Megan Alexander: extra(ordinary) academic in ECP who is ‘supporting students as they transition into and through the university’

In our final segment of the (extra)ordinary academics in ECP series for 2018, we shine the spotlight on Megan Alexander. Megan is a Communications lecturer in the PAG Foundation and Tourism and Entrepreneurship extended programmes in the Business Faculty. We sat down with Megan to find out more about her interests in education more generally, and current role within the ECP domain.


At her core, Megan is a teacher. She started her career as a primary school teacher before moving into the TVET sector and then finally joining CPUT, in the Education Faculty as a Teaching Practice Coordinator. In 2015 she joined the ECP community when she moved to the Business Faculty as a Communications lecturer. Megan is also responsible for the PAG Foundation coordination and deals with all the RPL applications in the PAG department.

Megan feels her grounding in both the primary and secondary schooling sector has prepared her well for understanding, especially, students’ university transitions and language and communication needs. She has been able to marry her dual interests and passion for education and language in her own educational journey which started at UWC. She completed an English and Psychology degree before pursuing a post-graduate diploma in education. She then completed a BEd in Educational Psychology. However, her experiences of working in multilingual educational contexts and her interesting to appropriately support students in predominantly English medium learning environments, led her to pursue a Masters’ degree in Second Language Acquisition at Stellenbosch University.

Megan particularly enjoys and is drawn to supporting first-year students in the ECP pathway. She feels it is the differentiating characteristics of this cohort that makes the teaching space she occupies a particularly productive one. Some of the main challenges she has encountered, appears to reside outside her immediate ECP classroom. These include, the uneven faculty and institutional support and understanding of ECP and certain structural barriers within the faculty that prevent lecturers from exploring the full curricular potential of the ECP teaching and learning space. Megan believes firmly that ECP academics need more control over the selection and placement of students in their classrooms.

As a passionate advocate for the ECP project she feels that it acts as a vital mechanism of providing entry routes for students into their chosen fields of study. In key ways ECP does address the educational needs of its students. Therefore, it is an important social justice driver in the university sector. Megan emphatically states that ECP is not fulfilling a ‘bridging’ function, rather it is a legitimate pathway to successfully completing a diploma qualification. She also believes that ECP holds tangible benefits for both students and academics. But more could be done to support ECP academics. Especially to forge a closer, more productive community of practice, and to assist with their development as not only teachers, but also researchers.

Megan, along with her PAG Foundation colleagues, recently participated in a few practice-sharing dissemination and networking opportunities at conferences. In 2019 she will embark on a collaborative research project with colleagues at UCT and two universities in Australia. Their research topic: students’ academic reading as they transition through the university.

In her spare-time Megan is an avid play-station ‘gamer’ and she enjoys gardening, keeping fit and walking her dog.

Amanda Morris: an extra(ordinary) academic in ECP who is ‘creating a space in the world for the student to flourish’

In our second installment of the (extra)ordinary academic in ECP series, we profile Amanda Morris, currently a lecturer in the Design Foundation and previously ECP coordinator for the Graphic Design Foundation. Recently we caught up with Amanda and learnt more about her deep passion for design education, love for teaching and commitment to improving the learning experiences of all students who step over the threshold of her classroom door.


Amanda is a true example of the institution growing its own timber. She completed her Graphic Design diploma at Peninsula Technikon, one of the pre-merger institutions that became CPUT in 2005. Her passion for teaching developed early, when after just a year in industry she decided to quit her job, pursue her BTech degree and jumped into the world of education. She was so enthusiastic to join the ranks that she initially worked ‘for free’ – doing observations and acting as a teaching assistant in the Graphic Design classrooms at Pentech. She then started teaching part-time on a certificate course which was to become the pre-cursor to the ECP in the department. She then went on to join the lecturing team in the Foundation Year on the Bellville campus. Between 2014 – 2017 Amanda took on the role of ECP coordinator in Graphic Design and in 2018 the new joint Design Foundation was implemented on the Cape Town campus.

