PhD Graduates

The CHERTL PhD programme on Higher Education Studies began in 2010. We are very proud to be growing a community of engaged, confident and competent researchers who can contribute to the field.

30. Dr Evelyn Muthama

Graduated 2019

Conditions constraining and enabling research production in Historically Black Universities in South Africa

The national university funding formula greatly rewards research output but fails to consider how the histories of our institutions continue to have effects. This study, as part of a larger project on institutional differentiation, analysed data from all seven historically black universities and identified how both university contexts and neoliberal forces in the so-called knowledge economy affect research production. The study also identified that financial incentive for research production can limit our conceptions of research and result in unintended consequences. There was a nascent discourse of social justice that focused on research as a core driver of knowledge production in some of the HBUs. This is potentially an area of strength for the HBUs especially emerging from their rural position as there was a complementary culture of social concerns. There was evidence that the nexus between research and community engagement could be a strong means of both strengthening institutional identity and increasing research productivity. But unless the nexus is clearly articulated, a systematic process of support is unlikely to emerge. Given the extent to which the rural positioning of HBUs has been acknowledged to constrain research engagement, this finding has a number of positive implications.

Evelyn is currently a Post-doctoral fellow at CHERTL at Rhodes University. Her current research focuses on the nature of the academic project of Rhodes University. The research project strives to create a platform for all key stakeholders in the institution to deliberate on what this project is and how it drives institutional policies, processes and practices.

29. Dr Shan Reid

Graduated 2019

A realist exploration of transnational mobility, change and identity construction in South African Higher Education expatriates in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Positioned in relation to the globalization of, and the changes in international and national higher education sectors, this study used Bhaskar’s critical realism as its underpinning philosophy and Archer’s social realism and theories on identity to explore how global and national powers and mechanism effected change in nine South African academics professional contexts in South Africa post 1994 and Abu Dhabi between 2008 and 2016.

As the context of identity formation and emergence is always local the intention of this qualitative research was never to generalize but rather to focus on this sub-group’s academic identities. The study suggests that participants perceived a continued sense of loss of academic agency and powerlessness as a result of the changes that were implemented in both higher education sectors.

After working in Abu Dhabi for a number of years, Shan has returned to South Africa and is working on publications from her research.

28. Dr Mlamuli Hlatshwayo

Graduated 2019

‘I want them to be confident, to build an argument’: An exploration of the structure of knowledge and knowers in Political Studies

The 2015-2016 student movements in South African higher education sharply critique what was perceived to be the slow pace of institutional transformation and decolonisation in institutions of higher learning. One of the academic fields that has come under scrutiny is Political Studies, which has been accused of being un-transformed, irrelevant and not reflecting local, indigenous scholarship in curricula or pedagogy. Although this literature critiques neo-colonial predominance of western thought within the field, and the need to re-centre non-Western modes of being, thinking and intellectualising, I argue that this literature actually considers epistemologies without necessarily making a razor sharp critique at the underlying mechanisms and processes of Political Studies knowledge, and the extent to which it can be decolonised and transformed. It is on this gap that I make a contribution to the field.

This study revealed that that the PDIS programmes values and legitimates curriculum knowledge by ensuring that students have a critical understanding of African political economy, war and conflict on the African continent,  as well as the challenges of peacekeeping and peace building in new and fragile African  states. This was also seen in how the attributes and dispositions of knowers were also valued in how students needed to have social and cultural gazes in order to access the curriculum and to successfully participate as knowers in the field. This suggested that access to both curriculum knowledge and to being a valued knower in the field, could be said to be relatively open and unrestrictive. 

In this study, I first argue that looking critically at how Political Studies knowledge is recontextualised from the field of production and into the PDIS curriculum can be seen as a decolonising process as it enables us to see the underlying mechanisms and processes of how Political studies knowledge and knowers are valued and legitimated in the field. This offers us an insightful space to see to what extent the fields of production, recontextualisation, as well as reproduction of Political Studies in general, and the PDIS programme in particular, could be said to have a colonising gaze.

Dr Mlamuli Nkosingphile Hlatshwayo is a Curriculum and Education Studies Lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Designing and Evaluating Curricular in Higher Education; Philosophy of Education and Professional Studies. His research interests include theorising South African higher education transformation; epistemological access and curricula; higher education student movements and the philosophy of education.

27. Dr Peta Myers

Graduated 2019

A Social Realist account of constraints and enablements navigated by South African students during the four-year professional accounting programme at Rhodes University, South Africa.

