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Academic Week 2020: Achieving Student Success In A New Age Of Higher Education

Author: Nicklaus Kruger

Tutors, mentors and staff opened UWC Academic Week with an engaging webinar on the University’s Tutor Enhancement, First Year Transition Mentorship and Recognition of Prior Learning programmes.

(Published - 15 September 2020)

COVID-19 has very rapidly altered the higher education landscape. Students, lecturers and tutors have had to adapt by learning to deal with emergency remote learning, teaching and interactions online. 

“We were trained on how to conduct face-to-face tutoring,” said University of the Western Cape (UWC) tutor Mihlali Mafanya. “Now we had to learn our own ways of tutoring online - and make sure we were still effective, and that students would get what they need through WhatsApp chats, emails and so on. It was quite challenging - but the flexible working hours helped.” 

Mafanya was one of several tutors who presented at a webinar entitled Academic Week: Student Success At UWC on 14 September 2020.

“Online learning can be very cost-effective,” added fellow tutor Malibongwe Mazibuko who, like Mafanya, expressed her feelings on the new style of tutoring via TikTok). “Students don't have to travel from home to campus, and we can save time on repetitive responses by sending the same response or sharing discussions with other students. But it makes interaction harder, and a lot of students find it harder to stay motivated. Ultimately, self-learning is best for online learning.”

Studies have shown that tutors can have a significant impact on student success - if they have the right support. For this reason the University invested in the UWC Tutor Enhancement Programme, an offshoot of the University’s Operation Student Success, which encourages the development of tutor and student talent, and helps with the training of potential future academics. 

“Operation Student Success is all about looking at high-impact interventions in student success,” said Dr Subethra Pather, Acting Director for the Directorate of Learning, Teaching and Student Success. “The tutorial programme is one such high impact practice - and so it was critical for UWC to reflect on its current tutorial programme, examining internal and external factors within faculties and the institution that impacted on the success of the tutorial programme, and the findings led to the new enhanced tutor programme at UWC.”

Dr Fazlyn Petersen from UWC’s Department of Information Systems devised and developed a tutor support tool for her department called Tutors’ Notes.

“Information Systems is a subject that changes rapidly due to advancements in technology. As a result, course materials need to be updated frequently to provide students with the updated skills that are required,” she noted. “This left me with a challenge: how could I prepare tutors to effectively run sessions on course content they didn’t know?”

To address these needs, Tutors’ Notes, based on a class plan, was implemented in a second-year Information Systems Business Analysis course with more than 250 students, providing a structured approach to presenting content, with examples and FAQs, and allowing them to have planning sessions to work through the notes themselves.

Helping First-Years Find Their Footing

Understanding difficult concepts is something first-year students in particular may find intimidating - and it’s only one of a range of challenges they face.

“First-year varsity is full of challenges, and many new UWC first-year students are unaware of the difficulties they face,” said Naadirah Manie, administrator and coordinator of the First Year Transition Mentorship Programme (FYTMP) at UWC. “Their first time writing university exams, having to learn how and when to approach lecturers, how to fit university life into the challenges of their own socioeconomic conditions. Our First Year Transition Officers (FYTOs) and a team of mentors take their responsibilities seriously - and have taken the time to grapple with the extra challenges posed by COVID-19 as well.”

Those challenges can be even greater for non-traditional students. 

UWC’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Unit is dedicated to ensuring access to university education, through recognition of experiential, formal, informal and non-formal learning. 

“RPL in South Africa is critical to the development of an equitable higher education system that facilitates and promotes life-long learning,” said RPL Director (and Teaching & Learning Specialist) Dr Rekha Rambharose. “The domain of RPL is closely aligned to the main elements of the South African national policy discourse since 1994, with the goal of facilitating access to, mobility across and progression within the education, training and career pathways.” 

The RPL Unit is running the first online programme for RPL access into higher education in the country.

Academic Week 2020: Academics Engaging With Real Issues

The Student Success Webinar served as the opening for the University of the Western Cape’s Academic Week 2020.

“Our university is full of academics who don’t live in an ivory tower, but are working on some of the most exciting and important matters around; people who think deeply about certain aspects of life and the world around them,” said Professor Vivienne Lawack, UWC’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic and host of UWC Academic Week.

Over the course of the week, UWC academics will be tackling questions like:

  • How do we help students complete their studies and make sure they get the most out of their time at university?
  • What do universities stand for in a time when traditional models of education are disrupted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution - and a pandemic, to boot?
  • In a world of rapid technological and social change, how do universities cope? And where do we go from here, as individuals and as a society?
To attend, fill out the UWC Academic Week 2020 Webinars RSVP Form.

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