Through the lens of humanity: (Y)our teaching matters!

Through the lens of humanity: (Y)our teaching matters!

By Anthea Jacobs

Students need special skills, behaviours and attributes to achieve success in a modern, fast-paced world. As university teachers, we are uniquely positioned to help students develop such skills. (Y)our teaching matters!

“Studente het spesiale vaardighede, eienskappe en gedrag nodig om in die moderne wêreld met sy vinnige pas sukses te behaal. As universiteitsopvoeders is ons in ʼn unieke posisie om studente te help om sulke vaardighede te ontwikkel. Jou onderrig maak saak!”

“Abafundi badinga izakhono, iindlela zokuziphatha neempawu ezikhethekileyo ukuze babe nokufezekisa impumelelo kweli hlabathi lanamhlanje nelenza izinto ngesantya esiphezulu. Njengabahlohli baseyunivesithi, singabona bantu bakufaneleyo ukunceda abafundi ekuzuzeni olo hlobo lwezakhono. Ukufundisa kwakho nokufundisa kwethu kubalulekile!”


It is not about the ability to be tech savvy and relying on systems and structures, but it is about the ability to strike up relationships with our students built on trust. It is about humanity” – Richard Gerver, EDULEARN 19


Gerver’s observation is reminiscent of the importance of Morrow’s notion of “cultivating humanity” in service of “human flourishing”. This notion was also highlighted in the previous Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Blog, Why (Your) Teaching Matters. The quotation above is my main take away message from EDULEARN19, the 11th annual International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies, held in Palma de Mallorca (Spain) on 01 – 03 July 2019.

Conference website banner


EDULEARN is one of the largest international education conferences for lecturers, researchers, technologists and professionals from the educational sector. After 11 years, it has become a reference event where experts in the field of education get together to present their projects and share their knowledge on teaching and learning (T&L) methodologies and educational innovations. I found it a great platform for networking and getting to know more about a wide variety of themes/streams in education, such as new trends and experiences in education and research, pedagogical innovations, and emerging technologies in education. The attendance of more than 750 delegates from more than 80 different countries created an international atmosphere where inspirational ideas and perspectives on education were shared and discussed. The conference focussed on ways to bring life to the conference theme of enhancing the learning experience. Especially insightful for me were the links I could draw to one of Stellenbosch University’s (SU) core strategic themes, namely a transformative student experience through hybrid learning.

View of the beach from the conference venue


I would like to align the conference theme to my work as academic developer at the SU CTL, because it is a theme with close ties to the CTL Vision. My overall experience of the conference reiterated an important notion:  we should aim to create conditions for continuously the improving student learning experiences. In the words of keynote speaker, Richard Gerver:

Education is not something that ends at the age of sixteen or eighteen, but it needs to be a lifelong commitment. In order to do that, we need to ensure that young people have the ability to continuously learn, adapt and change. In addition to academically develop a young person’s mind, we need to develop those lifelong skills which will make a real difference to their futures.

Gerver’s reference to “lifelong skills” is a brilliant affirmation of the current T&L theme at the SU CTL, “(Y)our teaching matters”. It matters, because it is a reminder of the kind of graduate we would like to nourish. According to the SU Strategy for Teaching and Learning 2014 – 2018 (2017:8) we aim to encourage graduates who are curious, lifelong learners who think critically and creatively. Gerver’s idea of ‘’lifelong commitment’’ builds on the vision for T&L at SU. According to the SU T&L Policy (2018:3), we should create an enabling institutional environment where quality T&L can flourish across the student body. Therefore, how we go about doing this is a matter of importance. It matters. (Y)our teaching matters.

As a former primary school headmaster from the United Kingdom, Gerver draws upon first-hand experiences and unique insights garnered from frontline education to explore links between leadership, human potential, change and innovation. His first book, Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today, has become a seminal text on the transformation of education. His latest book, Education: A Manifesto for Change, explores how school systems can be made fit for purpose in a turbulent 21st-century world. In his talk, also entitled Education: A Manifesto for Change, Gerver posited that education is the most important factor determining the future of our young people, our economy, our society and ultimately our planet. He used the metaphor of queuing for a simple Starbucks coffee, just to be confronted by a comprehensive, overwhelming menu of coffees. He argued that things do not have to be so complicated – we should keep it simple! He furthermore explained which skills, behaviours and attributes our students need to achieve success in the modern world and how we, as educators, might help them to acquire and develop these. Our students should acquire the tools to become well-rounded individuals, in other words we should not only build their knowledge base, but also teach them how to be responsible, confident and resourceful. This is an exciting statement, because it resonates with the SU Strategy for Teaching and Learning 2014 – 2018 (2017:8), where “A well-rounded individual” is listed as one of the SU graduate attributes.

