College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences

Digitally yours

Unisa’s colleges of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) successfully hosted the first virtual Teaching and Learning Awards Festival on 12 August 2020, with an online attendance of more than 200 delegates.

With the theme of Digitally Yours, this event was ably led by Prof Simi Dube, Head of Teaching and Learning and Community Engagement (CSET), and Prof Riann Christian, Head of Tuition and Learning Support (CAES). The aim of the event was to showcase the sterling work done by both colleges, and to promote and encourage continued excellence in teaching and learning.

Welcoming everyone to the awards festival was Acting Executive Dean of CAES, Prof Ramagoai Magano, who indicated that the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic had accentuated the need for and the importance of digitisation over and above the demands placed on our lives by the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). "At Unisa, this reality has been clearly demonstrated when we had to, for the first time, host online June examinations; it is, therefore, apparent that the theme for this year’s festival is contextually relevant," he said.

He expressed special words of welcome to the guest speaker who would assist the university in unpacking the theme: Barry Dwolatzky, an Emeritus Professor in the School of Electrical Information Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand, who is the founder and director of the university’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and also the founder and chief visionary (CVO) of the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

In his presentation, entitled Education 4.0 is coming: Fact or fake news, Dwolatzky posited that Education 4.0 is the concept that fits under the 4IR banner. He argued that there is a strong need to realise that many telecommunication developments are evolutionary in nature. Although there is a rapid move towards digitalisation, he expressed a great concern that people tend to speak about 4IR as if it is already happening. He cautioned the audience that there are still issues that are being struggled with, such as the issue of connectivity, which is still a real challenge. He said, however, that although the concept of 4IR seems to be a futuristic one, it is also possible. He also raised concerns about the hype that has been raised around the issue of 4IR. He termed the notion of 4IR as an aspiration that could take decades to achieve, especially when countries like South Africa are considered, which might still be digitally unready compared to other countries.

Special words of welcome were also extended to the adjudicators, who consisted of both internal and external experts, to ensure the fairness and consistency of the process. Magano congratulated all the contestants and emphasised that they had had to leverage much to reach this far; he also indicated that many colleagues who had started the process had fallen along the way. "Whatever the outcome of the competition, you should remember to feel good about yourselves and remember the pedagogical mantra that says, 'The good teacher is the best storyteller'." He encouraged the contestants to tell their story with boldness. He argued that celebrating teaching and learning in the university was a practice that would enable the portfolio to reclaim its primacy as the core business of the university.

Prof Monde Ntwasa and Sibusiso Malindisa will represent CAES in the category of Excellence Award for Innovation in Tuition, Dr Mariette Strydom will represent CAES in the category of Excellence Award for Module Design, and Dr Jan Mentz will represent CSET in the category Excellence Award for Innovation in Tuition.

The candidates from CAES who were recommended to represent the college at the institutional level are Dr Mariette Strydom, who participated in the category of Excellence Award for Module Design, and Prof Monde Ntwasa and Sibusiso Malindisa, who participated in the category of Excellence Award for Innovation in Tuition. Dr Jan Mentz was recommended to represent CSET in the category Excellence Award for Innovation in Tuition.

These colleagues will advance to the next round, which is the Unisa Excellence in Teaching and Learning Awards Festival, due to take place virtually from 5 to 8 October 2020, to be organised by the College of Accounting Sciences (CAS), the College of Economic and Management Sciences (CEMS) and the Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL).

In his closing remarks, the Director of the School of Science in CSET, Prof Mantile Lekala, expressed appreciation to Prof Elmarie Kritzinger from the School of Computing, for successfully directing the programme and for encouraging lively discussions. He further congratulated the two colleges and said that such awards are important, as they are an opportunity for the university and the country to attend to teaching and learning challenges that came with Covid-19.

He thanked all the presenters for presenting very high-tempo presentations that attendees could learn from and assist Unisa in becoming the destination of first choice. "In the digital world, if students are not cultivated they will soon lose interest, which will eventually result in the pass rates being low," he said. He concluded by encouraging all the delegates to learn from what had been presented and to continue providing solutions for students in the digital world.

* By Thembeka Ntuli-Mpapama, Communication and Marketing Specialist, College of Science, Engineering and Technology

Publish date: 2020/09/19