New Academic Practitioners Programme: A holistic induction to academic life

27 July 2015
NAPP graduate Dr Buhle Zuma (psychology), at a 2013 NAPP function held that year, likened the experience of being a new academic to an octopus grappling with invisible walls.
NAPP graduate Dr Buhle Zuma (psychology), at a 2013 NAPP function held that year, likened the experience of being a new academic to an octopus grappling with invisible walls.

A safe, collegial space for new lecturers – those with no more than five years' teaching experience – to develop meaningful responses to the challenges facing them, their students and their classrooms. This is what the New Academic Practitioners Programme (NAPP) strives to be.

"We want to create a climate that encourages and supports UCT academics. We aim to enable the holistic development of professional practices for new teachers in higher education," says Assoc Prof Jeff Jawitz of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT).

CILT spearheads the New Academic Practitioners Programme (NAPP) with input from the Research Office and the Transformation Services Office. The NAPP team works with new academics to equip them with the basic skills they need as educators, researchers and members of the UCT community. To do this, they focus strongly on teaching, learning, technology and assessment. Given the growth of and need for greater diversity within the student body and academic ranks, the issue of transformation is also high on the priority list.

Since its inception in 2004, no fewer than 400 academic staff members have come through this five-day programme (spread out over a semester) – which includes a three-day residential retreat at Mont Fleur Conference Centre and two one-day, oncampus workshops.

As a key component of the NAPP experience, participants identify critical teaching challenges they'd like to explore over the semester. To support these projects, the NAPP team consults with participants and visits their classrooms, to observe them teaching and offer constructive feedback.

Great for networking

Dr Connie Bitso from the Library and Information Studies Centre was part of the 2013 NAPP cohort. She describes her experience as overwhelmingly positive: "It was not only about improving my teaching and recalling the learning strategies and theories that I learnt in education ages ago; and it proved to be a great networking forum. I connected with people that I did not know, with whom I still interact even today.

"NAPP reminded me that teaching and learning is about human development in totality – that it occurs in a social space that is characterised by an array of factors. Consequently, every aspect of it has to be meaningful and planned with care, because it is more than just achieving the learning objectives stipulated in our course outlines."

Dr Dean Chapman, a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, appreciated the "simple but sound advice on how to structure a lecture and enable learners to keep track. Another thing I learnt was that the use of technology must defi nitely not be viewed as an end in itself. Technology should be used to usher students into the lecture," he said.

A space for critical reflection

Through the programme, Dr Emma Fergus from the Department of Commercial Law learnt to reflect continuously on her teaching. "There is always something I can do to improve my teaching. Time constraints, busy schedules and lack of technological knowhow need not be obstacles to better teaching.

"Prioritising teaching is absolutely part of my job, and so I shouldn't feel bad about setting research aside (if only for a while) in order to do so. Related to this and perhaps most importantly, I've learnt that teaching can be fun no matter how dull the subject matter!"

NAPP convenor Kasturi Behari-Leak comments on how critical programmes such as NAPP, are early on in any academic's career: "The sooner new academics feel enabled and included, the easier it is for them to contribute in meaningful ways to UCT and higher education in general."

Story by Abigail Calata. Photo by Raymond Botha.

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