Benefits of writing retreats – ECP lecturers reflect

Last week the annual ECP Writing Retreat was held at the picturesque Mont Fleur conference estate in Stellenbosch. A few ECP lecturers who participated in this year’s event share their experiences and highlight the benefits of this dedicated time away to think and do ‘writing’

 Megan Alexander, Andre Cornelius and Robert Schultz, Business

The 2017 ECP Writing Retreat at Mont Fleur arranged by Fundani, CPUT provided the ideal opportunity for participants to engage in intensive learning activities related to academic writing and publishing. Optional presentations included the development of a Title, an Abstract and Introduction for publication in journal articles. ECP lecturers were afforded the opportunity to devote specific time to their research projects. Individual and collaborative sessions served as valuable developmental engagement for our Foundation Year recurriculation project in the Department Public Administration and Governance (PAG) to be implemented in 2018. Mentor support and input were welcomed and led to further clarification of concepts, in turn leading to progress in our various projects. This type of staff development should form part of all academics’ professional growth. New lecturers, in particular, should be encouraged to attend in order to demystify the perceived fears that surround writing retreats. We are grateful for this opportunity.

Felicity Harris, Mechanical Engineering

As a first time attendee of the Writing Retreat and a novice writer, I did not know what to expect or even if I had done enough in my writing to warrant being there. But the retreat was most certainly the best place to be if you are in my position. It helped to demystify the whole idea of writing for publication and broke it down to the basics that would help to get anyone started and motivated to write.

Amanda Morris, Graphic Design

Often when I think of writing it brings to mind the process of putting pen to paper or in our contemporary contexts, putting fingers to keyboard and creating a record of thoughts, ideas and processes. I assume that the thinking which informs my writing will flow naturally and that the process of thinking and writing will happen concurrently. I have found this recently to not be true…

While at Mont Fleur attempting to delineate clearly what I was trying to write about, and then research, I discovered writing is more than just “putting it down on  paper”. Every paragraph I write is a manifestation of a process that is so much richer than what is visible on paper. Before I “write”…I read, I interrogate what I have read, I make deductions or formulate arguments and then I put this down on paper. Sometimes reading three articles lead to writing one good sentence/point and sometimes reading a single statement leads to the formation of an entire argument. There is a process of reading, thinking, and then only “writing” that I have discovered at Mont Fleur.  It has helped me see the value of reading and truly reflecting on what I have read, in the writing process. This has been helpful for me because traditionally I measured my progress on how much writing I have done but I now realise that reading and reflecting is key in “good” writing practice. We should not be too focused on the “output” but rather put emphasis on the “input”. Value what has gone into preparing a piece…whether it be a paragraph on a page or chapter in a book…

Nowhi Xintolo, Nursing

Making a decision to participate as a novice in academic writing was ambivalent; when I viewed the list of other participants I was a bit intimidated however I experienced a different environment altogether. The geographical lay out of the venue itself (Mountain its slopes and its vegetation) was a calming factor that allowed deep thoughts and free flowing ideas that one can put down on paper. The guidance that one got from facilitators made it a comfortable field to play along and learn how to structure academic writing. The Moves and the steps directed my thoughts and ideas fruitfully to the development of an abstract and a topic.

The open fires discussions of sharing experiences from established authors were encouraging and made one see the journey of self – development and long life learning with a different eye than one dominated with fear of doctors and professors that have a list of publications longer than an arm.

It was a great learning experience to sum up the to me the title of the book “the value in the valley” became a leaving experience (Iyanla Vanzant)  author; Motivational speaker and Priestess)

A highlight from the National ECP colloquium

Moses Basitere, ECP lecturer in Chemical Engineering, recently attended the National ECP colloquium jointly organised by DUT and MUT in Durban on 20-21 September 2017. In this post he shares some personal highlights of the event.


