Two briefing meetings on both the Cape Town and Bellville campuses, signaled the launch of the Writing to Learn in ECP Action Research Project. This project is a direct follow-up from the Writing at University:Thinking Differently workshops facilitated by Mary Lea in January.
This RIFTAL funded research project aims to encourage and support ECP lecturers to integrate writing into their subject teaching in more holistic ways. With the strong action research focus of this project, it is hoped many of the participants will be able to develop and evolve their pedagogic interventions into a bona-fide research undertaking and present their findings at upcoming teaching and learning conferences. Participants will meet again for a workshop session on the Action Research Method on 14 June 2016. More information about this project, along with the notes and audio recording of the Cape Town briefing meeting can be found of the project’s web page – see Writing to Learn.
Nike Romano, ECP lecturer in Design, Graphic Design and Architecture and Interior Design shares her reflections on a new approach to discussing plagiarism with her students. Nike’s innovative twist on the well worn path of teaching students how to avoid plagiarism – is attributed to her participation in the Writing at University: Thinking Differently workshops facilitated by Mary Lea in January. Nike will be continuing this important pedagogic work, while also attempting for take a more researcher-focused approach through her participation in the action research project Writing to Learn in ECP.
I’ve really been channelling Mary Lea lately ….
The Graphic Design ECP students spent a surprisingly relaxed morning talking and learning about plagiarism. Rather than focusing on why plagiarism is wrong, we tried to identify the reasons why we do it. It was an interesting discussion because students shifted from a position of harsh self-judgement, “It’s because we are lazy”, to being more compassionate as they began to express their feelings of fear of writing, and a lack of confidence in their writing ability, “Why write something when the experts say it much better than us?”
To begin we looked at examples of plagiarism in all design disciplines and really tried to thrash out the difference between inspiration and copying someone else’s ideas. Articles about plagiarism sourced from various newspapers were distributed for students to read and discuss in small groups before reporting back to the class. Their tasks included summarizing the article, identifying how plagiarism was defined in the article, the consequences of the particular incident of plagiarism and finally, they listed something new that they had learned about plagiarism. In the following session, we looked at various information sources, internet, broadcast media, magazines, journals, books and examined how we use these sources differently. Thereafter, students were given numerous books to look at. As graphic design students it was also useful to talk about the book making process, as well as the conventions of book design. Working in groups of three, they completed a worksheet on the Harvard referencing system.Students were asked to list the following:
TITLE OF BOOK:
WHERE IT WAS PUBLISHED:
NAME OF THE PUBLISHER:
Finally they had to re-write the information following the format of the Harvard referencing system. The next step will be “writing in our own voice” whereby students will work with a given text, practice summarising it as a group and exploring ways of re-working the text in their own words. At this point we will practice in text citation as well. I will keep you posted!
Janine Lange, ECP Communication Lecturer in Biomedical Technology, offers some reflections on the recent Teaching and Learning in ECP seminar presentation by the UCT Language Development Group.
On the 4th of May, Fundani hosted a seminar on two models of teaching Academic Literacies on foundational courses at UCT. The seminar was presented by staff at UCT’s Language Development Group (LDG) who work at the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED). At UCT all foundation and extended curriculum provisions are managed through their Academic Development Programme housed both centrally in CHED and through a decentralised model in various faculties at the institution. Some of the key objectives of the ADP programme are to engender equity in the student body and promote social and epistemological access through interventions run from their faculty-based units and the institutional unit. What struck me about the way in which the Language Development Group deals with academic literacies was their ‘asset based’ approach compared to the more prevalent deficit model.
Illustration of possible relationships between primary and secondary discourses
The ‘asset-based’ approach draws theoretically form the work of James Gee (1990) who suggests that most people operate in the world relying on multiple Discourses as they navigate and make sense of the various social and cultural rules, convention, ways of thinking, speaking, reading, writing and talking demanded from different settings. Gee goes on to distinguish between two Discourses; primary and secondary. Our primary Discourse is the one we were born into and very strongly shapes the worldview we have and how we interact and make sense of all the other social and cultural settings we encounter outside the home. Secondary Discourses references all the other social settings outside our family we interact with, like schooling, sports clubs, church groups, work, university etc…Sometimes our primary Discourses share characteristics with the secondary Discourse we encounter, while other times they do not. For staff in the LDG there is a recognition that when students come to university, the primary and other secondary Discourses they bring along, may or may not match-up to or be recognised by the Discourses in the university. The curriculum and pedagogic interventions offered by the LDG attempts to mediate the potential collision of primary and university secondary Discourses. Primarily because they take cognisance of the fact that some students’ primary Discourse allows them to more readily acquire the secondary university Discourses, while for others’ their primary Discourses may hinder this acquisition. There is also an acknowledgement that certain students operate from the periphery, and the specific academic literacies courses offered by the LDG seek to make opportunities available for these students to participate more fully in the acquisition of the secondary Discourses of the university.
I call their approach ‘asset-based’ because the staff in the LDG take into consideration that the student already possesses assets from their primary and other secondary Discourses, and so the approach is not there to remove or fix ‘original deficiencies’, but looks at what the student has to offer to the new academic setting, working with the student’s strengths in the socialisation process, in order to refine, rather than dogmatically prescribe how the student finds their place and voice in the new institutional and learning context.
Augmented and Augmenting Models of Academic Literacies
UCT colleagues presented what they called an embedded and collaborative model used with Economics students – which for us at CPUT is part of an augmented ECP model. The academic literacies course is fully embedded into the general curriculum and the language, writing, reading, critical and analytical skills developed are completely integrated within the disciplinary context of Economics. The pedagogic approach is writing intensive, allowing the students numerous opportunities to develop their academic writing skills within their discipline. Focus is also placed on the application of theory and conceptually demanding aspects of academic texts used within the discipline of Economics.
