Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

Development of staff research skills: A case study of the Nursing College of the Free State (Welkom, South Africa)

Mando Monare
Nursing College of the Free State
Private Bag X290, 9460 Welkom
South Africa
Growth and development in any teaching-learning environment depends on the degree to which new knowledge is generated and disseminated. Research is a means through which such knowledge is generated. There is a great need to inculcate a research culture in all institutions of higher education in South Africa, particularly in historically disadvantaged ones. The Nursing College of the Free State is one of those institutions lacking in a culture of research. As part of capacity-building for quality teaching and learning it was decided that developing research skills of lecturers was an area of priority. A "hands on" approach was agreed upon in which a number of lecturers would conduct research on a specific topic.

The paper reports on a research project undertaken to investigate the factors which students believed to be contributory to their poor academic performance in the institution. The sample was drawn from all students in their fourth, third and second year of study as well as those repeating their first year of study. The most important findings of this research project are discussed. The paper furthermore evaluates the impact of the project on building research capacity of the staff.


The motivation for conducting research on this topic was brought about by the Australia-South Africa Links Project entitled: Collaborative staff development for quality teaching and learning in South African further and higher education.

A needs analysis carried out at the Nursing College of the Free State (Welkom) revealed that an area of priority was the development of the research skills of staff members. The rationale was that the teaching-learning environment requires that new knowledge must continuously be produced and critically analysed so that growth, development and change may come about.

The lack of a culture of research at the institution has meant that outmoded ways of teaching may be the only ones used, and this has had a negative impact on the quality of teaching and learning at the institution.

The research problem

The purpose of the research was to investigate possible reasons for the increasing failure rate of students undertaking the two and four year diploma course at the Nursing College, Welkom.

The research problem was presented in the form of the following hypothesis: the failure rate among students is related to the personality traits of the students and lecturers; the teaching strategies used; and the teaching-learning environment.

As part of capacity-building for quality teaching and learning, it was decided that developing the research skills of lecturers was an area of priority. A "hands on" approach was agreed upon in which a number of lecturers would conduct research on a specific topic. Such collaborative functioning would enable those participants concerned to gain practical knowledge to be shared with other colleagues. It was envisaged that the colleagues would then undertake research in other areas of concern.

The initial phase further involved engaging the services of a facilitator to conduct a workshop on the process of research. Project team members were elected on a voluntary basis. After reviewing the available literature, a discussion was held with other lecturers before developing a questionnaire.

Literature review

According to T.L. Walter and A. Siebert (1993), students who succeed, are those who are goal-orientated, hard working and well organized in curricular and extra-curricular activities.

Patricia Grey (1995:77) argues that a successful teacher is motivated by the desire to be a good teacher and that this involves moving away from transmitting a large volume of fact. Grey argues that the successful teacher thus directs her energy towards creating an environment in which students can learn to value themselves and their abilities. Students will then engage fully in the processes of applying, creating, critiquing and sharing knowledge.

According to Quinn (1991:395-398) an effective teaching-learning environment implies one in which learners feel free to approach teachers who are helpful, supportive, able to create a team spirit and encourage initiative, and are good role models.

Mellish and Brink (1990:195-216) emphasise that in order to facilitate learning, various teaching strategies should be used.


A stratified random sample was used, thus increasing the chances for each student being included in the study. Lists of all levels of students undertaking the programmes were provided and a 30% sample was drawn.

A questionnaire was distributed to the respondents. It included both closed and open-ended questions. Items in the questionnaire dealt with:

Validity and reliability

The questionnaire was pretested on twelve students who did not participate in the actual research. Twenty-five percent of the students responded.

The design followed is both explanatory and descriptive. It is explanatory because the study was conducted so as to identify possible reasons for the students' poor academic performance. It is descriptive because it provides a detailed picture of the group which was investigated.


Student profiles

All the students indicated that the high failure rate could be attributed to a variety of factors. They believed that lecturers could do more than what they are doing at present to facilitate effective teaching and learning. Students expressed a lack of trust in the lecturers as they saw them as unapproachable and biased. Some of the students had not been exposed to certain of the teaching strategies indicated on the questionnaire, so they did not make any comments about them. However, students indicated definite preferences for certain teaching strategies over others.

Biographical data

The greater percentage of students was between age 17 - 21. Most of the respondents were female, and came from diverse educational and family backgrounds.

Study environment

Most students indicated that they had a place where they could study, but that they were often disturbed, mainly by noise and visitors. They indicated that opening the library until 22:00 would help to solve the problem.

Study habits

The study indicated that the students devoted adequate time to preparing for tests and examinations. Most students used a variety of self-evaluation methods with the most popular self-evaluation method being "writing of notes".

Personality characteristics of the lecturer

Students indicated that lecturers were not always in class, because they were either busy with their own examinations, or attending meetings in Bloemfontein. They also indicated that lecturers lacked self-esteem, self-confidence and teaching skills, went to class unprepared, were biased, unapproachable and were poor role models.

Teaching strategies

The teaching-learning environment

Students indicated that lecturers could support them by: The students also indicated that they had too much academic work to cope with. They had to spend almost all of their available time studying. They did not have the time for extra-curricular activities and could not even attend to their personal problems.


From an analysis of the results, the following can be highlighted:


The study was conducted on students only. No investigation was done on the lecturers to get their point of view about the contributory factors to the increasing failure rate.


The team of researchers recommended the following:


From the findings of this study it is evident that there are problems at various levels and that lecturers need to understand the needs of students and to be able to provide the necessary support in the learning process. For their part, students need to take responsibility for their own learning.

Besides looking into the recommendations, further research into the identified problems needs to be undertaken.

Further to identifying teaching-learning problems, project team members had an opportunity to acquire the necessary skills needed in action research. Despite the heavy workload of lecturers, those who volunteered to participate in the project worked hard to comply with timelines. The support from the project director who facilitated the initial workshop gave the participants the needed energy to carry the project through.

The project has had a positive impact on the participants in many ways: Participants feel confident that the experience gained will assist them in undertaking further research projects. Drawing on their experience, they will also be able to act as mentors for colleagues who wish to undertake their own research. Furthermore, the sharing of information with colleagues and the networking institutions has been an opportunity to learn and develop. Participants are already in the process of formulating plans to ensure that this collaborative functioning for staff development is an ongoing activity. A working library committee has been established. Library hours have been extended up to 22:00 and a motivation for the appointment of a library assistant has been sent to Head Office.


Brink, H.I.L. (1990). Statistics for nurses, 3rd Edition. Pretoria: Academica.

Grey, P. (1995). Teacher talk: A journey into feminist pedagogy. Journal of Nursing Education, 34(2), 11-14.

Mellish, M. & Brink, H. (1990). Teaching the practice of nursing, 3rd Edition. Durban: Butterworth Publishers

Quinn, F.M. (1991). The principles and practice of nurse education. 2nd Edition. London: Chapman and Hall.

Simelane, B.S. et.al. (1997). Attitudes of nursing students towards the seminar method of teaching. Curations, 20(1), 77-81.

Walter, T.L & Siebert, A. (1993). Student success: How to succeed in college and still have time for your friends. USA: Harcourt Brace Johavonicho College.

Please cite as: Monare, M. (1999). Development of staff research skills: A case study of the Nursing College of the Free State (Welkom, South Africa). In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 287-292. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/monare.html

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