It is no surprise, given Amanda’s interest in design education, that her MTech degree focused on this topic and specifically the learning preferences of students and how multimodality shaped the teaching and learning setting. Amanda finds that the start of each new year, with its new cohort of students brings a flood of possibilities, excitement and enjoyment; as she is able to share in her students’ experiences of exploring the field of design – a field which without ECP they might not otherwise have had access to. She sees her role as primarily linked to helping students find their sense of identity in  finding out what it is like to be a designer. But this does not diminish the continued frustrations she has that the ECP project is still misunderstood in the wider departmental and institutional community. Or the lack of follow-through and uptake of ECP pedagogies, principles and work ethic into the mainstream. All too often ECP resources are still not fully utilized to accord the all-important access and there isn’t always clarity about what the ECP learning experience should be like for students.

A lot more could also be done to appropriately assist ECP academics to fully realise the role, principles and ethos of the project – with Amanda asserting that a distinction must be drawn between students either being ‘underprepared’ for university study or ‘unsure’ about their chose of study. She insists ECP should not be treated as a ‘waiting room’. She also believes that the next frontier for ECP should be around creating meaningful access and support for students with disabilities. Hard questions also need to be asked about the extent of support (academic and others) that the ECP can or cannot provide.

Amanda’s social justice principles associated with her ECP location, easily crosses-over to her after hours’ activities, where in addition to being an active mother of three young children, she is involved in community and fellowship work on the Cape Flats. She also finds time to feed her graphic designer-self and frequently undertakes part-time design work.

Re-visioning the curriculum with Marketing ECP

In an effort to create a more inclusive and responsive curriculum for their ECP students in 2019, the HoD, Mandy Jones, and the ECP lecturers in the Marketing department devoted three mornings to workshop their existing ECP curricula.

Everyone agreed that their existing curricula did not adequately or appropriately meet the educational needs of their students. Lecturers were keen to explore, new and fresh ways to bring the student to the centre of their thinking and practices in the ECP classroom. The three-day workshop series focused on a detailed exploration of who their ECP students are, an analysis of their current curricula, how to infuse their curricula with the three domains of learning, thus knowing, being and doing, and then examine how individual lessons could cater more fully to the specific needs of students.

The committed group worked energetically over the three days and participated in the many activities and discussions that sought to help them better understand how to change their existing curricula and classroom practices. The lecturers also decided to form a ECP curriculum committee to drive forward the work undertaken during the workshop and ensure implementation in 2019.

HELTASA 2018: wrap-up from the PAG Foundation presenters

Megan Alexander, Andre Cornelius and Robert Schultz, ECP lecturers in the PAG Foundation, took their curriculum development work to HELTASA this year. Below they share their experiences of this significant annual gathering of higher education scholars, researchers, academics and practitioners.


Heltasa 2018 afforded us the opportunities to engage in practice-sharing, networking and collegiality. Best practice, complexities and challenges in HE were brought to the fore through presentations, interactive posters, discussion sessions, table discussions, workshops and networking events. The ECP Special Interest Group (SIG) sessions were particularly interesting and helpful in that ECP databases would be formed or managed better. This would serve as a tool or vehicle for ECP academics to remain in touch, to share information or practices and to rally support for issues around concerns like policy change. Our presentation on Navigating Curriculum Implementation: the experiences of ECP lecturers in the Public Administration and Governance Department was well attended with visitors from a range of universities as well as CPUT colleagues. Questions and comments posed will allow us to further interrogate and respond to our curriculum and continually debate its relevance and purpose.

Creatively exploring metaphors to define curriculum aims with the Design Foundation staff

2018 marked the first year that the newly consolidated Design Foundation was implemented at CPUT. The academics and staff teaching on this programme decided to step back and attempt to critically reflect on the implementation experiences for the year. This review process was structured around three particular elements of their curriculum and teaching experiences namely; 1) individual subjects, 2) the overarching curriculum and finally, 3) the organisational structures that supported the functioning of the programme in all its elements.

