The recent South African student protests of 2015 demanding free, decolonised, quality higher education provision for academically-deserving students from less privileged backgrounds raises questions around how one should design for learning in these contexts. There is an urgent need to transform curricular in order to address past inequalities and embrace social innovation simultaneously. What knowledge forms and dispositions should the higher education learning activity designer prioritise or privilege? What pedagogic forms of support are appropriate for buttressing learning in these environments?
In one of his pivotal works Higher Education: A critical business, Ronald Barnett suggested using the concept of ‘criticality’ or the development of a critical being/person as a possible ideological frame for learning activity design. Criticality or critical being transcends a development of the capacity to think critically normally used in bounded disciplinary contexts. It embraces a wider notion expressed in three domains of knowledge, self and the world, and is applicable to different disciplines. A critical person is able to engage critically with knowledge, undergo critical self-reflection and take critical action in an increasingly unknowable and changing world. But all of this is not done in isolation. These acts of engagement are shaped by societal demands and require that the critical person acts individually and collectively.
A pedagogical model that could be used to galvanize the development of a critical person is collaborative learning where students participate in meaning making activities with the teacher and peers. The teacher, who is also usually the learning activity designer plays an important role in structuring, stimulating and evaluating the learning interactions that fashion each learning intervention. With the advent of social media technology (SMT), Computer supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), a sector in the Learning Sciences research domain presents an area in which meaningful interrogation of contextual learning activity design processes could be interrogated. Predictive learning analytics could be used to analyse current and historical situations and help make decisions about future learning activity design.
The problem is that African contexts lack substantive sources of data (quantitative, qualitative, informal, formal) that could be used to inform decisions to mould contextual learning activity design to address current educational challenges. In addition, not enough human capacity has been developed to conduct the analytical understanding of the conditions - restrictions and rich potentialities - of the present context so as to adequately respond to some of the existing higher education teaching and learning challenges.