Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
DU TOIT, Pleter H.; DE BOER, Ann-Louise; BOTHMA, Theo and SCHEEPERS, Detken. Multidisciplinary collaboration: A necessity for education innovation. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.2, pp. 236-251. ISSN 0041-4751.
The operational context of the research reported in this paper is teaching a module on Information Literacy at university level. The specific focus is on the array of learning style preferences of the academic staff responsible for offering the module and of academic and professional staff responsible for curriculum innovation. The learning style profile data set is used as point of departure for professional development activities. Continuing professional development of academic staff at universities has become an imperative in South Africa. This is inter alia a consequence of the new education dispensation that emphasises the importance of higher education and training that has recently resulted in the South African government appointing a minister of higher education and training for thefirst time. This imperative is underscored by several initiatives taken by higher education institutions in the country. The University of Pretoria is no exception: Professional development of academic staff is increasingly being highlighted in policy documents, in the welcoming speech of the newly appointed Principal, strategic initiatives in this regard by the office ofthe Vice-principal responsible for undergraduate studies, the Departmentfor Education Innovation that takes responsibility for academic staff development and the Division for Higher Education in the Faculty of Education that offers a formal higher education qualification. The curriculum innovation process reported is an integral part of the professional development of all involved. The Department of Information Science, Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment at the University of Pretoria is responsible for offering a semester module on Information Literacy to all first year students across all faculties annually. The module is presented to more than 8000 students. A textbook, "Navigating Information Literacy: Your information society survival toolkit", written by subject specialists from the Department is used as learning material for the module. Although the module has an acceptable pass rate, the scholarly application of the applicable skills linked to the subject content and learning outcomes is limited and in some cases lacking in subsequent academic years of study. In their endeavour to empower students to develop as lifelong learners the Department introduced a collaborative project. It is entitled "Facilitating Whole Brain Information Literacy: A multidisciplinary research project." At the same time, to empower all staff involved, the Department embarked on a research project that covers aspects such as professional development of staff, which forms the focus ofthis paper. The professional development of academic staff is one of the sub-projects. The overarching project consists of the following sub-projects: - Professional development of academic staff - Information literacy across the curriculum - Education innovation - Leadership and management in higher education - Community engagement These sub-projects are closely integrated and confirm the multidisciplinary nature of the project. The multidisciplinary team consists of information science specialists, librarians, instructional designers, educational consultants and staff development professionals. They were invited to participate in a collaborative process to enhance the curriculum, and to design and develop teaching and learning material. The learning material has been developed as a lecturer's "toolkit" that aims at enhancing information literacy skills across the curriculum and instilling a culture of applied information literacy within the learners. The overarching research project commenced with a baseline study. It entailed a quantitative approach to determining the learning style preferences of a cohort of first year students, the lecturers and other professional staff involved. For this purpose the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) (Herrmann 1996) was used. The baseline study, presented at different conferences highlighted the fact that students have different thinking and learning preferences. Therefore, a teaching methodology embracing the notion of "one style fits all" is not effective. It was decided that Herrmann's Whole Brain principles would be applied to all aspects of the project, including multidisciplinary collaboration and cooperation in the context of curriculum innovation. The academic programme under discussion is currently put under a scholarly lens as an investigation from within the Department. An internal locus of control viewpoint is taken when it comes to quality assurance. A scholarly and action research-driven approach is taken. As epistemological underpinning and impetus for education innovation, whole brain learning forms the crux. As research paradigm and process for professional learning action research is promoted. Action research is considered most applicable when it comes to professional development and practitioner research. This paper briefly links the baseline data of the two groups of lecturers and the group of students as background to the discourse on multidisciplinary collaboration below. The curriculum innovation group consists of an array of staff members. So-called professionals include an education consultant, designers of learning material and an information specialist from the library. Two groups of lecturers are implied. A group of senior academics are responsible for developing the academic programme under discussion. The offering of the programme is the responsibility of a group of 16 assistant lecturers. A summary of the research findings highlights the fact that it is clear that the team effort, as discussed in the article, can only be a success if the team consists of members from different disciplines - scholars with the subject knowledge needed for offering the module in question, namely information science and other scholars in the field of curriculum development, higher education and instructional design. For this reason the term multidisciplinary team is used in the title and throughout the text. The success of the collaboration depends on the important condition that each team member is given the opportunity to contribute to the process from the perspective of his/her own preferred mode of thinking. Learning processes that present themselves during the curriculum development process are used as opportunities for professional growth. Each team member is offered the opportunity to reflect on his/her practice thatforms part of a constructivist approach to the professional learning process that enriches the curriculum development discourse.
Keywords : Education innovation; Learning styles; Curriculum innovation; Whole brain learning; Academic staff development; Action research; Professional development; Information literacy.