Keynote speaker, Richard Gerver, on stage against the backdrop of his PowerPoint slide, depicting his visit to the world’s first Starbucks Coffee Shop in Seattle


Keynote speaker, Richard Gerver


The second keynote speaker was Dr William Rankin from the United States of America, a learning designer with broad experience in educational technologies and teaching. Having worked with schools, governments and learning organisations throughout the world for more than twenty years to design, develop and implement innovative learning initiatives, he shared ideas on Unfolding Deeper Learning: Designing Education for Tomorrow (and Today).

Keynote speaker, William Rankin

Keynote speaker, William Rankin, on stage against the backdrop of his PowerPoint slide, depicting the medieval classroom










He reminded us that for almost five centuries, our classrooms and teaching have been shaped by a particular relationship between information and people. That relationship emerged from the technologies of printing and print culture. Yet, as emerging technologies such as mobility, pervasive connectivity, social networking and digital creation radically change our relationship with the world around us, our approaches to teaching and learning must change as well. By designing a learning environment that knits together content, community, and context as three dimensions of learning, we can encourage deeper learning which is tightly connected to local cultures and strongly supported by social bonds. We need to find ways to empathise with and understand our students. To transform education, we need to find ways to move beyond ‘content’, to bring community back into learning, and think carefully about the relationships we form in our learning environments. We should bring the gifts of our own perspectives together, and mould them into something meaningful for our students. This is an important consideration and links to social justice, a critical challenge in the South African Higher Education context. We should ask ourselves: How do we teach towards social justice? To what extent do we embrace the perspectives of our students?

Gerver and Rankin remind us that teachers have an important role to play in preparing students for the modern, fast-paced world of work. We should strive to make a positive difference in the lives of students who are increasingly challenged by difficult decisions. Therefore, (y)our teaching does matter.

In conclusion, I ask, “What is our raison d’être as educators?” I suggest that it is to improve our students’ lives by forming trustworthy, mutually affirming relationships with them where they feel safe to ask “stupid” questions and take risks. (Y)our teaching matters.

EDULEARN19 was, without a doubt, an enriching experience.

Taken at the conference closing function

Anthea Jacobs

Anthea is an advisor / academic developer at the Stellenbosch University Centre for Teaching and Learning, which forms part of the Division of Learning and Teaching Enhancement. She sees herself as a teaching and learning ‘jack of all trades’, happiest when working with academics, leading them towards responsive, innovative and scholarly teaching and learning. An important focus for her is the strengthening of scholarship in higher education teaching and learning and she believes that collaborative engagement and working together to respond to complex educational questions, is key to building the next generation of academics.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not represent those of the University of Stellenbosch

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  • Ydalene Coetsee
    Posted at 12:06h, 12 March

    Dear Anthea
    Thank you for telling us about this important conference. I feel excited to think that my colleagues are part of the SU profile at such international events.
    I cannot agree more about the importance of excellent learning-teaching relationships with our students. However, at the moment my perception of the present strong drives towards larger classes and non-interactive technology applications, in my opinion have the opposite effect. Should we therefore, especially in language and communication, resist these drives?
    Moreover, students are sometimes encouraged to communicate online, irrespective of the requirements of academic communication? Do these online relationships count as real ones? Does this kind of communication count as real academic messages?

  • benita
    Posted at 08:47h, 16 March

    Dear Ydalene

    Thank you for a most interesting comment.

    Of course I do not have all the answers, but I believe that we can draw on research to guide us as we consider challenges related to online engagement. While the benefits of face-to-face engagement with students have been supported by many empirical studies, research on the effects of online engagement is beginning to gain more and more momentum. I concur with Min (2007) that a combination of both online and face-to-face engagement can increase the efficacy of teaching and learning, but I believe both these types of engagement should take cognisance of the nature of the important notion of “relationships rather than structures”. How we go about establishing good online relationships with our students, how we create a focus on humanity and how we relay online content with this in mind, is a challenge we need to continue to critically engage about.

    I refer you to an interesting paper entitled Engagement matters: Student perceptions on the importance of engagement strategies in the online learning environment, by Martin and Bolliger (2018). According to this study, the most important element in online learning, for students, is the facilitator or instructor. More specifically, I believe, it is the nature of the relationship with the facilitator or online instructor. How we manage this, is definitely an area for future research.


    Martin, F. & Bolliger, D.U. 2018. Engagement matters: Student perceptions on the importance of engagement strategies in the online learning environment. Online Learning 22(1), 205-222.

    Min, S. 2007. Online vs. Face-to-Face Deliberation: Effects on Civic Engagement. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12(4), 1369-1387.

  • gerda
    Posted at 11:38h, 14 July

    Thank you Alvaro!

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