Wednesday 23 March 2016



EDITORS: Shirley Booth and Laurie Woollacott

PUBLISHER: SUN Media under the imprint SUN PRESS. First edition 2015. SA Price: R250.00

The book introduces Earnest L. Boyer in 1990, as the creator of the concept of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and goes on to show the historical and social evolution of the idea. The notion has grown to encompass many different views of the nature of SoTL since then. The book deals with the philosophical underpinnings that gave rise to SoTL and traverses thinking on the issue from Aristotle to the current times. The Aristotelian view that ‘Man by nature cannot be without others’ concurs with the African philosophy of Ubuntu and is reflected in the assumptions that underpin UNESCO's recommendations for Higher Education that, “Higher Education personnel …. are expected to enhance the observance in society of the cultural, economic, social , civil and political rights of all people.”

In the chapter “Invitational Pedagogy” by Teboho Pitso, he avers that, “The basis of developing the alternative pedagogy was mainly to restore students’ agentic and discretionary power through creating learning environments where students could engage in independent research.  Invitational dialogic constructions were central to these efforts.” He succinctly puts forward the case for SoTL and invitational learning in the creative approach he uses in his ‘learnshops’.

Chapters 4 will be of interest to those in teacher education specifically and those in the field of education generally. Laurie Woollacott presents an interesting case study in MEDIATED INTERACTION GROUPS (MIGs). His findings suggest that this innovative pedagogy (MIG) has a potential impact on educational practice.

The rest of the chapters consider SoTL and transformation through a range of pedagogical approaches in the Health Sciences, Engineering, Teacher Education and in Academic Development. Overall the book is an interesting account of the historical and philosophical aspects of SoTL together with real pedagogical experiences of academics in the field. It confirms for those of us in higher education that we influence, just as much as we are influenced by those with whom we converse at a given moment and that our influences range over the scope of the human condition – morals, habits and the political condition.

In the final chapter, the editors, Booth and Woolacott summarize by considering the five  core domains and two contextual domains of SoTL. The core domains are: didactic, epistemic, social, moral and ethical and finally societal. The contextual domains are the disciplinary and professional.

They conclude that SoTL has a bearing on the status of the profession and the potential for its transformation, at the individual, the institutional and the societal levels.

For those who want a deeper understanding of where SoTL started, and where it is now, the first chapter is lovely. it is also useful for those who want to incorporate it into their teaching, and to make teaching more invitational, this is a book to buy.

What is the Ph.D for? Postgraduate supervision, social justice and research methods - by Puleng Motshoane

Michael Samuel gave a seminar in the SOTL @ UJ: Towards a Socially Just Pedagogy series, on the 17 March. He Michael started with an activity on three data sets with participants divided into three groups. Each group received a set of topics to decide if those were potential Ph.D. topics or not. The three topics were, from the University World News, the Daily Higher Education News and the third share was from the existing topics that were currently undertaken as Ph.D. studies. 

The groups had to answer the questions on whether the different topics could be undertaken as Ph.D. studies or not, and why they decided on the particular topics. The groups had to report back on the factors that drive the Ph.D. It was interesting to hear the different perspectives influenced by the different disciplines and contexts. Some participants said what drives the study is the issue of where people are located, real contextual problems or on how they would be able to find the data. Some said it is more of a convenience issue.

The question was, should the students be given the research topic or should they bring their own? In the Natural Science, the candidates are given a topic based on the project from the supervisor.

Professor Michael Cross commented that a number of factors play an important role in a Ph.D. study topic. He mentioned that academic knowledge production is no longer at the top of the agenda for a Ph.D. study and that is where we missing the point. He further remarked that the students could be guided on the topic at Honours and Masters level and not at Ph.D. It is unfortunate that the Higher Education system expects the Ph.D. candidate to complete in a less than four years yet in the South African context the majority of Ph.D. candidates are studying part-time and they have full-time jobs, which makes it impossible to complete in three years. Or else the supervisors end up with a prescription, as the students have to complete their studies quicker than it used to be the case. Thus, academic knowledge production is not at the top of the agenda anymore.

Ph.D. in Higher Education does not necessarily take the social justice agenda. We are aware that the focus of the study should be broad rather than narrowly focusing on a small case study. Students often think they can resolve a particular problem, but the Ph.D. should move beyond that.The theoretical underpinning should be developed as the study builds up. Students often think they can resolve a particular problem, but the Ph.D. should move beyond this thinking.

What is driving the Ph.D.?

The international discourses that are influenced by the international rankings would ask questions such as:
How many Ph.D. graduates does an institution like the University of Johannesburg produce? Or even the differentiated South African higher education context?
How are these issues contributing to redress, transformation and social justice issues? (Instead of the agenda of the knowledge production issues).
How do we ensure that knowledge production occurs?
How do we build the next generation of researchers (Holness, 2015)?
The outcome should be about knowledge production rather than throughput rates.
Individual students at the end get caught up in the different agendas that determine whether the institution is research intensive or not. Thus, the supervisors chooses the topics that will address the nature of the set agenda.

