The Making of a Scholar – A RITAL Throwback

In this post I chat to Dr Najwa Norodien-Fataar, chair of the RITAL (Research in Innovation Teaching and Learning) organising committee and Head of Department at Fundani CHED’s Curriculum Development Unit. She shares snippets of her academic journey and reveals the integral role that RITAL and RIFTAL – the fund that makes research in this field possible – have played.

Dr Najwa Norodien-Fataar doing what she does best – presenting.

Najwa’s story starts in 2010 when the very first RITAL Conference was held. Not only was she one of the conference’s first presenters, she was also awarded best paper! Here she shares some tips for delivering an award-winning presentation. It’s no wonder that she now heads up both the organising and funding arms of RITAL. 

Within two years of presenting her first-ever academic paper at RITAL, Najwa submitted it to the South African Journal of Higher Education where it was published soon after. The focus of her research was student engagement at CPUT as it relates to their on-campus stay and use of digital tools. Najwa explained that 10 years ago the need for e-mentoring already existed, made especially necessary by Fundani’s position outside the CPUT structures of faculties and student residences. She discovered that students who felt more socially connected did better academically.

Najwa’s ability to secure RIFTAL funding for her research and her success at presenting lit an academic flame that burns brightly to this day. While her research focus has shifted slightly to focus more on the experiences of CPUT lecturers as opposed to students, the common thread between her academic interest then and now is her agency and capacity to develop programmes and serve. Her initial insights served students; more recently they serve the academics who engage with those students.

“We have to keep up. We’re on this threshold that requires us to change the way we learn, the way we view students. And I’m sure lecturers have done something extraordinary.” 

Dr Najwa Norodien-Fataar

This confidence in lecturers’ capacity to innovate, especially in the past two years, is what excites Najwa for the upcoming 2021 RITAL Conference. In fact, she believes that the focus on digitally influenced pedagogy and lecturers’ experiences will continue into 2022. That will of course mark the 10th year celebration of RITAL as well as its first hybrid iteration. Having presenters and participants join in person as well as from their homes anywhere in the country or the world is an exciting prospect. And a daunting one. But Najwa is convinced that last year’s success with RITAL’s very first virtual iteration bodes well for the organising committee’s future endeavours.

If you’re presenting at the 2021 RITAL conference in two weeks’ time, be sure to take a look at these Tips for Presenting by Najwa. Also check out her numerous publications here.

Taking teaching to another level

Trendy teaching methods were discussed during the recent Learning and Teaching Symposium held by Fundani’s Student Development Unit on the Bellville Campus.

Topics presented ranged from using ICT and tutorials to enhance teaching and learning practices to supporting underprepared students in mathematics and learning through field trips.

Prof Lorraine Hassan, Head of Fundani’s Academic Staff Development, delivered the keynote address under the title “Enhancing learning through tutorials through the perspective of Legitimation Code Theory (of semantics)”.

Discussing her findings, Hassan said 61% of tutee respondents in her study said that tutors encouraged them to ask questions. She added that the students preferred the use of mother tongue during tutorials.

She also found that tutors helped the tutees produce new knowledge by focusing on the application of formulae such as in accounting, physics or even practicals.

“There is a need for the development of mother-tongue education,” concluded Hassan.

Nobuhle Luphondo, a lecturer in the Management and Project Management Department, presented a paper about rethinking teaching practices.

Luphondo said she started using WhatsApp Group for teaching purposes. “We formulated groups and made rules governing the interactions,” she said.

“Students are required to be prepared for the WhatsApp and other group discussions.”

She added her students were so motivated that they came up with a Cultural Day celebration during which they cooked various traditional foods and dressed in different traditional attires.

To round up the day there was also a panel discussion about experiences on collaborations that have worked between the Unit and academic departments which saw lecturers from the Unit and departments sharing their experiences.

Emphasis on Diversity

The Fundani Unit recently hosted a high-level delegation of American experts in diversity best practice.

The visit from Diversity Abroad was arranged by Dr Misiwe Katiya a senior lecturer in Academic Staff Development at CPUT after she interacted with many of the experts during conference visits to the US in 2015 and 2016.

Katiya says sharing stories with her US guests and Fundani colleagues made her realise that CPUT can do much more to make our classrooms, offices and shared learning environments more welcoming to the diverse group of staff and students we service.

Katiya runs Xhosa language classes and heads the Teaching and Development committee so is at the forefront of the challenges facing lecturers and students alike.

