Seminars 2013

Seminar 1

Topic: Plato, Freud, Nietzsche and the question of the human soul or psyche: What can we learn from these thinkers about presuppositions of praxis in today’s technocratic culture?

Presenter: Professor Bert Olivier, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Professor Olivier explored Plato’s conception of the human soul as comprising an uneasy union of reason (the charioteer), spirit (the white horse) and appetite or passion (the black horse), where reason has to enlist the support of spirit to be able to restrain and control passion, seems, at first blush, to correspond with Freud’s psychoanalytical conception of the psyche. Freud’s structural model, comprises the ego, the id and the superego, but while Plato seems to have trusted the ability of reason to control passion, Freud appears less sanguine about the ego’s (reason’s) ability to master the id (instinct, passion).

The presentation addressed the differences between the ancient (Platonic) and the modern (Freudian) conceptions of the soul or psyche/subject; and concluded with a consideration of contemporary culture in light of Nietzsche’s early diagnosis of the malady of ‘Socratism’ as that which fatally infects a culture’s ability to deal with human finitude. Brief consideration was also given to Heidegger’s death analysis, which corroborated Nietzsche’s insights concerning tragic ancient Dionysian-Apollonian culture.

Seminar 2

Topic:“What are the tacit influences on our ways of doing research and teaching in higher education? Perspectives on knowledge of the self”

Speaker: Professor Bert Olivier, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

In this seminar, Professor Olivier explored the question: “What are the tacit influences on our ways of doing research and teaching in higher education?” He addressed this question by considering several issues pertaining to what usually remains tacit in most researchers’ and academics’ work, namely what may broadly be described as psychic or subject inclinations on their part, either because of their specific personalities, or because of the fundamental philosophical or scientific education they enjoyed, or both. In addition to these he drew on Lacan’s theories of the three imagoes (of the family complexes, namely the maternal, the fraternal and the paternal imago), as well as of the three subject-registers (the real, the imaginary and the symbolic), and especially of the four discourses (that of the master, the university, the hysteric and the analyst). These, he argued, afford one subtle means of ascertaining where an academic stands regarding the disciplines that interest them, as well as their approach to these disciplines in teaching and research.

Seminar 3

Topic: Teaching Sensitive Topics in Dangerous Social Worlds

Panelists: Dr Anthony Collins, College of Humanities, and Dr Corrie Schoeman, College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science. (UKZN’s 2012 Distinguished Teachers)

Dr Collins explored the complicated interplay between social experiences and the impact of academic ideas. This question is particularly significant where students are deeply affected by their own experiences of victimisation. It highlighted the problem of how to work towards a learning environment that is not just intellectually and emotionally safe in terms of the ideas being explored, but is also physically safe as a social context for learning and living. This presentation also discussed the substantial challenges to the traditional role of lecturer, and what it means to be an academic in contemporary South Africa.

Dr Schoeman gave a brief overview of the philosophical, religious, and cultural roots of anti-evolutionism in South Africa, and proposed that these be treated as matters of science education, embedded in three core principles. First was the contemporary view of learning, embodied in the educational philosophy of constructivism; Second was, organising information into a conceptual framework to enable students to access related information more quickly; and the third principle was, the importance of students taking control of their own learning, focusing on understanding, self-assessment, and reflection. Dr Schoeman argued that “Our tasks as biology educators are not complicated by the controversies associated with the teaching of evolution, but are actually made simpler”.

Seminar 4

Topic: Graduate Unemployment in South Africa: A much exaggerated problem

Presenter: Professor Servaas van der Berg, Stellenbosch University

Increasing reference in the media and public discussions to high graduate unemployment in the South African labour market has raised concern about the functionality of the higher education system and the employability of its graduates. While this finds some support from previous research, the results of those studies are subject to a number of caveats. My presentation will review existing evidence on graduate unemployment levels and trends since 1995 using all available data. “Graduates” are explicitly defined as individuals with bachelor’s degrees or equivalents and higher educational qualifications.

