For the three years that I have lectured Communication at CPUT, one of the puzzles that many of my colleagues have not managed to solve, is the role of Communication in a university of technology like CPUT. The course seems to lend itself to different interpretations from both lecturers and students, especially in the Information Technology department (IT), where I teach currently. This has had visible implications for the teaching and learning of the course. For example:
“Some lecturers and students at CPUT do not understand why Communication should be included in university curricula. For them, Communication is an extended version of English language and students did English at high school level and therefore it should not be included in university curricula. For me, Communication is not English but the role of English in the teaching of Communication cannot be ignored… (Lecturer response)”
This excerpt brings to the fore one of the challenges facing Communication-the dissimilarity between English and Communication. The tendency to construe Communication as English language is not uncommon amongst CPUT students. For many students, CPUT is not a place to study English but to engage with heart core science and technology. Interestingly, students think the course is another phase of high school education, especially since it also focuses on English language concepts. To dismiss Communication on grounds that it focuses on academic literacy, exemplifies the extent to which South African students are dispassionate about support courses such as Communication.
The idea of a university of technology especially in the context of South Africa is still in a state of flux. Students come to these universities with different expectations and beliefs. They privilege CPUT because of its seemingly practical approach to teaching and learning and because it provides an opportunity to acquire essential technical skills for the industry. Therefore, the inclusion of courses like Communication in core curricula goes against the imaginations that students bring to this university.
“I am an IT students and really do not see why I should spend time studying how to communicate. Besides, I can communicate well and most of the things that lecturers teach us are things that are easy and I can do them independently especially since most of these things are on the internet. For example, they teach us how to compile a CV [sic]. If I want one I can always download the correct format from the internet (Student response)”
This response points sharply to the focus and teaching strategies in Communication courses. As an IT student, their perception of Communication is premised on the assumption that “technical people can get away with limited human contact” (Evans et al 2004, p. XVIII). However, “the success of systems development and IT projects depends on effective communication between users and developers” (Wynekoop & Walz 1999: 210). Also, in the ever-changing global market of the 21st century, the IT industry like any other industry needs “young people with minds of their own, who can present orally or in writing their views on particular proposals or development” (Kelly 1996: 8).
Furthermore, erstwhile Technikons (Technical colleges) like CPUT are still grappling with realigning “traditionally defined pedagogical variables with newly implemented, proficiency-oriented instructional outcomes” (Grove 1999:817). This suggests that the position of Communication is still obfuscating especially to colleague who have been with the institution for several years and have been caught in this unfamiliar transition to a university of technology. Unable to understand the precise role of Communication or perhaps simply being disingenuous, they have tended to embrace the course with pessimism and misgiving.
“Generally the perceptions about communication especially in my department are negative. Although many lecturers think it is important, they cannot aligned it with professional bodies that our students are likely to service when they graduate. Clearly these lecturers are ignorant about the role of Communication in South African universities. Also, students have this false sense of confidence and care-free attitude towards Communication- they think it is a very easy course and they do not treat it in the same way they treat their main courses… (Lecturer response)” “.I know the course is important but this is a university of technology, so we should be focusing on preparing these students with the technical skills that they will need in the industry. I don’t see how teaching these students how to write academic essays and read different texts can help them. (Lecturer response)”
The negativities from other colleagues undermine the collegiate relationship that one expects in a university. They also impact on students’ commitment to the course. Ironically, although CPUT students often relegate the course to second level, the quality of student assessments and intellectual interactions shows that they are unable to “respond appropriately and sensitively in various professional and [academic] contexts” (Reif-Lehrer 1992: 212). In simple terms, many of them cannot read and write competently-they cannot “express themselves verbally and non-verbally in social situations” (Langsberg & Nel 2005: 132). Moreover, the respondent’s rejection of academic literacy as critical to the process of learning is in my view a mockery of the idea of higher education in post-apartheid South Africa.