DUT and MUT partnered in the spirit of collaboration to bring together public universities in South Africa to engage on Foundation Provisioning imperatives. The theme for the colloquium was “Pushing the Frontiers of Foundation Provisioning: Reflecting on more than a decade of practice –Are we winning?” The keynote address was delivered by our very own CPUT ECP Institutional Coordinator, AssProf James Garraway. The main aim of the event sought to continue disseminating best practices in advancing student success in the ECP educational space. The presentations at the events addressed the following subthemes;

  • Implementation of different foundation/ECP models
  • Forms and relevancy of student support in ECP
  • Effective ECP practices which inspire effective learning
  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in ECP • Technology enhanced Teaching and Learning

I joined the conference on September 21 and I gave a presentation titled “An evaluation of the effectiveness of the use of multimedia and Wiley Plus web-based homework system in enhancing learning in the Chemical Engineering Extended Curriculum Program Physics course”, sharing teaching practices in the chemical engineering department ECP. The presentation was well received and created a debate on how we can integrate different multimedia technology in the classroom to achieve maximum student’s participation in and outside the classroom.

The main highlight of the presentations on Thursday for me was given by prof  Alfred Mvunyelwa Msomi titled” Transforming teaching and learning to accommodate student cultural backgrounds in a first year mathematics classroom at a University of Technology”. This was an interesting topic as it dealt with the current request/demand by “fees must fall” students protest movement on how we can decolonize curriculum with a special focus on south Africa and Africa as a whole. He demonstrated how mathematics can be taught accommodating student’s cultural background by making example and scenario that students can be able to relate to on their daily lives.

UJ comes to visit

On 31 August 2017, the ECP Unit at Fundani hosted colleagues from the Access Programmes of the Academic Development Centre at the University of Johannesburg. A special dialogue session was facilitated to enable colleagues to firstly, describe and explain how extended and foundational programmes are operationalised at both institutions and then, engage in more collaborative group discussions about the central themes involved in supporting ECPs.

Short Clip of the visit

The delegation from UJ was headed by Maxine Shandler, who is the Head of Access Programmes and she provided an interesting account of how the university operates both a centralised and decentralised or faculty-based model of extended provision across their institution. While the university has adopted a rather complex approach to managing their extended programmes the work of the Access Programme is strongly informed by the theoretical inputs derived from of Invitational Education, First Year Experience and Academic development. Their programmes have enjoyed much success across the university and have been able to counter the stigmatisation often experienced by ECP students. James Garraway, Head of the ECP Unit at CPUT started off the institutional presentation by sketching some of the successes achieved as a result of extended provisions, but also pointed out the continuing fracture points that challenge the ECP project both at CPUT and nationally. Individual faculty and departmental presentations were then made by select ECP co-ordinators and these highlighted the work of ECP across CPUT.

Most of the joint session was however, taken up by group dialogue discussions. During these round-table groups colleagues from both institutions were able to discuss and seek understanding about some of the core areas associated with ECP and foundational provisions at universities; namely, Classroom Practices, Administration and Policy, Students Development and Staff Development. These discussions yielded some insightful commentary on each of these themes, highlighted ongoing tensions and challenges and also identified good practices at both institutions. Some suggestion made regarding how to solidify inter-institutional collaboration and dialogue include; exchange programmes for extended curriculum staff at both institutions – to encourage better understanding of how ECPs are managed and opportunities for staff to teach in a different institutional context and longer institutional visits.

Regional ECP Symposium a huge success

On Wednesday 30 August the ECP Unit at CPUT hosted the annual Regional ECP Symposium. The event was attended by over 80 delegates and more than 20 papers were presented. Colleagues from 10 institutions nationally converged at the Saretec Building on the Bellville Campus to discuss and debate all matters ECP.

Delegates were welcomed to CPUT and the event opened by Prof Anthony Staak, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic. Prof Staak reminded the audience that the ECP project receives the most DHET funding and is therefore clearly positioned to address issues of both access and success. The keynote presenters were Associate Professor Rochelle Kapp and Dr Bongi Bangeni from UCT. Their presentation entitled ‘Negotiating Learning and Identity: a longitudinal perspective on student transitions’ considered the multiple transitions students experienced during their time at university and stressed the significance of contextual realities in the students’ university and home environment in shaping the nature of these transitions. They suggested that it is crucial for all university lecturers to recognise that ‘negotiating meaningful access to learning is inextricably connected to negotiating an intersection of race, class, linguistic, gendered and religious subject positions in relation to home, school and university’.

