Brenda Leibowitz, Vivienne Bozalek
Susan van Schalkwyk, Chris Winberg

Context Matters: Academic
professional development ...
Context
Context: environment in which the (‘macro’)
features of the system are either reproduced or
transformed” (Archer 1...
Context
Multiple determination: multiple powers
reinforce or contradict each other.
“Causal efficacy” is a product of the ...
Professional development of teaching
•
•
•
•

Formal: formal programmes, short courses etc
Less structured: eg grants, col...
South African Higher Education
• Pop: 50 million; 23 universities
• Higher education influenced by apartheid past
– i.r.t....
Research Design
Participatory and collaborative
Multi-site
Macro, meso and micro levels
Meso:
Cape Peninsula University of...
Research Design
Meso:
Eight site reports (on the institution, its
policies and facilities)
Eight reflective reports (by he...
Research Design
8 response papers on factors that constrain and
enable:
quality teaching
uptake of professional developmen...
Research questions
• What structural and cultural properties
appear to constrain or enable quality teaching
and the profes...
Findings
Research questions
• What structural and cultural factors appear
to constrain or enable quality teaching and
the professio...
1. History, Geography and Resources
High staff turnover both within the centre – it is a
struggle to get people to stay, a...
2. Leadership and stability
When we have a DVC academic who has a full
understanding, things go smoothly, but in instances...
3. Discourses around teaching and
learning
Intrinsic value of teaching
I love teaching. … I just love it
Teaching v. resea...
4. Systems for Reward and Recognition
Work has been done to make a valuing of quality
teaching explicit within the descrip...
5. Capacity, Image and Status of CTL
staff
We are viewed as a support centre with an academic
function. We are not given f...
Research questions
• What structural and cultural factors appear to
constrain or enable quality teaching and the
professio...
How these play out in different
contexts
• Multidetermination (mutually reinforcing causal
powers)
Eg. UOT7: Staff student...
Research Limitations
• Some data based to a degree on selfreporting/views of very specific group
• Some data based on univ...
Significance
• Significance of multi-determination
• Structure and culture are frequently
interlinked
• Role of agency req...
Recommendations
National policies focusing on the enhancement of
teaching must take variation of local institutional
conte...
Recommendations
• Geography, history and resources
• Leadership and stability
• Discourses around teaching and learning
• ...
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Leibowitz, bozalek, van schalkwyk and winberg

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  • There is an increasing tendency for educational policies to be context sensitive (Mathieson 2012, Trowler 2008, Bamber, Trowler, Saunders and Knight 2009). As an example of this concern with context, Blackmore, Chambers, Huxley and Thackwray (2010) call for “contextual intelligence”. The word “context” however has many meanings. It is often used to denote disciplinary context (cf. Mathieson 2102) or it can denote time, as in the phrase “in current contexts” or spheres such as “in the political context”. In the writing on situated learning the word “context” suggests learning occuring through practice (Lave, 1996) with a strong emphasis on history and biography (Lave, 2012). The word “context” is taken up in the work of Archer (1995) to imply “environment in which the (‘macro’) features of the system are either reproduced or transformed” (Archer 1995, p. 11). This can refer to any level, from macro to micro. An example of context at the macro level is the state, where South Africa is a context in which global features of the system are reproduced or transformed. At another level, higher education institutions are contexts in which features of the higher education sector may be either reproduced or transformed. It is Archer’s definition of context which is most applicable to this article, as it focusses on the way that context may reflect or influence how change occurs in higher education, and why it is so important for policy to be context-sensitive.  We focus on the institution as an instantiation of a local context, with the caveat that higher education institutions are not homogenous and unitary entities, but often themselves assemblies of disciplinary influences, ideological positions and regimes of teaching and learning (Trowler 2008). Our study is based on the idea of the system consisting of two domains: structure and culture. The structural domain typically comprises “roles, organisations, institutions, systems” (Archer 1996, p. 1). The emphasis from a critical realist perspective is on “the arrangement of social relationships in the world” (Porpora 1998, p. 355) which would give rise to the rules and norms. Social structure operates at the macro domain, for example capitalism, or the micro domain, the university department. From to a critical realist perspective, structure includes the material conditions which would motivate action (Archer 1995; Porpora 1998). Culture is seen as the dominant register of ideas or propositions, and is not always coherent or unitary (Archer 1995). Archer and Elder-Vass (2012) understand culture as emerging from iterative cycles of interaction between the cultural system and socio-cultural interpretations.  In any setting an entity will have cultural or structural properties or powers (Elder-Vass, 2010). These powers will play the role of enablements or constraints. It is how they interplay with the third domain - human agency - that leads to the variability of outcome in any situation. Agency in the modern era is based on human reflexivity (Archer, 2007), a process of internal deliberation in which concerns, commitments and knowledgeability play a role.  