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Engaging students key to Prof Faadiel Essop’s teaching success
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie – Wilma Stassen
Published: 30/01/2023

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled". This quote by the Greek philosopher Plutarch forms part of Professor Faadiel Essop's own teaching philosophy, which, for the second time, earned him a coveted Teaching Award from Stellenbosch University (SU).

At the end of 2022, Essop, who is a professor in the Division of Medical Physiology at SU's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) and the director and co-founder of the Centre for Cardio-metabolic Research in Africa (CARMA), received the award in the category for Leaderly Teaching Scholar. This is the second time that Essop receives the coveted SU Teaching Award – the first was in 2018 in the category for Scholarly Teacher.

“My teaching philosophy is strongly centred around the pedagogy of engagement," says Essop. “I follow a student-centred approach and attempt to design innovative, active teaching methods to share in my physiology classes." One way in which he has achieved this is through gamifying the learning experience by, for instance, developing mysteries for students to solve or presenting case studies that students have to troubleshoot, research and share the findings in class.

“In my opinion these techniques can help break the monotony of passive didactic methods and provide students with an opportunity to apply the information within a real-world context and thereby derive a sense of meaning in terms of the knowledge pursued and gained," explains Essop.

He also believes that good relationships play and important role in learning and teaching and strive for an interconnectedness between student and lecturers, and among students themselves.

Essop is a Fulbright fellow and has a B2 rating from the National Research Foundation. In 2021 he was awarded the Physiology Society of Southern Africa's prestigious Lifetime Career Achievement Award and he became a Teaching Advancement at University (TAU) Fellow in 2022.

“It is essential that we vigorously pursue the concept of better engaging the student and to create a stimulating and creative environment for them to flourish as creative and critical thinkers," says Essop. He aims to develop his students' critical thinking by regularly presenting them with thought-provoking open-ended questions which they have to deliberate with classmates.

“The idea is to produce critical thinkers with strengthened graduate attributes that will ultimately become change agents and leaders in broader society." In order to attain this, he has developed a new BSc (Hons) module that links biomedical sciences to broader societal issues. The new module includes topics such as history and the philosophy of medicine/science; fake news and conspiracy theories; science communication; racism in medicine, and more. The module, which was launched in 2022 for honours students in the Division of Medical Physiology, proved so successful that it has been expanded to all honours programmes in the Department of Biomedical Sciences in 2023.

Essop, whose primary training is in the field of physiology, explains that his acumen in teaching and learning has developed out of a passion for his subject and desire to engage students by creating a “true joy for learning". This led him to complete the Scholarship of Educational Leadership short course, which he says made him more aware of the theoretical underpinnings of teaching and learning, and showed him what a complete scholar should look like.

“The TAU programme also made me more aware of the issue of social injustice in the teaching and learning sphere, and taught me to be fearless and embrace a leading role in order to bring about meaningful change… I always strive to reach the highest levels of excellence – as my postdoc mentor always reminded me: whatever you do represents a portrait of yourself, and therefore you have to strive to always present the best version of yourself."

Commenting on his recent award he says that he feels honoured and humbled by this accolade. “It represents an endorsement of my efforts in the teaching and learning space, and confirms that such endeavours are valued, recognised and appreciated."