The academic development directors’ Special Interest Group (SIG) engaged in a puisano (Tswana/Sotho word for conversation/discussion) hosted by the HELTASA executive committee in June 2020.

The goal of the dipuisano (conversations) is to create opportunities for the HELTASA executive committee and academic development (AD) leaders to reflect on their experiences and to respond to key questions critical for HELTASA and AD right now:

  • What is the role of AD in emergency remote teaching in the time of COVID-19? How can we apply what we know to online practice?
  • How do we make ourselves relevant and responsive in thinking about academic and digital literacies as epistemic practices to support students as they navigate difficult social challenges?

Metaphorically speaking, we want to collect pieces of the puzzle through reflective stories about how to respond to the challenge that is not only facing our sector, but our country at large. These puzzle pieces will create a framework on how best we can collectively contribute to the enhancement of the online and remote learning experience. As we transition to online and remote teaching and learning, such a framework will be helpful to guide role players through multiple uncertainties that can cause panic during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee seeks to host several dipuisano during the year 2020. The purpose of the first puisano was to establish and build a relationship between the HELTASA and academic development leaders. Some of the themes that emerged from the first puisano are:

A strong emergent humanizing pedagogy of care: The students’ different backgrounds are well thought of in this period because some of them will be remotely taught. A consideration is given to their challenges of social distance and political distance. Tremendous support is provided to mitigate the students’ stresses and anxieties about online and remote learning. The Support from top management is helping to minimise the anxieties and fears of the unknown.

Social justice and inclusivity: The highest degree possible of inclusion equity and success is ensured. Thinking about our students who are not necessarily well resourced when addressing the notion of migrating from the blended approach contributes towards their success. There are deliberate engagements with academics and students in the contingency plan and the implementation of the strategies of smoothing the transition from traditional to virtual and remote learning and teaching during COVID 19.

Collaboration and partnerships towards online learning and teaching: The notion of interdisciplinary collaboration and call for partnering with staff and students in transitioning to online and remote learning and teaching seem to create opportunity to know and respond to the students’ needs. There is a great benefit from collaborating at national level to draw from each other’s strengths within the period of the COVID 19 pandemic. Digital platforms where academic development centres can share materials for various AD activities could help the ADs to contribute significantly in enhancing the quality of learning and teaching within their institutions.

The first puisano revealed that there is concern around online assessment as we transition to the new mode. Building on this recommendation, we have decided to make assessment of students’ learning the focus of the next puisano. This puisano will be in the week of the 24th to 31st August. We urge AD leaders to look out for the invitation and take part in the puisano here. Holding hands and having sense of a collaborative community with different learning and teaching role players have a potential of calming us all down, and give us strength and encouragement in responding to the crisis facing the institutions.

Warm regards

Ms Eunice Champion

HELTASA AD Leaders SIG Convenor