The agenda for the Ph.D. production is driven by other forces such as the National Development Plan, the Department of Science and Technology and the Council on Higher Education. The managerial considerations are also pushed in this framework. The agenda is mostly driven from the Higher Education system as opposed to from the institution. This agenda should rather be driven from the institution to the outside rather than the other way around. It's a problematic agenda from the Higher Education system that does not promote institutional autonomy.

Ph.D. Models
The different models of Ph.D. curriculum need to be introduced especially considering the current student protest of decolonising the curriculum. The range of Ph.D. curriculum options available needs to be executed, in terms of the different forms of doctorates available. We need to move away from the British model of one-on-one supervision and introduce other forms such as the cohort and team supervision. The different Ph.D. models, the Ph.D. by publication and the professional doctorate should also be encouraged. The  dominant Western worldview has made us believe that a Ph.D. education is about producing a written text and nothing else. Alternative forms of representation of what the Ph.D. would look like are documented in the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (2014) and should be explored.

With the Ph.D. by publication, the candidate needs to produce a minimum of four articles. The downside is that the average time to produce an article and get it published takes longer, so this is not an easy option as candidates think. Also, the Ph.D. by publication is more rigorous in terms of examination. In addition, the body of knowledge also moves as the candidates waits for the publication of the article.

The largest growth of the Ph.D. internationally is the professional doctorate, of which the idea is to move from context to theory. Unfortunately, some institutions and disciplines in South Africa are rejecting this option as it is seen as a lesser form of a Ph.D., which is not necessarily the case. A lot of institutions are suggesting that a theory-driven Ph.D. is superior as compared to a context-driven one. Some strong institutions see this as the watering down of the Ph.D.

The vast majority of our students would appreciate the professional doctorate as they do not have the luxury of studying full-time. They come from the world of work that seems to be pushing the agenda for the studies and not the higher education system. They have to address the daily issues that they face. There is tension between two worlds, which is misunderstood and seen in this particular way. All three form of the Ph.D. have to mediate the theory, the context and the practice, and, therefore, none should be seen as dominant over the other. 

One can ask, which model of the Ph.D. supervision is beginning to dominate and take hold? The models of supervision are crossing over and the cohort model of team supervision is becoming dominant, whereby the students work together. Michael Samuels' 2011 paper titled, Emergent frameworks of research teaching and learning in a cohort-based doctoral programme, argues for shifting the dynamics.

The candidates in the Natural Sciences have less to do independently as compared to the students in the Social Sciences. Their journey is not as lonely and they are able to produce more graduates. The joy in the Social Sciences, however, is to have ownership of the entire project and experience the doctorate emerging. The studies are moving away from the limits of policy implementation analysis

Can alternative methodologies generate new forms of social justice? We see a shift of agenda, of a move away from policy implementation and analysis. The tension is also between small scale studies that focus on the individual and large scale studies that focus on the system. Samuels argued that this  focus on the micro might be the beginning of a new narcissism.

He concluded by drawing from Wayne Hugo who argues that maybe this is the flip side of individualism, whereby we produce consumers rather than producers of knowledge. This is where the uniqueness of individual cases needs to be celebrated. Candidates at Ph.D. level need to be encouraged to solve the problems at a more systematic level, rather than a small case study. He closed comments by emphasizing that a methodology cannot ensure a new form of social justice. It can rather be a place to think about how we are self-critical about our own research agendas and how they come to be.

Michael Samuel

Michael Samuel is a Professor in the School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has served as a curriculum designer of innovative masters and collaborative doctoral cohort programmes locally and internationally. He has supervised to successful completion over 20 Ph.D. studies. He was a member of the Ministerial Committee on Teacher Education assisting the development of national teacher education policy in South Africa. He has served as former Deputy Dean: Initial Teacher Education and Dean (Faculty of Education, UKZN). His research interest focuses on teacher professional development, higher education, life history and narrative inquiry. He serves on several national and international editorial boards of educational journals. He is the recipient of the Turquoise Harmony Institute’s National Ubuntu Award for Contribution to Education.

Thursday 3 March 2016


An ethics of becoming in a pedagogy for social justice - by Dirk Postma from Brenda Leibowitz                                                     

This presentation was by Dr. Dirk Postma, Faculty of Education, UJ, ON 25 Febr 2016. It included an analysis of the current problematic of neo-liberal dominance in higher education, the roots/tenets of posthumanist perspectices, and the implications for pedagogic practice.

Dirk Postma
Dirk’s session was well attended, the slides excellent, and the questions demonstrated serious engagement and appreciation for the issues raised.

The slides and presentation demonstrate neatly the philosophical method of inquiry – stating the problem, offering evidence of a problematic position, exposing the alternative worth consideration, structuring the dimensions of the counter argument, and illustrating the value of the counter argument.

The audience, at the Postgraduate Centre
It was good to be witness to Dirk's engagement with the posthumanist perspective – he’s well read, and could help the audience with their questions about the topic. (Sorry I couldn’t jump in, since I volunteered to make notes for this brief report.)

