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.