Professional Development Special Interest Group Symposium On PGDips and other formal academic staff development programmes

On 14 and 15 August the Professional Development Special Interest Group held a two-day symposium on formal academic staff development programmes. The main focus of the Symposium was the Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education (PGDip (HE)). The Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein hosted the event that was attended by academic developers and lecturers from sixteen institutions, including one private university and the National University of Lesotho.

The Symposium started with a panel discussion in which three lecturers from Wits University and one from Mangosutho University of Technology spoke about their reasons for enrolling on the PGDip and they reflected on how their engagement with the theories and teaching and learning processes on the programme significantly enhanced their understanding of their roles and their practices as teachers in higher education. All of them noted that the PGDip influenced how they thought about, amongst other things, the impact of the higher education context on teaching and learning, curriculum design, their capacity to influence departmental practices and their ability to engage in research on teaching and learning.

Academic developers from Wits, Rhodes and CPUT deliberated on the commonalities and differences in the PGDip (HE) programmes offered at their institutions as well as what challenges they need to consider in relation to their programmes. All PGDips are underpinned by the value of critically reflective practice, require theoretical engagement with the field of higher education studies, engage with academics from diverse disciplines, while facilitators actively model good teaching practices. Differences between the PGDips include pedagogic and assessment practices. All PGDip (HE) facilitators agreed that their integration of information and communication technologies was too limited, and that they were all struggling with establishing an optimal balance between formative and summative assessment. Furthermore, it was noted that current assessment practices on the PGDips (HE) assessed scholarly reflection on teaching practice and not individuals’ actual practice.

Colleagues from Nelson Mandela shared their initial thinking on the modules they were planning on including in their PGDip (HE), while the team from CUT spoke about their processes of designing a PGDip (HE) for a University of Technology context. The PGDip curriculum design team from CUT included members of the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CILT), a number of academics and deans who are passionate about teaching and learning, as well as quality assurance personnel.

CUT has a flourishing structured Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Programme facilitated by a CILT staff member. The aim of the SoTL project is to contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning while at the same time building scholarship on teaching and learning.

The team from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Media at Nelson Mandela also shared the curriculum for and principles underpinning their Teaching Enhancement Programme (TEP). The TEP consists of a number of modules on topics such as Teaching and learning in large classes, Responsive curriculum, Technology-enhanced teaching and learning, and Multilingualism and academic literacies. For each module participants have to complete a pre-module task and reading, a three-hour workshop and a post-workshop reflective assignment. A certificate is issued on completion of seven out of the nine modules on offer and the submission of a portfolio of reflection tasks.

The work-in-progress on what is termed “The good teaching series”, a blended learning course that academics can do in their own time, was presented by the designer of the programme from the University of the Free State. The course consists of text-based and video resources and tasks on a series of topics on various aspects of teaching and learning.

The various presentations by academic developers and lecturers and the conversations sparked by them enhanced the knowledge and understanding of participants and attendees of practices and challenges related to formal staff development programmes. The PDSIG aims to publish a volume on formal staff development programmes, with an emphasis on PGDips in HE, based on presentations at the SIG Symposium. Those who have not managed to attend the SIG Symposium, but who are interested in contributing to the proposed book, are invited to contact Jo-Anne Vorster at for more information.