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The second Institutional Research Conference, under the auspices of the Siyaphumelela Project and Institutional Research, was hosted by the Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) Institutional Planning Unit, at the Coastlands on the Ridge from 29 to 30 August 2017.

The Siyaphumelela (We Succeed) project looked at student success through the data lens, and ways to promote student success by identifying and understanding how students learn, the types of educational activities that take place, both inside and outside the classroom, and how institutions can help in promoting effective learning.

The 2017 IR/Siyaphumelela conference also focused on what it means to be a student-centred University that puts “student success” at the heart of what we, as a university community, are all about. The two-day workshop analysed existing results from the pilot study and discussed the usefulness of the Classroom Survey of Student Engagement (CLASSE) concepts and data in teaching and learning at the University in general.

In attendance were Professor Thandwa Mthembu, (DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal), Professor Nomthandazo Gwele, (DVC Teaching and Learning), Professor Khehla Ndlovu, (DVC People and Operations ), DUT Director: Special Projects in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Mr David Mohale, keynote speaker, Mr Rudi Buys, (Dean of the Cornerstone Institute in Institute in Cape Town), Nicky Muller, Programme Director, Dr Rene Smith, Faculty of Arts and Design Executive Dean, DUT staff and students, to name but a few.

Welcoming guests and giving the overview of the conference was Prof Gwele, who said student success was the reason why everyone had gathered for the workshop and DUT has a responsibility to improve student lives and ensure it happens.

She (Prof Gwele) also spoke about the themes of the conference which revolved around student-centredness for student success and urged all attendees to share their thoughts and ideas on what student success is in the DUT context and how to foster and promote staff and student engagement in multi-dimensions and directions.
Giving the conference opening address, Prof Mthembu, thanked both staff and students and the keynote speaker, Mr Rudi Buys, for their attendance and was excited to have a conference on DUT by DUT. He also spoke of the two DNA strands of the University which were student-centredness and engagement.

“When the student and his or her parents set foot at our university, the attitude of staff becomes important. Attitudes need to change and show that we care and that kind of investment made by parents of their children at our university is an investment for life. I said at the beginning of 2017, we are not yet there,” he added.
Furthermore, he (Prof Mthembu) also spoke of the curriculum deliverance at DUT and of students who graduate and remain unemployable. “The system we use now is a system used years ago, essentially, in the future, the number of jobs will be done by artificial intelligence, so what are we doing to make students ready for the digital economy? I believe it is not about the design of the curriculum but the delivery and are our lecturers underprepared? We need to ensure that those who are employed have been in the industry as it’s also about success in terms of the outcome and work delivered,” stressed Prof Mthembu.

Prof Mthembu’s last point of discussion went beyond the curriculum aspects and focused on the extracurricular activities that are provided by DUT. “We have a grand opportunity to encourage our students to adopt and lead a healthier lifestyle. We need to get them involved in sports, culture or dance and encourage them to lead a more holistic life,” said Prof Mthembu.

The keynote speaker at the event was Mr Rudi Buys, who recently joined Cornerstone Institute, a non-profit private university in Cape Town as Dean of Humanities. His topic of discussion was on: The contested curriculum: teaching and learning reflections on integrating the curriculum and co-curriculum. He spoke of a generation of students who are defined by a transitional generation, bringing about a contested curriculum. “Within a system of an institution that focuses on curriculum, there are hidden curriculum silences. It comes down to a collaboration of joint meetings between students and lecturers. Students can be designers of their own curriculum. My point at any institution is that where there is a group of people deciding what people would learn is not part of the curriculum, so students play a role and the reality is that we are looking at a shared curriculum,” he said.

Buys is currently completing his doctoral research on change leadership in higher education. He is also visiting scholar at the UCLA Paulo Freire Institute.
Highlights of day two also included a session presentation by DUT Director: Special Projects in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Mr David Mohale, on student success: buzzword or a useful concept?

“Student success can serve as a cause for or as an effect of broader institutional success-it cannot be an end in itself: it has to be the means to an end. Universities, together with the church, are key drivers of societal evolution,” he said.

Mohale also added that efficacious leadership is a prerequisite for student success. “DUT vision and DUT graduate attributes are a great start and DUT’s productive graduate must resemble a disciplined person with disciplined thoughts and disciplined action. Our approach to student success must be foregrounded on the timelessness of the assertion that everything rises and falls on leadership. A DUT graduate should have leadership attributes. Our programs, particularly through General Education, must be intentional in producing leaders as DUT graduates,” he said.

Other topics of discussion included addressing student drop-out rates at South African universities, undergraduate students’ experiences of access and success at DUT, the use of the cornerstone module and life knowledge skills modules in enhancing student success in two South African universities: DUT and UFH, high impact practices to facilitate student success, student-centeredness curricula at DUT and engagement matters – fostering staff and student engagement.

Pictured: Professor Khehla Ndlovu, (DVC People and Operations), keynote speaker, Mr Rudi Buys, (Dean of Humanities at Cornerstone Institute) and Professor Thandwa Mthembu, DUT Vice-Chancellor and Principal, at the conference.

Waheeda Peters,  , http://www.dut.ac.za/dut-institutional-research-conference-looks-at-student-success-through-data-lens/, Sep 01, 2017

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