Symposium Interrogates Student Access and Success in Higher Education
UKZN’s Access and Success Advisory Forum (ASAF) which provides ongoing advice and support to the University’s Teaching and Learning Office (UTLO), hosted the Access and Success Symposium as part of the Siyaphumelela Network collaboration. Siyaphumelela, a national organisation, funded by the Kresge Foundation endeavours to broaden student access, success and quality in Higher Education.
The symposium which aimed to create awareness of how students’ approach, navigate and progress through Higher Education, provided a platform for ASAF members to present their research projects.
Director of Teaching and Learning, Professor Rubby Dhunpath said that the forum’s first gathering in 2020 resulted in the generation of a ‘theory of change and a model that encompasses the full trajectory of the student engagement and experience’. A range of student-centred projects and interventions were designed including the First-Year Experience (FYE) Programme, and the AutoScholar Advisor Platform used in the Cum Laude Tracking Project.
In his keynote address, Professor Victor Borden from Indiana University Bloomington in the USA shone a light on empowering change agents. Borden discussed four social psychological constructs that are required to promote change in Higher Education, namely, actor-observer bias; the self-determination theory which includes the basic human needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness; a fixed versus growth mindset; and generativity versus stagnation. ‘These are the ideas you have to grapple with to place yourself on a motivational spectrum that empowers you to take this work to places that make a difference for all students,’ he said.
Dean of Teaching and Learning in the College of Humanities, Professor Ruth Hoskins outlined the FYE programme which aims to support and assist first-year students as they transition from high school to campus life. She noted that it arose from the need to change how first-year students, particularly those from Quintile 1 and 3 schools, are inducted into the University. Highlighting the importance of becoming a change agent for the University, which requires understanding what is required of one, Hoskins encouraged staff members to embed themselves in UKZN’s vision, mission and values. She added that the Institution had re-envisioned the FYE programme, which was formerly College-based and highlighted its achievement of transitioning 10 000 students each year.
Ten presentations were made by ASAF members under the themes: Building a Culture of Using Data for Decision Making; Developing Systems for Enhancing Student Success; Redesigning the Curriculum for Student Success; Aligning the Curriculum to Advance Valued Graduate Attributes; Evaluating the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Student Support Systems at UKZN; At Risk Identification: Students, Courses and Programmes; Assessment Policy and Practices that Enhance Student Success; and Investigating Student Exceptionality.
Professor Oliver Mtapuri and Dr Ruwayda Petrus’ presentation on Exploring the Experience and Impact of Transitioning to Remote/Online Assessments on Student Academic Performance at UKZN interrogated the diverse assessment methods and tools adopted in the transition to online learning. Professor Orhe Arek-Bawa shared how this research is being adapted for a book titled, Assessment: Theory and Practice in Higher Education, which is set to be published later this year.
Ms Sethu Nguna an Instructional Designer at the UTLO examined her topic of Student Voices in Shaping Assessment Practices at UKZN and the extent to which students are afforded opportunities to negotiate and influence assessment practices, while Professor Randhir Rawatlal addressed the topic of how Advising at Scale: Pathways from Risk to Reward could predict and warn students of the potential of being at risk by using the mean of each class assessment. Dr Samukelisiwe Khumalo presented on Student Academic Success: Enhancing Potential Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude Students’ Success and discussed the use of the AutoScholar Advisor System to support and maintain students’ academic achievements.
Other presentations included: Graduate Attributes: Exploring Students Expectations; How Does the Programme Curriculum Design Influence Student Success? Reflective Voices of Final Year Undergraduate Students; Technology Enhanced Student Engagement with Student Support Services in the College of Health Sciences, UKZN; Students’ Attitudes Towards E-Learning in the College of Law and Management Studies, UKZN; and Entrenching Blended in “Blended Learning”.
In his closing address, Borden highlighted the importance of developing an evaluation design before creating an assessment system. ‘The key to education in the future lies in obtaining the information and making a connection in real-time. It’s not about retaining information anymore, but about having the skills to find it and apply it effectively.’
He encouraged Higher Education Institutions to take a step back on producing publications and to focus more on transformational outcomes. Borden urged academics to become more familiar and nuanced with online teaching strategies as holograms will play an increasingly important role in the future. He also highlighted the importance of the student voice, but questioned what role the voice of basic education plays.
Discussion sessions were held throughout the symposium, with the primary focus being whether the Higher Education degrees on offer are producing the required graduate attributes and promote graduate employability. Mr Abdulbaqi Badru, a Technology Consultant at UTLO reflected on the importance of reviewing whether Higher Education Institutions are meeting students’ expectations ‘when 90% of students expect to get jobs after they attain their qualification but are not’.
Words: Hlengiwe Khwela