Sharing and analysing the impact of academic literacies research and practice on student success was one of the major aims of the third annual two-day Academic Literacies Symposium which took place at the Coastlands Ridge Hotel last week (25 to 26 May 2017).
According to CELT, majority of DUT students accessing academic language is strewn with difficulties with English as a first language, which poses serious challenges when used for learning, teaching and assessment. The aim of the symposium was to look at ways to ease accessibility to academic literacies theories, research and practice.
In attendance at the symposium were the DUT CELT team, academics and staff from various universities. Key speakers included Prof Sioux McKenna, Prof Felix Banda, Prof Lucia Thesen, Prof Mbongeni Malaba, Dr Gift Mheta, Dr Gita Mistri and Simon Ndlovu.
Opening the symposium was Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Design, Dr René Smith, who reiterated the importance of speaking on the issue of academic literacies with different universities, sharing ideas and engaging with other faculties on the curriculum, as a means of moving forward.
Keynote speaker Prof McKenna, who has vast experience of running a large PHD programme in Higher Education at Rhodes University, based her research in this subject, and spoke about how students can be practically assisted with taking on the reading and writing practices required for successful completion of postgraduate studies. “When we (academics) are dealing with the issue of academic literacies, how we (academics) understand ourselves is important in relation to our students and how we can give them support, is pertinent,” she said.
Giving a more multilingual perspective on academic literacies was Prof Banda from the University of Western Cape, who explored the usage of translanguaging, multimodality and transmediation. “I explore the opportunities offered by notions of translanguaging, multimodality and transmediation (translating meanings across multiple modes/languages) for multilingual pedagogic and curriculum development as well as the challenges offered by ‘traditional’ understanding of teaching and learning, which sets strict boundaries between modes and languages,” he added.
Concluding day one presentations was Prof Malaba, who discussed the challenge of studying in English, when one’s grasp of the language is shaky. “Many students at South African institutions do not grasp the essence of the disciplines they register for and thus struggle to complete their studies within the stipulated periods. The poor performance might not necessarily reflect their intellectual capacity, but be indicative of the lack of exposure to critical thinking. Ideally, this capacity should be developed at school, in order for them to face the challenge of studying disciplines not offered at schools, when they enrol at tertiary institutions. Tertiary institutions do not operate in a vacuum,” he stressed.
Professor Mbongeni Malaba is the Professor of English Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus. He has published widely on South Africa and Zimbabwean literature. His recent publications are on Namibian poetry written in English.
Day two of the symposium focussed on the developing literacy practice in undergraduate studies. The workshop used excerpts from a musical video developed by students to describe the shift from school to higher education writing practices. The workshop included hands-on tasks in which participants shared what the practices of success looked like in their courses and consider how it is that students acquire these.
Pictured: Speakers at the event, Dr René Smith, Prof Lucia Thesen, Prof Sioux McKenna and Prof Felix Banda, celebrate Africa Day which coincides with Day One of the symposium.