An exploration of socially constructed meanings within a community of learners in changing academic and social contexts
Maine, Malefane Kenneth
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This article explores some of the social processes and functions within a community of learners who had to adjust to changing social and academic contexts. The group included 13 learners from Botswana, five of whom were males and eight of whom were females, with an age range of between 25 and 45 years. The learners were primarily Tswana-speaking, with the exception of one who spoke Afrikaans. The learners were registered for an informal one-year counselling certificate course at the North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus. The Botswana learners had no prior contact with mainly white, Afrikaans-speaking communities, such as those found in Potchefstroom. As a result, they had to make various adjustments on personal, academic and social levels. An inductive qualitative approach was followed, using the Mmogo™-method as a case study, to gain insight into the experiences of a group of learners. The Mmogo™-method facilitated the use of culturally appropriate items and the learners were able to use cultural symbols to reflect on their experiences. The learners were asked to make visual presentations of their experiences throughout the time spent in their new contexts. Thereafter focus group discussions were conducted, where the visual presentations were discussed. The central themes were derived from the focus group data and the analysis of the visual presentations. The findings indicate that the process of creating new social meanings occurred through various phases. The initial phases were marked by uncertainty and misconceptions. The early interactions among the community of learners led them to realise that they generally shared the same goals, and also had other things in common, such as political and religious beliefs. The development of a collective consciousness was characterised by the emergence of smaller groups within the large community. As time went by, the collective consciousness in the community deepened and the smaller groups became more diffused. This contributed to open sharing of information and knowledge creation; and it facilitated the attainment of goals. The findings also indicate that there were a number of processes involved in the construction of meanings that contributed to the negotiation of meaning, and an exchange of ideas and information within the community of learners. The communication patterns within the community of learners were found to be open, honest and inclusive. This contributed to the free flow of information and facilitated minimisation of misconceptions. In addition, these patterns facilitated decision-making and encouraged feelings of belonging within the community. Natural leadership emerged and the responsibilities associated with it were discharged in specific and African-conscious ways. The learners also used context-specific analogies to illustrate relational support within their community. For example, they compared relational support to oxen pulling a plough and to a traditional three-legged pot to express the extent to which they mutually depended on each other's talents and resources. The findings also point to certain underlying assumptions that contributed to the development of relational support. In this community, a collective consciousness and sense of trust emerged as the learners worked together towards their goals. The values of sharing and working together are also the defining features of the African worldview.
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