NAS academics shine bright at 'Oscars of Higher Education Innovation'

Posted on December 11, 2015

Two academics from the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (NAS), Dr Patricia Forbes and Ms Thea Corbett were awarded first prizes at the Reimagine Education 2015 Conference in Philadelphia on 8 December 2015.

The Global Awards for Innovative Higher Education Pedagogics Enhancing Learning and Employability are also known as the ‘Oscars of Higher Education Innovation’. This global competition received submissions from 520 universities and enterprises from 50 countries, with 22 awards judged by a panel of 40 international experts - a ’who's who’ of higher education.

Dr Forbes from the Department of Chemistry won the first prize for her Spectrophotometer in the Presence Learning Award category. She developed an educational spectrophotometer (called the SpecUP). One of the defining features of the SpecUP is that the instrument can be built by students themselves by using a kit which costs about R600. The more expensive alternative is R30 000, which is the cost of an entry-level commercial instrument. The students can use the SpecUP in applied chemistry experiments. This makes it possible for institutions to have more spectroscopy equipment available to enable enquiry-based learning, which is of importance in a developing country context where student numbers are high and resources are scarce. Due to the hands-on nature of the SpecUP, which has moving parts, it makes it possible for students to understand what is inside the ’black box’ of commercial instruments and to discover what happens when they adjust components.

She was also honoured earlier this year with the South African Chemical Institute (SACI) Education Medal for 2014, as well as a sponsorship of R30 000 from the Royal Society of Chemistry to further her research on the educational spectrophotometer.

Ms Corbett from the Department of Statistics, who is also involved with the UP Four-year Programme, won the first prize in the regional competition for Africa for her entry Empowering 'weak' students through a scaffolded learning approach. This intervention was developed to enable ill-prepared first-year students in extended programmes (BSc Four-year Programme) to become independent, self-regulating learners through creative learning activities which include authentic real-life tasks. This Programme on the Mamelodi Campus provides access to Science and Science-based study programmes by setting lower entrance requirements and offering intensive support in order to prepare students for further studies in mainstream programmes. Subject content is presented by applying a variety of methods, designed to remedy possible gaps, focus on understanding and develop critical thinking and practical skills. Progress is continuously assessed to meet the required levels of academic performance. This project also won a third place in the Teaching Delivery Award category.


Ms Thea Corbett (standing left) and Ms Christina Kraamwinkel (standing right) with some students


Ms Corbett and Ms Christina Kraamwinkel, also from the Department of Statistics, were also awarded with a UP Teaching Excellence and Innovation Laureate Award in the Team Category this year.

Prof Marietjie Potgieter, Deputy Dean: Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences said that these achievements have advanced the University's teaching reputation and may have a positive influence on its international rankings as well.


- Author Martie Meyer

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