This study used Bhaskar’s Critical Realism and the realms real, actual and empirical to understand how students’ experiences (empirical) of events (actual) emerged from underlying mechanisms (real). This was supported by Archer’s Social Realism and the domains of social structure, culture and agency. This study revealed how agency was enacted by students, academics and other participants (actors) to traverse the enablements and constraints created by mechanisms within these domains.

Troubled by lower pass rates for black students, Peta interviewed students from across the four years of the Accounting programme at this institution. Common issues which were raised by student participants were anonymised and shared with academic staff within the department. This formed the basis of understanding the mismatch between student needs and staff expectations. This is the basis of the terrain of academic literacies and epistemic access.

Financial constraints experienced by student participants during their degrees resulted in difficult decisions being made about where to stay, what to eat and whether to accept part-time employment. These decisions often impacted significantly on the participant’s ability to work to their best academic potential. Student participants also shared how learning in a second language impacted on their ability to understand what was being taught. Language constraints also impacted on the ability of student participants to interact not only with peers, but also with tutors and lecturers. This served to further constrain how these students were able to access and make use of the learning opportunities which exist in the department. This study clarifies how enablements and constraints are experienced differently by students within different demographic groupings. It also reveals how academics were not always fully aware of the degree to which students’ struggles constrained their learning in this discipline.

An additional aspect of this research was examining the impact of the student protests of 2015 and 2016 on student participants. The protests were triggered by student frustrations at the slow pace of change regarding the cost of higher education as well as transformation issues. Being out-of-the-ordinary occurrences, the protests allowed emotions normally kept under control to emerge. These occurrences therefore permitted more basic mechanisms to be activated in both students and academics.

Peta lectures Financial Accounting at an undergraduate level at Rhodes University.

 

26. Dr Meredith Armstrong

 

Graduated 2019

Learning to Learn: A Critical Realist Exploration into the Home Established Learning Practices of a Marginalised Community in Port Elizabeth

Meredith’s study was completed as part of a project exploring social inclusion and exclusion in South African higher education. In a globalised world, the achievement of a qualification from an institution of higher education has become an increasingly key factor in finding any sort of employment. This is particularly the case in South Africa where employment amongst black citizens is inordinately high. The aim of the research was to better understand the construct of ‘epistemological access’, a concept coined by Morrow in 1992 used to explore the level of access to understanding, comprehending and therefore, making use of certain forms of knowledge taught in schools and universities. ‘Epistemological access’ is often used in relation to the needs of black working-class students entering higher education, in connection to performance data which repeatedly shows that black students fare less well than their white peers. Following what might be termed a ‘social’ approach to understanding access, this focus of this study begins long before most students have even heard of higher education and hones in on identifying the mechanisms that come into play at much earlier level of learning and literacy development.

Examined from a critical perspective (i.e. with a concern for social justice), this study made use of a framework using social, psychological and linguistic theory and more, particularly, the work of sociologist Margret Archer. The implementation of Archer’s morphogenetic framework allowed for an analysis of the way structure and culture could impact on a child’s development over time.

The study outlined the development of ‘ways of being’, or social practices, surrounding learning in a marginalised community in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. This was achieved by means of critical ethnography and it was therefore qualitatively based. The study showed how social structures enabled or constrained a child’s school readiness and how they then went on to support or impede progress in school where the language and literacy needed for educational success would be further developed. Consequently, the study aimed to allow us to explain global data indicating that the single greatest indicator of a young person’s ability to access and succeed in higher education is the level of education of caregivers in their homes of origin.

Coming from a background in Psychology, Meredith’s main source of interest lies in the manner in which mental bridges can be built to increase epistemological access. Through exploring the actual formation of social, structural and cultural depths of different perspectives, we can begin to create a different understanding of how to increase the level of social inclusion in South African Education.

 

25. Dr Mtheto Temwa Moyo

Graduated 2018

An Analysis of the Implementation of the Teaching Development Grant in the South African Higher Education Sector

The South African government has attempted to address various transformation and efficiency challenges in the higher education system through the steering mechanisms at its disposal. The Teaching Development Grant (TDG) has been one such mechanism and between 2004 and 2017, over R5 billion was of TDG funding was allocated to universities to address poor graduation rates. This study analyzed over 300 reports on the grant to answer the question: What are the factors enabling and constraining the use of the TDG to enhance teaching and student success at South African universities?

One of the main findings was that the historically-based differentiated nature of the South African higher education landscape constrained the implementation of the TDG. The stark resource differences in the sector has meant that the TDG has not fully translated into system-wide gains. In the initial years of TDG implementation from 2004 to 2013, most institutions did not use the TDG for teaching development initiatives at all, but rather spent the bulk of the funds on infrastructure and equipment. Such resource gaps have persisted and continue to compromise the academic enterprise at affected universities.

