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10 September 2021
Academic Week 2021: Curriculum Renewal & Transformation - Preparing For Tomorrow’s Problems Today

Universities are not just about sharing the knowledge of yesterday - they are also about preparing graduates who are ready to tackle the world of tomorrow. This is why the University of the Western Cape (UWC) believes in curriculum renewal and transformation (CRT).

“Fundamentally, CRT entails a major review and overhaul of the entire academic project with student success and retention and continued academic staff development at its core,” said Mervyn Coetzee of the UWC Academic Planning Unit. “It aims to address the inequities in the academic project and to develop more inclusive, participatory and egalitarian ways of learning and teaching.”

CRT is critical because it offers the University opportunities to engage students and staff in forums that are aimed at facilitating innovative developments in ways of learning and teaching: novel, fresh, different and perhaps unusual ways of knowing and learning to know. It also comes at a time in which paramount change to the academic project is inevitable. 

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have stimulated, if not obligated, UWC to expedite the development and implementation of inventive means of offering blended learning and teaching. 

The Centre for Innovative Education and Communication Technology (CIECT) has risen to the task, working to help lecturers move their courses online - but also transform them in the process.

“When you design an online environment, you have to really think about it,” said Dr Juliet Stoltenkamp, Director of the CIECT. “You can’t just dump material online because it worked in the offline environment. You have to employ the principles of good design - you have to design your course with purpose. And at the heart of that purpose is your motive for going online: to reach students, and give them the necessary tools to succeed. At the heart of every course is the student experience”

Curriculum transformation goes beyond the curriculum itself. It’s not just the classroom that needs transformation to help produce flexible, adaptable - and employable - graduates. Universities have a role to play in shaping graduates beyond the classroom as well. In this regard, it is incumbent upon the CRT process to include addressing the affective issues that impede student progress and success. In other words, the learning and teaching environment should foster curricula components that serve to improve and bolster students’ levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. It should also strive to dismantle any barriers to successful learning: intimidation, fear, timidity, self-consciousness of particular issues that cause reticence in the classroom, etc. 

Student-centered and social justice approaches are vital at the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSWD). In particular, academics need to apply universal design practice policy to enhance their curriculum for students with disabilities. They not only try to help students with disabilities with the resources to cope with their studies, but also encourage lecturers to design curricula that can work for as wide an array of students as possible, whether they be deaf, visually impaired, have dyslexia, or other disabilities.

“We launched our new building facilities just before COVID,” noted OSWD Manager, Verushka Daniels. “We’re still making use of the physical space and its equipment every day - because there are students who need a physical space to access their learning and teaching material, and many of our students may require changes to the approved accommodations on a sudden basis. But we’ve also been working very closely with the CIECT in the online space, because assistive software is actually a key role player in what we do - and when we work together,the possibilities which exist through universal design takes on an even greater meaning.”

“Across the Division for Student Development and Support (SDS), we partner with students so they are able to realise the best versions of themselves,” noted Nazrana Parker, who is responsible for UWC Careers Service which has worked to embed preparation for the job search and the world of work throughout a student’s journey at UWC. “SDS departments collaborate with each other and faculties to ensure that support is relevant, pointed and in the best interests of the student. We want to produce the kind of graduates that have agency and are empowered to address issues and create solutions, in the workplace and the world. ”

Courageous Conversations: Student Success Is Everyone’s Business

It began with a series of Courageous Conversations, involving alumni, staff and other UWC stakeholders, and exploring what the University meant to them, and what they thought it should become. It continued through a series of workshops, Faculty roadshows, and two previous Academic Weeks. But the Framework for Curriculum Renewal and Transformation is finally nearing its finalisation phase.

“Transformation is always a contested concept,” said Odwa Mntonintshi, outgoing Curriculum Enhancement Specialist at UWC’s Academic Planning Unit. “It has different meanings for all of us, and many of us hold its understandings close to our hearts. But it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong - it’s about learning to value unity through our differences. It’s been a long road of extensive consultation with the various stakeholders, as well as attempting to bring the dissenting voices to the main spaces. The transformation trajectory doesn't have an end date or final product.”

During the Faculty Roadshows, various stakeholders raised key issues and challenges, and students of all levels of study shared first-hand what their views on CRT are, and any recommendations they had to offer in this regard were taken into consideration by the Academic Planning Unit. 

And all that effort has paid off.

“The CRT is still in development, but has gained wide University support, and spawned many creative and practical ideas that will transport the University into a better future for its students and staff,” noted Coetzee. “It’s not over yet - but then, curriculum renewal is a continuous process. We always need to be thinking and re-thinking about the future, and how to prepare students for the world of tomorrow.” 

Now is the time to consider these matters, said Professor Vivienne Lawack, UWC’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic and host of UWC Academic Week 2021.

"Student success is everyone's business," Prof Lawack noted. "The twenty-first century faces complex challenges like climate change, inequality and rapid disruption of the world as we knew it, first through the Fourth Industrial Revolution and now through the pandemic. We need young and capable graduates who will be able to tackle these challenges - and it's up to all of us to ensure that we produce those exceptional leaders of tomorrow."

UWC’s fifth annual Academic Week runs from 6 to 10 September 2021, and aims to educate staff, students and other university stakeholders about learning and teaching initiatives, as well as projects focused on strategic imperatives.

Find out more about the UWC Academic Week 2021 programme at news-and-announcements/events/academic-week-2021.