in professionalising teaching in higher
education. Although the field in South Africa is unevenly resourced, and does not
work consistently from within theorised, critical understandings of the sector itself, or
student access and success, there is evidence to suggest that the field understands its
role as one that should create greater equity of outcomes, especially, going forward.
The most significant changes in academic development as a field have been enacted
by ‘activist’ academics (Scott 2009), and those who identify themselves as such,
including many of the authors cited in this chapter . These academics have long been
concerned with the political and social environments surrounding, influencing, and
being shaped by higher education. These concerns have in turn influenced the work
done in the academic development field, initially with students and then with
academic lecturers as well. Thus, we know that academic development does not hold
itself up as a neutral space where lecturers can learn value-free ‘tips and tricks’ to
improve their local teaching, or solve individual problems. Rather, through its
particular concern with theoretical approaches that are ultimately deeply concerned
with questions of equity, access and justice, academic development locates itself
within its local, and wider political, social and institutional context, and works to
surface underlying tensions, goals, and knowledges. Through this situated, critical
positioning, academic developer activists work to change higher education, to create a
more open, critical, socially just culture of teaching and learning.
Yet, this description of academic development as a field does not reflect the South
African higher education sector as a whole. The deficit discourses that obscure
systemic inequality and privilege are tacitly dominant, and have become so inured
that they are both hard to see, and to challenge. Thus, while there is a growing body
of theorised research and practice in AD, there is still a notable lack of theorisation of
academic development work (Shay 2016, Boughey and Niven 2012). In many
universities, especially those with significant numbers of students from poorer
socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, there is a perhaps understandable
preoccupation with policy standardisation and measurable skills development. This
constrains a more critical, theorised, and open approach to academic development,
which would challenge dominant, individualised conceptions of students and lecturers
as needing to work harder and care more.
There is much to be done to change students’ and lecturers’ experiences of higher
education to make them more inclusive, enabling, and resonant with personal goals
and ambitions. Currently, there is fierce debate around decolonising the university
through critiquing and changing curricula, assessment modes and teaching
methodologies that continue to exclude and silence students, and lecturers, whose
experiences and prior knowledges are outside of what the university represents as the
legitimate ways of thinking, reading, writing and knowing. These debates are in their
infancy, and the time is now for academic development as a field to reclaim a firmer
‘activist’ identity, akin to that held in the 1980s and 1990s, and be a crucial and
central part of conversations that focus on reimagining teaching and learning, thereby
creating more inclusive and equitable student learning, personal and professional
growth, and emancipation.
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In the context of rapid change in higher education, there is a great demand for powerful theory and methods to address key issues, particularly related to teaching and learning. This chapter traces the uptake of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) in higher education studies in South Africa to make sense of how and why this theory has become so popular. LCT draws on the works of Bernstein and Bourdieu to provide a powerful theoretical and analytical toolkit with which to analyse social practices. In the chapter we argue that the attraction of this theory is that it attends to a ‘knowledge blindness’ whereby much higher education research, particularly that focused on teaching and learning, fails to consider the nature and effects of the discipline or field being learned. The use of this theory is illustrated in the chapter by reference to a number of publications. In doing so, we illustrate the importance of conceptual tools that allow an interrogation of what we are teaching, who we are teaching and how this social practice takes place.
Knowledge remains timely in education. The need for academics to contemplate its relevance, worth, use and everything in-between deems a continuous intellectual project, rather than a conundrum to be solved. This book takes the South African context by the horns as it challenges the often dormant and traditionalist ways in which higher education spaces see knowledge. Through original research and the voices of academics and students, this book argues for repurposing knowledge generation, knowledge sharing and critical pedagogy so that more inclusive teaching and learning environments can be both imagined and sustained. The contentious tensionalities that this creates for LoLT and SoTL, in particular, are unlocked so as to trouble the South African higher education landscape with the intent to proffer alternative pathways for a knowledge beyond colour lines.
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It has become increasingly evident that the discourse of transformation that has shaped the democratising of higher education institutions over the first two decades of the democratic dispensation in South Africa has now run its course. Over the past few years, and particularly during the tumultuous student protests of 2015 and 2016, students and some academics have been calling for the decolonisation of university structures and cultures, including curricula. Using concepts from Margaret Archer’s social realism we consider the failure of the discourse of transformation to lead to real change and examine a constellation of new discourses related to the decolonisation of universities that have emerged in South Africa recently. Furthermore, we critique the discourses that have underpinned our own practices as academic developers over the past two decades and then explore the implications of what could be termed a “decolonial turn” for academic developers and by implication for the academics with whom they work.
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Much academic development work that is framed by academic literacies, especially that focused on writing, is concerned with disciplinary conventions and knowledges: conceptual, practical, and procedural. This paper argues, however, that academic literacies work tends to conflate literacy practices with disciplinary knowledge structures, thus obscuring the structures from which these practices emanate. This paper demonstrates how theoretical and analytical tools for conceptualizing disciplinary knowledge structures can connect these with academic literacies development work. Using recent studies that combine academic literacies and theories of knowledge in novel ways, this paper will show that understanding the knowledge structures of different disciplines can enable academic developers to build a stronger body of practice. This will enable academic developers working within disciplinary contexts to more ably speak to the nature of coming to know in higher education.