The shortage of appropriate teaching and learning staff constrained the nature and type of interventions. Historically Disadvantaged Institutions in particular struggled to attract and retain the much-needed expertise. In particular, the data indicated that teaching and learning staff hired on the basis of TDG funds were generally hired as part-time or contract staff. This meant that their academic qualifications and experience in teaching development were limited and, in many cases, the fluctuating budgets meant that some projects had to be downscaled or abandoned.

Many of those TDG funded interventions that were implemented had tenuous links to teaching and learning and, even where there were such links, these interventions were often based on fairly a-theoretical, common-sense understandings of what would develop teaching. In many universities, there was little evidence of institution-level planning of interventions aimed at fundamentally addressing the need for teaching development.

The limited access to teaching and learning expertise across the sector was mirrored in the uneven distribution of expertise in administration, financial management, institutional planning and human resource divisions, which had implications for the establishment of monitoring systems and implementation processes of the TDG. In some cases, the lack of strong systems and policies encouraged cultures that did not value transparency, accountability or compliance to the TDG policy. The role of corporate agency in the form of leadership and ownership of projects emerged as a key enabler in the implementation of the TDG. All of these structures shaped the ability of institutions to spend the TDG and in some cases millions of Rands in funds were not spent and so were withheld. The study found that the inability of some universities to spend was exacerbated by the problem of a lack of alignment between the DHET financial year and the academic year.

Temwa Moyo lectured Economics at the University of Zululand before joining the Department of Higher Education and Training. His interests and passion over the years have grown to be in social justice related issues in higher education.

 

24. Dr Gabrielle Nudelman

Graduated 2018

A social realist study of employability development in engineering education

Gabi's study examined two courses aimed at preparing engineering students for the workplace. The findings indicate that employability is not about the acquisition of discrete workplace skills but rather about students developing identities as engineers. Aspects of the courses that promoted deep understandings of what the role of “engineer” entailed, provided spaces for students to develop their own personal identities. While a focus on employability is valid and productive, opportunities for authentic learning experiences that promote real-life application of knowledge is essential.

A key purpose of an engineering degree is to prepare students for the workplace. However, the findings of this study, which critically examined two courses specifically aimed at this purpose, show that, contrary to commonsense understandings, the acquisition of discreet workplace skills does not improve employability. An engineering degree needs to provide authentic learning opportunities that promote real-life application of knowledge, understanding of the roles of engineers and most importantly, opportunities for students to take on the identities of engineers.

Gabi continues to teach in the Professional Communication Studies department in UCT's Engineering and the Built Environment Faculty, where she is constantly challenged and motivated by her students and the evolving terrain of engineering education.

 

23. Dr Thabile Mtombeni

Graduated 2018

Knowledge practices, student access and success in General Chemistry at a Large South African University

Higher education has the potential to contribute to the public good and a better life for those fortunate enough to receive a university education. Higher Education curricula are powerful tools for enabling social inclusion and for the achievement of social justice. It is for this reason that it is important to understand what enables or constrains student access to the powerful knowledge of intellectual fields such as Chemistry. General Chemistry is compulsory for many degree programmes in the natural sciences. However, there is ample evidence that success in this subject remains a major challenge for a majority of students, particularly for black students in the STEM field. The purpose of the study was to identify the organising principles embedded in the curriculum and the knowledge practices that hamper or facilitate student learning in the subject. By so doing the intention was to consider how, from a social inclusion perspective, the design of the introductory course in the General Chemistry curriculum can make possible epistemic access and cumulative learning for the majority of the students. Using Legitimation Code Theory, the study makes visible the principles that shape the General Chemistry curriculum in one university and points to how changes to the structure of the curriculum could make it possible for more students to gain access to the knowledge of the field of Chemistry more broadly.

Thabi continues to work at the Centre on Higher Education where she is a manager in the Programme Accreditation department.

 

22. Dr Joseph Chidindi

PhD graduate Dr Joseph 

Graduated 2017

Discursive constructions of quality assurance: The case of the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education

This study focused on the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education. The study identified the discourses drawn on by academics and those working within Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education to construct the roles and processes of external quality assurance practices. The study was grounded on the premise that external quality assurance processes in higher education can vary according to their contextual environment. There were a number of discourses that emerged in the research study. There was a discourse of ‘control’ in which Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education put in place compliance mechanisms, setting minimum requirements for universities to offer ‘credible’ higher education. There was a discourse of ‘power struggle’ in which universities endeavoured to maintain their institutional autonomy in response to what was perceived as Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education’s requirement of compliance. In the context of higher education in Zimbabwe, an important implication of the study was evident in the discourse of ‘gold standard’ of quality assurance which assumed that quality entails a generic best practice but which fails to take context into account.  While a generic ‘global’ notion of best practice in quality assurance was dominant in the discourses of quality identified in this study, there were other discourses that focused on what quality might look like within the resource constraints of the context. The study highlighted the importance of collegiality between quality assurance organisations and universities to realise success of quality assurance intentions.

