‘Phygital’ Summer School: innovation and learning outside UCT’s walls

09 December 2021 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo Getty Images. Read time 9 min.
Summer School, in 2022, will be a ‘phygital’ occasion – a hybrid event offering both physical (in-person) and digital courses.
Summer School, in 2022, will be a ‘phygital’ occasion – a hybrid event offering both physical (in-person) and digital courses.

The 72nd season of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Summer School, in 2022, will be a ‘phygital’ occasion – a hybrid event offering both physical (in-person) and digital courses, from 10 to 29 January. It’s one of the highlights of the university’s calendar, and the next edition offers new features and a fresh approach designed to make it an “education everywhere” experience, in line with UCT’s pillar of transformation.

Where possible, and in line with COVID-19 safety protocols, some courses will be presented live in lecture theatres and classrooms in the Kramer Law  Building on middle campus, but with restricted attendance. Bookings for these lectures will be on a first-come-first-served basis.

And thanks to rebranding and new focus, the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies (EMS) has designed a programme that offers a feast of learning with something for everyone, no matter where in the world they are – “an immersive and collaborative process”, said Dr Medeé Rall, the head of EMS.

Summer School is the largest public education programme of its kind in Africa, bringing together academics, industry experts, thought leaders and audience members from around the world.

A new-look brochure corrals courses into eight categories, each colour-coded according to a ‘wheel of knowledge’.

These are:

  • the arts: music, film, design
  • history, heritage, legacy and law
  • science, engineering and the built environment
  • technology, innovation, IT
  • language and psychology
  • conservation and nature
  • medicine, wellness, health
  • philosophy, politics, social justice, current affairs, economics.

The programme features collaborative, practical art and writing, but also “In Conversation” sessions with top presenters.

 

“UCT Summer School now reaches a more diverse community of alumni and friends around the world.”

UCT Summer School’s offerings address a vast range of interests. Underlying each course and special lecture is the desire to unleash human potential, whether it is in Cape Town, the rest of South Africa, other parts of the continent or the world,” said Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng in her introduction to the programme.

The Summer School theme – Education Everywhere – is pivotal to the Summer School team’s new mandate to extend its reach into ‘non-traditional’ communities and take some courses into the townships.

“By integrating with the Development and Alumni Department (DAD) and migrating our course content to digital platforms, UCT Summer School now reaches a more diverse community of alumni and friends around the world, including via livestreaming into resource-poor communities. In this way, the 72-year-old UCT Summer School tradition remains young at heart and agile,” said Professor Phakeng.

For the first time, Summer School will offer:

  • isiXhosa, Afrikaans and Afrikaaps language courses
  • courses that earn Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points
  • courses that can be viewed across the world, at times preferred by participants
  • access to university learning for resource-poor communities, linked to certificates of attendance
  • courses clustered in an innovative manner for ease of choice
  • the purchase of books related to online courses via a direct link from the website
  • a digital brochure and automated booking system that takes participants seamlessly to the UCT Summer School website and booking site for each selected course
  • pictograms and training videos, to support access to the Microsoft Teams platform
  • early-bird discounts for alumni and members of UCT’s Legacy Society
  • key opportunities for sponsorship, to align like-minded corporate entities with the university’s objectives and interests.

You can also gift a course to someone or donate to the Summer School’s bursary fund, which bolsters the “education everywhere” strategy.

Transformation is key

The transformation aspect underpins everything, from curriculum and course design to a plan to livestream certain courses into communities via the Philippi Hub, UCT’s first community satellite, and Equal Education, a movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members working for quality and equality in South African education, said Dr Rall.

The work being done to connect Summer School to new audiences and communities is led by EMS senior education specialist, Dr Zuleiga Adams, and senior intern, Lindokuhle Patiwe.

 

“Universities as public institutions had a responsibility to disseminate their accumulated knowledge to a wider public beyond the walls of the academy.”

Dr Adams said Summer School’s roots were in extending its public education mandate, which it first began after World War II to assist ex-servicemen returning to South Africa.

As such, the programme has evolved alongside the country’s history, said Adams.

Added Rall: “Two main lines of influence stand behind UCT’s commitment to extramural work. The first was the British tradition of university extension, which had its roots in the 19th century. Second is the guiding idea that as public institutions universities had a responsibility to disseminate their accumulated knowledge to a wider public beyond the walls of the academy.”

It is part of UCT’s history that the university has provided public lectures to the citizens of Cape Town since the early years of the 20th century. It was in the 1950s that the university committed full-time staff and resources to this work. The change in policy was linked to the ideals of the post-war reconstruction for democracy, said Rall.

 

“The school’s origins lie in responding to the needs of those who were disadvantaged by a world-historical event.”

The South African Defence Force education corps played an important role in adult education by broadening the minds of their recruits. But after the war, many men sought to continue this work, and the Department of Extramural Studies was seen as the right vehicle for the job.

Adams added: “Specifically, it took off because the war had interrupted the ex-servicemen’s education. The Summer School series of lectures was for their benefit. That highlights the concept of the social responsiveness. This point is crucial, as the school’s origins lie in responding to the needs of those who were disadvantaged by a world-historical event.”

Education direct

That understanding of social responsiveness has changed in today’s circumstances, where the focus is still on creating equal access to learning, but this time for a different sector of society: those disadvantaged by apartheid.

As Adams said, this reinforces the school’s fundamental purpose, to provide the public with access to the knowledge held within the university.

“And today, we are dealing with a ‘phygital’ iteration,” said Adams.

But there’s more to it, said Patiwe, whose task is to develop new audiences in new communities under-serviced by UCT – still seen as an ivory tower “on the hill”.

 

“Our official mandate is to take the university resources to broader society.”

UCT’s geographical location and general inaccessibility to many communities presented a challenge to the team; one that Patiwe has taken on. There are opportunities to expand Summer School, and curate courses tailored to new, wider audiences.

“Our official mandate is to take the university resources to broader society,” he said. “These are not university graduates, but they are interested in lifelong learning. The way we make UCT’s resources available is to take them to the people, into [the] community and [the] NGO hubs in the townships.”

Danger of intellectual Bantustan

In 2022 Summer School will livestream selected courses into targeted communities.

But this is not a perfect solution, Patiwe said.

“There is a danger of creating an intellectual Bantustan, where the typical white middle class attends courses on campus, and everyone else relies on livestreamed courses off-site. The experience is not the same. They miss the vital and vibrant question-and-answer sessions, a very key part of any intellectual discussion.”

By creating partnerships in the townships, Patiwe hopes to see lectures being presented live in Khayelitsha and the Philippi Hub. In fact, the concept of taking Summer School to the people was pioneered in 2019, when Summer School courses were delivered in Athlone.

“We have an opportunity to broaden that now,” said Rall, “by going beyond the walls of the university.”

Rall is equally excited by the introduction of courses that earn CPD points.

“One CPD course is being advertised to all members of the Institute of Architects, so we’re hoping to draw in a professional audience too.”

*Correct at time of going live.


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