Background

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UKZN has positioned itself as the premier university of African scholarship and the primary responsibility assigned to the recently established Teaching & Learning Office (UTLO) under the leadership of the Deputy Vice chancellor is to provide leadership in all areas of teaching and learning to realise the University's vision, mission and strategic plan with regard to teaching and learning. While a range of policies has been developed following the merger, the university needs to embrace the challenges of dissemination and implementation to ensure consistency and coherence across the institution.


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UTLO has inherited a range of projects across faculties which requires co-ordination, leadership and support to promote excellence in teaching and learning. It is a diverse portfolio, which involves working closely with the Colleges, Faculties and Schools and other support structures involved with teaching to promote research and scholarship in the emerging field of teaching and learning. To this end, the portfolio involves managing partnerships with the DOE, funders and donors, management of funded projects related to access, throughput and success, such as the South African Norwegian Tertiary Education Development project (SANTED) and Department of Education foundation programmes. The portfolio includes monitoring of project funds; writing and co-ordinating project reports; developing funding proposals related to teaching and learning in co-operation with Colleges/ Faculties, the UKZN Research Office, UKZN Foundation and other related units. UTLO is in the process of developing and maintaining data bases related to teaching and learning projects; identifying and collaborating with academics with specialist educational expertise in different disciplines and generating teaching and learning publications.

In fulfilling its mandate, the UTLO seeks to collaborate with academics, researchers and students to create supportive, adaptable and innovative learning environments in which outstanding teaching at all levels is nurtured, recognized and rewarded. In pursuit of this, we will respond to the teaching and learning needs of the University community, providing leadership in developing, and implementing pedagogically sound research driven solutions. The Office is committed to supporting new and experienced academics increase their practical and theoretical knowledge of university teaching through workshops, seminars, and conferences that address a variety of topics, techniques, and programs.

To achieve its aims, the UTLO has identified three key priorities:

  1. Leading curriculum transformation. This embodies two areas of focus. First, to support a deliberate effort to integrate the university vision and mission of an African Scholarship, however diversely interpreted, within the broad curriculum reforms needed to move the university into more competitive cutting edge 21st century relevant curricula, but which remain responsive to the development challenges of the country. Second, to use the opportunity of meeting the requirement of the new Higher Education Qualification Framework (in 2009), National Qualifications Framework and related regulatory requirements in the review of existing programmes and the design and development of new qualifications. Following from the challenges of having developed ''Common Curricula'' during the merger, the university is well positioned to engage a next level of curriculum transformations and reforms and to offer selected innovative and niche programmes of national and international quality to engage an internationalisation and globalisation challenge.
  2. Continuously promoting access but expanding this focus to paying special attention to throughput and success in subsequent years. This priority involves firstly, taking a stronger research informed approach to understanding and acting on failure and dropout rates across programmes that has become a national higher education concern; and secondly finding institutional strategies and mechanisms for sharing best practice that positively impact beyond the access and foundation programmes in mainstream programme teaching and learning.
  3. Establishing an ongoing cycle of developing, implementing and reviewing university policies and procedures at all levels and with respect to both staff and students, to improve teaching and learning. Specifically we focus on the implementation of the Language Policy, in relation to teaching and learning.

A related vision for UTLO is the promotion of scholarship in the area of teaching and learning by acting as a catalyst for, and bringing together academics and researchers who have the common purpose of promoting optimal student learning both inside and outside the classroom. To achieve this outcome, it is crucial that we conceive of teaching as a scholarly act, which means that we have to invest in our teaching the same intellectual rigour and skill we devote to our research. Part of our drive to promote scholarship involves the launch of a quarterly seminar series which began on 20 March, and the annual University Teaching & Learning conference scheduled for 21-23 September 2009.

As with other forms of scholarship, teaching must be public, problem based, purposefully designed, theoretically grounded, and peer evaluated. These are the values UTLO wishes to promote through the activities of the UTLO. And, if we acknowledged teaching as intellectual work, deserving the time and attention of academics and researchers, then we must institute appropriate incentives and rewards for such endeavours. Another vision is to seamlessly integrate ICT into all facets of teaching and learning in achieving the ideal of blended learning solutions, acknowledging the reality that the 21st century student brings a range of intelligences and learning styles into the learning enterprise that the university does not always adequately accommodate.


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