Dr Joseph Chidindi has experience in research in quality assurance in higher education at both Master and PhD level. He also has experience as an academic with a focus on research design and as a teacher with an interest in inclusive education.

 

21. Dr Gabrielle de Bie

Dr Gabi PhD graduate


Graduated 2017

Analysis of a biomedical curriculum: exploring cumulative knowledge-building in the Rehabilitative Health Sciences

This study analysed the foundational curriculum of anatomy and physiology which underpins professional programmes for BSc Physiotherapy and BSc Occupational Therapy at a particular Health Sciences Faculty. Analysis spanned a twenty year period which reflected, at national and institutional level, significant changes in health sciences education, approaches to healthcare, and requirements of a health professional. Against this backdrop, there occurred at the research site, a merger of the Departments of Physiology and Anatomy to create an interdisciplinary programme of Human Biology. The fundamental disciplines previously provided autonomous curricula specific to each of the professions; now medical students follow a PBL-based curriculum while the rehabilitative health students do not and the interdisciplinary Human Biology curriculum services instead a large class of merged cohorts of physiotherapy and occupational therapy students.  

This research intended to establish whether the basic biomedical curriculum was structured in ways which enabled, or constrained, the integration of fundamental knowledge of physiology and anatomy into professional knowledge. The study used LCT to characterise the professional programmes - as they transitioned over the twenty year period - insofar the bases of specialisation and meaning-making required of respective professionals in clinical contexts and practices. Specialisation and Semantics were used to map changes in the fundamental curriculum as Physiology and Anatomy transitioned from autonomy to an interdisciplinary programme. Findings established that the interdisciplinary programme is not integrated, anatomy retains power and control of the Human Biology curriculum and physiology is relegated to less powerful knowledge. The rehabilitative professions are differentially specialised, and have different requirements of the fundamental sciences; the Human Biology curriculum does not provide the physiological basis necessary for clinical knowledge-building especially in Physiotherapy.

Knowledge is differentially structured within disciplines. When key foundational subjects are merged to create interdisciplinary programmes, there needs to be full consultation of all stakeholders in order to enable social inclusion and epistemological access to the necessary fundamental knowledge underpinning unique professional contexts and practices.

Dr Gabi has a background in biological sciences, professional experience in biochemical and biomedical sciences, and more than 15 years’ experience teaching Physiology at a medical school. She is passionate about bringing the student to science, and science to the student.

 

20. Dr Gitanjali Mistri

PhD graduad Dr Gita

Graduated 2017

A social realist analysis of participation in academic professional development for the integration of digital technologies in higher education

This study investigates what it is that influences the choices academics make with regard to their participation or non-participation in digital technologies related academic professional development in higher education. Although digital technologies for teaching and learning are common in universities globally, the uptake of opportunities to learn how to use these technologies by academics is variable.  Using Margaret Archer’s Realist Social Theory (1995) this single-institution case study offers a critical examination of cultural, structural and agential conditions that enable and constrain academic professional development (APD) for the integration of digital technologies in teaching–learning interactions at the Durban University of Technology. Archer’s (1995) morphogenetic approach enabled an investigation of the interface between the conditions encountered by the academics (at macro, meso and micro levels), in order to theorise about the material, ideational and agential conditions that obtained and which in turn influenced the decision to participate or not participate in the APD programmes. Also emerging from the study is the significance of disciplinary knowledge structures to explain academics’ responses to academic professional development for digital learning 

Gita works as the coordinator of academic development for e-Learning at the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the Durban University of Technology.

 

19. Dr Cathy O'Shea

PhD graduand - Cathy O May

Graduated 2017

Understanding the reading practices of Fort Hare students

The University of Fort Hare is part of a troubled South African education system and is located in a disadvantaged, rural area. The main aim of this study was to understand Fort Hare students’ reading practices, as reported by the students themselves. The thesis used a framework of New Literacy Studies, which views student learning as a process of mastering discipline-specific, socially constructed norms and values, and sees the adopting of a literacy as including the adoption of an identity. Since discourse, in the NLS tradition, has been found to be a mediating mechanism in the social construction of identity, a critical discourse analysis was adopted to begin understanding aspects of Fort Hare students’ reading practices and the links between these and their identities. Critical realism was the ontological underpinning of this study. This means that the study aimed to identify the tendencies of certain mechanisms – in this case, Discourses – to affect students’ reading practices, by analysing interview transcripts of focus group discussions held with students. One of the implications of the findings is that lecturers and others can work towards changing Discourses and so endeavour to enable reading practices. Educators could also take steps to address resistant attitudes and encourage reading.  

