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.

Call for Abstracts: RITAL 2021

9th Annual Research in Teaching and Learning (RITAL) Conference Call for Papers

Date: Thursday 25 November 2021

Time: 9h00–16h00

Online virtual conference: Microsoft Teams

The RITAL conference will bring together academics across the disciplines who are interested in discussing institutional, curriculum and pedagogical adaptations during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Theme: Post-pandemic challenges in higher education: Integrating pedagogy and technology-enhanced teaching and learning practices

The RITAL conference will enable academics to redefine, rethink and re-imagine our roles as lecturers at a university. The rapid shift to emergency remote teaching (ERT) meant that lecturers had to re-learn and adopt new ways of teaching. A combination of synchronous and asynchronous teaching approaches became vital during the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating lecturers’ capacity and openness towards innovation and technology-enhanced learning opportunities. As lecturers moved their content online via the learning management systems (LMS), a key concern was the pedagogical adaptations made during the ERT.

The RITAL conference will allow academics to discuss the integration of pedagogy and technology-enhanced teaching and learning related to these key questions:

How does the transition to ERT influence lecturers’ pedagogical strategies?

How does ERT affect student learning and the social relationships of learning?

How do institutional responsiveness and strategies impact teaching and learningduring the pandemic?

How do lecturers deal with the social inequities of our socio-cultural and educational landscape, such as students’ lack of data and digital technology, students’ motivation to learn and students’ lacking basic resources such as food and electricity?

How does technology-enhanced learning influence our perspective of decolonisationin higher education?

How can technology-enhanced learning lead to transformative learning among our students?

Empirical studies, reflections and conceptual papers will be considered. Academic staff and postgraduate students are invited to submit abstracts that focus on post-pandemic challenges in higher education under any of the following conference sub-themes:

  • Online assessments
  • Pedagogical practices
  • Digital education
  • Remote teaching and learning
  • Academic development
  • Decolonisation and transformation of the curriculum
  • Technology-enhanced teaching and learning
  • Language and the curriculum
  • Enhancing student learning and success
  • Student engagement
  • Curriculum development
  • Institutional transformation

Academic support staff are also encouraged to participate, e.g., the Student Counselling Unit, The Disability Unit, HIV\ AIDS Unit, and the Community Engagement Unit.


Submission of abstracts: 2 November 2021.

Notification of acceptance of abstracts: 8 November 2021.

Abstracts of 200-250 words for online presentations.

For questions, please contact Najwa Norodien-Fataar  and Nicolene Pasquallie


2nd Call for Papers

2 and 3 December 2020

Time: 9h00 -12h00

Fundani CHED will be hosting its first Online RITAL conference via Microsoft Teams.

Theme: Institutional adaptations during the COVID 19 pandemic: Exploring staff experiences with Remote Teaching and Learning

The RITAL conference will bring together academics across the disciplines who are interested in discussing institutional, curriculum and pedagogical adaptations during the COVID 19 pandemic. The online platform will enable academics to explore how the rapid shift to online learning affected their teaching, including:

  • how remote teaching and learning impact on student learning and the social relationships of learning;
  • how the shift from blended learning to fully online learning changed lecturers’ teaching approaches;
  • how institutional responsiveness and strategies influenced teaching and learning; and
  • how lecturers dealt with the social inequities of our socio-cultural and educational landscape when they were confronted with students from challenging environments who lack the basic resources such as food and electricity.

Empirical studies, as well as reflected work, will be considered. Academic staff and postgraduate students are invited to submit abstracts that explore educational adaptations during remote teaching and learning under any of the following conference sub-themes:

  • Assessments
  • Pedagogical practices
  • Research on teaching and learning
  • Remote teaching and learning
  • Academic development
  • Decolonisation and transformation of the curriculum
  • Technology-enhanced teaching and learning
  • Language and the curriculum
  • Enhancing student learning and success
  • Student engagement
  • Curriculum development
  • Institutional transformation

Academic support staff are also encouraged to participate, e.g. the Student Counselling Unit, The Disability Unit, HIV\ AIDS Unit, and the Community Engagement Unit.


  • Submission of abstracts:  13 November 2020.
  • Notification of acceptance of abstracts: 17 November 2020.
  • Abstracts of 200-250 words for online presentations.

