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Teaching and Learning at UCT
19 December 2016

Teaching and Learning at UCT

Teaching and learning are the core functions of any university and UCT is constantly striving to improve the experience of teaching and learning for academic staff and students alike.

The following is a summary of the recent Teaching and Learning highlights at the university.

The 2015 Teaching and Learning Report

The report is a testimony to UCT’s commitment to excellence in teaching, alongside its commitment to research. During 2015, UCT continued its multiple interventions which are focused on renewing the curriculum, improving access and throughput, enhancing the quality of the teaching and learning experience, and supporting online provision.

The student concerns of 2015 have given added impetus and urgency to the teaching and learning interventions already in place, with intense deliberations at every level of the institution.

The 2015 Teaching and Learning Report includes inputs from across UCT and points directly to how the pace of transformation has been quickened around a range of key issues such as multilingualism, Afrocentric curricula and staff transformation.

It is clear that 2015 was an important year for honing and shaping the agenda for teaching and learning for the foreseeable future.

Read the 2015 Teaching and Learning Report...

Distinguished Teacher Award

The Distinguished Teacher Award is the highest accolade awarded to teaching staff. Through the award, UCT acknowledges the primary place of teaching and learning in the university’s work and recognises excellent teaching by individual lecturers.

The award committee recommends up to four recipients per year and may also award additional certificates of teaching merit to deserving nominees for their outstanding contribution to teaching.

The awards are formally announced at an appropriate graduation ceremony, usually in December, and each award carries a purse of R35 000.

Although no Distinguished Teacher Awards were made in 2016, the committee will continue with their work early in 2017.

Distinguished Teacher Award winners 2015

Joanne Hardman

Joanne Hardman

Dr Joanne Hardman of the School of Education received the Distinguished Teacher Award for her “ability to keep students engaged and individually mentor them to excellence”. She has been described as one of the world’s most promising Vygotskian scholars, whose teaching and research has been framed by cultural historical activity theory.

Read the story...

Jacqui Kew

Jacqui Kew

Associate Professor Jacqui Kew of the College of Accounting engages her students by continually asking questions in the classroom. She believes that students are responsible for their own learning journeys and that a good teacher’s job is to ensure these journeys are well sign-posted.

Read the story...

Azila Reisenberger

Azila Reisenberger

Dr Azila (Tzili) Reisenberger, head of Hebrew in the School of Languages and Literature, believes that “sharing knowledge and awakening the students’ curiosity” is what makes for a good teacher, and is just part of why she received the Distinguished Teacher Award. For her, the most exhilarating part of being a teacher is the intellectual, fun relationship that she is able to build with her diversity of students.

Read the story...

Adam West

Adam West

Dr Adam West, who has been in the Department of Biological Sciences since 2010, has consistently received the highest student evaluations. West teaches undergraduate levels in the Faculty of Science and supervises honours, master’s and PhD students, covering topics such as cell biology, plant ecophysiology and global change ecology.

Read the story...

Curriculum Change Working Group

The Curriculum Change Working Group was commissioned by the VC to facilitate a process for the UCT community to engage in critical curriculum transformation. Read the VC’s announcement...

The group has considerable experience, knowledge and expertise related to the development of contextually and socially relevant curricula. They are also well versed in the use of inclusive approaches to teaching and learning.

It is co-chaired by Associate Professor Harry Garuba (Head of the Centre for African Studies) and Associate Professor Elelwani Ramugondo (Department of Occupational Therapy). The other members are Professor Sandra Klopper (DVC: Teaching and Learning), Professor Sakhela Buhlungu (Dean of Humanities), Associate Professor Harsha Kathard (Department of Health Sciences Education), Associate Professor Denver Hendricks (Deputy Dean of Health Sciences), Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak (Academic Staff Development, CHED), Goitsione Mokou (education master’s student), Rorisang Moseli (2016 SRC President) and Brian Kamanzi (RMF and engineering master’s student). Judy Favish (Director of Institutional Planning) and Amanda Barratt (Academic Planning Officer) form the secretariat.
* Due to staff changes, some of these positions will be filled by new members in the new year.