Cathy O'Shea is a lecturer at the University of Fort Hare's department of Communication.

 

18. Dr Karen Ellery


Epistemological access in a science foundation course: A social realist perspective

This study examines the efficacy of the Introduction to Science Concepts and Methods (ISCM) science foundation course at Rhodes University in promoting epistemological access. It draws on Legitimation Code Theory to characterise ISCM curriculum, pedagogic practices and student responses. The findings indicate that two forms of access are legitimated: epistemic-context access which represents access to the theoretical or ‘powerful’ knowledge of specialised discourses, and learning-context access which is about becoming a particular kind of learner (knower) in an academic context. It is argued that, combined, these forms of access constitute epistemological access. It is further argued that transformative pedagogies that better develop learning-context and science knowers, whilst still focussing on epistemic science knowledge, are needed in higher education science curricula today to serve students from diverse social and educational backgrounds.

Karen is coordinator of the Science Extended Studies Programme at Rhodes University. She combines her love for science and education by teaching science in the programme and researching aspects of teaching and learning. Her current research, which stems from her PhD, is focussed on how higher education can better enable epistemological access in the sciences to all students.

 

17. Dr Sue Giloi

The knowledge-knower structures used in the assessment of graphic design practical work in a multi-campus context

This research explores the complexities of assessing practical Graphic Design work within a highly regulated Private Higher Education sector. Assessment in creative fields is characterised by the assessment of complex achievements, tacit knowledge, panel marking and the consideration of person, process and product. In order to uncover the underlying structures of what is valued in Graphic Design assessment the knowledge theories of Bernstein and knowledge-knower theories of Maton were used in this case study to both conceptualise specialised knowledge and knower, and to analyse the data generated in institutional texts and panel marking conversations. The findings highlight the difficulties of aligning Outcomes Based techno-rationalist concepts of assessment, with assessment practices that value and make use of a specialist gaze.

Sue has lectured photography at a number of public and private institutions in South Africa and the USA. She is currently Postgraduate Academic Manager at Inscape Education Group and a member of the management committee of the Design Education Forum of Southern Africa. Her interests in research include assessment, curriculum design, design thinking, practice-based research, photography and sustainability.

16. Dr Tarsizius Nampota

 

Emergent governance practices in the University of Malawi following reform implementation from 1997 to 2013

The study investigated the University of Malawi’s (UNIMA) experiences with governance reforms. It used Bhaskar’s Critical Realist Theory as its main theoretical framework and employed Archer’s Social Realist Theory in the research design and interpretation of the results. The study established that there has been a significant change in higher education governance practices in UNIMA between 1997 and 2013 from the state-centric model towards elements of the corporate model of governance, alongside some strongly defended aspects of collegial governance, particularly at departmental level. These shifting governance contexts were enabled by the interplay of complex structure, culture and agency at global, national and institutional level.

Tarsizius is the University Registrar of the Malawi University of Science and Technology. His research and professional interest is in the field of higher education governance.

15. Dr Kasturi Behari-Leak

Graduated 2015

Conditions enabling or constraining the exercise of agency among new academics in higher education, conducive to the social inclusion of students.

Kasturi’s doctoral study explicates the range of agential choices exercised by new academics to mediate their contested spaces. The nuanced social and critical account of the material, ideational and agential conditions in HE shows that the courses of action taken by new academics are driven through their concerns, commitments and projects. Kasturi argues that despite the university’s espoused embracing of change, the current induction of new academics is inadequate to the task of transformation in higher education because systemic conditions in HE, conducive to critical agency and social justice, are not enabling. In her study, Kasturi shows that despite difficult contextual influences, the positive exercise of agency is a marked feature of new academics in this study. This has immediate implications for ways in which professional and academic development, and disciplinary and departmental programmes, could create and sustain conducive conditions for the professionalisation of new academics through more sensitised practices.

Kasturi is an academic and professional staff development lecturer in the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) at the University of Cape Town. She currently convenes the New Academic Practitioners’ Programme, The Short Course on Teaching, and the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education module of the PGDip/Masters coursework, all of which focus on the development of emerging, new and established academics. Her current work is focussed on examining the interplay between structures (national, institutional, departmental and disciplinary), institutional culture and lecturer agency within the framework of ‘Africanising the curriculum’. Other areas of interest include critical pedagogies, social justice, and transformative staff development initiatives such as preparing and inducting the next generation of academics into higher education.

