Connecting Higher Education Learning Spaces in a Blended Zululand Teaching and Learning Ecology

Connecting Higher Education Learning Spaces in a Blended Zululand Teaching and Learning Ecology

Neil Davies Evans (University of Zululand, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5557-5.ch010


The purpose of this chapter is to conceptualize a blended teaching and learning ecology in a South African institution of higher education which is grappling with issues of relevance, equity, and calls to decolonize the curriculum. This case study draws on past experiences and prior learning in higher education and suggests that a good teacher needs to understand the diversity of their students—how they develop and learn and that most “deep” learners actively construct and transform their own knowledge for their specific needs. Acknowledgement of this diversity also highlights that students from different backgrounds can have different perceptions, beliefs, and ethics, which all act as filters of information and thus learning. The epistemological and methodological foundations, together with the effect of participant diversity and proposed pedagogy, will contribute to dialogue on holistic curriculum development and deeper learning spaces in higher education.
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It can be argued that the roots of higher education and its scholars were largely responsible for establishing the morals, cultures, economies and religions of many different civilisations which embraced the founding principles i.e. striving to acquire, question and create new knowledge in order to resolve problems in society. Higher education and the evolution of the university is clearly outlined by Barnett (1990) who points out that originally the Greek idea of higher education lacked the institutional framework, but existed in a relatively unadulterated form. This can be demonstrated by some of Plato’s dialogues on developing solid community leaders, including how pupils can use an open and critical discourse with a master to acquire a solid understanding of the body of knowledge being debated (Barnett, 1990). The outcome of this early account of higher education would seem to be for the ‘elite’ to achieve self-determination in the trilogy of body (health), mind (academy) and spirit (religious conviction).

The medieval idea of higher education constituted a slightly more inclusive approach, which resulted in large communities of students and teachers who jointly participate in the formation of self-governing communities of scholars (Barnett, 1990). These self-governing communities were largely given academic freedom from the rest of society and degrees were awarded to graduate scholars who could then teach universally at recognised academies (Barnett, 1990). Newman’s ideas on the ‘scope and nature of a university’ date back to 1852. He proposed that knowledge generated from the various sciences of life should be housed in one university to create the realisation that the combination of these fields would foster an understanding of the wholeness and interdependence of the world and its scholars (Barnett, 1990). Newman believed that universities' education should be ‘liberal’ in the knowledge they imparted and that knowledge gained could be an ‘end in itself’ and not necessarily connected to the achievement of physical and personal needs such as wealth, power and fame, which Newman believed was beyond the scope of discussion of a university (Barnett, 1990). Newman’s holistic view of the utility of higher education suggested that intellectual knowledge was the start but that this should then be combined with physical experience and reflection in order for the knowledge holder to become truly wise, capable and self-empowered in that domain (Barnett, 1990). Karl Jaspers’ idea of a university included four key performance areas including research, teaching, a professional education and the transmission of a particular kind of culture (Barnett, 1990).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Dualism: Confidence that all knowledge is either right or wrong.

Learning Management System (LMS): A software application for the administration, tracking, reporting, and delivery of educational modules.

Multiplicity: There are many ways of investigating a problem or topic.

Threshold Concept: In certain academic disciplines there are “conceptual gateways” or “portals” that help students overcome “troublesome” learning events.

Electronic (E-)Learning: E-learning is broadly defined as the use of ICTs and information systems (IS) in teaching and learning.

Multiple Intelligence Theory: Gardener proposed that there are many ways to be intelligent, and although learners possess all eight, each individual has a particular mix of dominating intelligences, which are not fixed and can change over time or learning space.

Connectivism: A pedagogy in which language, together with media and technology, acts as a conduit of information, promoting greater student participation, collaboration and interaction between networked learners, who socially construct an active learning experience within different learning networks.

Blended Learning: Blended learning environment, where traditional face-to-face teaching and learning is combined with e-learning, experiential learning, self-learning, informal learning, research, and community engagement.

Social Constructivism: Learning and teaching is a collective process in which we are both teachers and learners at the same time and are thus better able to understand the information we have constructed by ourselves.

Relativism: Knowledge depends on the interpretation of scientific evidence with a variety of possible conclusions that can be drawn from it.

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