Stay up to date!

The new normal for learning and teaching at the UFS

By Eugene Seegers

CTL read more new

Tiana van der Merwe, Gugu Tiroyabone, and
Prof Francois Strydom at the offices of the
Centre for Teaching and Learning on
the Bloemfontein Campus.
Photo: Charl Devenish

According to Barbara de Angelis, American psychologist, lecturer, and author: “We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” Or, as Prof Francois Strydom of the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) puts it, “You can either let it beat you, or make use of it and transcend it.” CTL’s greatest recent achievement is using best-practice research and diligent scholarly work, in concert with the student voice gleaned from surveys and other inputs, to design interventions that are the best fit for the circumstances and tailored to support vulnerable students. These efforts have helped to transcend the current crisis.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent national lockdown, the UFS created the Keep Calm, #UFSLearnOn and #UFSTeachOn campaigns (published at These campaigns are aimed at creating the best possible support for academic staff and students by adapting existing support and practices most suited to an emergency remote-learning environment. Says Tiana van der Merwe, CTL Manager, “We do this for students and staff, and for the future of the university. It was not ideal, but we made leaps – seeing what our deeply committed academic staff have done. We are proud to see how the CTL team came together.”


“We followed the mantra:
‘All hands on deck.’
Everyone pitched in to help.”
—Gugu Tiroyabone,
Academic Advising Manager.

Gugu Tiroyabone, Head of Academic Advising, says that CTL has lived out its values. “We followed the mantra: ‘All hands on deck,’” she adds. To date, the Academic Advising team and graphic designers have created eight editions of support materials for students to download from the #UFSLearnOn website. All of these materials are available under a Creative Commons licence and were shared with the higher-education sector with the help of Universities South Africa. Prof Strydom says, “Leadership requires the courage to share.” Every edition was informed by student representatives who provided inputs to finalised documents.

These resources aimed to provide support, encouragement, and skills to prepare students to succeed in a new learning and teaching environment. The LearnOn website has been viewed more than 77 400 times and has reached over 171 000 people via Facebook. In addition, student support was reconceptualised using a hybrid approach to focus on online academic advising, e-tutorials and a tutorial call centre, innovative redesign of the UFSS (first-year seminar) and academic literacy modules, as well as providing online writing support through the CTL Write Site.


The TeachOn materials were developed as an emergency remote teaching response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The materials integrate online and distance principles as part of “a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances”. The launch of the Blackboard-based TeachOn Portal included the release of a TeachOn Guide. The launch of the portal was complemented by an online webinar series that provided orientation and created specialisation in formative and summative assessment. More than 1 400 staff members attended the online development session. To quote Tiana van der Merwe, “We especially wish to thank all staff who partnered with us with such a selfless spirit and who, without quibble, went above and beyond what was expected of them. They were ‘hungry’ to assist, becoming champions of the campaigns.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for innovation and to improve the quality of learning. The use of a weekly Blackboard analytics report (which tracks the engagement of staff and students on the platform) has enabled the UFS to identify students who are struggling to connect, and CTL – with the help of DIRAP and ICT Services – has reached out to these students as part of the #NoStudentLeftBehind initiative. According to Prof Strydom, “The UFS chose not to let the crisis go to waste but used it to develop new approaches that will better support and prepare students for 21st-century learning.”

It is said that fire refines gold, and it seems that the Centre for Teaching and Learning and its partners at the UFS have survived the fire of adversity and emerged from this crisis resplendent in that illustrious colour.

Ambassador Jabu Mbalula, from UFS to Romania

Dr van Staden
Digitisation of Teaching and Learning

Hope is a never-ending story

Science comes together against COVID-19

Our Campuses Video

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful, to better understand how they are used and to tailor advertising. You can read more and make your cookie choices here. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.