14. Dr Langutani Masehela

Graduated 2015

An exploration into the conditions enabling and constraining the implementation of quality assurance in higher education: The case of a small comprehensive university in South Africa

Langutani’s study argues that University of Venda has put in place quality assurance policies and procedures to improve the quality of teaching and learning, but these were not always implemented by academics. The claim was confirmed by poor student performance data in the institution. Langutani explored the conditions that enabled or constrained academics from implementing these policies. This study does not only provides insight on the conditions but it further provides recommendations on how these constrains could be overcome.  Although these recommendations may not be generalized to all institutions, Langutani argues that these might provide useful insight for other institutions.

Langutani is an educational development practitioner at the University of Venda, where she has held this position since June 2012. She is currently responsible for running student support programmes such as the mentoring & tutoring programmes and the First Year Experience programme. Langutani would like to see herself as an active contributor in student success projects. These, she argues, would directly or indirectly impact on quality improvement and student support.

13. Dr Thandeka Mkhize

Graduated 2015

An analysis of the Certificate of the Theory of Accounting knowledge and knower structures: A case study of professional knowledge

Thandeka’s PhD research project explored issues around the poor throughput and high drop-out rate in the Certificate of the Theory of Accounting (CTA) by focusing on Accounting knowledge as an object of study. The study asked why only 9% of South Africa’s Chartered Accountants are black Africans. It spanned nine universities and asked how this profession’s powerful knowledge is dispensed. This detailed analysis of the CTA raises questions about social inclusion twenty years after democracy in South Africa. It aimed to contribute to the understanding of Accounting knowledge at CTA level by clearly delineating what is its legitimate knowledge and who are its legitimate knowers.

Thandeka has worked in quality assurance at Durban University of Technology and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her background in working at both operations and management levels and focusing on the relationship between internal and external stakeholders has meant she is well equipped for her current research focus on enhancing student success, progression and retention.

12. Dr Ruth Searle

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Graduated 2015

The Supervisor’s Tale:  postgraduate supervisors’ experiences in a changing Higher Education environment

The study, situated in the field of Higher Education Studies, adopting a critical realist stance and drawing on the social theory of Margaret Archer and the concepts of expert and novice, explores the experiences of postgraduate supervisors from one South African institution across a range of disciplines. Individuals outline their own particular situations, identifying a number of elements which enabled or constrained them and how, in exercising their agency, they develop their strategies for supervision drawing on a range of different resources that they identify and that may be available to them. Student characteristics, discipline status and placement, funding, and the emergent policy environment are all identified as influencing their practice. Their own concerns and interests and emerging academic identities also affect their choices and the manner of their engagement. The importance of such insights contribute to a better understanding of the supervisory relationships and processes.

Ruth Searle is a Senior Lecturer in Higher Education at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Over a number of years she has been engaged in developing the Postgraduate Diploma in Higher Education, and the Masters programme in Higher Education with colleagues. Her areas of interests beyond that in the postgraduate sector, teaching, learning and the curriculum, student administration and professional development. She enjoys the variety of interacting with staff across disciplines, and across institutions.

11. Dr Eileen Scheckle

Graduated 2015

Reading identities: a case study of grade 8 learners' interactions in a reading club

Eileen Scheckle works in the School for Initial Teacher Education at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. She is also an accredited TESOL trainer and runs various TESOL courses in South Africa. Her research concern is with access to the literacy practices required for school success.

Eileen's PhD study offers an account of reading clubs as a literacy intervention in a grade 8 English class at a former ‘Coloured’ high school in South Africa. It examines different practices of ‘reading’ used by learners in talking and writing about text. This study used a New Literacies perspective based on an ideological model of literacy which recognises many different literacies, in addition to dominant school literacies. Learners’ talk about books as well as personal journal writing provided an insight into what cultural mechanisms and powers children bring to the reading of novels. The data in this study, which is presented through a series of vignettes, found that grade 8 learners use many different experiences and draw on different discourses when making sense of texts.  It was found, in the course of the study, that providing a safe space, scaffolding, multiple opportunities to practice and a variety of reading material, helped learners to access and appropriate dominant literacies. In addition, learners need a repertoire of literacy practices to draw from as successful reading needs flexibility and adaptability. Reading and writing inform each other and through gradual induction into literary writing, learners began to appropriate and approximate dominant literacy practices. This study would suggest that literacies of traditionally underserved communities should not be considered in deficit terms. Instead these need to be understood as resources for negotiating meaning making and as tools or mechanisms to access dominant discourse practices. In addition the resilience and competition from Discourses of popular culture need to be recognised and developed as tools to access school literacies.

