Launch of the Alternation African Scholarship Book Series (AASBS)

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From left to right: Professors Nhlanhla Mkhize, Labby Ramrathan, Nobuhle Ndimande-Hlongwa, and Johannes A. Smit.
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The first four volumes of the Alternation African Scholarship Book Series (AASBS) were launched, as part of 24th Time of the Writer Festival Coffee Club Series, hosted by the College of Humanities.  These four volumes focus on research related to the impacts of COVID-19 on academia.

The session was moderated by Professor Relebohile Moletsane, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Social Cohesion, and J.L. Dube Chair in Rural Education.

Opening proceedings, DVC and the Head of the College of Humanities Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize welcomed everyone present. He said the AASBS is located within the Humanities Institute as one of its signature projects. Its launch coincides with the death of King Goodwill Zwelithini.

‘The launch of the Alternation African Scholarship Book Series in the time of this event, is opportune for us, because it is a series focused on and dedicated to African Scholarship. It is dedicated to bringing in the historically marginalised voices into the Higher Education landscape, including, knowledge that was generated in resisting colonialism,’ said Mkhize.

The Book Series is aimed at preventing the effects of COVID-19 by increasing and intensifying the knowledge divide. ‘It also researches the historical contribution of the continent to global knowledge, from the South, bearing in mind the different ecologies of knowledge in which we are located, and which might be either complimentary or contradictory,’ added Mkhize.  

The Humanities Institute is supported by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nana Poku. The AASBS will be one of the Institute’s humanities projects, and is a peer-reviewed, international book series focused on the publication of interdisciplinary contributions in the fields of the Arts and Humanities in Africa, that will compete on equal terms with knowledge produced in the rest of the world. It is inclusive of human and social science aspects in Law, Management Studies, Information Science and Technology, Governance, and the natural sciences.

The project was led by a team comprising of the Chair of the Humanities Institute, Professor Johannes A. Smit; Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize; Dean and Head of the School of Arts Professor Nobuhle Ndimande-Hlongwa and the research project leader on Humanities Curriculum Development in the College of Humanities, Professor Labby Ramrathan.

The titles of the volumes are:

Having worked as part of a team, each volume also has its own lead-editor. Ramrathan led the first volume; Ndimande-Hlongwa the second; Mkhize the third; and Smit led the fourth volume.

Speaking about Volume One, Ramrathan said that COVID-19 triggered ‘a moment of deep reflection on the curriculum and this moment may be lost due to a pedantic focus on curriculum content coverage and on emergency on-line teaching and learning processes, to complete the academic year.  Fundamental curriculum questions like What Knowledge is most worthwhile now and who should determine this knowledge may be marginalised in the quest for saving the integrity of the academic year.’  

He sees the series as ‘a snapshot of initial interventions from an African perspective to teaching and learning during the extended university lockdown that could also be a blueprint to how university teaching and learning might unfold within the realities of the 21st century.’

Speaking in relation to Volume Two, Ndimande-Hlongwa noted that ‘curriculum transformation and development also include the seminal deployment of digital media in curricula. Excellence in digital competencies is key to future research and research-led teaching and learning. We also cannot integrate technology in our curricula and courses without a sound pedagogy.’

She highlighted that the volumes also cover emergency as well as lasting adjustments made to pedagogy during the time of COVID-19, in disciplines such as history, media, graphic design, music and dance, health sciences, commerce education, rural students’ studies, teaching and learning of differently abled studies, and social work’, amongst others. ‘The future will also see the foregrounding of some advanced technology integration in the research processes, published research and related curricula in the broad-based digital humanities space,’ she added.

Speaking about Volume Three, Mkhize said that ‘the main contribution of the research will be in the broad area of the transformation of tertiary education and research.’ He identifies three orders in epistemic transformation.

The first focuses on tacit as well as overt reinforcement of existing understanding and transformational processes in view of certain inefficiencies. Second order change the replacement of out-dated, ineffective schemata and interpretive frameworks, with new, contextually-, and culturally relevant ones.

Third order changes ‘require the conscientising of members of the university about the interpretive frameworks in need of change, and a sensitive facilitation of the emergence and practice of operative, instituted social imaginaries that inform and serve inclusive organisational frameworks. We require an ubuntu approach in Higher Education institutions’ responses – also to the COVID-19 pandemic.’

Discussing Volume four, Smit said, ‘Not only has COVID accelerated the migration to online teaching and learning; it has also opened new vistas of the possibilities that information systems and technologies have for research-led teaching and learning as such. We can think of the “learner as subject”, and “learner as subject in interaction with an academic subject, during this pandemic”, which involve all – from the senior professoriate through mid-career academics, and tutors alike.’

Smit noted that ‘we also have to embrace this step of equalising the power balances between lecturing and student engagement of learning, not only with regard to subject-specific problematisations, but especially with regard to the enhanced capabilities required to embrace digital media in online teaching and learning.’

He argued that ‘the ball is in the hands of both lecturer-learners and student-learners, to upskill and to continue to learn how to use these technologies to their full capacity and for the optimum benefit to the qualitative e-research and e-learning opportunities and experiences of lecturer and student alike. Thus, this challenge will remain, and will also remain quite exciting, now that we have passed the crisis and emergency tipping points of the impacts of COVID-19 on teaching and learning of 2020.’

The Book series can be accessed via

http://alternation.ukzn.ac.za/archives/book-archive.aspx