Friday 4 December 2015

SOTL @ UJ Mini-Conference 1 December 2015

The SOTL @ UJ: Towards a Socially Just Pedagogy project held a mini-conference on 1 December, attended by about 40 people. There were various highlights during the day. The first was the keynote by Michalinos Zembylas from the Open University of Cyprus.
His talk, entitled: Conceptualizing 'socially just pedagogies' through the lens of 'new pedagogy studies' and in the aftermath of the 'affective turn' was the first highlight. He shared some thoughts on new pedagogy studies, which highlight the importance of pedagogy as relational; the relationship of culture, pedagogy and power; and a focus on the public sites of pedagogy. For me an important issue he drew our attention to, is that normal pedagogies can have 'collateral damage'. If this is the case, we have no option but to pay attention to what we are doing in the classroom and beyond. An exciting dimension to the talk was the focus on what the affective turn has to offer. This focus ruptures the dichotomy between the social and the psychic. It discusses practices, individual experiences and historically situated affects. Psychic elements are relationally entangled with historical and internal developments (and if you want to read more, do go to Michalinos' papers or books, of which there are several!)
Some of us who stayed to the end of the day

A second highlight was the incredible participation of all present, in particular, the papers presented. These were on varied topics such as feedback to student writing and the ideas of Nancy Fraser on participatory parity; the importance of SOTL as a vehicle to advance socially just pedagogies; cognitive justice; postgraduate participation and equity and participation; dominant discourses of tutors; and perceptions of students about hand held devices in relation to issues of equity. We also deliberated our own draft conceptual framework about SOTL and socially just pedagogy. A key issue emphasized in that discussion is that socially just pedagogies are partly about process and deliberation - it is not something that is ever finalized. A related point was that if teaching and learning are about encouraging criticality, creativity and independent thought, then so should the environment be, in which academics engage with each other about matters of teaching and learning, the curriculum and their own development. This has important implications for a university to ensure that the climate for dialogue is open and encouraging of diverse opinions.

A third highlight was the closing session. Here Leila Kagee from the Faculty of Education concluded her comments by reading to us a beautiful poem, included here.
Finally Michalinos presented us with an important set of questions to challenge and trouble ourselves, and to ask, are our teaching interventions really an example of socially just pedagogies. Michalinos' opening presentation and closing response are provided at the end of this blog entry.

Encouraging words in the welcoming by the DVC Academic, Angina Parekh, were that the University recognizes the importance of SOTL and even the NRF is beginning to recognize this. She did point out, however that the field appears to be dominated by women, and that perhaps the issue of gender is one that should be taken up in further discussions. The SOTL @ UJ project will enter its third year in 2016. Given the focus on social justice (or the lack thereof) in higher education in South Africa, the deliberations in 2016 will be extremely important, and we hope to have many participants at the seminar series. (The plan for the 2016 series is available in the right-hand link on the blog).