University of the Free State: The Centre for Teaching and Learning celebrates ten years of excellence

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A caring collaboration has been key to the success of the University of the Free State (UFS) Centre of Teaching and Learning (CTL) over the past decade. With a complement of only four staff members on the Qwaqwa Campus at its inception in 2012, the center has grown its footprint on the campus and now boasts 21 permanent staff.

A major contribution to various projects and research was part of this success. In the past ten years, 223 national and 52 international conference papers were products of CTL. Publications include 288 research reports, two books, 93 articles/book chapters/peer-reviewed conference publications, and the supervision of 35 postgraduate students.

A collaborative approach was among the several important milestones. This approach is focused on continuously adapting to the strategic changes in the environment and the learning and teaching needs of faculties and students.
“Our successes would have been impossible without the support of top management, faculties (especially teaching and learning managers [TLMs]), support services, Student Affairs, and the participation of academics and students. We have worked very hard to ensure equity of provision across the Bloemfontein and Qwaqwa Campuses,” said Prof Francois Strydom, Senior Director in CTL.

Colleagues on the Qwaqwa Campus are equally participating in CTL and provide critical strategic perspectives on creating resilient learning and teaching approaches.

“Over the years, we have had the opportunity to provide important support for student success, such as the Reboot Packs during the 2015-2016 #FeesMustFall campaigns, as well as the #UFSTeachOn and #UFSLearnOn campaigns during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Its scholarship-driven approach is built on research and evidence-based practice in all its work. CTL projects are informed by research on national and international trends in specific areas and continuous needs analysis to ensure that the needs of academics and students are met.

A focus on impact has enabled visibility

Over the years, CTL has been involved in various high-impact practice (HIP) programmes and projects that have increased impact and exposure. Among these programmes are the following:

• The South African Surveys of Student Engagement (SASSE) – a recognised robust, longitudinal research project that has helped put students at the centre of institutional design.

• CTL initiatives played a learning role in the Siyaphumelela network, which focuses on improving student success.
• The A_STEP tutorial programme, which employs an average of 450 students annually, empowering them to support 13 000 of their peers to succeed and preparing them to be more employable.

• The Academic Language and Literacy Development (ALLD) team, which helps an average of 20 000 students per year through literacy courses and the Write Site.

According to Prof Strydom, CTL’s Central Advising Office provides the only training for academic advisers nationally. It leads a collaborative grant for 14 Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) institutions to establish advising in South Africa, providing support to 15 000 students per year.

He also explained that these HIPs are leading examples of how to scale support for all students. The team supports 8 000 first-year students with their transition to university. They show a national collaborative work stream on the first-year experience in Siyaphumelela, contributing to the university’s narrative of making an impact.

Continuous innovation through diversity and phenomenal Kovsie talent

Although innovation, 4IR, and the COVID-19 pandemic have transformed learning and teaching, a key ingredient to its success has been CTL’s commitment to creating an equitable workplace where diversity is celebrated.

The diversity and phenomenal talent of UFS graduates who choose to start their careers with CTL have enabled the centre to adapt and continuously innovate.

“All these aspects position CTL well for new exciting initiatives such as the graduate attributes, EDED: e-portfolio, data-driven and digitally enhanced academic advising, senior student orientation, enhancing employability of UFS graduates, and blended learning innovation support, to name a few,” Prof Strydom said.

While recognising excellent practices and identifying areas for future growth are vital, the ultimate objective is to build long-term teaching excellence. These aspects also provided an opportunity to delve deeper into several aspects of existing policies and practices.

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