10. Dr Sherran Clarence

Graduated 2014

Enabling Cumulative Knowledge-Building Through Teaching: A Legitimation Code Theory Analysis of Pedagogic Practice in Law and Political Science

This study examined pedagogic practices of lecturers in Political Science and Law. The aim was finding a social realist alternative to social constructivist pedagogies that can take account of both knowledge in the disciplines, and who the knowers need to be. The study argues that, if what is desired in higher education is cumulative learning, where students connect different knowledges and skills together into larger 'constellations' of meaning such that this process transforms their habitus from being a student studying the law, for example, to being a novice lawyer, then pedagogy cannot be blind to knowledge, and the ways that it shapes learning, as it is shaped by those who learn it.

Sherran is currently an A W Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for Higher Education Research, Teaching, and Learning (CHERTL) at Rhodes University, where she is building on her PhD research with additional case studies. Her present research focuses on using tools drawn from Legitimation Code Theory to work with lecturers, developing social realist-informed approaches to teaching and learning in the disciplines.

9. Dr Hilda Freimuth

Graduated 2014

Cultural Bias on the IELTS Examination: A Critical Realist Investigation

The thesis investigated Emirati students’ claims of experiences of cultural bias on the reading component of the IELTS examination through a critical realist lens. There were two parts to this investigation: a content analysis and a focus group study. Findings indicated that on average, an IELTS examination contained 14 cultural references with the majority of geographical references pertaining to the West. Emirati students also reported a number of common experiences which were traced back to numerous socio-cultural structures and discourses, confirming the student experience of bias as very real. These findings are significant as they contradict claims of neutrality.

Dr Hilda Freimuth works as Senior Lecturer and Student Learning Centre Co-ordinator at Khalifa University of Science, Technology, and Research. Dr Hilda has worked in the region for the past 11 years. She is currently conducting educational research for the various think tanks in the UAE and contributing chapters to books that focus on education in the UAE. She has also used her research skills to create two educational apps to help students around the world do better on the IELTS examination.

8. Dr Pamela Johnson

Graduated 2014

Control, compliance and conformity at the University of Fort Hare 1916 – 2000: A Gramscian approach.

Arising from Marxist theory, critical theory investigates the mechanisms that enable continued domination in capitalist society, with a view to revealing the real, but obscured, nature of social relations and enabling these to be challenged by subjugated classes. Within the broad spectrum of Marxist theory, social relations of domination and subordination are assigned according to the relationship of social classes to economic production. However, the neo-Marxist perspective developed by Antonio Gramsci locates relations of power within the broader context of the political economy. The manner in which relations of power are cemented through the exercise of hegemony lies at the core of Pamela's thesis. It investigates the relationship between the State and the administrators of the University of Fort Hare, as well as the responses to the activities of the State and University Administration within the University itself, over an extended period of time between 1916 and 2000. 

Pamela Johnson is a lecturer in the University of Fort Hare's ­department of political science and international relations.

7. Dr Jacqueline Lück

Graduated 2014

Knowledge and knowing in Public Management and Public Administration Programmes at a comprehensive university.

Jacqui's PhD began from a desire as a language lecturer to understand the programmes in which she teaches. Literature tells us that academic language development works needs to be embedded within disciplines but there is little guidance on how to do this. This is especially complex because language lecturers are usually outsiders to these programmes. Legitimation Code Theory gave her the tools to begin to understand how disciplines work and how cumulative knowledge is built. Jacqui also drew on New Literacy Studies to understand how social practices develop and relate to the knowledge structures of a first-year diploma and degree. Jacqui's analysis of the Public Management and Public Administration programmes at a Comprehensive University also adds to our understanding of different programme structures.

Jacqui teaches at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where she has worked since 2005. She teaches Academic English to first year Law students and English Language Studies from first year to Honours students. Her teaching focuses on academic literacies and language, ideology and identity. She also supervises Public Management Masters students who have a keen interest in issues of educational access and governance.

6. Dr Bernie Millar

PhDs grad 2014

Graduated 2014

Becoming and being: A critical realist exploration of graduate attributes and the emergence of identity in emergency medical science professional qualifications.

Bernie Millar has been teaching Information Literacy at CPUT since 2007. This includes teaching academic literacies to first year students and research methodology to fourth years. She also supervises Masters students in the Emergency Medical Science (EMS) Department where she undertook her research for her Critical Realist Ph.D.  into the emergence of identity in paramedic students and professional paramedics. Currently she is co-supervising a Ph.D. student in EMS at UCT who is using Critical Realism as a conceptual framework. Her research interests cover critical realism, multilingualism in Higher Education, threshold concepts, concept mapping and developing innovative teaching strategies on the Extended Curriculum Programme.

