Wits University will look to increase the ways students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts are assessed, to optimise learning in 2023.
Professor Diane Grayson, senior director of academic affairs, says learning plans are a work in progress. “Using diverse forms of assessment allows us to assess a wider variety of skills, knowledge and competencies.” The university is orientating lecturers this semester on the new standing orders.
Roger De Mello Koch, a fourth-year electrical engineering student, agrees that assessment needs to be enhanced especially for online examination, saying multiple choice does not allow students to show understanding of a concept.
Wits implemented the blended learning programme after two years of remote teaching and learning due to the covid-19 pandemic. Grayson says the main problem with remote learning was students and lecturers became isolated. Brett Freeman, a lecturer in the school of mechanical, industrial and aeronautical engineering, agrees: “You don’t grow as a person socially if you [are] sitting in your bedroom listening to lectures.”
Students who experienced in-person, remote and blended learning agreed that the lack of social interaction hampered their learning. De Mello Koch says online lecturing results in less engagement because students are not forced to engage with the material as at an in-person lecture.
Computer science honours student, Sonia Bullah, believes the blended learning programme needs to be developed further to assist with revision. “It would be really beneficial to record in-person lectures and post them online later,” she says.
Both De Mello Koch and Bullah said students of the future should always look to ask for help if they do not understand a concept. De Mello Koch adds: “Often other students can provide more clarity on something you are struggling with as they will explain it in a different way that may make more sense.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Second year chemical engineering student works through a blended learning lab. Photo: Colin Hugo
Thando Sibongiseni Gumede, a final year Law student at Wits, is not only an Allan Gray Scholarship recipient and a Brightest Young Minds (BYM) awardee, but is also an advocate for the education of black girl children and substantive equality. A self-proclaimed feminist, she remains highly competitive in a male dominated industry.
COOL KID: Thando Gumede, a final year law student is not only interested in Law but in the advancement of black girl children through education. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho
You are studying Law but also have a keen interest in entrepreneurial activities, why?
Where the world is going is something I like to call cross-educational pollination. It means that gone are the days where law students go to law school to become a lawyer. So now, faculties will be teaching skills, skills that can go anywhere and in any way they want to.
Entrepreneurship is a mind-set where you identify inefficiencies and then solve those problems. So when you have cross-educational pollination, then someone who’s an engineer has got the hopes of becoming the president, not just a politics student.
You were chosen as one of the ‘Brightest Young Minds’. What exactly does that mean and how do you feel to be chosen as one?
It’s about collecting the brightest young minds on the African continent, 100 people all over Africa came together through a selection process. It wasn’t about marks, it was really just about people who presented ideas and presented themselves in a genuine way. All I can say is wow! The event was a great networking opportunity.
What are you currently working on?
There are basically two things I’m working on, it’s a new technology for sanitary pads and the other is a tech company. I’ve written a research paper on that [the former], it was about the right to basic education for black girl children in rural South Africa; one of the hindrances of going to school is [a girls] menstruation, so their biological disposition.
The postulation I make is that I say to the state, it has a constitutional obligation to balance the scales for both boys and girls.
You say you are an advocate for education and particularly substantive education, what does that mean?
Government needs to provide proper sanitation in schools, pads and panties to girls, particularly to girls in that community, either through social grants or making those things freely available to them.
That is called substantive equality. It’s better than formal equality, substantive equality asks why? At the starting line you need to remove all the rocks and boulders that are on the race track for girls to be able to manoeuvre themselves freely and equally.
After an eight year stay in the United States, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena has finally decided to come back to South Africa and has chosen Wits University as her new academic home.
BACK HOME: After many years abroad educating and learning, Professor Hlonipha Mokoena will make a permanent move to South Africa in June. Photo: John R. Harris
In June, the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) will welcome South African Professor Hlonipha Mokoena back home.
Mokoena, 38, originally from Soweto but left for KwaZulu-Natal at the age of 12 to go to boarding school, took on her first job as an associate professor in anthropology at the Columbia University in New York a few years after graduating with her PhD from UCT (University of Cape Town), in 2005.
Her move to Wiser comes after three years of planning and describing this new challenge, Mokoena said, “I mustn’t disappoint.”
Mokoena hopes to have the intellectual space and time in which to complete a new book. No stranger to publishing, she wrote her first book titled Magema Fuze: The Making of a Kholwa Intellectual in 2011.
“Mokoena now feels that she can quite soundly critique American notions of “knowledge”
After 8 years of teaching at Columbia University, Mokoena now feels that she can quite soundly critique American notions of “knowledge”, and she describes some of the innovative ways in which students are taught in the US as viable options in South Africa.
“I think in South Africa we tend to argue about eurocentrism as if [it’s] sort of widespread, whereas really the world currently is dominated by the American approach to creating knowledge, including African studies. It’s really American-centric,” Mokoena said.
Mokoena spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about the differences between universities in the States and those here at home, “American private universities [such as] Columbia University are very different from South African universities at the basic level of competition.”
According to Mokoena, there is a high degree of competition for staff and students to get into institutions like Columbia.
More than a decade after Wits agreed to adopt Sesotho as a second language, the university is no closer to implementing this commitment.
In 2003 Wits University drew up a language policy that said the university would use an African language, Sesotho, as a medium for teaching and learning.
