Many scholars have highlighted a positive relationship between student engagement and academic outcomes such as grades, retention and graduation. High quality learning outcomes such as critical thinking, the ability to apply knowledge in practical situations, and deeper approaches to learning are some of the significant outcomes of student engagement. However, it is important to note that the role of a teacher in student engagement cannot be over-emphasised, as they play a key role in influencing this type of engagement.
Institutions of higher learning are increasingly seeking for improved ways of educating their learners by organising their education and training systems in order to participate in an increasingly competitive global economy. The ability to translate principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials or activities is critical for a successful higher education system. Learning is improved through the analysis of learning needs and systematic development of learning experiences. Designing and adopting effective instructional models is therefore significant in improving the quality of educational opportunities.
South African higher education institutions, and other institutions around the world, are faced with student diversity with respect to gender, culture, age, race, socio-economic status, language, prior education and digital literacy, among other things. Given such a context, it is critical for the curriculum to be adaptable and accessible to the diverse needs and capabilities of this diverse body of students. A flexible curriculum enables the provision of more opportunities for students in order to regulate their learning process and the learning environment.
Technology has become an enabler for many higher education processes and functions. It serves as the fulcrum for change and is part of the fabric of targeted changes within institution-wide improvement initiatives (Mehaffy, 2012). The successful roll-out of ICTs is critical to the realisation of improved student interactions and learning experiences. However, it is important to reflect on the challenges and opportunities offered by the use of technology in higher education, in particular, considering the various dynamics such as student diversity, increased student populations, issues of connectivity and socio-economic factors.
In contemporary society, increased access to an expanding body of knowledge and practices continuously presents educational institutions with new challenges. These challenge require continuous adaptation of learning spaces in order to enable students to address their unique learning needs, interests, to access and engage with knowledge, resources and people in order to learn, and to meet institutional requirements. Learning environments should enable critical thinking, life-long learning, the management of own learning, and the development of capacities to self-evaluate, among other things.
Assessment is equally important as the process of gaining knowledge. The acquisition of knowledge and the understanding of assessment processes, criteria and standards needs the same kind of active participation and engagement as learning about anything else. In order for lecturers to be effective in promoting the anticipated goals of the curriculum, greater acknowledgment must be given to the effect of assessment on teaching and learning, the understanding of which could arguably play a vital role in introducing changes that will stimulate the cognitive processes and thinking skills desired in the classroom.
The changing nature of teaching and learning in institutions of higher education has necessitated the need for the professional development of lecturers and tutors in various disciplines. There are a number of changes that have occurred globally in higher education in the past decades, among them, more diverse and larger student populations, extended programmes, the introduction of new teaching and research methods. In addition, resources have been stretched and academic responsibilities and roles have become more complex and diverse. In the face of these challenges, the importance of professional development can never be overemphasised.