Technology-supported cooperative learning to enhance Self-Directed Learning

Project leader: Prof Elsa Mentz

Source of funding: NRF project (2018 - 2020)


The focus of this project will be on establishing effective technology-supported cooperative learning environments to enhance Self-Directed Learning. Education and engineering students from NWU and students from Unisa will participate in this project. Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) combined with the social interdependence theory will be utilised as lens for this research within realism as philosophical paradigm. A qualitative and quantitative design-based approach will be followed to develop, implement and evaluate effective cooperative learning interventions, supported by technology to enhance Self-Directed Learning in a higher education learning environment. The expected outcome is to develop a framework for implementing technology-supported cooperative learning, conducive to the enhancement of Self-Directed Learning. This framework will include cooperative learning-embedded assessment, the impact of peer reflections as well as strategies for deeper learning. Furthermore, we will propose guidelines to evaluate the effectiveness of the integration of the five elements of cooperative learning in a technology-supported cooperative learning environment. With this project we ultimately aim to inform policy on higher education teaching and learning.


Multimodal multiliteracies in support of self-directed learning

Project leader: Prof Jako Olivier

Source of funding: NRF project (2018 - 2020)


The objectives of this research project are to:

  • Map the multiliteracies in selected subjects in terms of relevant policy documents and (paper-based and electronic) text books.
  • Determine what the affordances are of indigenous multiliteracies in support of self-directed learning delivered by means of digital technologies.
  • Explore how individualisation and differentiation of learning can be facilitated in terms of multimodal self-directed learning.
  • Research the fostering of metacognition by means of multimodal multiliteracies pedagogy.


Multimodal learning and Open Educational Resources (OER)

Project leader: Prof Jako Olivier

Source of funding: Internal funds (SDL)


The aim of the project is to (1) build networks in Southern Africa around OER and multimodal learning, (2) build capacity at the NWU and in Southern Africa, (3) train lecturers in multimodal learning and the creation and use of OER as well as (4) doing and dissemination research on OER and multimodal learning.

The project will also:

  • investigate the quality and cultural appropriateness of the application of self-directed multimodal learning;
  • determine the effective use of mobile devices (such as cell phones and tablets) for self-directed multimodal learning;
  • explore data mining of learning management systems (such as eFundi) as well as interactive study guides and relevant metadata;
  • determine what multiliteracies (in terms of language, visual, information and computer literacies) are required of contact and distance students in a self-directed learning context;
  • investigate how individualisation and differentiation can be accommodated within a multimodal learning context; and
  • determine how the use, establishment and contribution to open educational resources by lecturers can function in support of multimodal learning within a self-directed learning context.


Engaging pedagogies to address perennial issues in Science Education in South Africa

Project leader: Dr Neal Petersen

Source of funding: NRF project (2018 - 2020)


The following objectives will guide this research:


Firstly, this design-based research will capture science teachers’ experiences of the intervention to identify possible factors that prevent them from using these pedagogies by using third-generation cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) as a research lens. It will also be determined if their participation in the intervention will have an influence on their self-directedness in learning by determining how they pursue the individual professional development goals that they set for themselves.


Secondly, in order to collect data to reach the research objective mentioned above, short learning programmes (SLPs) (the intervention) will be developed, assisting science teachers through training and the provision of resources in using engaging pedagogies to address perennial issues in science education. The intervention entails using engaging pedagogies such as science-on-a-shoestring to realise the tenets of the nature of science in the under-resourced classroom, inquiry learning, puppetry, cooperative learning (CL), project-based learning (PrBL) and problem-based learning (PBL) teaching-learning approaches in order to develop participating science teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) and their self-directedness in learning.


1. To develop the SLP in which science teachers will participate in using inquiry approaches in the classroom by making use of science-on-a-shoestring approaches. The envisioned project will also provide the teachers who attend these SLPs with shoestring-science kits that can be utilised in the under-resourced classrooms. The researchers will determine whether this results in more inquiry approaches in the science classroom.