“Diversity is not a concept of BEE and ticking boxes, it is about true multiculturalism in language, race, gender, internationalisation and ultimately it’s about making CPUT a more inclusive space for all who inhabit it,” she says.

The delegation from Diversity Abroad are professionals from a variety of US educational institutions, government agencies and NGO’s. They also visited Stellenbosch University and UCT during the visit.

Katiya hopes to launch a CPUT version of the delegation made up of like-minded individuals who are passionate about advancing diversity and greater emphasis on inclusiveness.

Contact Katiya at if you are interested in sharing ideas on the topic.


Afrikaans 4 Academics

In a bid to improve Afrikaans proficiency among CPUT staff members, participants of the Afrikaans4Academics course went on an excursion to the Afrikaans Language Monument in Paarl.

The Afrikaans4Academics course was rolled out this year by Fundani and aims to develop staff members’ basic communication skills in Afrikaans.

The course links with CPUT’s language policy which promotes multilingualism amongst its staff and students in order to bring about social cohesion.

Being proficient in Afrikaans also enables academics to interact and communicate better with Afrikaans-speaking students and colleagues.

The excursion provided staff members with a unique cultural and historical experience whilst learning to speak the language.

At the Taalmuseum, the participants were treated to an insightful tour of the premises where they learnt about the history of the Afrikaans language and the culture of its speakers.

While at the monument, retired Professor Heine Odendaal also shared his vast knowledge of the history of the Afrikaans language and the monument with the participants.

  • The course is facilitated by Anthea Adams and Theo Rodrigues

Reflections from Dr Chaunda L Scott – A recent Fulbright specialist scholar at CPUT

Dr Chaunda L Scott, an associate professor of organizational leadership, and diversity education specialist from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan USA, recently received a prestigious Fubright Specialist grant from the United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to provide diversity education workshops and seminars for Fundani’s academic staff development unit at CPUT.

The goal of the Fulbright Specialist Program is to award grants to qualified U.S. faculty and professionals, in select disciplines for the purpose of promoting linkages between U.S. scholars and professionals and their counterparts at host institutions overseas in select disciplines, to engage in short-term collaborative two-to six-week projects at eligible institutions in over 140 countries worldwide.

Below is what she has to say about her experience.

The Fulbright Specialist Program afforded me a wonderful opportunity to utilize my diversity education expertise by presenting several academic staff development diversity education workshops and seminars to academic staff professionals who were seeking to advance their diversity education knowledge and skills in the areas of teaching and research.

I was also provided the opportunity to design a five phase diversity education academic staff development research project which I will be leading over the next several years.

Diversity education plays a critical role in the South African higher education system today in preparing academic staff professionals to better connect with and educate a growing multicultural and multilingual student population to thrive as leaders of tomorrow in our diverse world and who are able to critically analyze societal issues, contest violence and unjust acts in a professional way, and develop innovative, peace-centered approaches for building and sustaining flourishing diverse and inclusive communities.

I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with the Fundani Centre’s Academic Staff Development Unit at CPUT.

The Fundani Centre’s forward-looking focus on diversity education for academic staff professionals is very much in line with my diversity education agenda.

I have also received enthusiastic responses regarding the diversity education workshops and seminars I presented at CPUT from all academic staff units I worked with along with several requests for more diversity education colloquiums from academic staff professionals.

In closing, the Fundani Centre’s academic staff development unit at CPUT is a leading academic staff development unit in South Africa and I look forward to working on academic staff development diversity education projects with them presently and in the future.

CPUT hosts education fundi national conference

CPUT’s Fundani Centre for Higher Education Development recently hosted a four-day annual conference of the Education Association of South Africa in Hermanus.

Under the theme “Dealing with educational inequalities in the age of measurement in South Africa – chas­ing numbers versus supporting students to succeed” over 100 delegates networked with the leaders in their fields of research whilst keeping abreast of advances in their fields.

Over the last three days keynote speakers, Professors Crain Soudien (CEO at the Human Sciences Research Council), Elizabeth Henning (University of Johannesburg) and Zubeida Desai (University of the Western Cape), took turns to share their experiences and wisdom.

Their respective addresses were energizing and inspiring prowess as they provided useful information and influenced opinions.

Dozens of papers were presented addressing some of the following sub-themes: performativity or capabilities versus graduate outputs, multilingual education, teacher education, pedagogic interventions and teacher autonomy, and ICT and values in education.

