10 October 2022 | Story Edzani Nephalela | Photo Supplied
UFS CTL Teaching and Learning Conference
The University of the Free State (UFS) recently held its annual Teaching and Learning Conference. The theme of this year’s conference was Celebrating excellence in learning and teaching, coinciding with the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s (CTL) 10-year celebrations.

The University of the Free State (UFS) recently held its annual Teaching and Learning Conference which began with three pre-conference workshops on the Bloemfontein Campus on 12 and 13 September and ended with a virtual conference hosted from 14 to16 September 2022.

The aim of the UFS Learning and Teaching Conference is to provide academics and academic support staff the opportunity to showcase their innovative learning and teaching practices within different disciplines, as well as to advance the scholarship of teaching and learning at the institution. The theme of this year’s conference was Celebrating excellence in learning and teaching, coinciding with the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s (CTL) 10-year celebrations. During the pre-conference workshops, the focus was on blended learning, curriculum development, and student engagement. 

Dr Engela van Staden, Vice-Rector: Academic, opened the virtual conference on 14 September. She highlighted that universities contribute to the country’s economy through the type of graduates they produce. Therefore, the lecturers are vital; they must use various learning and teaching strategies and diligently perform their jobs to prepare students for the world of work. 

“We must stay current and grasp new advancements in our discipline and teaching methods. These techniques should also recognise students' diversity and multilingualism. With the new Language Policy, we should ensure that our dominant languages are used in academia in years to come. We are here to assist students in becoming employable graduates, and one of the elements that CTL has embarked on is the support we are receiving from them through various programmes, such as Enterprising your Degree: ePortfolio Development (EDED), which provides our students with platforms to market themselves in many professional fields,” Dr Van Staden said. 

Furthermore, Dr Van Staden emphasised the importance of research in enabling and empowering students to remain relevant. COVID-19 has also demonstrated the importance of the teaching approach and tested its efficacy in the classroom. This has resulted in the UFS moving towards becoming a digitalised institution. She stated that the institution has an agreement with the Free State Department of Health to conduct robotic surgery. She further explained that this is not about replacing academics, but about improving teaching and learning. 

In his welcoming address on the second day of the virtual conference, Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, said that the reduction of the achievement gaps between a diverse group of people over the past decade demonstrates that the UFS is not just talking about innovation, equity, quality, and success, but about walking the talk – practically implementing what they profess, to make a real difference in the lives of the students, and to ensure the relevance of the institution.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the effective use of advanced data analytics was one of the contributing factors that enabled us to transition to an online learning and teaching environment successfully. It has allowed us to identify a lack of participation in online tuition, to reach out to individual students at risk, and respond with appropriate support mechanisms – thereby ensuring student success,” Prof Peterson added.

He further explained that Vision 130 commemorates 130 years of the UFS’ existence and is also a strategy to reposition the university for 2034 to ensure stability and clarity for planning and decision-making, while leaving scope for adaptation and agility. This vision will, among other things, promote 
• academic excellence, quality, and impact;
• maximum societal impact with sustainable relationships; and
• a diverse, inclusive, and equitable university.

Sizofunda Ngenkani: The Politics and Voice and Merit Principles in Higher Education

Prof Pearl Sithole, Vice-Principal: Academic and Research on the Qwaqwa Campus – one of the keynote speakers – asked, “What impact does our education have on the world? Consider our social enterprise. This demonstrates that there are stumbling blocks that prevent us from learning. We understand that education is a two-way street – capabilities and quality of access. Much has been done to demonstrate that education is more than a classroom endeavour, yet something must explain why education has failed to have the intended influence in societies. This is targeted at the interaction between society and education, and as academics, we are up to the task to ensure that these issues are solved through various programmes.”

Building future excellence through scholarship, collaboration, and action for impact

In his keynote address, Prof Francois Strydom, Senior Director: CTL, presented some of the strategies that have contributed to CTL’s success since its inception in 2012, despite some of the challenges that institutions of higher learning encountered. 

“Scholarships, collaboration, and action have always been instilled in us. We have integrated higher education research, organisational development, and management literature, considering international and national institutional viewpoints and settings. We acknowledge and promote faculty contributions and the dedication of teaching and learning managers who are supported by deans and academics to enhance the quality of teaching and learning,” said Prof Strydom.
He also emphasised the different programmes and research that contributed to this result. There are 223 national and 52 international conference papers, 288 research reports, two books, 93 articles/book chapters/peer-reviewed conference publications, and 35 postgraduate student supervisions.

Following the conference, the centre will be hosting its annual teaching and learning awards event on 12 October 2022 to recognise and award the excellent work done in learning and teaching at the UFS. 

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