The annual workshop of the HELTASA Professional Development Special Interest Group (PD SIG) was held on 7 and 8 August 2017 at the Nelson Mandela University. The Workshop, hosted jointly by the NMU and Rhodes University, addressed the theme, Growing ourselves, growing the field of academic development.

During the two-day workshop fifty participants from sixteen universities participated in a series of workshops, round table discussions, panel discussions and news cafés.

Luyanda Marhaya (Univen) and Siphiwe Gumede (DUT) facilitated a session on some of the challenges for staff development in the current HE context. In small groups participants deliberated on the importance of developing staff and student development programmes that are founded on a coherent set of theoretical principles; the need to create synergies between the quality enhancement role of AD and institutional imperatives to engage in quality assurance; ways of thinking about curriculum transformation and the role of academic developers in the process; and the importance of staff developers to engage with strategies for technology enhanced teaching and learning. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that AD centres remain vulnerable to re-structuring as the HE context changes and that it is necessary for academic developers to have a strong voice in their institutions so that they can influence the structure of AD in their contexts.

Rieta Ganas and Kershree Padayachee from Wits University facilitated a workshop on how we grow our agency as academic staff developers. In the first part of the workshop participants examined their understanding of the roles and purposes of AD. We considered the research we are currently engaged in and the theories we tend to draw on. Furthermore, we explored our engagement with academic developers in our own institutions and those from other institutions.  In the second part of the workshop participants reflected on the skills, key knowledges, values and ways of being that we brought into the field of AD and how these have enabled us to shape our roles as academic developers. Finally, we explored how we need to build our knowledge of AD, contribute to the development of AD as a profession and how we can use our agency to contribute to AD in our own institutions.

In the third session we examined some key texts used in AD work by colleagues from a range of universities. Participants decided that it was important to share references to key texts on the HELTASA PD SIG website:

Centre for Health Science Education Key Texts

Chris Winberg’s Key Texts

Fort Hare Key Texts

Stellenbosch Key Texts

UCT Key Texts

UWC Key Texts

UWC Prescribed and Recommended Resources

Wits Key Texts

We noted that there were only a few South African texts among the key texts submitted by colleagues. It is useful to consider why this might be the case and that we all have a role to play in building AD knowledge.

We then shared ways in which newcomers are inducted into AD practices. This is an important issue to think about as the field remains fragmented. Careful and systematic induction into the field may be one way of mitigating the fragmentation. Some of the strategies used by colleagues in diferent contexts include; one on one mentoring of newcomers, discussions on cultural and structural conditions in participants’ teaching and learning centres and their institutions more broadly, working in communities of practice, encouraging systematic reading about the field, critically reflecting with new colleagues on AD initiatives, shadowing of experienced members before working independently, working collaboratively to plan and teach classes / workshops, regular paper club meetings to discuss seminal and new papers, establishing App clubs for sharing latest teaching and learning applications and the Rhodes University PGDip (HE) for academic developers.

Melanie Petersen shared a process that the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Stellenbosch University followed to enable staff to develop a shared understanding of key theories.

A highlight at the workshop was a presentation entitled, Developing a research agenda for AD in South Africa, by Brenda Leibowitz who holds a SAARCHi chair in Teaching and Learning in HE at the University of Johannesburg. Brenda distinguished between being scholarly in our endeavours and engaging in scholarship.

SIG members identified a number of issues that are important for our practice that need to be researched. These include, how we understand quality in AD, what is meant by thinking critically about academic development and what it means to interrogate the impact or effectiveness of our work.

Vanessa Merckel and Anne Olsen led a session on doing curriculum work in Higher Education. Vanessa spoke about the importance of creating safe spaces for the difficult dialogues related to decolonising the curriculum. She shared some important questions that we use in curriculum transformation discussions with academics. Anne shared how she and colleagues from the Engineering Faculty at Nelson Mandela University followed the Carpe Diem process devised by Gilly Salmon to engage in collaborative curriculum development.

In the final session of the PDSIG workshop Melanie Petersen shared the induction process for new lecturers followed at the Stellenbosch University, while participants interested in working with HoDs attended a discussion on the topic led by Lynn Quinn from Rhodes University. Working with HoDs is an under-explored area of AD work in South Africa.

Kasturi-Behari-Leak made a video for the PD SIG meeting in which she speaks about what is called The Short Course On Teaching (TSCOT) where academics explore teaching and learning challenges in a supportive environment characterised by input from facilitators and peer support from participants.

The two-day PD SIG workshop was characterised by enthusiastic sharing of practices and mutual learning. Participants noted that it was “very comfortable space to be in” that offeredopportunities to share as members”. The SIG workshop was experienced as “inclusive”; SIG members felt that they were engaged in conversations and that they “were not talked to”. Overall, it was a very successful PD SIG event in which many ideas for further work were generated.

Jo-Anne Vorster




Members of the convening committee of the PD SIG Annual Workshop for 2017:

Anne Cameron (Wits)

Rosaline Govender (DUT)

Siphiwe Gumede (MUT)

Luyanda Marhaya (Univen)

Bongani Mashaba (UJ)

Anne Olsen (NMU)

Melanie Petersen (SU)