However, Archer’s (2007) notion that actions depend on our knowledgeability implies that reflexivity alone is not sufficient to characterize how individuals respond to their conditions. For this reason our framework includes the concept emanating from the work of Bourdieu, of social, cultural and educational capital, as we would argue that reflexivity is itself influenced by our socially influenced dispositions and prior learning of various forms. A useful concept for investigating contexts such as higher education institutions and their role in fostering educational development (or lack thereof) is that of “emergence”. A university is not a simple “heap” of factors, but a set of relationships of powers. According to Elder-Vass (2010, p. 8) with reference to Bhaskar, multiple powers of an entity interfere or reinforce each other, leading to “multiple determination”. Elder-Vass writes, “Causal efficacy is a product of the parts and the relations combined” (2010, p. 23). This is instructive when considering how different organisations such as universities produce varied educational outcomes: we need to consider the parts that make up the organization, and how they interact, at different levels. Elder-Vass (2010, p. 28) uses the concept of a “tree structure” rather than that of “layering” to imply that emerging outcomes are not simply a layer of one property on another, but a multiple possibility of outcomes that emerge in different directions. This allows for more complex, messy and unpredictable outcomes, but ones which we can explore in order to better understand how change occurs.  Our framework thus takes “context” to be a set of relationships of various causal powers which can be analysed in relation to the domains of structure, culture and agency. These domains are separated for the purposes of understanding the interplay of relations, but they are not separate entities in their own right. Contexts – in this case individual higher education institutions – are the settings in which the systemic relations interact with the human or individual.
  • There is an increasing tendency for educational policies to be context sensitive (Mathieson 2012, Trowler 2008, Bamber, Trowler, Saunders and Knight 2009). As an example of this concern with context, Blackmore, Chambers, Huxley and Thackwray (2010) call for “contextual intelligence”. The word “context” however has many meanings. It is often used to denote disciplinary context (cf. Mathieson 2102) or it can denote time, as in the phrase “in current contexts” or spheres such as “in the political context”. In the writing on situated learning the word “context” suggests learning occuring through practice (Lave, 1996) with a strong emphasis on history and biography (Lave, 2012). The word “context” is taken up in the work of Archer (1995) to imply “environment in which the (‘macro’) features of the system are either reproduced or transformed” (Archer 1995, p. 11). This can refer to any level, from macro to micro. An example of context at the macro level is the state, where South Africa is a context in which global features of the system are reproduced or transformed. At another level, higher education institutions are contexts in which features of the higher education sector may be either reproduced or transformed. It is Archer’s definition of context which is most applicable to this article, as it focusses on the way that context may reflect or influence how change occurs in higher education, and why it is so important for policy to be context-sensitive.  We focus on the institution as an instantiation of a local context, with the caveat that higher education institutions are not homogenous and unitary entities, but often themselves assemblies of disciplinary influences, ideological positions and regimes of teaching and learning (Trowler 2008). Our study is based on the idea of the system consisting of two domains: structure and culture. The structural domain typically comprises “roles, organisations, institutions, systems” (Archer 1996, p. 1). The emphasis from a critical realist perspective is on “the arrangement of social relationships in the world” (Porpora 1998, p. 355) which would give rise to the rules and norms. Social structure operates at the macro domain, for example capitalism, or the micro domain, the university department. From to a critical realist perspective, structure includes the material conditions which would motivate action (Archer 1995; Porpora 1998). Culture is seen as the dominant register of ideas or propositions, and is not always coherent or unitary (Archer 1995). Archer and Elder-Vass (2012) understand culture as emerging from iterative cycles of interaction between the cultural system and socio-cultural interpretations.  In any setting an entity will have cultural or structural properties or powers (Elder-Vass, 2010). These powers will play the role of enablements or constraints. It is how they interplay with the third domain - human agency - that leads to the variability of outcome in any situation. Agency in the modern era is based on human reflexivity (Archer, 2007), a process of internal deliberation in which concerns, commitments and knowledgeability play a role.  