2. To determine the affordances of puppetry in teaching science learners about the nature of science, indigenous knowledge, health issues, HIV/ AIDS, social justice issues, and environmental issues.

3. To determine the effect of using the AIDS kit and foldscope microscopes in the science classroom, and to determine the views science teachers hold of their own PCK development due to the intervention.

4. To determine teachers’ views on how the AIDS kit and foldscope microscopes support learners’ understanding of the nature of science (NOS) during the implementation phase.

5. To determine science teachers’ views on using the DNA and protein synthesis kit in the Life Sciences classroom and how their PCK might be developed during the SLP.

6. To develop science teachers’ PCK by giving them the opportunity to participate in developing learning experiences, which include the learners’ real-life experiences (contextualised science education) during the SLP.

7. Describing science teachers’ lived experiences of using the DNA kit, and if the use thereof did influence their views on social justice issues.

8. To determine what factors prevent science teachers from using science-on-a-shoestring approaches, and to develop their agency towards innovative ideas in using it in future in the absence of sufficient resources.

9. To determine science teachers' views on using science-on-a-shoestring approaches before and after the intervention.

10. To develop science teachers’ PCK (regarding inquiry learning, PBL, PrBL and CL) during the SLP.

11. Using CHAT as a research lens to identify the problems science teachers experience during the implementation phase of using engaging pedagogies.

12. To determine the affordances of engaging pedagogies for self-directed learning.


Enhancing engineering students’ self-directed learning through problem-based learning

Project leader: Prof Marietjie Havenga

Source of funding: NRF project (2017 - 2019)


  • Main research aim: Determining to which extent engineering students' self-directed learning could be enhanced through the introduction of the problem-based learning strategy.
  • Determining to which extent cooperative elements can support PBL to enhance students’ self-directed learning
  • Determining to which extent blended learning can support PBL to enhance students’ self-directed learning.
  • Determining to which extent assessment can support PBL to enhance students’ self-directed learning.
  • Determining to which extent the integration of PBL enhances engineering students’ self-directed learning and indicating how the nature of this change enhances SDL.
  • Contributing to knowledge production regarding the enhancement of engineering students’ self-directed learning through the introduction of PBL.


The affordances of indigenous knowledge for Self-Directed Learning

Project leader: Prof Josef de Beer

Source of funding: NRF project (2016 - 2018)


The objectives of this research project are to determine:

  • How indigenous knowledge could best be incorporated in the school CAPS curriculum in science, mathematics and technology.
  • How science, technology and mathematics teachers view indigenous knowledge before and after a three-day short course on indigenous knowledge.
  • How teachers use problem-based learning and cooperative learning principles in teaching indigenous knowledge in their classrooms.
  • What problems teachers experience in transferring their knowledge of and skills on indigenous knowledge in their classrooms.
  • How the intervention on indigenous knowledge could promote self-directed learning among teachers and learners.


STEM teachers learning from Indigenous Knowledge Systems practitioners

Project leader: Prof Josef de Beer

Source of funding: NRF project (2016 - 2018)


The objectives of this research project are to determine:

  • How indigenous knowledge holders (and museums) could become a third partner in the school-university value chain.
  • How teachers could learn about indigenous knowledge in authentic situations from the holders of indigenous knowledge themselves.
  • Whether the holders of indigenous knowledge are self-directed learners.
  • How indigenous knowledge, as a means to better contextualise curricula, could foster SDL.
  • How Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) could best be used as a research lens in studying the incorporation of indigenous knowledge in the STEM classroom.


Teachers without Borders: Creating indigenous knowledge science labs in rural schools

Project leader: Prof Josef de Beer

Source of funding: Fuchs Foundation (2016 - 2019)


The objectives of this research project are to determine:

  • How teacher agency could be developed and supported in STEM subjects.
  • How science-on-a-shoestring kits could best be utilised to promote problem-based learning in the classroom.
  • How project-based learning, utilising the resource packs developed, could promote SDL.
  • How a pedagogy of play, through the use of puppetry, could be used to provide learners with a more nuanced understanding of the nature of science and indigenous knowledge.
  • How teachers’ professional development could be enhanced through well-functioning communities of practice.


