An investigation into the influences of institutional context on the professional learning of academics in their roles as teachers

This report forms part of the National Research Foundation (NRF) – funded project entitled “The interplay of structure, culture and agency: contextual influences on the professional development of academics as teachers in higher education in South Africa” which was undertaken by 18 researchers at eight universities during 2011 – 2016.

The research was undertaken in order to investigate conditions which enable and constrain the professional learning of academics in their role as teachers and how academics respond to these conditions, in a range of different South African higher education institutional settings.

The aims and objectives of the research were:

  1. to make suggestions about how to enhance professional development/professional learning with regard to teaching at each of the eight participating institutions;
  2. to make suggestions at the national level for appropriate and context-sensitive policy to enhance teaching and learning in South Africa;
  3. to contribute to the international debates on professional development with regard to teaching and learning with specific reference to the concepts of ‘structure, culture   and agency’ as developed in the work of social realist Margaret Archer;
  4. to contribute to the international debates on collaborative research;
  5. to make suggestions at the national level regarding collaborative research on teaching and learning and about how to support this.

The study had a dual focus that took both the national context (policy, socio-economic trends, and the higher education landscape) and the institutional context into account. The eight participating institutions comprised three historically advantaged institutions, three historically disadvantaged institutions and two universities of technology. The group included three rural institutions, and there were also three ‘research-led’ institutions.  A multi-level and embedded multi-case study was undertaken in order to investigate the support for quality teaching and the professional development of academics from a variety of perspectives across and in varied institutional contexts. The research approach was collaborative, participatory and practitioner-led, across five different phases.

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