Wednesday, 21 October 2015

“Thank you for making race not feel like walking on eggs and for injecting humour” : teaching race at Stellenbosch

In this presentation Rob Pattman shared his approach to teaching race using a participatory pedagogy. One of the explicit goals that Rob set for the module was to engage with transformation more reflexively and coherently, against the backdrop of a predominantly white institution. He intentionally sought to critique the common tendency for transformation to be reduced to numbers and superficially ‘embracing diversity’. While recent student protests on institutional transformation attest to the importance of ensuring that institutions are representative of the broader society, focusing only on numbers can lead to the ‘fetishisation’ of race.

Rob Pattman
The strategy adopted was to invite students to become knowledge producers by making their own stories and lives as well as their own conceptualisations of race central topics in the module. In this sense he is able to encourage students to move beyond the black, coloured and indian student as ‘diverse other’ to compelling all students to be knowledge producers.  Using humour, provocation and asking seemingly na├»ve questions such as how would you describe race to an alien from another planet, he got students to problematize race and see the absurdity in the constructions of race. The notion of race as something that is constructed but also as something that produces us, resonates with us. This is useful because it provokes us to shift the focus from race as being something we have, to race as something we do (race as performativity). The performativity attached to race engenders in all participants in the module a sense of agency and more importantly it creates the space for those who experience racism to set the agenda.

Rob acknowledges that humour could result in trivialising and reproducing racial stereotypes if not dealt with sensitively. However, humour does help with engaging with ‘troubling topics’ and subverting categories which are normally reified and taken for granted.  The positive responses from students about the module are testimony to the value of the approach in extending and nuancing student understandings of race and racism. This enriched student understanding of, amongst other things, race as materiality; race as spatially differentiated (living and recreational spaces); race as a verb involving processes of identifications and dis-identification and race as troubling as well as something that should be troubled. By using movies such as Skin  and Luister as well as the stories of individuals such as Robertson and Wesley Rob skilfully illustrates the parallels between and intersectionality of race with gender, class, sexuality, age etc. in the social construction of student identifications and expressions of power and inequality.  

As all good presentations do, Rob’s approach to engaging with race left participants in the seminar with more questions. Questions relating to the theories that underpin this approach, the use of humour in productive ways, more details on learning tasks that encourage student to value their own experiences, create knowledge and to be agents of transformation were just some of them. We would like to invite other participants in the workshop and Rob to extend the dialogue.

Blog authors: Kibbie Naidoo and Vanessa Merckel

Friday, 2 October 2015

The First International Conference on Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

The Central University of Technology (CUT) held the 1st International Conference on Scholarship of
The conference opened with a song
Teaching and Learning on 1 - 2 October 2015. This was a lively and well attended conference, mainly by academics at the University, though with colleagues from several neighboring universities as well. There were 5 keynote speakers, also from CUT and outside. Jane McKenzie gave a valuable
presentation of how SOTL is encouraged at the University of Glasgow and Merja Alanko-Turunen from the Haaga Helia University of Applied Science in Helsinki spoke about how pedagogic and reflective practice are advanced at her institution. She had some novel ideas that are worth considering. I have  embedded my own presentation, which showcases the work of the SOTL @ UJ project, and argues for a strongly social justice perspective on SOTL.


The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning - A social justice perspective from Brenda Leibowitz

Yunnus Ballim, the Vice-Chancellor at the new Sol Plaatje university, gave a talk entitled, "Reflecting epistemological access and the analytical frameworks guiding institutional responses to student learning in South African higher education". He was strongly critical of the way the term 'epistemological access is used', and the extended curriculum initiative and the many assumptions this initiative contains that he holds to be illogical. This echoes points made in an article by Leibowitz and Bozalek:  Leibowitz, B. and Bozalek, V. (2015) Foundation provision - A social justice perspective, South African Journal of Higher Education, 29 (1) 8 – 25.  He also makes the point that transformation is about excellence, and that a university that graduates deeply racist students for example the creators of the Reitz video at Free State University "cannot call itself a university". I am sure this is not meant to cast aspersions on the present leadership or situation at UFS, but rather, to make a rhetorical point about the purpose of the curriculum and graduate outcomes. 

Isaac Ntshoe gave a talk entitled "Theorizing Curricula and Pedagogy of Professional and Sector Fields of Practice: Beyond a metatheoretical discourse". He made a call for advantaging our students by giving them access to powerful (and theoretical) knowledge.
James Swart, Jane McKenzie, Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, me, Merja Alanko-Turunen and Isaac Ntshoe

The first day was chaired by James Swart from the Engineering Faculty. Evidence of his enthusiasm for teaching and SOTL is the fact that this year he has received a commendation from the CHE/HELTASA National Teaching Excellence Awards (there are five awards and six commendations). 

There were 48 papers in parallel sessions. Although some presentations were from colleagues from other universities such as the University of Fort Hare and the new University of Mpumalanga, the overwhelming majority were by academics at CUT. These are the result of a concerted strategy at the university to encourage the SOTL. It is an impressive strategy launched by the Dean of Academic Development and Support at CUT, Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, who made a presentation about this project. The project is managed by Isaac Ntshoe. Key components of the strategy is that academics apply to become participants in the scheme; they are entitled to certain developmental opportunities; they are assigned to a mentor; there is a series of workshops; and there was this conference itself. A special issue of the CUT-based journal, New Generation Sciences, is to follow. This strategy makes use of Teaching Development Grant funds. - It might be one that other universities wish to follow?