Curriculum Conversation 3

Thina Maqubela and Corinne Knowles

Thina Maqubela from the Department of Statistics and Corinne Knowles from the Humanities Extended Studies Programme introduced very different aspects of curriculum transformation at the third in the series of Curriculum Conversations held on 8 June 2015. Both used their own biographies as the starting point for thinking about transformative curriculum and pedagogy.

For Thina it is important to ensure that Statistics is made meaningful to students. She believes that once the spark of interest has been ignited through demonstrating how integral statistical thinking is to everyday life, students are more likely to engage in the abstract, mathematical aspects of the field. She argued that there was more than one route into the field of Statistics. In some universities the focus of the Statistics curriculum is more qualitative, while in others Statistics is taught in a very abstract and mathematical way. Thina believes that there is a middle-way that will make it possible to draw more students from backgrounds similar to her own into the field.

Thina grew up in Motherwell and planned to study Biotechnology at university even though she had no idea what it was. Once at UCT, Thina was advised to enrol for Statistics because she had excellent mathematics results. She had not realised that there was a field like Statistics and thus did not know what she was letting herself in for when she enrolled for the course.  She initially struggled with the abstractness of the field, but once she was able to connect the concepts she was introduced to in lectures to a childhood card game based on probability, distribution and variance, she grew to appreciate and love what she was learning.

This is why, in her own teaching, Thina’s aim, in the first instance, is to stimulate her students’ engagement with the field through showing how they engage in statistical thinking in their everyday lives without even knowing it. She alerts students when they are about to encounter problematic concepts and problems and tells them about her own struggles in coming to terms with these challenges when she was in their shoes confronting these ideas as a student at UCT. Thus her own experiences serve as a pedagogic tool for Thina. An important question that emerged from Thina’s talk and that requires serious interrogation is the extent to which one can contextualise abstract theoretical knowledge without losing the integrity of a knowledge field.

Like Thina, Corinne Knowles thinks that a teacher’s positionality is integral to curriculum and pedagogy. She framed her talk in the context of the recent Rhodes must fall and Rhodes so white campaigns and examined what could happen in the aftermath of these movements. In teaching Humanities Extended Studies students, she believes that it is important to expose the privileges and prejudices that her position as a white, older, feminist woman affords her in the university context.

Corinne explored the notion of mutual vulnerability as a pedagogic tool to counteract the potential social, economic and epistemic violence that some students experience when confronted with knowledge and knowledge practices that go against their social, cultural and emotional norms. Mutual vulnerability is about recognising students’ vulnerability as they are confronted with counter-normative or conceptually difficult / challenging knowledge and risking making oneself, as the teacher, vulnerable as well.

Mutual vulnerability can be used in pedagogic contexts by making curriculum norms visible and being prepared “to surrender, expand or adjust our norms in order to be part of a collective (learning) process.” Making the familiar strange and the strange familiar is central to this way of engaging with students. Transcending one’s power as a teacher to provide students with opportunities to use their own agency in shaping their learning is another way of enabling mutual vulnerability. This also provides the space for “the marginalised to become central in the learning process.”

In the Conversation after the presentation, Corinne’s exploration the notion of mutual vulnerability as a way of engaging with curriculum transformation raised questions amongst members of the audience about whether all teachers can afford to expose their vulnerabilities to students. For example, it seems that this way of being as a teacher, may be more applicable in the humanities than in the sciences. In the sciences, students need to build a secure knowledge base and need to trust that the teacher will facilitate this process. Furthermore, at this point in our history, when the authority and legitimacy of many young black lecturers is sometimes challenged by students, exposing one’s vulnerability may not be the most appropriate strategy for creating diverse scholarly community.

Curriculum Conversations Site:

By Dr Jo-Anne Vorster

Source:  Dr Jo-Anne Vorster