Several initiatives to enhance the quality of teaching & learning experience in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES) were undertaken by the Teaching & Learning Office, headed by Professor Naven Chetty, and assisted by:
- Academic leaders (Teaching & Learning),
- Teaching & Learning committees of the five Schools in the College –
- Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences,
- Chemistry and Physics,
- Life Sciences,
- Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Sciences, and
- Academic development officers.
The University Capacity Development Project (UCDP) funded most of these activities, which included:
- academic monitoring and support,
- curriculum transformation and development,
- teaching capacity development for academic staff, and
- initiatives to improve access and throughput using interventions in various programmes.
The current focus of the Teaching & Learning Office is aligned to the University’s strategic plan of 2017-2021, which is committed to transformation and excellence.
Academic Monitoring and Support (AMS) Programmes
The main AMS programmes in CAES include Supplemental Instruction (SI), HOT seat tutorials, Writing Place, Peer Mentorship Programme, Residence Tutorials and academic consultations with the students.
Supplemental Instruction sessions were organised for level one to three modules (table 9) across the five Schools, for modules with poor pass rates over the past three years, and/or with large student numbers. These sessions, facilitated by trained SI leaders, promoted peer collaborative learning experiences. Detailed analyses of results for various modules with SI showed that students who attended SI regularly stood a greater chance of passing the module and obtained a higher quality pass in terms of average marks. For many modules, a statistical comparison was done for SI attendees and non-SI attendees by selecting a comparable number of students in both categories (by random sampling), and performing a Chi-square test for comparing pass percentages and a t-test to compare the average marks obtained by the students.
The analyses showed that although not applicable for all modules, the higher pass rate and average marks for SI attending students compared with the non-attending students was statistically significant.
These are walk-in sessions where the students can get assistance without prior appointments. HOT seat tutors were available at these sessions to provide one-on-one assistance or assistance in small groups with particular modules. The students could also communicate with the HOT seat tutors through dedicated HOT seat emails for short queries. HOT seats were mainly available for modules in the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (SMSCS), School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP) and School of Agriculture, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES).
Writing Place tutors assisted students with academic writing skills and students in the School of Life Sciences (SLS) and SAEES mainly made use of this facility. In the School of Life Sciences, during 2018 semester 2, only 59 students attended the Writing Place. However, in 2019 semester 1, there was a marked improvement in the number of students who attended. Eighty-eight students in Westville and 54 student in PMB visited this facility to seek help.
Residence tutorials were organised both on and off campus in the evenings to enable students to be part of a structured study time. This intervention was very well received; analyses of pass rates showed that a large percentage (>90%) of the students who attended residence tutorials passed their respective modules.
Postgraduate students were appointed as peer mentors for students from all levels of study. These mentors followed up on their studies and assisted them with study skills whenever needed. The students assisted were those deemed to be “at risk” or underperforming according to the University Exclusion Policy. It was envisaged that they would have contact with mentors on a weekly basis to discuss their challenges and would be referred to various existing interventions if necessary. Activities included assessing challenges faced by students, time management workshops, motivational speeches, CV writing workshops and study skill workshops. Attempts to facilitate one-on-one meetings between peer mentors and students were not well received.
Workshops for students
Two to three workshops were organised for the undergraduate students of CAES in each semester. These included a workshop on B.Sc. degree structure and the ROBOT system for academic monitoring, a workshop on time management, a workshop on exam preparation, leadership training for leaders, and a CV writing workshop.
Workshop on High Impact Scientific Writing and Biostatistics
In SLS, a writing workshop was held for postgraduate students in the School of Life Sciences and young academics in the Biotechnology (Westville) cluster, on the basics of high-impact scientific writing and basic biostatistics. The participants were exposed to various aspects of thesis or dissertation writing, as well as the journal peer-review process. The workshop also helped to equip postgraduate students and young academics with basic skills of statistical analysis of research data. This is relevant because peer-reviewed journals require authors to provide evidence that data generated during their research are reliable and of good quality, and have been statistically analysed for correct and accurate inferences. The workshop was attended by a total of 97 postgraduate students (MSc and PhD) who came from the various disciplines in the School of Life Sciences.
Top Achievers Mentorship Programme
Top achievers with high credit-weighted averages, multiple Dean’s Commendation and Certificates of Merit were identified in SLS on both campuses. Around 14 such students were placed in various research laboratories as per their qualification to get first-hand experience of various scientific techniques and research fields. Students were exposed to the concept of different research areas in their chosen discipline for four weeks. The ultimate purpose was to target potential honours students in various streams in the School and encourage top students to continue in academics, and research and development.
The feedback obtained from the students was very encouraging, with 100% of attendees agreeing that the programme met their expectation and their knowledge about postgraduate studies and the laboratory work expected at that level increased. The students seemed to have learned a lot more during this programme than they would have learnt during regular practicals. Some students felt that they were able to learn about the practical application of the concepts they had learnt in lectures, which will be very beneficial in their future careers.
The Academic Development Officers regularly meet with students on a one-on-one basis to review their academic progress. Most of the students who came for academic consultations were those students deemed to be “at risk” or underperforming academically. Across the different campuses, the ADOs consulted with 1284 students in 2018 semester 2 and 1264 students in 2019 semester 1. These students were assisted with academic advice and degree progression information, study skills, time management and guidance on how to succeed academically. Students who were consistently failing tests were also invited for academic counselling and advised about the academic support available for the modules. Students who exhibited trauma, food insecurity, and other socio-psychological issues were directed to student counsellors.