Deans were invited to nominate up to three people from their faculties to form part of an extended group (from both formal and non-formal constituencies) that would brainstorm a methodology with the core group and student representatives and facilitate departmental workshops.

The group has developed a Preliminary Conceptual Framework and Terms of Reference.

The Terms of Reference sets out membership, reporting lines, accountability, timeframes and deliverables of the working group.

The Preliminary Conceptual Framework has been informed by the student and staff protests of 2015, which challenged and re-energised critical engagement around the purpose of a university in an unequal society, both as a site of complicity and as a potential agent for social change. The document will form the basis for identifying critical questions that will explored.

Both documents have been used as the starting points for engagements across the university. The group has adopted a generative methodology that is guided by a theory of change. They will be working with interested students, staff and community members.

The university-wide engagements on curriculum reform are scheduled for completion towards the end of 2017.

Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak, Associate Professor Elelwani Ramugondo and Associate Professor Harsha Kathard, all founding members of the Curriculum Change Working Group, contributed to an article in The Conversation. It gives a clear and practical example of the group’s work. Read the article...

Read more about the Curriculum Change Working Group...

First Year Experience

The First-Year Experience

Since the appointment of Dr Danielle Fontaine-Rainen as director of the First-Year Experience (FYE), with support from the Teaching Development Grant (TDG), considerable work has gone into strengthening engagement with all faculties to identify common FYE components that can be implemented across campus, while promoting certain components in particular faculties.

UCT’s First-Year Experience is not a service or a centre; rather, it is a shared value system that prioritises the all-round wellbeing of first-years. It is a collective effort to help first-year students to adapt to university life and develop a strong sense of belonging at UCT.

Supporting students throughout their first year is crucial, but in order to achieve success, first-years need to play an active role in their own development and must access the support that is available.

These values underpin the FYE programmes, including the following:


FYE spearheads the help desk and ‘tech buddy’ service during O-Week. Orientation leaders staff the help desks at various points across campus to help with queries on services and directions. The tech buddies provide digital literacy assistance in undergraduate computer labs, including help with VULA (the UCT online learning platform), PeopleSoft (the UCT online admin system), student email accounts and using Microsoft Word.

Early Assessment

Early Assessment allows faculties to monitor students’ early academic progress. The assessment is based on grades from mid-semester tests and assignments and signals whether students should visit the student advisors in their faculty. These advisors will consult with struggling students and offer advice about the specific support services available.

Talks and workshops

Workshops provide both academic and non-academic support, covering topics like writing skills, stress and financial management, and exam preparation. Once registered, students will be able to refer to the online learning system, Vula, for more information about these workshops, and to access further electronic resources.

Students can stay in touch with the First-Year Experience on social media:

Courses impeding graduation

In 2015 serious attention was given to the importance of addressing the impact on throughput rates of courses impeding graduation (CIGs). Many, but not all, of these courses are first-year service courses with large enrolments with great diversity in the background and ability of the class.

Following a detailed investigation, two proposals that might result in better pass rates in service courses were identified. These are the development of guidelines for ownership of a course, means of resolving disputes around service courses (intra and cross faculty), incentives and obligations; and service agreements between the departments offering the service course and the programme conveners.

Improving throughput in courses impeding graduation (CIGs)

Associate Professor Saalih Allie circulated his draft document titled Courses, Combinations and Contexts that Impede Graduation to the Teaching and Learning Committee that he developed after attending all the faculty presentations at the Teaching and Learning Committee meetings. The document provided a contextual framework for interpreting the Institutional Planning Department’s high-risk course data and pointed to the complexities of CIGs and contended that the problem could be with the course, or combinations, or the broader context of the curriculum as a whole. It cites examples in each of the faculties where interesting interventions and strategies, from a teaching and learning perspective, have been implemented, and notes the differences in the ways that each faculty interrogated the data.

To facilitate faculty engagement with the document, it was proposed that faculty-specific information should be extracted and presented to faculty academic advisors and at faculty board meetings to enhance understanding of the issues across the university. It is important to link this work with that of the Service Courses Working Group and the Data Analytics Task Team.