Delivering the opening address, CPUT’s DVC: Teaching and Learning, Prof Anthony Staak, said the conference came at an opportune time when the entire education system was confronting challenges.

“The first set of challenges I shall mention relates to what is often referred to as inefficiencies in the system, with cohort studies revealing high failure rates and unacceptably low throughput rates across the sector,” said Staak.

“In response to these inefficiencies in the Higher Education sector the Department of Higher Education and Training has made available a Teaching Development Grant to all universities in the hope that this grant, the TDG would be used to support interventions that address the challenge of high failure rates and poor throughput rates,” he added.

A few scholars of note were also awarded medals during the conference’s gala dinner in recognition of their outstanding contribution to higher education.

They are CPUT’s Prof Rajendra Chetty (Medal of Honour), University of Pretoria’s Dr MJ Malindi (Emerging researcher), University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Dr FP Khanare (Post-graduate) and University of Pretoria’s M Leask (Masters).

The conference was sponsored by Van Schaik Publishers, Pearson and Oxford University Press.

Pictures by Kelly Arendse of Kelly Arendse Photography

Improved tutor training enhances academic performance

The tutor training programme for lecturers and their Teaching Assistants (TAs) is bearing fruit at CPUT.

The success of the programme was revealed in an evaluation study commissioned by the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee to determine the effectiveness of tutor training at the institution.

The study was conducted by Prof Lorraine Hassan, Head of Academic Development Unit at Fundani.

“The predominant emerging finding was that there was an absence of discipline-specific tutor training at CPUT,” says Hassan.

She subsequently led a team that was responsible for the design and implementation of a training programme that would address this deficiency.

Since the program has been piloted hundreds of TAs and their lecturers have been trained.

The subsequent employment of the TAs is being funded by the Teaching Development Grant.

“It is hoped that the use of TAs will not only benefit tutees through higher quality support being provided but that TAs will also capitalize on this opportunity to position themselves in academia,” says Hassan.



Africa needs mother tongue-based academic multilingualism

A world renowned linguist shared his vision for mother tongue-based academic multilingualism in Africa at the Language Indaba held at the Bellville Campus.

Prof Ekkehard Wolff, Professor emeritus: African Linguistics at Leipzig University in Germany argued that this type of academic multilingualism is the reason why Asia still performs better in academia than Africa, even 20 years after the collapse of apartheid in South Africa.

Wolff argued that despite university enrolments growing fast on the Africa the continent, graduation rate is the lowest in the world due to low academic literacy in the language of learning, English second language.

He says the pre-requisites of implementing an African Language as a medium of instruction in African universities should be addressed by interdisciplinary approaches which involve governments and administrators, the intellectualization of African Languages and the Understanding the distinction between first language, second language and third language pedagogy.

Wolff encouraged the use of African Languages in new and high prestige domains such as academia, science, philosophy and technology and argued that this should involve the development of terminology.

Prof Antia Bassey, Chair in the Department of Linguistics at the University of the Western Cape, responded to Wolff’s keynote address and commended the CPUT language policy which promotes multilingualism as a model worth following.

The Indaba was hosted jointly by the Language Working Group in conjunction with Fundani Centre for Higher Education Development’s Language Unit on “Language Factor in Higher Education in Africa “.

Promoting research on teaching

The Fundani Centre for Higher Education Development has introduced a programme to empower CPUT’s academics as researchers in teaching and learning in their disciplines.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) programme held its inaugural workshop at the Cape Town Campus in February. The year-long initiative will culminate in a three-day writing breakaway in Stellenbosch and editing of manuscripts for publication in November.

On completing it, successful candidates will be expected to submit an article for publication in a journal or conference proceedings and will be awarded with a certificate.

According to the programme co-ordinator, Associate Prof Lorraine Hassan, Fundani seeks to teach academics how to identify problems in their teaching and then conduct research on solutions.

The aims of the SoTL programme include exploring and promoting the notion of researcher development as an emerging field in academic staff development as well as applying the principles of the scholarship of teaching and learning to departmental pedagogical and curricular initiatives for the enhancement of student learning.

It provides candidates access to the relevant literature, methodological expertise, space for discussion and collaboration with like-minded colleagues and mentoring from experienced researchers.

Speaking during the introduction workshop presented by Hassan, Associate Prof James Garraway and Daniela Gachago, the candidates expressed their expectations from attending the workshop.

Some said they want to learn how to conduct research and publish their findings while others said they want to enhance their teaching and learning.