Professional development in higher education: perceptions and experiences of new lecturers at a university of technology in KwaZulu-Natal.
Mohlakoana, Mbali'nhle Promise.
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Research on professional development in South African higher education institutions (HEIs) has gained traction in recent times. This can partly be attributed to the rapid increase in student enrolment in teaching and learning institutions and emphasis on throughput rates, which is increasing the pressure, internationally and nationally, to provide structured programmes to develop academics’ professional competence. Professional development has been viewed as critical in enhancing the quality of lecturers as teachers in higher education (HE). However, while professional development of lecturers in HEIs is integral to transformation agenda in South Africa, several evaluation studies have uncovered impediments to achieving this goal. As such, the overarching aim of this dissertation was to describe and explore new lecturers’ perceptions and experiences of professional development at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). The study further explores and describes barriers and facilitators to new lecturers’ participation in professional development in HE as well as the perceived impact of professional development programmes on new lecturers’ development at DUT. A qualitative research design was employed for this study. Purposive sampling was used to select participants that met the inclusion criteria. The research participants were purposively recruited based on the inclusion criterion of being novice lecturers. The novice lecturers selected for this study had not been employed as university lecturers for more than three years at DUT and had not worked as lecturers before joining DUT. Semi structured interviews were used as the research instruments for this study. Data were collected from ten research participants from the DUT Midlands Centre. The data were analysed using thematic analysis to describe and explore new lecturers’ perceptions and experiences of professional development programmes. The major findings highlight how new lecturers perceive professional development programmes as useful but not without some challenges as they highlight certain factors that make the programmes unhelpful and which in turn constitute barriers to professional development programmes at the institution. Some of the barriers cited by the new lecturers included unsuitable timing of professional development programmes, facilitators who lacked expertise, and shallow and unhelpful content of the programmes. In addition, the haphazard structuring of the programme and insufficient incentives for participation were also regarded as challenges to the professional development viii programmes. The findings from the study also point to the challenges of new lecturers’ workload, resistance to change, and inadequate support from management. Nevertheless, in terms of the impact of professional development programmes, the findings from the study suggest that professional development programmes provide new lecturers with pedagogical skills and improved pedagogical competence. These findings are discussed in relation to the social cognitive career theory (SCCT) and relevant literature on professional development in HE. It was found that regardless of some perceived impediments to professional development programmes, such programmes can assist new lecturers in finding their place in a University, and help new lecturers create a collegial sense of belonging among colleagues. These benefits however will be more appreciated if the challenges identified in this study are adequately addressed. In this regard, various recommendations for improving professional development programmes are offered in the dissertation. For the professional development programmes to be more beneficial to the target audience, lecturers need to be involved in the conceptualisation of these programmes. This will ensure, for instance, that such programmes are organised on a rolling basis to cater for the need of the new lecturers as they arise. Such recommendations, especially the advocacy for a bottom-up approach to the organisation of professional development programme, will also help to address the challenge of content, among others. The involvement of the beneficiary, in this case the lecturers, will make the programme to be need-based. It will also address the issue of unconducive timing, among other issues raised by the respondents.