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Can ‘excellence’ turn? Rethinking teaching excellence awards for the public good
Author: Anthea Jacobs
Published: 11/08/2020

held virtually on MS Teams, from 13h00 – 14h00

Dr Karin Cattell-Holden, senior advisor at the Stellenbosch University (SU) Centre for Teaching and Learning, was the presenter at the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Seminar on the 06th of August 2020. The topic of her presentation was “Can 'excellence' turn? Rethinking teaching excellence awards for the public good".

In this seminar Dr Cattell-Holden discussed the individualist focus of the teaching excellence awards at SU and proposed a re-contextualised approach to the awards in response to the call for social justice in South Africa. She argued that conceptualising excellent teaching in post-colonial South Africa should be linked to excellent learning and should emphasise the ideological and unequal contexts in which teaching and learning take place. Excellent teaching / learning should include a twofold collaboration between 1) academics and students to advance the relationship between teaching, learning and society, and 2) university management, academics and society regarding the social responsibility to deliver graduates who can function effectively in a democratic society.

Dr Cattell-Holden commenced her talk by unpacking the discourse of 'excellence', where after she shared her construction of the notion of 'teaching excellence'. She then delved into the idea of higher education in service of humanity, arguing, like Eshleman (2018)[1], that “We serve humanity first and foremost". Next, she moved on to teaching excellence as a form of value for the public good. She proceeded to the theme of teaching excellence awards, arguing that the conceptualisation, recognition and awarding of 'excellent teaching' should include a focus on 'excellent learning', with both discourses emphasising the ideological and unequal contexts in which students and teachers function. This was followed by tracing the discourse of 'excellence' at SU through several institutional documents. Against this thorough background she spoke about the SU Teaching Excellence Awards, and how it could be linked to the private good. She suggested that shifting the individualist focus of excellent teaching to collaboration would not only enhance the value of the teaching excellence awards but also contribute to reclaiming teaching at SU as a public good.

She concluded her talk by suggesting interesting ways for re-envisioning the SU Teaching Excellence awards for the public good. These include, amongst others, introducing the student voice, broadening the awards by introducing interdisciplinary teams and projects, and replacing the current individualist perspective by more inclusive criteria.

Dr Cattell-Holden's power point and a podcast of the session, is available here.

For more information about the topic, feel free to contact the presenter, at
The next Learning and Teaching Enhancement Seminar will take place on 09 September 2020.

[1] Eshleman, K. 2018. Emergent EDU: Complexity and Innovation in Higher Ed. EDUCAUSE Review, 7 May.