Feedback on CIGs per faculty appear in the 2015 Teaching and Learning Report as follows.


The focus has been on Financial Reporting 2. After reformulating this mainstream course, successful students had a much stronger conceptual grounding. However, the course has been replaced with a dedicated Education Development Unit (EDU) Financial Reporting 2 class. The class was convened and taught by a qualified chartered accountant who is an EDU alumnus.

This created opportunities for EDU students to engage in a supportive, caring environment with a conceptually difficult course that is quite a significant shift from Financial Reporting 1. Being in a learning environment that is strongly participative and learning centred is already improving students’ confidence and their academic outcomes.

Engineering and the Built Environment

In first year, CIGs continue primarily to be service courses offered by other faculties. Significant effort has gone into ensuring that the graduation rates improve, but having a high failure rate in first year has a marked impact on throughput. The discussion in the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee about the possibility of developing service level agreements to define how service relationships should operate is welcomed.

Humanities: Extended Degree Programmes

The Extended Degree Programmes (EDPs) were flagged for Dean’s review over 2015/2016 and the tenets and structures of the programmes are under scrutiny. Curriculum advice for the extended and mainstream general degrees is now firmly entrenched as a single system, as part of a drive towards decreasing stigma. The Plus Tut and Writing Hub systems continued to expand over 2015, including pilots in new departments: these initiatives attempt to address matric under-preparation in disadvantaged students by providing additional space to explore course materials. While the flexibility of humanities programmes does not generate graduation-impeding courses to any notable extent, the expansion of Plus provision into second-year courses does target key courses with which students experience particular difficulty.

Analysis of the 2015 course marks for students in Plus courses shows that the performance of Education Development students on courses hosting Plus tutorials improved noticeably between 2013 and 2015. The augmenting material generated for Plus tuts is also feeding back into the mainstream courses with innovations and refinements in teaching practice, and the Educational Development Unit has identified the discrepancy between exam and coursework assessment as a particular area for further study.


In 2015 there was close monitoring of courses impeding graduation and, as mentioned above, extra tutorials were made available to at risk students in Property and Constitutional Law.


The Faculty of Science continues to contend with improving throughput and the quality of passes while facing a widening gap in preparedness of incoming students, especially in mathematics and the physical sciences. This challenge is being addressed through a number of interventions, ranging from admission and orientation through to peer learning models and a focus on courses perceived as impeding graduation. In this report, we focus on interventions in a student’s first week at UCT, those aimed at improving peer learning in courses and the faculty’s first blended learning course.

Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching  

The Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) is committed to a higher education environment that fosters transformative and reflexive practices in learning and teaching.


CILT’s main focus is to facilitate effective teaching and learning at UCT.

Following the protests and shutdown of the university this year, CILT staff developed resource guides to support UCT lecturers with online teaching. Recognising student and staff concerns around access, the team also developed a strategy guide for addressing inequity of technological access. These guides are working documents and are available to the public.


Staff development is an important aspect of CILT’s work. One example of this is the New Academics Practitioner Programme (NAPP), a holistic programme of professional development for new academics at UCT who have fewer than five years’ experience in higher education. Its key focus is to strengthen resources and practices necessary for new academics to develop as educators, researchers and members of the UCT community. Read an article about participating in NAPP...


The 2015 UCT Teaching and Learning conference, which was deferred due to fees protests, took place on 20 March 2016. The theme was Exploring our Landscape of Practice.

Unfortunately the 2016 conference also had to be deferred due to nationwide university protests. Decisions about the 2016 and 2017 conferences will be announced soon.

In November 2016 UCT co-hosted the ICED/HELTASA conference, a collaboration between the International Consortium for Educational Development (ICED) and the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA). Over 600 delegates from around the world attended the event, which focused on Ethics, Care and Quality in Educational Development.

UCT Teaching & Learning Conference: What to expect

Teaching and learning projects

Throughout the year, CILT is involved in a number of teaching and learning projects.