“The resources of the university need to be mobilised to enhance the language competencies of staff and students and, in partnership with the government, play a role in the development of one of South Africa’s African languages,” reads the policy.
However, while the policy has remained in effect its implementation has been hampered by a lack of resources.
“Unfortunately, I do not have a good story to tell … I think we must take some responsibility, we say one thing and we do another,” said Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib.
Habib said the current language policy was “all for show” and the university needs to be realistic about its ability to implement an African language for teaching. “We love the policy but where are we going to find the millions of rands? It’s all for show and not for the reality of where we are. It’s a symbolic statement we make [more] than a real statement,” he said.
The 2003 policy outlined the implementation of Sesotho in four phases however, a decade later, not a single phase of implementation has taken place. Phase one, offering Sesotho classes for staff members, was supposed to have been implemented in 2010.
The policy was adopted by Wits because government made it a requirement for all higher educational institutions to further transform. The university signed the policy but took little action to implement it.
THE ISSUE: Vice- chancellor Prof Adam Habib in conversation about the Language Policy. Photo by: Anazi Zote
“The university said ‘let’s go into compliance and let’s tick the boxes’ and we kept quiet and nobody asked,” Habib said.
The university began to look at revising and implementing its policy last year after government said it would conduct a survey of indigenous languages at higher education institutions.
Prof Libby Meintjes, head of the School of Language and Literature Studies, said the first draft of a new language policy would be released in October.
“We are moving back to mother tongue teaching and if we cannot manage it in lectures we will have it in tutorials,” Meintjes said.
According to Meintjes, last year the university sent an email survey asking what was the preferred African language as a medium of learning and teaching. The results showed that isiZulu was in demand more than Sesotho.
“Staff and students put isiZulu ahead of Sesotho because of the language competence and the number of people that speak it but we don’t feel that because isiZulu has replaced Sesotho we will only go for isiZulu,” Meintjes said.
Habib said Wits needed to be honest about what it can do in terms of using African languages with current resources.
“We cannot spend so much time lying to ourselves. I think we should come into terms with it, if we don’t have the resources, the will, and we don’t have the courage, let’s not pretend that we do,” he said.
However, he concluded that Wits can achieve some kind of transformation, but it would be skewed by South Africa’s history.
While parents worry about their children playing video games, most Wits students agree that gaming improves academic performance – but a Wits psychology lecturer says it’s all about balance.
Vuvuzela approached students after a recent Inspired Teachers Conference, in Johannesburg, at which Sizwe Nxumalo, economic science honours, told 300 teachers that playing video games could improve performance. According to The Star, he said gaming increased knowledge and provided a safe space for creative experimentation.
Ross Lelliot, masters in video animation, said the computer games he played as a child helped him develop his maths, English and typing skills.
Lelliot also said: “I didn’t have to do history in high school because I did Age of Empires.”
Hanli Geyser, a lecturer in the university’s new game design degree, said Age of Empires wasn’t accurate, because players could change the way history played out.
“If you play the game right, the Egyptians can beat the Romans…but you’ve already learnt about how Egyptian society worked,” she said.
Geyser cited Age of Empires and Civilization as good examples of games which enhance learning.
“Importantly, neither of those set out to be educational. They are just games that people enjoy playing.”
She said these games require players to “look at what you have and plan the possible future outcomes. It’s that strategic level of thinking, very much like chess, where you have to gauge the current situation…and be able to predict the possible outcomes, so that you can best prepare for them. And that’s learning.”
Geyser said even games like the cellphone game Bubble Breaker and shooting games develop learning skills.
“This is because of the way games work as a construct. For a game to be interesting to people, it’s got to be challenging at all times.”
She said the fun in a game comes from the feeling of achievement which comes with “beating the game” and getting a high score.
“What does all this have to do with education? It instils a culture of learning…and a need to process and implement.”
Tanyani Daku, a 3rd year media studies and English literature student, said gaming improves hand-eye coordination.
Shanice Lewis, a 1st year BA General student, said games teach the brain to work fast, since one has to respond quickly.
“You see people who play really fast games. Eventually their hands move without them even thinking about it. That’s a twitch skill. It becomes muscle memory, like playing the piano. It becomes second nature.”
Geyser also said games like Bubble Breaker teach pattern recognition, which she identified as an essential skill in the sciences.
Registered educational psychologist and Wits lecturer Joseph Seabi said the instant feedback players get from video games has both advantages and disadvantages. He said that students learn that they get immediate gratification, which is not case in real life.
Everything in moderation
Seabi also said some students spend too much time playing video games, when they could be preparing for tests and lectures. He recommended limiting game playing to one or two hours a day.
Germanio Tjilunda agreed with Seabi.
“Seriously, I’ll be honest: video games don’t make you a better student. It takes all your focus, because you want to finish a particular mission,” said the 1st year commerce student, whose favourite game is FIFA.
“You spend four or five hours, and by the time you want to get to your work, it’s too late.”
Lelliot urged students to manage their gaming habit.
“You have to definitely have control over it. Don’t let it have control over you.”
In this episode we take a look at the work of Joburg Theatre, through the eyes of the people that work at there. Justine, who has been at the theatre for more than 20 years, walks us through its history, and Mbongeni, a ballet dancer, tells us how he came to make this beautiful theatre […]