Fostering Aspects of Self-Directed Learning through Personalized and Adaptive Instruction Design in Online Learning Environments (SDL-PAID)

Project leader: Prof Christo van der Westhuizen

Source of funding: Joint Research Project funding: Swiss Distance University of Applied Sciences (SDUAS) and NWU


The aim of this study is twofold. Firstly, to determine the aspects that foster SDL and domain-specific skills by personalised and adaptive instruction design in online learning environments (SDS-PAID), and secondly to propose a framework for designing on-demand domain-specific SDL online learning environments for personalised and adaptive learning experiences. A number of domain topics of Natural Sciences have been chosen to serve as examples. This study is also guided by the following three-pronged research question to determine:

  • To what extent it is possible to foster domain-specific knowledge with adaptive instruction when implementing self-regulation and student control over the learning tasks (considering pre-knowledge, procrastination, engagement, as well as interferences between learning activities and performance/behaviour measuring).
  • What domain-specific technology-based environments should be designed to develop the relevant self-directed skills that students will carry into subsequent learning situations.
  • Which factors have to be considered to implement at scale Adaptive Technology-based learning Systems in a university (case bases: SDUAS and NWU).


Integrated TouchTutorTM Mathematics Development and Support Project (ITSP)

Project leader: Prof Hercules Nieuwoudt

Source of funding: THRIP; 4th Stream


A pilot off-line Tablet-assisted Peer Support (TAPS) project in collaboration with the Govern Mbeki Math Development Centre, NMMU

  • To establish and support a professional learning community (PLC) of in-service Mathematics teachers from the project schools so as to promote the effective delivering of the curriculum in their classes.
  • To implement an effective Tablet&TouchTutor® incubation and support programme on Saturdays for selected Grades 10-12 Mathematics learners from project schools so as to develop and practice self-directed learning to address Mathematics content gaps, and to successfully bridge the divide between secondary and tertiary education despite socio-economic challenges.


Conceptualizing SDL in South Africa: Praxis towards Sustainable Empowering Learning Environments

Project leader: Prof Charlene Du Toit-Brits

Source of funding: SDL project


The overall objective is to conceptualize Self-Directed Learning within the unique South African context to improve ALL teaching environments that will result in effective SDL practices in South African schools.

The potential of the acceptance and implementation of this proposed framework includes:

(a) effective self-directed learning in the disadvantaged learner; 

(b) increase SDL skills of these learners, as well as other learners in the same  classroom, , where they can take responsibility for their own learning; and

(c) an increase in these learners’ academic, emotional and/or cultural preparedness which can improve their ability and/or preparedness to be self-directed learners for life. 

This framework could also be used as assistance to teachers to cultivate self-directed learners. Teachers also need to take learners’ environments into consideration when employing SDL in their classrooms.

The following aims have been formulated for this research:

Aim 1:

  • To determine how SDL can be conceptualised within a unique South African education environment to cultivate learners as self-directed learners;

Sub-aim i: In order to achieve this aim, we want to determine which elements of a learner’s existence need to be addressed when constructing a SDL environment within the South African education environment.

Sub-aim ii: TTo determine the relationship between SDL and these elements (identified in Aim 1) on learners’ ability and readiness to be effective self-directed learners.

Aim 2:

  • To formulate a framework according to which SDL can be applied effectively in classes to build a culture of SDL in South African classrooms.


Lecturers’ written feedback practices on student assessment to support self-directed learning: a case study

Project leader: Prof Kobus Lombard

Source of funding: Internal funds (SDL)


The objectives of this research project are to:

  • Uncover the theoretical foundations of feedback on student assessment that resonate with the notion of SDL.
  • Establish lecturers’ conceptions of feedback on student assessment related to the notion of SDL.
  • Investigate how lecturers provide written feedback on student assessment related to the notion of SDL.