Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

External Group Coaching and Mentoring: Building a Research Community of Practice at a University of Technology

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

External Group Coaching and Mentoring: Building a Research Community of Practice at a University of Technology

Article excerpt

Introduction

Universities across Africa are running out of academics and South Africa is no exception to this trend. According to the Secretary General of the Association of Africa Universities, Professor Mohamedbhai, universities need to think 'out of the box' if they are to succeed in developing a next generation of scholars (MacGregor, 2008). Boyer (1990) postulates that scholarship consists of four overlapping functions, namely discovery (the research function); integration (the ability to build multidisciplinary connections and to integrate research findings into a larger body of knowledge); application (applying knowledge for the greater good of society), and teaching (the key function of scholarship). A next generation of scholars may, therefore, be described as promising young academics whose main focus areas of teaching and learning as well as research and community service are focused on serving society. More particularly, they serve their immediate communities by means of a transdisciplinary agenda. Consequently, these academics are able to respond more effectively to the ever-changing knowledge environment. Based on Boyer's model, the term 'scholar' in this study refers to young academics who seek scholarly activities related to all forms of learning.

The Vaal University of Technology (VUT), the case under study, originated from the Vaal Triangle College for Advanced Technical Education which was established in 1966 in response to industrial growth in the Vaal Triangle region. It was anticipated that the College would be a training facility for technicians who could service the chemical and engineering industries in the region as opposed to opting for full university status. While 60 White students were registered at inception in 1966 at the Vaal Triangle College for Advanced Technical Education, the VUT had 22.014 students, the majority of whom were Black students, in 2011 (VUT, 2011). A large number of the current body of students come from underprivileged communities.

The original institution did not have a primary research focus; efforts to grow research have been pursued since 1996 (VUT, 2011). Given the low research base from which VUT departed as a University of Technology (UoT), the opportunity has arisen for a research culture to be socially constructed by creating a research community of practice (RCoP). A one-size-fit all approach to the socialisation of a next generation of scholars, particularly within a transdisciplinary environment, has limited prospect of success. This approach neglects to consider not only the distinct disciplinary cultures of the science paradigm, scholars and research practice, but also the transitioning academic identities such as race, gender, class, academic background and phase of higher education degree studies (VUT Hub and Spokes Model, 2009).

The research coaching and mentoring programme at VUT was developed according to the Hub and Spokes Model (2009). This Model is a structured programme which aims at inviting mentors (research leaders of strategic focus areas at VUT) into a structured relationship with postgraduate students to support the growth of the next generation of scholars at VUT. The programme includes both an internal and an external coaching and mentoring approach that are facilitated concurrently. The internal process encompasses the mentoring activities that take place during the relationship between the research leaders (supervisors) and the mentees (postgraduate students). The external process, which forms the focus of this article, refers to the formalised external group coaching and mentoring programme taking place between two external research coaches/mentors and the postgraduate students (hereafter referred to as students) of the Hub and Spokes programme. The agenda is led by students (external coaches and mentors are responsive to the students' expressed needs, and the content of the meetings is, to a large extent, determined by the students). …

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