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Sunday, 18 January 2009

Innovation and enthusiasm will be rewarded. That is the powerful message sent to the Professional Communication Unit after Terri Grant and Claudia Kalil won a prestigious CHED award for Collaborative Educational Practice, which recognises outstanding collaborative approaches to enhance the teaching and learning environment. The prize is awarded to UCT staff members who have collaborated on a project and is worth R40 000 which may be used for travel, to fund a visiting specialist, for conferences or for producing materials to support student learning.

Professor Daya Reddy, Chair of the award committee, said: "The project on Scenario Learning: embedding teaching and learning within a professional framework was found to be an excellent example of collaborative educational practice. The Awards Committee congratulates you ... In particular the use of authentic problems for students to work on. The collaboration between academic and PASS departments is also to be commended.

"The project successfully addresses the challenge of providing meaningful opportunities for Computer Science students to develop their communicative competence within a professional context. The solution you have put in place has been sustained for several years and you have recently used it to address a similar challenge within Accounting. We also congratulate you on the way in which you have integrated research and research output."

Terri Grant, head of the PCU, was thrilled to receive the award. She said: "The prize money is wonderful from a conference point of view, but knowing that this type of research is not only a peculiar interest of mine is the best news ever! Claudia Kalil joined my SL teaching team in 2007 and is ecstatic - as a new full-time staff member - to be included in this accolade. She is equally enthusiastic about taking this model forward in her own teaching in the future."

Terri said: "I would also like to thank PASS staff members Richard van Huyssteen and John Critien who helped with scenario ideas on the Computer Science and Commerce courses respectively."

Students have also heaped praise on the Scenario Learning courses. These are some of their views:

  • It is easier to relate to the subject when using real events, than just using a textbook.
  • Very good course. Had a lot of fun while doing it and really believe it is a course that will definitely benefit me for the future! Thank you.
  • It was very practical and I ’m glad I took it, because it challenged me in ways I have never been challenged before at UCT. I learnt a lot and I know I will improve and become a better communicator.
  • The scenario approach was a refreshing change compared with other subjects.
  • Brilliant hands-on idea that is both relevant and practical.
  • I really enjoyed the PCU project, because it was well organised. It was also very different to our normal requirements. The workshops were an inward glance to what the purpose of writing should be.
  • I really enjoyed the professional approach to the PCU project; it was a group effort that required unity and a sense of reliability on others, in contrast to depending only upon oneself. This is more realistic, real world experience, and I have the PCU project to thank for that.
  • We enjoyed the process of writing our article. It was great to see how our work developed from the initial talks, to the rough notes, to the mind map, then to the topic line, and finally to our article.
  • We learnt a lot during the writing process. The two most important things we learnt were how to research and how to formulate the research in an article.
  • Fantastic course, absolutely brilliant idea. Some students may not like the work but it is important. I look fwd to my next one [Honours].
  • PCU has been quite an interesting course and different from normal lectures or what we have been accustomed to as Computer Science students. Learning to conduct proper research and investigation and putting it down in article has been quite a challenging but an educational advancement to me and my project team.

Observers present at student presentations were equally enthusiastic. Aditi Hunma, a Masters student, said : "The topics were authentic and gave students the satisfaction of truly engendering change in their learning environment. The students enjoy the limelight during this activity for they are the ones to impart knowledge to the audience. A week later, when the same presentations were given in a formal set up, they had improved tremendously.

The dignitaries present on that day, stated at the end of the session that they were highly impressed by the presentations and one of them attested that he would need to revise the way he gave PowerPoint presentations in future. They were eager to consider the recommendations. "Denis van Es, Director, Energy Research Centre at UCT said : "I thought the students were really engaged. Of course, in large measure, this would have been due to the preparation you had given them. I think that a real issue – particularly a topical one – also helps. If they talk to something fictitious, then they are largely judged on presentational style and tools. I had fun this morning. The students are truly lovely and I hope they all do well."

John Critien, Director of UCT Property and Services, told the class: "I am very, very impressed with the depth of research. You have all done a great job in using various resources in your projects and making a good selection for your presentations in terms of content and focus. I am very proud to be part of this ‘ family ’ of such high calibre students."

Terri Grant added that the innovative scenario learning approach had also attract international attention and they had already been invited to present at a UK conference in 2010.

Story By : Carolyn McGibbon