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Lecturer’s PhD focuses on improving teaching and learning

by Gerrit Bester Finding creative ways to improve teaching and learning was the inspiration for her PhD topic, says Dr Leandi Steyn Delport. The dynamic lecturer at the Department of Performing Arts, Faculty of Arts and Design, who obtained her doctorate from the North-West University (NWU) in June, says a good support structure is vital to complete this journey, in her case, including a furry friend, called Fats.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR CAREER SO FAR. I started working at TUT as a full-time lecturer in 2015. I am passionate about teaching and learning, especially in the Performing Arts. Every new student group has been a highlight. Every year is a new challenge, and students teach me as much as I teach them. Finding creative ways to improve teaching and learning was the inspiration for my PhD topic.

WHAT IS THE TITLE OF YOUR PHD DISSERTATION? Vocal music teaching-learning practices in contemporary South African theatre: a case study.

WHO WAS YOUR SUPERVISOR? Professor Jaco Kruger of the NWU School of Music.

JUST HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SUPERVISOR AND TO HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM/HER ON THIS JOURNEY? I was extremely lucky to have had amazing relationships with my supervisors since my M Tech: Drama at TUT. I knew then that finding the right supervisor was essential. My supervisor’s patience, guidance and continuous support have allowed my project to flourish and me to grow as an individual and an academic.

SHORTLY EXPLAIN THE MAJOR FINDINGS/DISCOVERIES MADE AS PART OF YOUR STUDY AND HOW THEY CONTRIBUTE TO THE CURRENT BODY OF KNOWLEDGE IN THIS FIELD. I investigated the vocal music teaching-learning practices and experiences of a group of professional drama graduates.

Participants’ explanations pointed to a combination of indigenous oral performance practice involving continuous, practical social learning, and structured, technical, outcomes-based Western practice. The two domains of practice were conceptualized by participants as play and work, respectively. The former involves a strong sense of communal identity as well as emotional and spiritual engagement, while the latter involves unfamiliar technical requirements and pedagogical alienation.

The theory of community of practice and play provided an analytical framework for the practice of the research participants, allowing me to develop a strategy for more effective vocal music teaching-learning in tertiary education.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR FELLOW STAFF MEMBERS WHO ARE BUSY WITH THEIR DOCTORAL STUDIES OR ARE STILL CONTEMPLATING THEM? “You will never always be motivated, so you must learn to be disciplined” – Anonymous. Discipline and consistency are the most important elements to succeed. Make sure that you have a support system to lean on – family, friends and colleagues. You will need their support and encouragement. I can also highly recommend a good back support office chair, curved keyboard and a Fats (my PhD assistant and basset hound companion).

WHAT ARE YOUR RESEARCH INTERESTS, AND HOW IMPORTANT IS RESEARCH OUTPUT IN THE ARTS? My research interests include teaching and learning, specifically in singing and musical theatre performance in South Africa. Research outputs help to keep what we are doing relevant, and to share knowledge and ideas with other professionals in the field, which encourages dialogue, collaboration and innovative ideas.

HOW WILL YOU ENCOURAGE A CURRENT STUDENT TO PURSUE POSTGRADUATE STUDIES? I always encourage students to look at the full picture: What are your current academic questions and curiosities? Where would you like to be in five to ten years’ time, and how will postgraduate study help you get there? Also, choose a research topic that excites you and that you can have fun with.

WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS ACADEMICALLY AT THIS STAGE OF YOUR CAREER? At my graduation ceremony, we were reminded that a PhD comes with the responsibility to make positive changes in our environments and in South Africa, and I plan on doing exactly that. For now, I am excited to put the strategies from my PhD to use in my teaching and learning. I recently had an opportunity to do that during the Before and After musical revue that showed at the Breytenbach Theatre in June. The teaching-learning outcomes achieved showed incredible results, excitement and growth in my students on a personal and professional level. I am excited to see where this new outlook on teaching and learning is going to take me academically.

PHOTO CAPTION: Dr Leandi Steyn Delport, Lecturer at the Department of Performing Arts, Faculty of Arts and Design, obtained her doctorate from the North-West University (NWU) in June.


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