However, Archer’s (2007) notion that actions depend on our knowledgeability implies that reflexivity alone is not sufficient to characterize how individuals respond to their conditions. For this reason our framework includes the concept emanating from the work of Bourdieu, of social, cultural and educational capital, as we would argue that reflexivity is itself influenced by our socially influenced dispositions and prior learning of various forms. A useful concept for investigating contexts such as higher education institutions and their role in fostering educational development (or lack thereof) is that of “emergence”. A university is not a simple “heap” of factors, but a set of relationships of powers. According to Elder-Vass (2010, p. 8) with reference to Bhaskar, multiple powers of an entity interfere or reinforce each other, leading to “multiple determination”. Elder-Vass writes, “Causal efficacy is a product of the parts and the relations combined” (2010, p. 23). This is instructive when considering how different organisations such as universities produce varied educational outcomes: we need to consider the parts that make up the organization, and how they interact, at different levels. Elder-Vass (2010, p. 28) uses the concept of a “tree structure” rather than that of “layering” to imply that emerging outcomes are not simply a layer of one property on another, but a multiple possibility of outcomes that emerge in different directions. This allows for more complex, messy and unpredictable outcomes, but ones which we can explore in order to better understand how change occurs.  Our framework thus takes “context” to be a set of relationships of various causal powers which can be analysed in relation to the domains of structure, culture and agency. These domains are separated for the purposes of understanding the interplay of relations, but they are not separate entities in their own right. Contexts – in this case individual higher education institutions – are the settings in which the systemic relations interact with the human or individual.
  • There are a number of short courses, formal qualifications and professional development programmes offered in South African higher education institutions. These tend to be provided by centralized education development support units (in the case of formal qualifications, in collaboration with faculties or academic departments of education). There are also a number of non-formal, research- or project-based academic staff development initiatives that reflect the diverse missions and cultures of institutions and departments (e.g. Winberg 2008), thus a number of professional development models currently exist. There is also a body of literature that maintains that academics learn to teach informally, from the colleagues that they interact with regularly. This more cohesive group within a department is referred to as the “workgroup” (Trowler, 2008). It can also be argued that teachers learn by doing, continued practice and experimentation (Berliner, 2001). In this case their learning would be influenced by their own motivation and by encouragement from other academics and students. Teachers cannot be understood as isolated entities but always as linked through a network of resources and practices that help to define individuals within their contexts. Thus, for example, particular instruments, laboratory environments, artefacts and social relationships help to define the identity of the scientist, whose agency is influenced by this broader network (Bourdieu 2004).
  • 8 universities
  • Leibowitz, bozalek, van schalkwyk and winberg

    1. 1. Brenda Leibowitz, Vivienne Bozalek Susan van Schalkwyk, Chris Winberg Context Matters: Academic professional development in South African Higher Education NRF Project: Structure, Culture and Agency Pretoria, HELTASA 2013
    2. 2. Context Context: environment in which the (‘macro’) features of the system are either reproduced or transformed” (Archer 1995, p. 11). This can refer to any level, from macro to micro. Context: the settings in which the systemic relations interact with the human or individual. Interplay of systemic (cultural and structural and agentic) features which have causal Powers
    3. 3. Context Multiple determination: multiple powers reinforce or contradict each other. “Causal efficacy” is a product of the parts and the relations combined” (Elder-Vass, 2010:28) “Tree structure” (Elder-Vass 2010: 28) – multiple possibility of outcomes that emerge in different directions
    4. 4. Professional development of teaching • • • • Formal: formal programmes, short courses etc Less structured: eg grants, collaborative schemes Situated learning, in context and via practice Encouraged by the environment – policies and practice • PD = what people learn, what they apply and what they are encouraged or enabled by the environment to acquire
    5. 5. South African Higher Education • Pop: 50 million; 23 universities • Higher education influenced by apartheid past – i.r.t. race and class – Institutions and what they provide • Institutions vary according to: – Institutional type – Geographical location – Merged or not – Previously advantaged v. disadvantaged
    6. 6. Research Design Participatory and collaborative Multi-site Macro, meso and micro levels Meso: Cape Peninsula University of Technology Durban University of Technology Rhodes University Stellenbosch University University of Cape Town University of Venda University of the Western Cape
    7. 7. Research Design Meso: Eight site reports (on the institution, its policies and facilities) Eight reflective reports (by heads of CLTs) (Data based on reports in public domain and perceptions of CTL Heads)
    8. 8. Research Design 8 response papers on factors that constrain and enable: quality teaching uptake of professional development opportunities work of the Centre for Teaching and Learning
    9. 9. Research questions • What structural and cultural properties appear to constrain or enable quality teaching and the professional development of academics in their teaching roles? • Are these factors linked to specific types of university contexts?