PRESENTATION SLIDES: Bangeni and Kapp_KeynoteAddress_ CPUT 31 August_2017

Feedback from delegates has been very positive, with many finding the symposium interesting and stimulating and offering a good balance between theoretical/research-based and practice-focused topics. Many indicated that they were keen to return to the symposium in 2018.

More photos of the event can be found on HERE

Short Summary Video Clip of the 2017 Symposium

Benefiting from the NBT intervention

August signaled the conclusion of the NBT intervention activities for 2017 which were facilitated by the ECP Unit. Since March we hosted various activities aimed at orientating ECP leaders and lecturers to these National Benchmark Tests and then running the tests with a selection of the 2017 ECP cohort at CPUT.

Mechanical Engineering Students write their NBTs

Since May, the results from these tests were distributed among individual departments and various feedback sessions between CETAP (at UCT) and academic departments were hosted between June and August. CETAP also presented their CPUT profile findings to a Dean’s meeting in July. The nett result of this almost nine-month project, has been the compilation of a detailed and significant profile of our students – both on the ECP and mainstream tracks. Departments, HoD’s, ECP leaders and lecturers now have an additional, validated description of their students’ academic needs – valuable information from which to build and develop responsive and inclusive curricula and pedagogic interventions that better suit the needs of students. Many departments are now hard at work to make good on this valuable data and revise their curricula and pedagogies –  something we will be following-up with departments in 2018 and asking them to share their case-studies of innovation, spring-boarded from this NBT project.

Some Stats Associated with the 2017 NBT project

  • 24 departments, across 5 Faculties ran NBT tests with their 2017 ECP cohort
  • 631 ECP students took the tests in March over a two-week period
  • Over 300 lunch meals were provided to students writing both the AQL and Maths tests
  • 20 ECP lecturers attended the Introduction to the NBT presentation in early March
  • 7 separate feedback sessions with department were facilitated. Staff were able to discussed the detailed profile of their Faculty/Department ECP results with CETAP experts
  • 70 ECP leaders and lecturers attended these feedback sessions

ECP Regional Symposium – submit an abstract today

Our annual ECP Regional Symposium will take place on 30 August 2017. This is a wonderful opportunity for all ECP lecturers, researchers and practitioners to join together as a community to engage in critical, engaging and useful conversations about all aspects of ECP and Foundation education. Over the years, through this symposium, an important and vibrant space has been created for members of this community of practice to share their work and insights on how to improve and enhance the learning experience of their students.

The deadline for Abstract Submissions is Thursday 27 July 2017. Registration for the symposium will open online from around 3 August 2017. Full details on the symposium theme and abstract submission guidelines can be found on the attached flyer.


Summary of ECP Classroom Fika Sessions – May and June

Last term the ECP Unit facilitated ECP Classroom Fika sessions in May and June. The general theme connecting both sessions was ‘understanding who our students are’.

In May we reported on diagnostic information in the public domain, namely the NSC and NBT reports. We used these reports to sketch a picture of the kinds of knowledge and competencies students bring with them to university from their high school environment. Both reports offer valuable information about students’ level of preparation in core areas of quantitative reasoning, English language proficiencies and abilities to deal with the academic language and literacies demanded at university. Both reports, which are published on a yearly basis, are vital reading for all ECP lecturers and should form the basis of any curriculum or pedagogic conversations in departments.

MAY FIKA_Who are our students_compressed

Our June session was facilitated by Dr Bruce McKenzie, a now retired ECP lecturer from Nature Conservation. Bruce has been analyzing ECP students’ relative success in comparison to their mainstream counterparts. Bruce’s analysis offers a useful model on how to keep track of ECP students as they move through their diploma course. Also highlighted was how this form of analysis provides the necessary detail about student success which the HEMIS throughput data cannot track. Currently this analysis project has explored success rates in five ECP departments and in the coming months an additional four departments’ results will also be considered.

