Integrating scholarship and continuing professional development (CPD) in the natural sciences at a South African university

Frick, Beatrice Liezel (2007-12)

Thesis (PhD (Curriculum Studies))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


The worldwide emphasis on lifelong learning, the continuous and fast pace of change and the competitive nature of practice forces professionals in all sectors to remain abreast of the latest knowledge, skills and/or innovations. This has contributed to the evolution of the term continuing professional development (CPD). The university lecturer in the natural sciences functions within a unique area of professional practice, as the practice requires scholarship – which contains elements of both subject-specific and educational expertise. It remains unclear how CPD within this professional arena is defined in terms of need, purpose and provision. The current quality of learning and evaluation of learning also warrants investigation. This study aimed to investigate how CPD could play a role in scholarly development from the perspective of lecturers in the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). A qualitative approach was followed. Semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample, followed by an open-ended questionnaire with a stratified random sample, were used. The results are reported in seven chapters, of which the first provides an orientation to the conducted study. The second chapter focuses on placing CPD in the context of scholarly practice in the natural sciences at Stellenbosch University. The third chapter investigates the provision of CPD in the natural sciences that could enhance integrated scholarship. The fourth chapter investigates the quality of learning within CPD as a measure of scholarly development. The fifth chapter reports on the evaluation of scholars’ learning in CPD in the natural sciences at Stellenbosch University, while the sixth chapter focuses on current issues and future trends in CPD for natural science lecturers at Stellenbosch University that will motivate an integrated and holistic approach to scholarly development – based on their own insights into their professional practice. The final chapter concludes the study with recommendations for the future practice of CPD within this sphere. The main findings indicate a difficulty in defining CPD, as these lecturers see themselves as a diverse group not easily confined to the traditional boundaries of a professional sphere. This difficulty in defining CPD has a direct influence on the lecturers’ need for CPD and the purpose of CPD within this sector of higher education. The provision of CPD for lecturers in the natural sciences does not conform to an integrated and coherent system of provision between the different stakeholders. Many initiatives are informal and are initiated according to individual needs. There is evidence of collaborative efforts within the different disciplines, although they are limited in terms of transdisciplinarity and true integration of scholarly roles. As a result of the complexities of academic practice, the quality of learning within the existing CPD initiatives is not easily determined. The progression from novice to expert is a continuous process, which is mostly self-directed and reflective in nature. Formalised government interventions, Total Quality Management systems, leadership development, mentorship and situated learning are presented as possible means of enhancing the quality of learning in CPD. The present study indicates the lack of appropriate evaluation of learning in CPD as the main shortcoming in the total process of CPD conceptualisation, provision, quality assurance and evaluation within the study population. Accountability for the monetary investment and energy spent on any CPD initiative is therefore limited. Portfolios, peer review, open-ended problems and simulations, auditing and observation of practice are presented as viable options for effective evaluation of learning in CPD that could enhance integrated scholarship. The future trends in CPD are discussed in terms of the future context of practice; the role of and need for experts; how experts will be educated and how they will maintain their competence. This provides a holistic view of scholarly development through CPD within the context of lecturers in the natural sciences in the Stellenbosch University.

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