Curriculum Transformation and Development
The Dean of Teaching & Learning (T&L) in CAES, and the Academic Leaders (T&L) for the various Schools in the College spearheaded curriculum transformation and development initiatives. The interventions ranged from broad theme-based workshops on curriculum development, transformation, student throughput and decolonisation of higher education to strengthening tutorials for modules. The workshops were facilitated by experts at UKZN and some from other universities around the country.
In SLS, staff were appointed on fixed-term contracts in order to conduct a detailed evaluation of the curriculum, including four modules in particular: BIOL 101, BIOL 200, BIOL 305, and RDNA 202. The recommendations of these evaluations and those from the T&L committee led to the formation of two committees that undertook the merger of BIOL 101 with BIMI 120 and BIOL 205 with RDNA 202. A common first-year curriculum for most programmes/majors in SLS has been approved by University structures and has been implemented from 2019. This is expected to help students to have a similar skill set which can be used across various programmes/majors. if they wish to change during the course of the degree.
In SMSCS, academic staff were identified to champion similar projects in the disciplines of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. As a result, the curriculum is being reviewed for first-level MATH modules for engineering students (MATH131 and MATH132) and a transformed curriculum has been developed for STAT130. In addition, flipped classroom technology is being implemented for first-level COMP modules (COMP100 and COMP102). Projects on curriculum review and re-designing of curricula are being undertaken in the other Schools as well. SAEES academics concentrated on the discipline of Geology as a vehicle for reviewing/developing curricula and building capacity within a discipline. Four projects involved curriculum development in the School of Chemistry and Physics (SCP). These included: (1) Physics demonstrations, (2) PHYS 131 practical, (3) Restructuring of old modules and (4) Introduction of new modules.
Poor attendance and engagement of students at tutorials highlighted a need to strengthen all the tutorials offered in the SMSCS in general and the Mathematics tutorials in particular. Based on the discussions at the School T&L Committee meetings, several initiatives have been taken in this regard. One of the initiatives was to include online diagnostic quizzes as part of the tutorial requirements for the first-year gatekeeper modules (MATH130 & MATH140). The students are encouraged to attempt these quizzes as part of the tutorials. These quizzes help them to understand their areas of weaknesses so that they can seek necessary academic support, which can help them improve academically. Another initiative was to introduce supplemental instruction principles into mainstream Mathematics tutorials, where the students are divided into smaller groups and encouraged to study collaboratively.
Teaching Capacity Development for Academic Staff
Workshops were conducted (table 10) and experts were appointed to assist academic staff with the development of on-line resources to facilitate blended learning and flipped classroom approaches. Currently, online resources are being developed for modules such as MATH131, MATH132, COMP100, STAT130, PHYS110, and BIOL101, to mention a few.
Initiatives to Improve Access and Throughput
The Centre for Success in Science and Engineering was established in 2018, to promote access and ensure maximum participation of students from previously disadvantaged and rural backgrounds. The establishment of this centre is expected to provide a home for these students and staff, as well as cater to the academic needs of students in the Access programme.
The Access students are allowed an additional year to complete their undergraduate degree through the B.Sc. Augmented Programme and they are given extra tuition in the first two years of their degree. During this time, students are closely monitored and interventions are put in place to develop them so that they can undertake mainstream courses. These measures help students to complete their degree in the minimum time possible and are expected to increase throughput.
A survey of the pass rates of modules across various Schools has been undertaken to evaluate bottleneck modules that limit degree progression. This will help in identifying the reasons for poor performance of students and instituting interventions to improve the pass rates of these modules. Various curriculum development initiatives in terms of content, content delivery and pedagogy, as well as curriculum reviews for programmes/majors were undertaken. These are focussed on improving articulation and throughput.
The Academic Development Officers under the leadership of the College Dean (T&L) in CAES and a few academic staff from CAES are engaged with research on various aspects of teaching & learning in the College. Some of the papers published in preparation and ongoing projects are mentioned below:
|2018||Maharaj A., & Dlomo T. Revelations from an online diagnostic arithmetic and algebra quiz for incoming students. South African Journal of Science. 114 (5/6) (DOI: 10.17159/sajs.2018/20170078).|
|2018||Maharaj A., & Ntuli M. Students’ ability to correctly apply differentiation rules to structurally different functions. South African Journal of Science, 114 (11/12) (DOI: 10.17159/sajs.2018/5008).|
Papers submitted and in preparation:
- Correlation between student attendance in supplemental instruction programmes and student performance: a case study of two Schools at University of KwaZulu-Natal. (Authors: Dr Dalia Varghese, Dr Boby Varghese, Professor Aneshkumar Maharaj, Professor Ademola Olaniran, and Professor Naven Chetty.) Submitted to the journal Teaching in Higher Education.
- Staff perception of the effectiveness of the University Education Induction Programme in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, UKZN. (Authors: Professor Naven Chetty, Mr Godfrey Marumure, Dr Boby Varghese, Dr Dalia Varghese, and Mr Ashwin Manival.) Paper in preparation.
- A holistic approach for evaluating the Supplemental Instruction Programme. (Authors: Professor Naven Chetty, Mr Ashwin Manival, Dr Boby Varghese, Dr Dalia Varghese, Mr Godfrey Marumure, and Mr Rogerant Tshibangu.) Paper in preparation.
Ongoing research projects:
- Supplemental instruction in isiZulu: effect on academic success of first-year students in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, University of KwaZulu-Natal. (Project members: Professor Naven Chetty, Dr Dalia Varghese, Dr Boby Varghese, Mr Ashwin Manival and Mr Rogerant Tshibangu) Project funded by the University Capacity Development Project, UKZN.
- Professionalisation of undergraduate academic teaching in multiple disciplines to address Sustainable Development Goals. (Project members: Professor Bala Pillay, Professor Naven Chetty and Dr Dalia Varghese). Project funded by the United Nations.