Learning to Apply and Challenge Psychosocial Theory and Contexts in a Diverse University Classroom: The Role of Prior Knowledge

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This workshop will grapple with the challenges experienced by students and lecturers in a university course integrating Psychosocial subject-matter into a Medical curriculum. It will be set against a South African background of higher education, characterized by high levels of cultural, linguistic and educational diversity and a strong ethos of institutional and curricular transformation. The workshop facilitators will introduce teaching materials and student responses from the Psychosocial and Academic Literacy components of an academic development programme for medical students who had been identified as at risk of failing their first year. Our theoretical framework will be constructivist, arguing that new theories and concepts are most accessible to learners if they can draw on prior knowledge. In this respect, the workshop will explore the extent to which even transformational curricula and pedagogies may constitute a type of ‘dominant academic culture’ that may pose obstacles to students, sometimes particularly when they are encouraged to draw on their own experiences and prior knowledge to demystify psychosocial concepts and theories. Participants will be invited to engage in the workshop with the aim of exploring possibilities of designing learning activities that would address the academic difficulties of at risk students and assist in reintegrating them into the mainstream curriculum, while at the same time building critical and reflective skills necessary for enabling them to draw on their own experiences and knowledge of the world, especially when these experiences and knowledge fall outside or critique the curriculum.


Keywords: Critical and Reflective Learning, Integrated Learning, Psychosocial Concepts, Academic Literacy Skills, Educational Diversity, At Risk Students, Prior Knowledge, Challenging Dominant Academic Culture
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Ermien van Pletzen

Senior Lecturer, Language Development Group, University of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa

I work in the Language Development Group, a unit in the Centre for Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town that specializes in language-based academic development work. My main teaching area is in the Faculty of Health Sciences, where I teach at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. My qualifications are a PhD in Literature and a Masters in Public Health. I am co-editor of the book Academic Literacy and the Languages of Change (2006). My most recent research includes a chapter in this book on medical students’ reading practices and a thesis on the epidemiology of non-fatal suicidal behaviour among South African adults.

Elmi Badenhorst

Lecturer, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

I am a co-convenor of an intervention programme for underprepared students at the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town. I lecture the psychosocial and Public Health components of the first year MBChB course for students who enter the programme. I am also involved in curriculum design work for academic development and support programmes at the Faculty of Health Sciences. My main research interest focuses on the role of mediation and scaffolding in addressing cognitive difficulties experienced by underprepared students. I have an MPhil in Education.

Ref: L09P0480