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The Art of Education

April 30, 2012

Most students don't mind admitting that research isn't the most fun they can think of having. The idea of spending hours perusing websites or bookstacks generally doesn't agree with the average student and how they'd define fun.

That point isn't lost on Dr. Cecile Badenhorst of the Faculty of Education, who has devoted most of her professional life to finding new answers to a question as old as education itself: how do we make it fun?

"My area is in academic writing and I've developed different methods for people to conceptualize their research. I started a writing group for faculty and about a year into it we decided, as a group, to start a research project. It's been an extremely fruitful project. It's just grown and grown."

For Dr. Badenhorst, the ability to combine the passion of her work with one of her passions outside of MUN, art, has fuelled much of her research to this point.

"I'm involved in art journals and artist trading cards. I belong to an online forum and you swap art with people all over the world. It's so cool, I promise you. I've been doing it for about two years now," she says with a smile.

"There's definitely a connection [to my research]. The thing with academic writing is that it's a highly critical environment. As a student you come [to university] criticizing yourself, but also having others criticize your work. In the workshops I do, instead of focusing on the criticism, we focus on creativity. It's about bringing choices back into play – rather than saying something is wrong, we try to say that it's not the right choice at the time."

In spite of her approach not being widely used in the educational environment at this point in time, the results, she says, speak for themselves.

"It's a very different approach. It's not widely accepted yet, but we've had fantastic results. It's actually quite rigorous, but with a building up of a person's self-efficacy. Students don't cut corners, they have to be constantly questioning what they're doing."

She also suggests that, looking back on history, some of the best thinkers learned and were educated in a similar manner.

"The more fun you have, the more likely you are to persist with [research]. It takes control of the research, puts it back in the student's hands. There's a perception that research has to be serious, that it can't be enjoyable. It's a false perception because if you look at the great thinkers, their thinking didn't come out of this rigorous way of looking at the world."

The wide lens through which Dr. Badenhorst sees education and the world around her is largely due to a varied past. She's worked as staff, faculty, and in positions that are a little of both in her career in academia, making her way from her home of South Africa all the way to British Columbia and then back to Newfoundland.

"I was born in Johannesburg, lived there most of my life. When I went to university I met my husband who was a Canadian who had immigrated there. We came back and I went to UBC for my Master's and then to Queens, then we went back to South Africa," she recalls.

"We were there for 17 years, but crime started to get really bad. We had one really bad incident with our youngest son and we decided we should come back to Canada," she says.

"We thought it was extremely lucky that a job came up at MUN; we probably wouldn't have moved otherwise. When my husband came here he just fell in love with St. John's. It's the complete opposite of Johannesburg."

Going forward, as education continues to evolve and her methods continue to get results and become more accepted, there's no telling what could happen. For her part, Dr. Badenhorst is just hopeful that she can stay busy and continue to influence her field in ways that she's passionate about.

"I was really burned out when I finished [in South Africa]. When I got here I planned a couple of years sabbatical, I wanted to take it easy," she says. "I realized I'm not the type of person who does well taking it easy.

"Now I want to write another book, and the writing group project is going to continue to grow. My main aim is to get to a point where I can help students not to struggle so much with their writing. That's the driving force."