    10. 10. Findings
    11. 11. Research questions • What structural and cultural factors appear to constrain or enable quality teaching and the professional development of academics in their teaching roles? • Are these factors linked to specific types of university contexts?
    12. 12. 1. History, Geography and Resources High staff turnover both within the centre – it is a struggle to get people to stay, although the same could be said about the faculties, you work with them in the department, come next year, there are new people. At [our one rural campus] we struggle to retain staff because the town is not able to offer amenities, eg decent shopping, decent school for the kids, the university is not paying as much as other universities. Housing is a problem in [the rural campus], people stay in [nearby more comfortable towns] this commuting becomes too much… (HDI5).
    13. 13. 2. Leadership and stability When we have a DVC academic who has a full understanding, things go smoothly, but in instances where we had a DVC academic who was not so sure, things would not go as smoothly. Then the Director [of the TLC+ must explain and convince… (HDI5). Regular changes in leadership … result*ing] in differing strategic visions, organisational restructuring and financial outlays as they left the institution… the institution has had five Vice Chancellors since 2002.The longest period of service at this level has been two and a half years … Simultaneously there have been three DVCs … with various Deans acting in between (UoT8).
    14. 14. 3. Discourses around teaching and learning Intrinsic value of teaching I love teaching. … I just love it Teaching v. research push for the PhD (HAI3), focus on research (UoT8) Them v. us (Teachers v. CLT staff) then people turn around and say: ‘they refuse to help us’ (HAI1) lack of concern, knowledge or understanding of who our students are (HAI1), Blame the student under-preparedness on the part of the lecturers which shows itself when lecturers do not know how to deal with students from diverse backgrounds and lecturers who cannot vary their teaching methods (HDI5).
    15. 15. 4. Systems for Reward and Recognition Work has been done to make a valuing of quality teaching explicit within the descriptors around promotion and the merit awards … Having made the criteria explicit, has enabled people to have the conversation about promotion and future career which encourages them to take up the opportunities (HAI1)
    16. 16. 5. Capacity, Image and Status of CTL staff We are viewed as a support centre with an academic function. We are not given full academic status. It is constraining because some academics don’t take us seriously. They say we are not academics, we are looked at as a para-professional. It becomes difficult, if I must have an oversight role on what is happening in the classroom, and they say ‘you are a para-professional’. Even though we offer the PGDHE, we can’t run it ourselves, all the admin is done via the Faculty of Education. We are even denied to be in the graduation procession. We had to fight that (HDI5).
    17. 17. Research questions • What structural and cultural factors appear to constrain or enable quality teaching and the professional development of academics in their teaching roles? • Are these factors linked to specific types of university contexts?
    18. 18. How these play out in different contexts • Multidetermination (mutually reinforcing causal powers) Eg. UOT7: Staff student ratio Timetabling committee Vision of teaching as an ex technicon • Multidetermination (contrasting causal powers) Eg UOT8: Leadership instability Strong vision of CTL staff • Enablements and constraints are viewed differently in these different settings • Enablements and constraints not only at HAIs or vice versa
    19. 19. Research Limitations • Some data based to a degree on selfreporting/views of very specific group • Some data based on university self-portrayal eg information on university websites • Information on the domain of agency very limited
    20. 20. Significance • Significance of multi-determination • Structure and culture are frequently interlinked • Role of agency requires more attention: to what extent is it linked to biography, expertise, etc? • Systematic features - cultural and structural – can change.
    21. 21. Recommendations National policies focusing on the enhancement of teaching must take variation of local institutional contexts into account, especially wrt: • Geography, history and resources • Leadership and stability • Discourses around teaching and learning • Reward and recognition • Status and capacity of CTL staff
    22. 22. Recommendations • Geography, history and resources • Leadership and stability • Discourses around teaching and learning • Reward and recognition • Status and capacity of CTL staff These properties can also serve as heuristics for strategies to enhance professional development wrt teaching
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