Dirk’s sharing of his inquiry into the value of the Posthumanist perspective for Social Justice pedagogy surely add much value to SOTL’s project of the advancement of notions and practices of SJP.

My rereading of the slides strengthened my inquiry into teacher education and professional learning, realizing that I need to stay with the following questions for time to come:
. What does it mean to be contextually aware? [of forces shaping our lives as academics in a Neoliberal era – what governs our work directly and indirectly?][slide 5].
.  In doing research and working with students UJ – what is the significance and possibility of each and every event/meeting/class – to help us understand how life is relative, progressing/becoming, and how it helps us grow as human beings?
. On the level of pedagogic practice – what strategies / actions / conversations are associated with becoming minoritarian? To affect and be affected? And work with desire and will to become different?
Gert van der Westhuizen - on the right
. In the case of each learning conversation with colleagues and students – how is power and desires used to affect the other? How are interactions used to constitute the self? [and so on].

Apart from these questions relevant to my own work at UJ, Dirk’s presentation elicited more than 15 questions from colleagues – needing further clarification, confirming key points, and raising new questions.

Gert van der Westhuizen

Tuesday 1 March 2016

First Seminar at UJ: Decolonizing the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at UJ

UJ kicked off its seminar series on decolonizing the curriculum in the library today. It was well attended, with a fabulous panel, and Cheryl Hendricks in the chair. Desiree Lewis from the University of the Western Cape began by saying that it is important how we define hegemonic knowledges. By way of example,  decolonization does not mean replacing all existing canons with new Afrocentric canons, if these should be equally exclusive, elitist or authoritarian. Similarly, replacing (all) knowledge from the North with knowledge from the South ignores the fact that knowledge can be hybridised and intermingled. Also problematic, according to Desiree, is to pepper the existing canon with new names, thus keeping the existing canon, which just looks a little more 'quirky'. What is more important is to get students to think critically about epistemology, where the knowledges come from, what the implications of the epistemologies are, and to think through the relationship of knowledge and power. Students need to explore knowledges, not just rote learn what is 'politically correct'. 
An interesting perspective from Alina Segobye, who trained first in the study of African languages, then in archeology, was how scientists can be so positivist. She illustrated her point with reference to the astrophysicists in South Africa, who attract large sums of money and occlude the work of afrocentric physicists. Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) projects do not receive the kind of money other projects do. She said poignantly, it is not just about the present, but the pasts and the knowledges lost that one wants to reclaim.  (One would really like to have had more time to listen to these speakers, and I am sure I can't do them justice either in this potted summary.)  Tshepo Moloi from the UJ SRC acknowledged how the students have pushed the agenda to make us/the audience confront the violent practices in every lecture hall they go to. Further, he felt that the students' struggle at least got the topic of decolonizing the curriculum, to the point of today's session. He said there is nothing wrong with the current discourses, but "please let us see ourselves within the degrees that are taught - otherwise UJ - how is it an African university?"

Nelson Maldonado-Torres is another speaker whom I would not be able to do justice to, by summarizing his words. He introduced his own views by sharing with us, that he is from Puerto Rico, one of the oldest colonies in the world. And yet in South Africa many, white and black, view him as white, and reveal things they might not otherwise do, which gives him an unusual perspective on the local situation. He maintains that decolonializing generates anxiety because it unsettles one's sense of wellbeing and belonging, and in this way generates forms of bad faith. It is brutal because it calls identities into question, it calls the enlightenment into question. He made a distinction between colonialism over the past 500 years and the period before that. Colonialism over the recent past celebrates newness and secularism, over colonized and condemned subjects. He argued for the need to decriminalize student activism, and to see students as epistemological agents of change. Structural changes need to happen to empower students, as they are not unified and lack resources. Empower them and they will become sources of knowledge.

The time for panelists was running out so Nyasha Mboti made a dramatic input about the fact that the colony is a fiction, a lie, but one that remains extremely destructive. Related to this, given the myths that are perpetuated by colonialists, "knowledge is an active production of ignorance". Vineet Thakur spoke last, with some sobering realities from the Indian context where the romanticisation of the precolonial past (despite patriarchy and the caste system) has prompted the nationalist government to exercise oppressive actions agains those who criticize it, charging one student with sedition. For him, "decolonialisation involves continuous critique, a dialectical engagement".

Student contributions were lively and rambunctious, including comments that white intellectuals can learn from black thinkers; intellectuals should be more practical and side with the workers (rather than pontificate?); 'if you are choking me you are too close and are suffocating me, you feel the violence of my decolonization'. 'Africanity can be pretentious' And many more. During the wrap up, Nelson shared the importance of being able to learn from others, from many knowledges. Tshepo reminded that we should not be too polarizing, and should listen to each other. Cheryl, from the chair, emphasized that we can talk, but we need to go forward. This was the first of a five panel series. It was very lively and thoughtful, one just hopes that the series maintains a momentum, and that all colleagues and students who attend, get to express themselves, so that at UJ we can have a
 genuine engagement - especially if we really do want to decolonize the curriculum, as this requires much sharing, much collaboration, and hopefully some risk taking.