The Transformative Education/al Studies (TES) project

Project leaders:

Dr Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan (UKZN), Prof Thenjiwe Meyiwa (DUT), Prof Theresa Chisanga (WSU), Dr Delysia Timm (DUT)

The Transformative Education/al Studies (TES) project was a response to two national educational priorities in South Africa: a) the pressing need to transform teaching and learning in the Higher Education sector; and b) the pressing need to enhance research and supervision capacity in the Higher Education sector. TES was a 3-year (2011-2013), National Research Foundation (NRF)-funded project led by investigators from a university of technology (Durban University of Technology – DUT), a research-intensive university (University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN), and a rural comprehensive university (Walter Sisulu University – WSU). Participants were 22 university educators who were registered students (staff-students) at the 3 participating universities and their 11 supervisors, who were staff members (or honorary staff members) at these universities or at the participating research council. The staff-students and supervisors were located within diverse academic and professional disciplines, including: Academic Development; Accounting Education; Communication; Clothing Design; Drama; Educational Leadership and Management; English Language; Engineering; Fine Arts; Gender Studies; Indigenous Knowledge Systems; Jewellery Design; Photography; and Teacher Development. Thus, the TES participants formed a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional educational research learning community. The participants were also diverse in terms of age, gender, race, and language and in terms of diverse levels of experience in research and publication, ranging from senior researchers with extensive publication records to new scholars just beginning their Masters’ studies. All TES staff-students and supervisors were involved in researching their own educational practice through self-study methodologies, i.e. their research was: self-focused and self-initiated; improvement aimed; collaborative; and sought to make a qualitative difference to educational experience within specific contexts and to contribute to collective action for social change and social justice. The central self-study research question of “How do I transform my educational practice?” was explored in relation to participants’ individual contexts and also across the learning community’s different contexts, becoming “How do we transform our educational practice?” The core aim of TES was to support and study the collaborative development of self-study research and supervision capacity as participants engaged with these questions.

The TES project was successful in meeting (and, in most cases, exceeding) all of its 2011-2013 research milestones. Moreover, in 2012, the TES project received the “Top University Research Initiative Award” at the Durban University of Technology’s annual research awards.

In 2014, the TES project team were awarded a 3-year Education Research in South Africa Grant by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) to conduct a meta-analysis of the 2011-2013 TES Project. Our new project (2014-2016) is titled “Transformative Education/al Studies (TES): Pedagogic Implications for Research Capacity”. Through this meta-analysis project, we are seeking to learn lessons about supporting self-study research and also about supporting trans-disciplinary, multi-institutional educational research learning communities. Further explorations will include documenting the nature and processes of generating novel epistemologies and conceptualisations as well as developing innovative context-based methodological approaches. The award of this grant by the NRF highlights our research community’s recognition of the value and potential of self-study educational research in the South African context and beyond.

Dr Anastasia P. Samaras leading a research dissemination workshop with members of the Transformative Education/al Studies (TES) Project in July 2014