In a workshop session on 13 November the staff teaching on the Design Foundation, worked alongside Lynn Coleman from the ECP Unit to explore and workshop the overarching curriculum aims for the Design Foundation year. This was part of Stage Two of the three-part curriculum review process. We were joined for some of this discussions by the HoD of Design, Monica di Ruvo.

The main aim of the session was to start a conversation about developing a curriculum aim statement for the programme and then look at how such an aim statement might inform the development of supporting learning outcomes. Staff were also introduced to Bloom’s Domains of Learning as particular curriculum analysis tool that could be used to develop and design both a curriculum aim statement and learning outcomes. This tool was enlisted to help account for and then represent how the aim statement attended to the cognitive (or knowing), values (or self and being) and psychomotor ( or skills and doing) domains of learning.

Some of the most generative aspects of the session were lecturers attempts to use different metaphors to capture the role and function of the curriculum. Lecturers put forward a number of metaphors like boat, anchor, umbrella, bowl, wheel and compass and offered motivations for why a particular metaphor was useful. Lecturers also crafted some interesting illustrations to express their views of the curriculum schema for the Design Foundation incorporating the three domains of learning. The activities and outcomes of the day are a necessary first steps as staff will need to work to refine and then formalise their curriculum aim statement and its supporting specific learning outcomes.

Staff will continue their general review process on 4 December, when they review and reflect on Stage Three – the organisational structures supporting the programme.

 

Profile: Prof Beatrice Opeolu – an (extra)ordinary academic in ECP

In the first of our series on (extra) Ordinary academics in ECP, we profile Prof Beatrice Opeolu, the ECP Coordinator in the Faculty of Applied Science. Prof Opeolu was recently appointed to full professor, a significant first for our ECP community at CPUT. To celebrate this significant achievement, we sat down with Beatrice and asked her to share her academic journey. What we discovered is a story about a passionate researcher and academic who cares deeply about education, the environment and humanity, and who wants to make the world a better, safer and cleaner place for the next generation.


A distinguished academic career

Beatrice suggests she always wanted to be a scholar of international repute from the time she started her undergraduate degree in Environmental Management and Toxicology at the University of Agriculture in Nigeria. In pursuing this dream she went on to complete her Masters degree in Environmental Biology at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan and then her PhD at the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta. However, she knew that great sacrifices had to be made in order to achieve her academic aspiration which brought her to CPUT in 2008, when she accepted a Postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Chemistry. Nigeria’s loss was certainly CPUT’s gain as Beatrice quickly established herself as a serious and dedicated researcher and lecturer. She was appointed as the Coordinator, Extended Curriculum Programmes for the Faculty of Applied Sciences in 2011. Her hard work was rewarded when she was appointed Associate Professor. Describing herself as an environmental scientist, Beatrice’s research areas, which she describes as being at the ‘core’ of all her activities in her academic career, includes Environmental management and toxicology with a specific focus on water systems. This research topic might seem far removed from helping humanity. But at its essence the primary focus of Beatrice’s research is the pursuit of providing safe and healthy living environments especially for poorer community and finding sustainable and affordable ways of protecting our water systems. Achieving the title of full professor means that Beatrice is recognised internationally in her field and is an active, contributing scholar and leader in various research and scholarly networks. Currently, she is the Leader of CPUT’s Climate Change and Environment Research Focus Area. She is also the Vice-president of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Africa Geographic Unit and she co-chairs its Global Membership Committee.

Making an indelible mark on ECP

In 2011 Beatrice accepted the post of ECP coordinator in the Faculty of Applied Science and set about to establish and build a solid platform from which the ECP domain in the faculty could flourish. Over the past seven years Beatrice has become a formidable champion for ECP in her faculty and has been at the forefront of placing ECP at the centre of the academic project in the 10 departments that offer an ECP pathway. She works closely with HoDs and ensures that academics teaching on ECP programmes have good exposure to staff development opportunities that can ensure quality and enriched teaching and learning experiences for students in their courses. Prof Opeolu has also been a strong advocate of the NBTs which has allowed her to develop a strong body of evidence to define the student academic profiles of prospective students and therefore ensure more responsive curricula and pedagogic interventions. On Beatrice’s wishlist for ECP is an expansion of the provision to the many students identified through the NBTs as needing the kind of academic support currently only provided to ECP students. She would also like to see the improvement of infrastructural provisions necessary to provide students with the kinds of academic and learning spaces conducive to their learning and success. However, improved throughput rates and student success cannot be achieved without dedicated, well trained and committed staff – thus providing lecturers who teach on ECP with the necessary levels of job security and stability is another goal high on Beatrice’s agenda.