Commonwealth Digital Education Leadership Training in Action (C-DELTA)

CILT was commissioned by the Commonwealth of Learning to develop a concept paper on Digital Education Leadership (DEL). Having completed the concept paper in 2016, the next task will be to develop a curriculum for DEL. The overarching purpose is to develop digital education leaders who demonstrate effective use of information and communication technology (ICT) for teaching and learning.

e/merge Africa

e/merge Africa is a new educational technology network directed at educational technology researchers and practitioners in African higher education. Each year it runs Facilitating Online, a course developed by CILT which provides a solid foundation for facilitating online events and courses.


UCT offers an increasing number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These free online courses have no entry requirements and do not count towards university credits. You can choose to purchase a certificate, and financial aid is available in some cases.

In 2016 UCT launched three new MOOCs.

Becoming a changemaker

Becoming a changemaker: Introduction to Social Innovation

The Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship created this course in partnership with RLabs, a local movement that is empowering youth by teaching them vital skills and providing much needed support and a sense of community. This course will take you on a journey of exploring the complex problems that surround us and how to start thinking about solutions.

Education for All

Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion

Inclusive education is about addressing barriers to learning and participation and transforming school communities to allow them to really benefit from inclusion. Although inclusive education is about all forms of diversity, on this course you will learn specifically about disability, as it is often an aspect of diversity that is neglected.

Julia Scientific Programming

Julia Scientific Programming

This four-module course introduces users to Julia as a first language.  Julia is a high-level, high-performance dynamic programming language developed specifically for scientific computing. This language will be particularly useful for applications in physics, chemistry, astronomy, engineering, data science, bioinformatics and many more.

Throughout the year unexpected uses of MOOCs have emerged: one being the launch of an offline campus where participants can take the Becoming a Changemaker MOOC with RLabs without having access to their own computer; another is that other universities have begun including materials from UCT MOOCs as part of their teaching.

Two UCT MOOCs – What is a Mind? and Medicine and the Arts: Humanising Healthcare – were named in Class Central’s Top 50 MOOCs of All Time.

Becoming a changemaker and Education for All were both winners at the MACE Excellence Awards 2016.

What is a Mind?

“A thought-provoking course that I have found to be both enlightening and uplifting. It has helped me to crystallise in my own mind what I am, and supports my view of how we fit into the rest of the natural world. Professor Solms is an engaging and enthusiastic speaker, as well as being so knowledgeable.” Paul Hughes (UK)

In-depth Review: What is a Mind? Class Central review by Margaret O’Doherty 

Medicine and the Arts: Humanising Healthcare

“This course has been very interesting and has definitely shaped the way I view patients in the medical profession. I’ve now realised how distant one can be when working with people with medical conditions and through this course I have grown to love and consider the social aspect of patients as being crucial to advancing the care that they receive.” Mapitso Thaisi (South Africa)

My love of learning thrilled by some of the online courses with Futurelearn Medicine and the Arts review by Jonathan Vernon

Becoming a changemaker

“This was an outstanding course – particularly as I live in Cape Town and was able to apply the ideas and create examples based on the community they were often discussing (RLabs) and its impact on the Cape Town community and even further afield. I found myself considering ideas and thinking about social innovative ideas from a completely new and refreshing perspective.” Carolynn B

Personal Mobile Device Project

The main aim of the Personal Mobile Device Project (PMD) is to better understand how access to PMDs enables greater flexibility and effectiveness of teaching and learning in the higher education sector both inside and outside the classroom. At a symposium in November, the five partner universities on the project presented their findings.

Research on Open Educational Resources for Development

The Research on Open Educational Resources for Development (ROER4D) project aims to provide evidence-based research from a number of countries in South America, sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia in order to improve educational policy, practice, and research in developing countries by better understanding the use and impact of Open Educational Resources.

Unbundling Higher Education

This joint universities of Cape Town and Leeds research project has set out to investigate the opportunities that the unbundling and new provision models offer for addressing challenges in higher education in South Africa and England. Read more about the unbundled university...

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