Please complete the form below by 6 November 2020.

For questions, please contact: and

Kind regards

Dr Najwa Norodien-Fataar

Senior Lecturer: Academic Staff Development Unit 

7th Annual Research and Innovation into Teaching and Learning Conference 5th December 2019

Dear Colleagues,

Call for Abstracts


5th December 2019


The 7th Annual RITAL conference will be hosted by the Fundani Centre for Higher Education Development on the 5th December 2019.

Theme of the Conference:

Reimagining teaching and learning practices in the context of higher education transformation

The conference will bring together academics from across the disciplines who are interested in addressing issues of decolonisation of the curriculum, academic staff development, student engagement, language and multilingualism. It will provide a platform for academic staff to explore issues with regard to restructuring and reimagining teaching and learning practices within higher education institutions. The conference provides a platform for academic and support staff to present innovations, theorise policy and practice and explore opportunities and challenges associated with teaching and learning in higher education.

Abstracts should describe how educational transformation and decolonising teaching and learning practices were developed under any of the following conference sub-themes:

•            Research on teaching and learning

•            Decolonisation and transformation of the curriculum:

•            Research-based learning involving undergraduate students in research projects

•            Technology-enhanced teaching and learning

•            Language and the curriculum

•            Enhancing student learning and success

•            Student engagement

•            Curriculum development

•            Gender pedagogy

•            Institutional transformation

•            Blended learning


Submission of abstracts and workshop proposals: 4 October 2019

Notification of acceptance of abstracts: 31 October 2019


Abstracts of 150 -200 words for paper and poster presentations, and 250 to 400 words for workshop presentations

All abstracts must be submitted to Dr Najwa Norodien-Fataar at, using the following template: 




Abstracts that meet the following conference formats will be considered:

·      Oral presentation (20 minutes)

·      Workshops (30 minutes)

·      Poster presentations

Call for Abstracts: RITAL 2018

Guidelines for preparation and submission of abstracts

  1. Abstracts may only be submitted online.
  2. The presenting author of an accepted abstract must register and attend the conference.
  3. Poster presenters must be present and stand by their poster during their assigned poster session.
  4. The title may not exceed 25 words. The abstract text may not be longer than 300 words
    • Poster presentation only
    • Oral or poster presentation
    • Authors should indicate their presentation type preference: Please make sure to state your correct e-mail address.

RITAL 2017: CALL FOR ABSTRACTS- 10 March 2017


Welcome to Research and Innovation into Teaching and Learning Conference

SARETEC BELLVILLE 10 March 2017 9:00-16:00

RITAL 2017 will be hosted by the First Year Experience and Student Learning Unit: Fundani CHED. The focus of the 2017 conference is on:

Transitioning In and Transitioning Out: The Context of Transforming HE landscape

RITAL 2017 Conference is both an empirical and intellectual platform created by our universities to focus our attention on a very complex and sensitive question of ‘Student Transitions’ in the context of vocational higher education in South Africa. It is believed that new students in higher education are unable to draw upon the social networks of support, thus making transition more difficult (Leese, 2010). An improved transition can potentially enable students to be independent and self-directed. Increased self-reliance must be made one of the aims of a successful transition from school to higher education (Beaumont, Moscrop & Canning, 2016).

Who Should Attend?

We are calling on the CPUT community to submit abstracts on research done on teaching and learning. All presentations will require a 150- 200 (max 300) word abstract. Please submit abstracts by the to Ms Siphokazi Mboxela ( using the abstract submission template below.

Click Here to submit an Abstract:


RITAL Conference 2015: Keynote Address

The RITAL 2015 conference will host two keynote presenters, the first presentation will be by Prof Christine Woods, and the second address will be by Prof Ermien van Pletzen and Prof Moragh Paxton.The biographical information and abstracts are provided below.