Role model, teacher, researcher, environmental warrior, ECP champion, professor – these are just some of the identities Prof Opeolu comfortably embraces on any given day, and that together provides the inspiration for the many students and colleagues who have crossed her path.

Enlivening pedagogies to create a sense of belonging – insights from UJ scholars

On Thursday, 18 October 2018 a group of about 16 ECP lecturers, joined University of Johannesburg, lecturers and scholars Prof Kim Berman and Shonisani Netshia for a participatory workshop that sought to discuss and explore what it really means for teaching when issues of decolonisation, transformation, social justice, democratisation and inclusion are in the forefront of classroom pedagogies and practices.

A sample of the creative outcomes produced during the workshop

Faced with the challenge of how to enlivening their pedagogies to create a sense of belonging for all their students, Berman and Netshia, sought to reconfigure their Art and Design classrooms in ways that would create a safe space for their students while fostering deeply reciprocal relations among students. Much of their approaches work with the relational ‘metaphor’ to promote ethical and equitable relationships between students in their classrooms. Their starting points are appreciative inquiry and capabilities approaches and an authentic acknowledgement of the many resources that students bring along to the classroom. Recently they published their research on this topic in the SOTL in the South journal. It was this article that prompted the request to Kim and Shoni to assist lecturers in ECP progammes in Architecture, Design and Interior, to address similar questions about how to translate debates about decolonisation into meaningful pedagogic strategies.

Shoni Netshia and Kim Berman (centre of the table)

The workshop took a hands-on approach and lecturers were engaged in the same activities discussed in their journal paper. Activities like encouraging empathetic listening and non-verbal creative tasks that asked participants to share their passions and co-create meaning in response to the question ‘How do you feel about the challenges you face in your classroom?’

The session was concluded with a thoughtful discussion about student evaluation and assessment in the visual arts disciplines. Again participants were encouraged to consider deeply philosophical questions about what is the core of education, what is useful and how can the designer’s self-identity be nurtured and given expression not only through classroom practices, but also through all important evaluation moments.  At the end of the session most of the participants left the workshop with a sense of rejuvenation – maybe it was the opportunity to work creatively with paints, crayons and visually express ideas, maybe it was an opportunity to grapple in practical ways with what it means to bring a decolonization and democratization lens into pedagogic practice, or maybe it was because we were also given a safe space to co-create meaning and engage with our colleagues in equitable ways.

 

PAG Foundation lecturers share their practices at local symposia

The three Foundation lecturers in Public Administration and Governance (PAG) have

ECP Symposium, 30 August 2018

not only been busy implementing their new Foundation curriculum this year, they have also actively engaged in important dissemination activities to share their experiences with the wider university community. In August they participated in the regional ECP Symposium hosted by the ECP Unit at Fundani, at Granger Bay.

Then last week, they also presented their work at the one of the parallel sessions addressing the topic of Responsive Curriculum Initiatives at the 4th Annual UNISA Academic Development Symposium in Bellville. This regional symposium brought together academics and practitioners from the various institutions in Cape Town and provided an important platform for everyone involved in this curriculum revisioning project to describe the educational principles that informed the Foundation curriculum design.

Lynn Coleman, delivering the presentation at the Unisa symposium

The curriculum design team and current Foundation lecturers, Megan Alexander, Andre Cornelius and Robert Schultz, were supported during their 18 month curriculum revisioning project, by Lynn Coleman from the ECP Unit, Fundani. The team’s networking and dissemination activities for 2018 are not yet complete – they hope to take their work to the HELTASA Conference at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in November.