23 November 2023 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo SUPPLIED
TAU fellowship 2023
The six academics from the University of the Free State (UFS) who completed the Teaching Advancement at University (TAU) Fellowship Programme. Top from left: Prof Corlia Janse van Vuuren, Prof Thuthukile Jita and Dr Mabohlokoa Khanyetsi. Bottom from left: Dr Frelet de Villiers, Rentia du Plessis and Motsaathebe Serekoane.

Six academics from the University of the Free State (UFS) completed the Teaching Advancement at University (TAU) Fellowship Programme, funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training and endorsed by the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa.

The programme, which aims to enhance teaching and learning in higher education, included block week contact sessions, personal and group projects in teaching environments, and the submission of project reports. 

Teaching practices through a scholarly lens

Rentia du Plessis, Lecturer in the Department of Communication Science, teaches courses on interpersonal communication, intercultural communication, and rhetoric. However, what brings her the most work satisfaction is her involvement with the First-Year Support Programme, a tutor/facilitation initiative operated by the Faculty of The Humanities. Here, she provides students with support in areas such as academic writing, reading, stress management, and study skills. 

“This commitment to supporting first-year students not only serves as a fulfilling aspect of my role, but also forms the foundation of my continuing PhD research. Additionally, it was a central focus of my TAU project,” says Du Plessis.

The programme inspired her to adopt a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) approach, integrating research into her teaching. As a result, her research productivity has also increased significantly.

TAU has opened many doors for Du Plessis. She secured a grant for conducting research on online learning, showcasing the practical application of the programme’s teachings. She was also honoured at the UFS Teaching and Learning Awards for her innovative teaching approaches.

Influencing positive change

Dr Mabohlokoa Khanyetsi, subject head, researcher, and Lecturer in the Department of African Languages on the Qwaqwa Campus, views the TAU fellowship as a journey. “Although filled with twists and turns, fears, and frustrations, it is a journey that is worth the effort,” she says.

What stood out for her was TAU’s mission of instilling in scholars at higher institutions the ability to influence positive change. “Since I attended the programme, I understood the importance of decolonising my content and maximising students’ participation in class, as well as giving students room to use their indigenous knowledge in their learning.”

She says TAU increased her passion for her profession.

In submitting her project report, titled Assessment integrity in question: the case of selected modules on the Qwaqwa Campus-UFS, Dr Khanyetsi pointed out that she enjoyed the teamwork aspect of the programme, learning to appreciate the different views of scholars across South Africa. 

Applying seamless learning as a teaching strategy

Dr Frelet de Villiers adds academic head and senior lecturer in the Odeion School of Music to her list of responsibilities at the university. In her work, she finds excitement in using technology in teaching and learning situations and applying seamless learning as a teaching strategy. The latter connects to the title of the project report she submitted: Applying seamless learning to the Social Entrepreneurship module on the Qwaqwa Campus: Students’ experiences.

“With input on different aspects of teaching and learning, I grew as a SoTL scholar,” she says, emphasising networking with fellow TAU members and discovering new research opportunities as some of the highlights of the TAU experience. 

Their group is currently working on an article that will be published in the accredited international journal, Cogent Arts & Humanities. Another reward from this fellowship is the opportunity to present at the international Asian Conference on Education later in November. 

As a direct result of her TAU programme, Dr De Villiers also received a prize at this year’s Teaching and Learning Awards.

Classroom spaces are research spaces

Motsaathebe Serekoane, Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the BSocSc programme, completed the TAU Fellowship Programme and also serves on the TAU Curriculum Development Team.

The title of his project report is: Fostering in-and-out-of-class cultures of learning: The learning community approach. “It focuses on improving student academic achievement and individual development by purposefully connecting students’ in-class and out-of-class learning by advocating for a learning community approach to education in order to establish a self-regulated learning outcome,” he explains. 

Serekoane says the most important thing he learned was that classroom spaces are research spaces; not spaces to disseminate information. “I believe that teaching at its best shapes both research and practice,” he says. 

As with his colleagues, TAU also opened doors for Serekoane. He received several invitations to present keynote addresses at learning and teaching conferences across the country. Furthermore, he has published in learning and teaching journals nationally and internationally, and also received the award for research in teaching and learning and curriculum development. 

Transferring digital skills to pre-service teachers

From the Faculty of Education, Prof Thuthukile Jita, Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum Studies and Higher Education – who specialises in the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for teaching and learning – participated in the TAU Fellowship Programme. Also serving as Programme Director for Teaching Practice or Work Integrated Learning (WIL) in the faculty, she believes that the fellowship has helped her gain momentum in her own teaching in the past year, focusing on specific technology innovations for teaching in the undergraduate and postgraduate pre-service teacher education programmes.

During the fellowship, Prof Jita assembled a team of lecturers to explore related issues from the perspectives of their own disciplines and sub-disciplines. She says the TAU fellowship has influenced her to advance teaching and learning through collaborative engagement with her colleagues. “I am more passionate about working in communities of practice than ever before,” she remarks. 

Since her participation in the fellowship, she has had the opportunity to present papers at local and international conferences. Additionally, three lecturers in the faculty delivered four papers. Currently, she is working on a large-scale project to track and understand the development of teacher educators’ capacity to use digital tools and applications in their module teaching, thereby transferring appropriate digital skills to pre-service teachers.

Transformational growth and success

“TAU transformed me, and now I can also act as a change agent for others,” says Prof Corlia Janse van Vuuren, Head of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) and Vice-Dean: Teaching and Learning within the Faculty of Health Sciences. 

She enrolled for the fellowship programme when she was newly appointed as the Teaching and Learning Manager of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS), finding herself in ‘unfamiliar territory’. “It was also a time in higher education when the widespread use of data analytics for evidence-based decision-making was gaining momentum. With the fellowship programme, I was given the opportunity to listen and learn from inspirational giants in the higher education space,” says Prof Janse van Vuuren, who completed her project report on Improving teaching and learning outcomes through a faculty-based data analytics framework.

“Because of this transformational and inspirational journey, I wish to continue making meaningful connections through impactful projects to support the transformational growth and success of my students, my peers, and my communities,” she says.

Prof Janse van Vuuren attributes the successful development of the Carnegie Math Pathways project in EMS, the interfaculty Community-Based Education, Early Childhood Development project, and the continuous focus on graduate attribute development within the SHRS – all based within a data-driven, evidence-based space – to her participation in the TAU Fellowship Programme. 

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