Christine Woods

Associate Professor Christine Woods, has a PhD from Rhodes University and is an experienced academic development practitioner with 20 years of experience in higher education in South Africa and internationally. She is currently the Director of the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development at Wits University. Professor Woods was a Fulbright Humphrey Fellow at Pennsylvania State University in the USA and Head of Educational Development at Central Queensland University in Australia. Prior to that, she was the Director of the Teaching and Learning Centre at the University of Fort Hare and Manager of the Academic Development Centre at the East London Campus of Rhodes University. She has developed national and international collaborative networks around learning and teaching research interests in the areas of educational technology, assessment, evaluation, alternate access provision, student engagement, curriculum development and learning design. She has a proven track record of undergraduate teaching and postgraduate supervision, and extensive experience in modelling best practice in learning and teaching and the use of web-based educational technologies to support active and collaborative learning in higher education.

Title of Presentation:

Navigating the road less travelled: Academics focusing on teaching in Higher Education

There is currently a great deal of uncertainty in Higher Education institutions in South Africa who are compelled to deal with issues of transformation and governance, and the economic realities concerning student fees following the national #FeesMustFall protests. In addition, greater demand for and access to higher education, rapidly evolving information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the rise of social media have added to the complexity of institutional contexts and the need for innovative pedagogies to support learning and teaching. Increasingly pressure is being brought to bear on academics to be both effective teachers and productive researchers yet these areas are not equally regarded in terms of career progression. It is apparent that teaching competence needs to be developed and rigorously evaluated in order to achieve an equitable balance between the status of teaching and research. In my presentation I draw on the elements of Activity Theory to offer a road map for academics focusing on teaching to navigate the road less travelled that aligns with career progression from emerging, through developing to distinguished practice. The progressive development of a complex range of attitudes, attributes, knowledge and practices that constitute ‘good’ teaching for development and accountability purposes will also be explored.

Ermien van Pletzen and Moragh Paxton

Associate Professor Ermien van Pletzen is Director of the Academic Development Programme in CHED. She used to be based in the Language Development Group, where she specialised in academic literacies in the Health Sciences. Her research interests include academic literacies, student performance in higher education, and community-based health and disability services.

Associate Professor Moragh Paxton is in the Language Development Group. She has worked with the economics department to develop the Writing Project In economics and to evaluate the project for Teaching Development Grant funding. Her research interests include academic literacies and visual literacies at undergraduate and postgraduate level and across many disciplines.

Title of Presentation:
‘Proof of improvement’: How do we measure the impact of language development interventions on student writing?

A common practice in the Language Development Group (LD) at UCT is to design academic writing interventions that are located in particular disciplines and integrated (as far as possible) with the content materials and assessment practices of particular courses. This practice is informed by the New Literacies and Academic Literacies approaches, which has formed the foundation of much research in LD over the last decade. This work has been received well by colleagues in academic departments in several faculties at UCT. LD has experienced a growing demand for involvement in supporting students’ development of appropriate academic literacy skills in individual courses and even in whole curricula, for instance in Health Sciences. However, despite having general confidence in the quality and impact of our work, we have so far not made much progress in finding ways of concretely measuring and demonstrating the impact of our work or providing evidence of its quality. Such evidence would be invaluable for various purposes, ranging from providing evidence for individual performance appraisals to institutional reviews of the quality of the unit’s work.

A couple of years ago, when applying for funding to support a number of proposed academic literacies interventions at UCT, we have had to face the challenge of designing Monitoring and Evaluation instruments that would produce reliable and valid evidence of the impact of our language development work. This presentation aims to contribute to complex debates surrounding the possibility of producing ‘evidence’ of ‘success’ in interventions designed to ‘improve’ students’ academic writing. Drawing on a survey of available literature, our own qualitative data on students’ academic writing, as well as our experience in the last few years of designing Monitoring and Evaluation systems for state-funded teaching and learning projects, our presentation will demonstrate that it is indeed very difficult (or potentially dangerous!) to predict specific ‘outcomes’ for academic literacy interventions, and that it is therefore also problematic to try and trace linear ‘causalities’ between intervention and outcome. Despite these difficulties, our presentation will explore possible ways of generating valid and reliable qualitative and quantitative evidence that may be used to indicate whether and to what extent a particular academic writing intervention could be deemed ‘successful’. While our research in this area is at a preliminary stage, we propose that validity and reliability of evidence could be increased by closely and specifically aligning measures and indicators, whether qualitative or quantitative, to the objectives, assessment criteria and outcomes of the particular courses or curricula that academic writing interventions are located in.