A meta-Analysis of Teaching and Learning

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A Meta-Analysis of Teaching and Learning
at five
Research-Intensive South African Universities

Professor Chrissie Boughey

Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching & Learning
Rhodes University

Table of Contents

Table of Contents i

1 Introduction 1

2 An argument for ‘social’ understandings of teaching and learning 2

2.1 Two models of learning and teaching 2

2.2 Privileging the autonomous 3

2.3 Sustaining the social 6

2.3.1 Gee’s Social Literacies 7

2.3.2 Bourdieu’s work on ‘cultural capital’ and ‘field’ 8

2.3.3 Communities of Practice 9

2.3.4 Identity 9

2.3.5 Bernstein’s pedagogic device and horizontal and vertical discourses 11

2.4 Developing social understandings 11

3 An analytical framework for the research 14

3.1 Bhaskar’s Critical Realism 14

3.2 Archer’s Social Realism 16

4 Research design and methods 18

5 The Five Cases 22

5.1 The University of Pretoria 22

5.2 Rhodes University 22

5.2.1 The Actual 22

5.2.2 The Real 22 Culture 23 Structure 25 Agency 26

5.2.3 Conclusion 27

6 Cross-Case Analysis 28

6.1 Introduction 28

6.2 The Actual at the Five Research Intensive Universities 28

6.3 Culture 29

6.3.1 Privileging Research 29

6.3.2 Accountability and responsiveness 33

6.3.3 The autonomous ‘other’ 33

6.3.4 Teaching as best practice 35

6.3.5 eLearning 36

6.3.6 Conclusion 37

6.4 Structure 38

6.4.1 Traditional structures 38

6.4.2 New structures 39 Programme structures 39 Quality management structures 41

6.4.3 Conclusion 43

6.5 Agency 44

7 The institutional audits 46

7.1 The case studies 46

7.1.1 The University of Pretoria 46

7.1.2 The University of Cape Town 48

7.1.3 Rhodes University 51

7.1.4 The University of Stellenbosch 55

7.1.5 The University of the Witwatersrand 58

7.2 An overall comment 60

7.3 A way forward? 61

List of references 62


The research which underpins this report was commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) and focuses on a meta-analysis of teaching and learning at the five South African research-intensive institutions not affected by mergers: the University of Cape Town, Rhodes University, the University of Stellenbosch, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Pretoria. The research draws on three sets of documents: Self Evaluation Portfolios produced by the universities themselves and submitted to the HEQC as part of audit processes, the analyses of institutional data prepared by the HEQC, and the Audit Reports, again prepared by the HEQC. Other teaching and learning related documents, which were made available to Audit Panels during the audit processes, were also consulted. These documents included policies on teaching and learning, teaching and learning strategies and various other documents which provided statements about institutional understandings of teaching and learning.

This report falls into six sections. Following on from this introductory section, Section 2 argues for the need for what are termed ‘social’ understandings of teaching and learning at South African universities and, thus, for the particular theoretical frameworks informing the research. Section 3 outlines the ontological and epistemological assumptions underpinning the research and which form the basis for the model of teaching and learning which is outlined in later sections. Section 4 then provides details of the research approach and methods used. Section 5 contains case studies of the five universities studied in the research. Section 6 then develops an overall analysis of teaching and learning at the five universities based on the case studies. Section 7 concludes the report with an analysis of the extent to which audit reports picked up on issues identified in the meta-analysis and makes recommendations for future audits.

2An argument for ‘social’ understandings of teaching and learning

2.1Two models of learning and teaching

Approaches to understanding learning in higher education can be placed into two broad categories. The first category understands learning as an act which is dependent on factors inherent to the individual such as intelligence, aptitude, cognition, motivation and the availability of various ‘skills’ including language ‘skills’. Successful learners are then variously constructed as ‘intelligent’, ‘cognitively able’ and ‘motivated’ and a failure to learn attributed to a deficit in inherent capacities, to the fact that learners have not managed to acquire appropriate ‘skills’ or to a failure to exercise the agency to learn. In the South African context, and in the face of research (Scott et al., 2007) which shows, overwhelmingly, that the success rates of black students are far below those of their white peers, the discursive construction of learning as dependent on factors inherent to the individual such as cognition, intelligence and motivation is clearly problematic. Dominant discourses therefore tend to draw on the socio-economic context in order to argue that failures in learning are due to the inferior educational experiences available to the majority of students and which have resulted in their failure to develop i) their cognitive capacities to the full, ii) the learning ‘skills’ and approaches necessary to succeed in higher education or iii) the understandings of the behaviours needed to succeed and which drive motivation. In spite of this tendency to draw on context to explain poor learning and what, in liberal terms, is constructed as ‘disadvantage’ or ‘underpreparedness’, what remains is essentially an ‘autonomous’ model which locates the capacity (including the will) to learn within individuals.

The second category of understandings of learning acknowledges the socially constructed nature of learning (and, thus, of teaching). All students entering higher education clearly have the capacity to learn. Some, however, manage to learn in ways which are socially privileged and, thus, manage to construct and access forms of knowledge and knowledge construction which are also socially privileged by the university itself. The ability to access socially privileged ways of learning and knowledge construction is then understood to be dependent on the social communities to which the learner has access.

Of crucial importance in accessing socially privileged ways of learning and of knowledge construction are the communities of practice to which the learner belongs including the family of origin. Middle class child rearing practices, for example, have been shown (see, for example, Scollon & Scollon, 1981; Heath 1983) to act as precursors for schooling with the result that the child of a middle class home is much more ready to engage with school-based learning than children from other social groups. Middle class children are then supported in their school-based learning through practices which occur as a matter of course in their homes (Heath, 1983). While the provision of pre-school education might address some of the disparities between the ability of different social groups to succeed at school, in the context of higher education, the situation is complicated by the fact that school-based learning practices do not necessarily provide an induction into academic-learning practices and academic knowledge construction practices (see, for example, Geisler, 1993).

An example to clarify this point concerns the school-based practice of requiring learners to engage with what are commonly termed ‘comprehension’ exercises. Typically, school-based comprehension passages require learners to i) read a short text and ii) answer questions based on that text. The type of reading required of such an exercise is essentially ‘referential’ in that it requires learners to refer to the text to find the answer to the question. While some referential reading is necessary in higher education, what is more valued is a set of practices, most commonly referred to as ‘critical reading’, involving the use of other texts and experiences to interrogate a text in order to come to conclusions rather than to ‘find answers’. The dominance of referential reading in most school-based learning (and not only in what, in South Africa, are euphemistically referred to as ‘former DET schools’), however, is but one reason why the idea that schools necessarily prepare students for higher education needs. to be interrogated and why experiences outside school need to considered in the context of the notion of ‘preparedness’ for higher education. A student in whose home extracts from a newspaper are read aloud and critiqued using the newspaper reader’s own experiences as a matter of course is introduced to ‘critical reading’ practices as a part of daily life. This is but one example of the way home-based or community-based practice prepares students for higher education in ways not offered by many schools.

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