JUNE FIKA Bruce McKenzie_ECP success

Helping ECP students to ‘think like a physicist’

Dawit Worku, ECP lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Physics, shares his impressions of and reflections on the Teaching and Learning in ECP seminar held on Tuesday 6 June 2017 on the Bellville campus.


Last Tuesday, Dr Honji Conana and Associate Professor Delia Marshall, ECP lecturers at UWC’s Physics department, presented the findings of their research that looked at the influence of mainstream and ECP pedagogic practices on enhancing student’s abilities to undertake problem-solving in Physics. (click to download the presentation Conana and Marshall_6 June 2017_final)

Their research results highlighted that in general  ECP students were much better at tackling Physics problem-solving in ways that mimicked those of physicists. Theoretically the study used concepts of semantic gravity and density to plot out how pedagogic interventions in the ECP classroom differed fundamentally from their mainstream counterparts.

In the ECP classroom students spent more time reading and unpacking the problem, modelling and exploring the physical representation of the problem before attempting to solve with a mathematical representation. Also highlighted was the degree of interaction between student and lecturers in the classroom when compared with the mainstream class. The ECP classroom was a hive of students-lecturer interaction. This research draws attention to the possibilities that exist within the ECP classroom especially for lecturers to assist students to think like physicists and to model their understanding of Physics not as a discipline composed of formulas, but rather one interested in modelling the natural world. I found the presentation fascinating and full of possibilities for my own classroom teaching.

‘This conference has helped me gain perspective’ – reflections on the SANRC FYE Conference

Amanda Morris, ECP Co-ordinator in the Graphic Design department, share some reflections of her recent participation at the SANRC FYE conference in Johannesburg. Amanda also presented a paper at this conference.


Attending the South African National Resource Centre (SANRC) First Year Experience (FYE) this year has been a revitalizing experience. Often as academics we get into the evil cycle of self-pity and trying to find someone to blame for the discouraging events we experience in our classrooms. When I attend conferences like the SANRC FYE it reminds me that despite the discouragement we experience sometimes, there are ways in which we can, through research, investigation and careful study be agents of change.


One of the keynote presentations that made me look differently at what we do was by Dr. Tia Brown Mcnair. Dr McNair encouraged those who work with first year students to consider whether their FYE empowers students or whether it helps them develop agency within the academic environment. This question is an interesting one as we (myself included) often see ourselves as the “liberators” of our students. We do not always recognize that they already come with a set of values, principles etc. that guide their practices and behaviour. Dr McNair described empowerment as providing students with knowledge/information that helps them understand that they can be successful. She describes the development of agency as not just giving students the knowledge or information needed to succeed. Dr. McNair stressed the importance of creating awareness among students of the communities that they are participating in as part of their educational/academic experience. She also explained that their interactions in these communities should be reciprocal. Students should be experiencing their role in their communities and how what they do impact/affect their community.An important recurring theme at the conference, was that just having a FYE does not guarantee any impact. FYEs should offer quality experiences that add value and achieve the desired results. The expectations set for such a FYE need to be set at a realistic level and should consider the needs of students. There was a comment, again by Dr. McNair, that we cannot just replicate what other institutions are doing but rather should tailor make FYEs based on who our students are and what will serve them.

Good practice

One of the other conversations that I found stimulating at the conference was around no longer referring or referencing “best practice” but rather “good practice” and even maybe beyond that to refer to “good practitioners”. This would give recognition to the fact that contexts and student attributes are different at different universities. Another issue that was raised at the conference was that one should not assume that students understand why we design learning interventions in the manner we do. It is our responsibility as first year educators to clearly state the purpose, the task and the criteria in any given activity. We should help students understand what is valuable to them in the educational experience and try to help them develop as intentional learners.

This conference has helped me gain perspective again, on where we are positioned at a national and also institutional level. I feel consoled by the fact that there are others with the same or similar experiences and that we can learn from each other by sharing experiences and expertise.