In response to the COVID-19 context, the Centre for Higher Education, Research, Teaching and Learning (CHERTL), offered the annual Academic Orientation Programme (AOP) in a distance mode this year.
This entailed making presentations and teaching and learning resources available through RUconnected for academics to engage with. The interactive Zoom sessions in the afternoon provided a platform for new colleagues to interact with various role-players such as the Deanery, the Directors of Equity and Institutional Culture, Student Affairs, Centre for Postgraduate Studies, and the Community Engagement Division.
The purpose of AOP was to introduce 33 new Rhodes University to what it means to be an academic at the institution. During the first part of the AOP, which ran from 25 until 29 January, new academics were offered insights into the support available to them in relation to the core role of academics: teaching and learning, research, and community engagement.
From 01 until 03 February, Educational Technology Specialists, Dr Nicola Pallitt and Mr Neil Kramm’s introduction to RUconnected training gave colleagues an opportunity to learn about and share their experiences relating to online teaching and blended (online and face-to-face) learning Given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, getting better equipped for teaching remotely or in a blended format will help new colleagues in their teaching.
In his welcome presentation, the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela encouraged new colleagues to use their talent, energy and commitment to build upon the Institution’s rich legacy of achievement in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), research, and community engagement. Referencing the Institution’s core values of social justice, advancing the public good, and respect for human rights and dignity, Dr Mabizela challenged colleagues to re-imagine their role, mission and purpose to transform students’ lives, the local Makhanda community and wider society for the better. As demonstrated by these quotes, the new academics valued the collegial space and opportunity to meet and engage with people in leadership positions at the institution:
“I found it incredibly interesting. As a previous Rhodes University student, it was enlightening to see what goes on 'behind the scenes' so to speak, and it made me excited to now be involved in building that culture.”
“There were tons of material to engage with and plenty opportunities to ask and learn from key people in the university space.”
Engaging in the virtual space with the VC’s 2019 Distinguished Award winners in teaching, research and community engagement gave new recruits insight into why these outstanding academics are lauded as exceptional, inspiring and innovative in the respective categories. The award winners shared their experiences about building networks, making use of collaborative projects and partnering with more established groups to incorporate their teaching, research and community engagement.
SRC President, Leboghang Nkambule’s passionate engagement contextualised students’ experiences during the ongoing COVID-19 context and provided insights into how academics could adapt their teaching and learning practices to ensure that all students participate equally in the learning space - whether face-to-face or online.
The theme of AOP, ‘Being an academic at Rhodes University’, also focused on aspects such as university governance, institutional culture and staff unions.
CHERTL's Head of Department, Prof Jo-Anne Vorster, encouraged new academics to develop the capacity and skills to teach a diverse student body, including students with disabilities. She also emphasised that black academics should use every opportunity to progress in the Institution so that the pool who can take up leadership positions is larger. She concluded AOP by wishing new colleagues all the best for a long, successful and happy career at Rhodes University.