The analysis shows no evidence of a high level or a markedly upward trend in graduate (i.e. degreed) unemployment. Instead, rates of graduate unemployment are found to be quite low in an international context, revealing little cause for concern about broad trends. The presentation will also draw on other joint research with two Stellenbosch colleagues (Pierre de Villiers and Chris van Wyk) on the progression of students supported by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme through universities. The findings are surprisingly positive, showing that students supported by NSFAS are more likely to graduate than others, probably because they have stronger incentives to persevere. The implications of this will also be discussed.

Seminar 5

Topic: An Avalanche Is Coming – The Future of University Education

Presenter: Craig Blewett, School of Management, IT and Governance, UKZN

“Historical change is like an avalanche. The starting point is a snow-covered mountainside that looks solid. All changes take place under the surface and are rather invisible. But something is coming. What is impossible is to say when.” (N. Davies- Historian)

In this seminar, Craig explored how e-learning has evolved and what the apparently new concept of MOOCs is all about. He prompted delegates to consider whether these online courses are simply a repackaging of old ideas or do they offer new opportunities for learning. He considered what impact MOOCs are likely to have on universities and on UKZN in particular and what UKZN should be doing in order to respond to this rising approach to learning – if anything at all.

He argued that it is more than just a new technology that needs to be unpacked, but far more serious entrenched paradigmatic perspectives and their potential impact on the coming changes. MOOCs represent only one instantiation of a new technologically mediated approach to learning. In, and of themselves, they speak to issues that may well lie below the surface when exploring institutional and personal perspectives on embracing or resisting these technologies. Drawing from research in anti-oppressive education, Craig will explore the concept of “spaceism” and how universities apparent disregard for the rising “threat” of e-learning may reflect an unacknowledged oppression.

Seminar 6

Topic: The Council for Higher Education (CHE) Proposal for Undergraduate Curriculum Reform in South Africa: The case for a flexible curriculum structure

Presenters: College Deans of Teaching and Learning: Professors Nobuhle Hlongwa, Fikile Mtshali, Kriben Pillay, Bala Pillay

This seminar profiled the voices of the UKZN academic, support and student community on the CHE undergraduate reform proposal with a view to developing a unified UKZN response.

A key concern with the Draft Proposal as articulated by staff, is that it is crafted within a deficit paradigm. Further, there was an implicit assumption that the core of the existing university curriculum is to be preserved because it’s unproblematic in structure and content. Delegates argued that the curriculum reform process should result in radical curriculum enrichment with changes in structure, content and pedagogy that move beyond the remedial, to the creation of conditions necessary for enhanced student learning. This ultimate outcome must require higher education to transcend structural reform and embrace the intellectual project of an emancipatory higher education that resists commodification.

Seminar 7

Topic: Modern scholarship: A 21st Century approach to teaching, learning and research

Presenter: Professor Randhir Rawatlal, University of Cape Town/ University KwaZulu-Natal

Historically, the chronic underperformance of Higher Education in South Africa has been attributed to the underpreparedness of students. In recent times, there is acknowledgement that systemic and institutional preparedness promote student success or exacerbate student failure.

The Seminar focussed on the Modern Scholarship Project, which is designed to enhance institutional responsiveness to the conditions that promote or retard student success. It comprises three primary components: the student analysis system (Advisor Autopilot), a “visualisation-though-animatedsimulations” development engine (Giant’s Shoulders) and a publishing system for the dissemination and evaluation of learning and research content (Publon Press).

The completed e-solution will include automation of registration, accreditation event preparation, generating and disbursing early warning advice to at-risk students, statistical analysis of academic programmes and preparation for reporting events including marks meetings. The project also involve application of Artificial Intelligence to ‘data-mine’ student results so as to deduce academic programme structures, student progression routes, and predict the outcomes of programme interventions with respect to graduation.

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