The second model introduced by the LDG groups, is what they called the independent model – which is part of an augmenting ECP model. Because this credit-bearing course is offered alongside students’ normal Humanities subject offerings, the LDG lecturers have a degree of freedom in the choice and focus of content, while helping students to become familiar with and develop the necessary academic Discourses and literacies needed to succeed in the university. In this course lecturers also focus on academic reading, writing and language development but these are explored theoretically through themes such as language and identity, gender and race in contemporary South Africa. An important pedagogic principle promoted in this course is that the primary and secondary Discourses which students bring to university are valued as an asset to their learning, thinking and academic writing.
What stood out for me, as an ECP Academic Literacies lecturer at CPUT, is that there are benefits to the UCT embedded model. We could also be drawing more strongly on some of the other approaches highlighted during the presentation to improve our students’ experiences while also encouraging their participation – such as the blended learning approach that incorporates digital platforms through facilitated lab sessions. Central to this is the importance of acknowledging that our students do have the ability to participant and contribute to the academic conversation. I think that a broader focus on developing writer identities and looking at a wider range of academic and non-academic texts, would diversify the curriculum so that student writing development moves beyond the focus of specific writing tools and strategies (albeit within the various disciplines). This might go some way in developing more well-rounded, but academically-focused students. It was refreshing to see the possibilities that exist in the arena of student writing development and academic literacies. Through this short engagement with UCT colleagues I was able to reflect on my understandings about my teaching, how to think afresh about lecturer-student-institutional collaboration and re-vision academic literacies as a constantly evolving, rather than static entity.
Two new projects initiated by the ECP Unit at Fundani, aims to redirect the focus back on ECP students. While much of the unit’s work has traditional been devoted to academic staff development, we are currently exploring how to accommodate and support ECP students in more concrete ways. We have embarked on two small research-focused explorations into a) the viability of creating an online Communication Hub for ECP students and b) what a specialised ECP Student Development focus area might focus on.
Architecture and Interior Design students completing the survey
With the help of ECP lecturers in the different facilities a snap survey was conducted over the past two weeks with ECP students about their online social media usage and practices. We were keen to find out what platforms students use in both their private and university lives, how often they use these sites and their content preferences. Preliminary insights from the over 200 questionnaires already analysed suggests that Facebook is the primary social media platform students use in their private life. This might not surprise most of us, given the rise of the ubiquitous smartphone and the technology enabled social world we now all inhabit. What was less clear was whether students’ private social media usage, could seamlessly be transferred into the university context. Students’ expressed reluctance to blend or blur their private lives with the university environment.
WhatsApp also featured as a strong contender in students’ university social communication space. The survey results revealed students used classroom groups on WhatsApp as a key means to communicate (with peers & lecturers) logistical and practical information about assignments, venue changes, lecturer availability and absenteeism. However, this platform while very popular with students, didnt really lend itself to communicating formal content-related information and was rather used primary as an instant message tool. Blackboard, the CPUT learner management system, was indicated as the prime platform students used for university related communication – possibly highlighting the high up-take with subject lecturers of this platform. Unfortunately, many students could only access this platform while at university or when using university computer labs.
Preliminary results from a question about the type of content students would like to see on an online platform
Once all the results have been analysed we will use the information to make some strategic decisions about the form and structure this proposed online ECP Student Communication Hub will take and importantly, the nature and type of content it will contain. Watch this space!
Student Development focus area
The ECP Unit at Fundani has contracted a part-time researcher to investigate the viability to creating a specialised Student Development focus for ECP at CPUT. Janine Lange, who also teaches on the Biomedical Technology ECP diploma, will spend the next three months exploring Student Development provisions across the South African higher education sector, identify specific best practices and models used within the ECP space and offer insight on what approaches would work best within the localised CPUT context. Particular focus will be placed on the existing practices and structures employed by our regional neigbours while also strengthening our networks with our local counterparts.
Bruce McKenzie, ECP lecturer in Nature Conservation, challenged colleagues who attend the first ECP Classroom Fika for 2016, in April, to break the rules. Bruce helped establish the ECP offering in Nature Conservation from 2009 after a rather illustrious career in academia (Professor of Botany and HoD at UWC) and as a nature conservationist, consultant, administrator and advisory committee member (for both national and international conservation organisations and societies).
The presentation provided a detailed historical overview of, and justification for how the ECP offering evolved over the last seven years into its current ‘model’.
This ‘background’ information helped to lift-out the significant characteristics and traits that have come to define how this programme is able to achieve the academic success it has. This includes the importance of having qualified staff (both in terms of educational level (PhD’s) and teaching experience), creating a fully integrated place for ECP in the diploma and the utilisation of carefully informed motivations regarding the selection of students and subject content for the ECP components of the diploma. However, the presentation’s main message provided concrete statistical evidence that when ECP students in Nature Conservation join mainstream at the senior levels, they perform as well, if not slightly better than, their mainstream peers. The innovation in Bruce’s results is the fine-grained approach he used to collect and analyse appropriate student performance data. As a result the findings highlight some of the blind spots in the HEMIS collected data (that it doesn’t record why students drop out) and show how crucial it is that departments keep their own records of ECP student performance as they progress through their studies.
In many respects the presentation drew attention to the successful elements that have come to define the ‘adapted’ augmented model used in ECP Nature Conservation. The adapted nature of their model involved ‘breaking’ some rules but based on student performance, has nonetheless contributed to ensuring academic success. Discussions about how to extend some of the analysis work undertaken in Nature Conservation to other ECP offerings are currently underway.