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The low level of student success in South Africa is an intractable problem, with levels of success differing between the various groups that make up South African society. One of the major constraints influencing student success involves the socio-economic status (SES) of newly entering students. In the South African context, with its very high levels of SES inequality and other social stratifications, a better understanding of issues related to SES would allow them to be addressed in targeted ways that lead to improved student success. This study was conducted at the University of Johannesburg and used data collected between 2010 and 2015. In this study, the SES of students was determined by measuring their self-reported Living Standards Measure (LSM) level. The relationships between the SES level and various socio-demographic variables were then tested using the chi-square test with standardised residuals. The trends that emerged can assist institutions to gain a more nuanced understanding of SES and its impact in the South African context. Three clear clusters emerged each with their own distinguishing attributes and risk profiles.
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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 afforded by the selected South African University (named the University of Higher Learning (UHL) in this paper to protect its identity)? In order to answer the above question, this paper which is part of a wider National Research Foundation (NRF) Research project involving eight universities, sought to deconstruct the narratives of educational developers on the enabling and constraining conditions with regard to the professional development of academics as teachers at a historically White South African university. The study adopted a qualitative case study approach. Ten educational developers constituted the purposive sample for the study. Individual interviews were held with the educational developers using a semi-structured interview schedule. Using the Archerian social realist theoretical framework qualitative data was analysed by first transcribing interview tapes and coding the transcribed data. Content analysis was then used to analyse data thematically. The study found constraining factors which included perceived lack of time, overload and general undervaluing of teaching when compared to research. Some promoting factors included the existence of an established teaching and learning centre as well as the existence of teaching excellence awards. Based on the findings, the researchers conclude that that there are a number of structural, cultural and agential factors promoting or hindering academics’ uptake of professional development opportunities and recommend that teaching and learning centres in universities should continue to engage academics to ensure that they prioritise the undertaking of professional development courses. Professional development courses should also be tailor-made to ensure that they answer the felt needs of academics in different faculties and departments.
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This paper was motivated by student protests at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where the Rhodes Must Fall collective called for the ‘decolonisation’ of the university’s curriculum. I deliberately adopt a ‘decolonial gaze’ to re-describe the structural and cultural conditioning of the post-colonial university and the contradictions it sets up for black students. Using Archer’s morphogenetic cycle and Bernsteins’s pedagogic device I tease out what contestation for control of the curriculum entails, with a particular focus on the Humanities and Social Sciences. I identify three groups of students for whom the situational logic of the post-colonial university offers very different opportunities for agential development and therefore academic success. At the level of pedagogy, I suggest there may be a ‘collective hermeneutic gap’ between some academics and their students. Finally the paper makes some suggestions for what curriculum reform in a post-colonial Humanities and Social Sciences might involve.
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Teaching and learning is a growing field of research and practice globally, and increasing investments are being made in developing academics as teachers. An inability to adequately account for disciplinary knowledge can lead to academic development inputs that are unable to fully address the needs of students, educators, or disciplines themselves. Semantics, from Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), provides insight not just into the hows of pedagogy but also the whats and whys, particularly the ways in which knowledge needs to be connected up in meaning-making. This paper argues for the use of semantic profiles to open up conversations with educators about teaching, learning, and the nature of knowledge in their disciplines. It raises important questions about the practical uses of LCT tools in higher education and shares initial ideas, informed by lecturer feedback in one case study, of how these tools can be used in academic staff development.
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We argue that there is a reciprocal relationship between all scholarly activities, most importantly between teaching, learning, research and professional learning. The article builds on the work of others who call for a social justice approach to inform the SoTL. It focuses on the implications for professional learning, as an aspect of the SoTL which has been neglected. The tripartite account of participatory parity as advanced by Nancy Fraser is shown to be a valuable frame to describe instances of social justice, as well as the kind of institutional arrangements that should be instituted to support participatory parity. Alongside this, the notion of a ‘pedagogy of discomfort’ is shown to be an effective, but challenging means to advance awareness of justice and injustice amongst academics. The article draws on examples from three action based research projects run by the authors.
Martha Nussbaum (2011) reminds us that, all over the world people are struggling for a life that is fully human - a life worthy of human dignity. Purely income-based and preference based evaluations, as Sen (1999) argues, do not adequately capture what it means for each person to have quality of life. There are other things that make life good for a person, including access to publicly provided professional services. The question then is what version of education inflects more towards the intrinsic and transformational possibilities of professional work and contributions to decent societies? This paper suggests that we need a normative approach to professional education and professionalism; it is not the case that any old version will do. We also need normative criteria to move beyond social critique and to overcome a merely defensive attitude and to give a positive definition to the potential achievements of the professions. Moreover universities are connected to society, most especially through the professionals they educate; it is reasonable in our contemporary world to educate professional graduates to be in a position to alleviate inequalities, and to have the knowledge, skills and values to be able to do so. To make this case, we draw on the human capabilities approach of Sen (1999, 2009) and Nussbaum (2000, 2011) to conceptualise professional education for the public good as an ally of the struggles of people living in poverty and experiencing inequalities, expanding the well-being of people to be and to do in ways they have reason to value – to be mobile, cared for, respected, and so on. In particular we are interested in which human capabilities and functionings are most needed for a professional practice and professionalism that can contribute to transformative social change and how professional development is enabled via pedagogical arrangements
Many contemporary concerns in higher education focus on the student experience of learning.With a larger and much more diverse intake than ever before, linked with a declining unit of resource, questions are being asked afresh around the purposes of higher education. Although much of the debate is currently focused on issues of student access and success, a simple input-output model of higher education is insufficient.