5. Dr Amanda Hlengwa

Graduated 2013

An exploration of conditions enabling and constraining the infusion of service-learning into the curriculum at a South African research led university 

Drawing on critical realist philosophy as a meta-theoretical framework, this study explores the conditions that enable and constrain the infusion of service-learning in university curricula. In this study four discipline-based cases are analysed within the context of an over-arching case of one South African university. The cases broadly represent the disciplinary array of Rhodes University, a small traditional research-intensive university in South Africa. The study shows that the nature of the discipline has a significant influence on the emergence of service-learning and the form it takes in each context.  Key agents draw on available structural and cultural mechanisms to either maintain the status quo or they exercise their personal properties and powers to mitigate existing conditions.

Amanda lectures in CHERTL at Rhodes University. She has worked in the field of higher education as an academic developer for a decade. She sees her contribution to the field of higher education studies emerging primarily from two areas. Curriculum development concerns, with particular focus on the relationship between disciplinary knowledge and teaching and learning. The second contribution is linked to her role as Rhodes University’s co-ordinator of the DHET funded New Generation of Academics Programme (NGAP). Both interests are underpinned by her commitment to the transformation agenda of higher education.

4. Dr Philippa Kethro

Graduated 2013

Pedagogical Ways-of-Knowing in the Design Studio

Philppa’s research addresses design studio pedagogy in higher education, where problematic interactions between teachers and students concern shared interpretations of the visual meaning of the students’ designed objects. Philippa used critical realist philosophy and social systems theory to explain the effect of   pedagogical ways-of-knowing visual, non-verbally communicated design object meaning in these interactions. Three macro design pedagogical ways-of-knowing were identified: design inquiry, design representation and design intent. Micro, implicit distinctions within these ways -of-knowing affect the emergence of shared visual design meaning between students and teachers. Design teachers may then make such distinctions explicit in design studio teaching.

Philippa is involved in practice-based research design and methodology programmes and in curriculum development initiatives. She lectures in the department of Visual Communication Design at the Durban University of Technology.

3. Dr Delia Melanie Layton

Graduated 2013

A Social Realist account of the tutorial system at the University of Johannesburg

This study considers the extent to which the tutorial system, as guided by the policies and pedagogical practices at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), a comprehensive university, is serving social justice by enabling first year students’ to gain epistemological access and achieve academic success. The study explores to what extent approaches to teaching and learning and the ways in which tutorials are constructed are enabling the acquisition of powerful disciplinary knowledge and in doing so, contributing to transformation.

Delia is a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg teaching a first year academic literacy course that aims to support students in making the transitions needed in their use of language. Delia participates in the UJ ‘Scholarship of Teaching and Learning’ research project, with a social justice approach to teaching and learning. She has had two articles (based on her PhD) accepted for publication, the one, co-written with her supervisor, in an international education journal. The other, will be published in a leading South African journal. Delia is currently a co-supervisor for the ‘Institutional Differentiation’ Doctoral programme at Rhodes University.

2. Dr Penny Niven

Graduated 2012

Narrating emergence in the curious terrain of academic development research: A realist perspective

The study draws from a collection of papers written over 5 years as Penny emerged as an academic developer in two rather different HE institutions in South Africa. The field of AD is contested, complex and unstable, and academic developers themselves are well-meaning but often poorly theorised and poorly prepared for the varieties of work they do with students and staff. By drawing on her own history and by linking it with the broader history of the field over 30 years, Penny was able to reach insights about the nature of academic development in universities and begin to develop guidelines for a more secure knowledge base and assured identity for those who find themselves researching the field.

Penny has continued to work, mainly online, helping with assessment for the various certificate and diploma courses run by CHERTL at RU. She has also written and run a private postgraduate writing course for Masters students at UKZN. Two published papers emerged from her PhD study.

1. Dr Liphie Pereira

Graduated 2012

A critical realist exploration of the implementation of a new curriculum in Swaziland

The study is an in-depth exploration of the conditions from which the introduction of a new curriculum in Swaziland emerged. It offers explanations about the curriculum change and its implementation that are based on how structural, cultural, and agential mechanisms operating at a deeper level of reality interacted to condition the emergence of the new curriculum and the way it is implemented. It therefore provides insight into enabling and constraining effects of mechanisms (that exists independently of what we see, think, believe, or know) on curriculum-change decisions and the ability of teachers to implement curriculum changes.

Liphie is from Swaziland. Her PhD study was funded by Kellogg Foundation. She is a Business Education lecturer at the University of Swaziland. She is now working on introducing a master’s degree in Business Education at the University of Swaziland. 

Last Modified: Tue, 21 May 2019 14:20:26 SAST