Twenty new, full-time academics have celebrated their completion of the New Academic Practitioners’ Programme (NAPP), a holistic programme of professional development for new lecturers at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
Over the six-month programme, they’ve brought with them energy, new ways of looking at the curriculum and innovative ideas about teaching.
The NAPP, which was established in 2004 and is hosted by UCT’s Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), is open to new full-time academics with not more than five years’ experience in higher education.
The programme starts with a three-day residential retreat in Stellenbosch and includes two one-day workshops on campus. There are two cohorts of 20 participants each, per semester.
“The main purpose is for new academics to be introduced to higher education in the context of UCT,” said Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, at an event at Glenara on 10 December to honour the participants.
“It introduces you to the debates that are currently important in higher education and we create space for you to introduce your voice and your thinking about issues.
“It’s not often people from oceanography meet people from gender studies and statistics. It’s an opportunity to meet and build relationships. It could also lead to collaborations that are unusual,” she said.
She called on the new lecturers to put the interests of their students first.
“Often academics will talk about how hot their course is, because people are failing it. They say: ‘If you survive that killer course, it means we are hot.’
“I would like us to start challenging ourselves, as academics, to see student success as our business and our responsibility. If your student fails, you fail as well.”
Deep focus on reflection
Phakeng said it was also important to engage on decoloniality during the NAPP.
“We believe it’s important to open the space for other knowledge systems – not just from the West – but we have to be intellectual in the way we do that. It’s not about driving a new gospel that will silence everything else and that we all have to believe in.
“It’s [about] introducing new knowledges that we respect.”
NAPP convenor kasturi Behari-Leak said the programme is much more than a training exercise.
“We consider it as a six-month journey. There’s a deep focus on reflection, asserting and inserting your voice into lecturing, and developing self-esteem,” she explained, adding that it offers a real opportunity to examine the strengths of what UCT offers – and how to mediate and work around the challenges.
“It introduces you to the debates that are currently important in higher education and we create space for you to introduce your voice and your thinking about issues.”
Last year the NAPP was expanded into a regional programme, taking in new lecturers from other universities too.
The Department of Higher Education and Training also recently asked Behari-Lea to run a national programme.
Across the faculties
The 20 participants, across all faculties, were introduced to the Vice-Chancellor and guests at the function by their deans and senior academics. As part of the NAPP, many participants also completed a teaching project based on their classrooms or on their curriculum, and were awarded certificates at the event.
Participant Thebe Mokone, a lecturer in Chemical Engineering who has come to UCT after four years as a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), described himself as “an accidental academic – who is loving it at the moment”.
Professor Katalin Wilkinson from the Faculty of Health Sciences, which is home to seven of the new lecturers, thanked the NAPP for “making new lecturers feel part of the university”.
Before joining UCT as a lecturer in the Occupational Therapy division, in the mental health cluster of the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Sophia Allie worked in South Africa for 10 years followed by a further seven in Australia.
“I have worked with children, in workplace rehabilitation and also within mental health. I have had varied life experience and I would like to share that with the students,” she said.
Gender studies lecturer Zamambo Mkhize has a few strings to her bow. Her talent as a tennis player earned her a full undergraduate scholarship to the University of Florida. She was also a Fulbright Fellow and has now ploughed her energy into issues such as polygamy and African feminism.
Fatima Seedat, also a gender studies lecturer, has a long track record as an activist, focusing on women living under Muslim laws. She has worked in Canada, in the United Kingdom and at the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa.
Teaching is a calling
The Commerce faculty was well represented, with 11 academics in the NAPP, eight of them from the College of Accounting. Several of the lecturers have had experience in the private sector, while others pursued an academic career after their studies.
Godfrey Ndlovu, who hails from Zimbabwe, earned a PhD in Finance from UCT before deciding to become a lecturer in the School of Economics, teaching financial economics.
“Teaching is not a profession, but a calling. My goal is to challenge students to recognise their unique potential and ability,” he said.
Other lecturers at the function came from fields as diverse as urban planning and marine biology, and spoke about their varied interests such as energy democracy and the ethics of sustainability.
“I would like us to start challenging ourselves, as academics, to see student success as our business and our responsibility.”
Professor Alan Cliff, acting dean of the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED), said the benefits of the programme continue far beyond the six-month programme.
“What this event does is to bring together a community of people who have a common base as new academics, either at UCT or new to higher education. It’s a great opportunity to look for synergies.”
NAPP administrator Avrill Dawson said her time with the programme over the years has been very rewarding.
“I’m more than an administrator. I give feedback and I sit in on the lessons. They make me feel part of the team, and that is such a good experience. I see this programme improving all the time, and it’s great to be part of it.”
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