College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Distinguished Teacher, Dr Dalene Vosloo (second from left) with mum, Mrs Tienei van Heerden, husband Professor Andre Vosloo, and son Mr Ryan Vosloo.

Cellular Biologist is a Distinguished Teacher

Dr Dalene Vosloo has joined the ranks of UKZN’s Distinguished Teachers with the Award that was made to her at the May Graduation ceremonies, recognising the animal physiologist’s excellence in and sustained contributions to teaching and learning in her 16 years at the University.

She completed her PhD in Zoology at North-West University in 2007, having combined this discipline with a focus on biochemistry that enabled her to work with animals on a biochemical and physiological level. She joined UKZN in the same year.

Vosloo, who has served as the academic leader of the cellular biology cluster, has carved out a research focus on how animals respond to anthropogenically altered environments, particularly at a biochemical, cellular and physiological level, and how this informs their development, behaviour and ecology.

Changes to natural environments inducing these responses include pollution and climate change, but also extend to artificial environments such as zoos or aquaculture facilities. Vosloo has worked on a wide range of species that includes abalone, fish, birds, bats and penguins.

Over the course of her teaching and research career, Vosloo has achieved 27 publications and supervised three PhD and 13 master’s candidates to completion. She was also the recipient of a Coimbra Scholarship in 2011.

She teaches several applied modules, including pollution biology, developmental biology and science communication, making it easier to link the content with real-world events and requiring students actively to comprehend and relate what they learn in other diverse scientific disciplines to these modules. Vosloo finds this challenging to execute well, but exciting as it means that what students are learning is relatable and applicable to realities and problems they will encounter in their professions.

Vosloo herself is an eager learner, relishing the opportunity to learn new ways of teaching and engaging with her students, and counting herself privileged to have been able to learn from other great teachers in her time at UKZN, many of them also recipients of Distinguished Teachers’ Awards.

‘We are extremely proud of (Vosloo’s) achievement and heartily congratulate her. All the best Dalene, and we look forward to your further contribution to both the School and College,’ said Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science Professor Fhatuwani Mudau and Dean of Teaching and Learning Professor Naven Chetty.

‘I am hugely honoured and humbled to receive this award,’ said Vosloo.

Her approach to teaching begins with intentionality and sound planning; she prioritises structure and good communication in her modules and her dealings with students so that they understand what is expected of them.

‘Taking students along on a journey is important to me; they need to see where we are going with a module and why, and how they will get there,’ she said.

Vosloo also believes in making use of tools that are fit for purpose, whether in the physical or virtual classroom or laboratory. She aims to produce well-rounded graduates whose skillsets will enable them to succeed in a variety of fields, since disciplines in life sciences do not necessarily develop students for a set profession but equip them to contribute to many areas.

‘This can be challenging, but it is also a very exciting opportunity to teach students cross-cutting skills, including an appropriate skillset to communicate their work,’ she said.

While the thought of the impact lecturers can have on students’ futures can be daunting, what Vosloo finds rewarding is the moments when she witnesses a student grasp a difficult concept or receives a wave from a student crossing a graduation stage in a moment when they can acknowledge their progress

Encountering previous students who have found success is always encouraging and she recalled students contacting her for practical help in their careers when they made use of the skills she had taught them.

Teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic was a unique challenge, but Vosloo found exciting elements in the advent of emergency remote teaching and learning, as it encouraged innovation and considerable thought around how teaching is planned and executed for different platforms. She met this challenge by designing study guides, and setting clear objectives and well-planned activities for her students before she taught online, which enabled her to craft online activities to match these.

‘I am not scared to try new tools – I am always searching for more efficient or more effective ways of doing, and the move to online teaching forced us to have to do this and to re-evaluate if what and how we do things is really the best way,’ she said.

Adapting to online teaching was also made easier by the proactive leadership of the School of Life Sciences, which embraced the transition, as was a course by UKZN’s Professor Craig Blewett on digital pedagogies.

Vosloo credited her family, particularly her husband Professor Andre Vosloo, also in the School of Life Sciences, for being a sounding board and confidante for her ideas, and for teaching her from his own experience as a teacher. She thanked her sons Sean and Ryan for enduring having two academics as parents, and acknowledged her mother for being her “silent rock” and for teaching her to be well-organised, demonstrate self-belief, and always do her best.  She also acknowledged her late father for his role in her life.

She also thanked the excellent teachers she has learnt from over her career, particularly past and present staff members in the School.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal