SOTL @ UJ: towards a socially just pedagogy
Conceptual framework – in process
Version for 20 January 2015
Higher education in South Africa faces key challenges in relation to teaching and learning:
· Small number of matriculating students to draw from and simultaneously, students are drawn from more privileged echelons of society, due to inequality in society in general, fostered by unequal conditions in schools across the society
· Low success rate and low throughput in institutions across the country, with significant differences between institutions
· Higher education institutions enjoy less funding and resourcing than universities in the global North
· The curriculum remains by and large ‘derivative’ of the centre or metropole
· The professionalization of the teaching role is not as far advanced as it should be, for example in comparison with countries like the UK and Sweden, where preparatory teaching and learning programmes are required for newly appointed lecturers
· South Africa (and UJ’s) responsibility towards the rest of Africa.
In addition to these challenges facing higher education, there are also challenges facing those academics who engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning in order to enhance the learning opportunities of their students. Amongst these challenges are the following:
· Difficulty of crossing boundaries from own discipline to social theory and learning theory
· Isolation in own departments
· Lack of time to conduct research which it not always part of career trajectory/lack of time to ‘catch up’ in this new knowledge domain.
Proposed response: SOTL informed by a social justice approach
Amongst the varied strategies to enhance conditions for teaching and learning, are those which support academics to become more scholarly, creative and inventive about their own teaching, to share their findings and critical observations with others, and thereby to generate communities of enquiry at the micro and meso levels within faculties and disciplines. This is what is understood as the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Given the broad challenges referred to above, academics in South Africa cannot afford to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning in an a-social manner. It is therefore necessary to undertake these scholarly activities in order to further a socially just approach. This is broadly understood as teaching and learning that encourages “participatory parity” (Nancy Fraser).
A socially just pedagogy pays attention to:
Issues of access to higher education (widening participation)
Epistemological access to those within higher education (‘success’ and ‘throughput’)
Appropriate graduate outcomes (so that graduates can find employment; so they can flourish and contribute to society).
Issues pertaining to knowledge and power (whose knowledges are valued, and how knowledge is made accessible)
Issues of communication and democracy in relation to language – without essentialising speakers of particular languages or languages themselves. We also endorse a multi-modality of communication forms and methods, including the digital and visual, alongside the traditional textual.
Issues of voice – whose voices ‘count’ and what are the silences? Are students heard – which students?
How time and space are used and how they shape the teaching and learning experience
How the institutional culture influences teaching and learning interactions, and what can be done about this where it appears to hinder learning and teaching for all students and academics.
The respectful co-production of knowledge – where co-producers are in other institutions such as community organisations, schools, and where we address the gap between higher education and other institutions.
Issues of democratic citizenship – in relation to internationalisation and responsibilities closer to home.
The relationship of epistemology to ontology – we are not just teaching students what knowledge to learn, but how to reason and feel towards a just future.
In this project we seek to look towards the future, a pedagogy of possibility and critical hope. However we acknowledge the importance of criticality and critique, thus the important work of critical pedagogy (Spivack, Habermas, Giroux and McLaren, Freire, amongst others).
A socially just pedagogy also pays attention to the curriculum and pedagogic approaches (one cannot ‘teach’ students to become critical citizens, using approaches which discourage independence and criticality).
A socially just pedagogy takes into account the past – of the institution, of students, academics and faces the future with a sense of continuous possibility.
A socially just pedagogy assumes that dialogue is never finished. Teaching and learning fosters our becoming, not brokenness.
A socially just pedagogy requires academics to explore their own assumptions and experience the kinds of discovery and vulnerability that they require from their students.
The SOTL @ UJ research project will investigate the value of a number of pro-social justice approaches, including:
· Participatory parity (Fraser)
· Capabilities approach (Sen, Nussbaum, Walker)
· Indigenous knowledge systems (‘Odora-Hoppers)
· Pedagogy of discomfort (Boler, Zembylas)
· Political ethics of care (Tronto)
· Democratic education (Waghid)
· Democratic and inclusive education (Soudien)
· Post-humanism (Braidotti)
· Socio-materialism (Barad, Deleuze-Gattari; Mazzei and Youngblood-Jackson)
· Cognitive justice (Visvinathan)
Approach to research
A socially just pedagogy is fostered by methods of research which see students as partners and participants, not as objects of the research. In this research the purpose of the research is significant – in what way does it foster social justice in teaching and learning? Ethical and social dimensions are not just matters for reporting against for institutional and committee processes – they deserve deep consideration. The ethical dimensions of educational research are not dissimilar from ethical dimensions of social relations in general, nor from ethical dimensions concerning teaching and learning.
Despite a broad adherence to a social justice approach, it is not anticipated that the group will reach a tight and homogenous understanding of what a socially just pedagogy entails. We will not bind each other to a strictly homogenous approach. We will, however, spend time understanding the values bases and theoretical underpinnings of the various approaches. We will consider the value of each and will consider what it contributes to social justice with regard to teaching and learning. We also see the need for approaches that might span philosophy, sociology and learning theories. Our approach towards each other aspires towards appreciativeness and recognition, as well as robust debate and challenge.
Central principles underlying the research approach and underlying deliberations in the group are: criticality, reflexivity, respect, openness, scholarship and empathy.
Research should be informed by the literature, including philosophical and sociological approaches which shed light on teaching and learning approaches. There needs to be a dialectical relationship between theory and data, where research is informed by theory, but the research should further illuminate, modify or raise questions in relation to the theory. The group is also aware of its responsibility to contribute to the international literature on teaching and learning via observations of conditions in the global South, and from the perspective of a comprehensive, urban South African university.
Intended outcomes of the project are:
A SOTL community of practice
An outreach component (of which the blog is a part)
A series of investigations and initiatives in teaching and learning contexts that address issues pertaining to social justice and teaching and learning – captured in a register of projects and reports, to be featured on the project blog
A discussion document for UJ regarding social justice and teaching and learning
A book/informal publication/series of articles – to be taken further.