Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A decade since attaining Supreme Excellence in Tertiary Teaching Award - a reflection

In 2007, I was awarded the Prime Minister’s award for excellence in tertiary teaching. Yesterday evening, the 2017 award winners join the select group of NZ tertiary teachers recognised for sustained excellence in teaching. All awardees automatically become members of the Ako AotearoaAcademy. The Academy is a community of practice for award winners, they have a mandate to  advocate within their own institutions, nationally and internationally, for support of excellent teaching. The Academy also organises a yearly symposium, always a wonderful, supportive and enervating professional development opportunity. This year, the symposium - Talking Teaching - will he held at the end of November in Dunedin. The first two days will be an open forum for all tertiary educators to share practice. 

In 2007, I was on the cusp of shifting from being a trades teacher, teaching baking into a ‘staff development’ position. Since 1999, I had proportional (0.2 or one day a week to 0.4) positions on various ‘elearning’ projects. Mainly supporting tutors in a diverse range of discipline areas, to shift from being f2f to on-line or blended learning facilitators. In 2008, I shifted full-time into a shared role as a teacher educator and ‘staff developer’. When the then CPIT Centre for Educational Development came into being, I was one of 3 other people, horizontally shifted across to be part of the Centre. Since then several internal organisational changes and a change of institutional name to Ara has seen my role morph and evolve over time. My current role as an educational developer / ‘learning designer’ in the Learning Design section of Academic Services Division at Ara Institute of Canterbury includes about 3/5 of programme design / development, 1/5 of supporting staff in a range of teaching and learning and 1/5 as a researcher and scholar in vocational education. The role has its challenges but is always rewarding and interesting.

When I received my award, I was one of very few non-university staff to attain the award. For many years, I have been inspired by the life of Sir Edmund Hillary. He not only was the first, along with Tenzing Norgay, to climb Mount Everest, but also founded the Himalayan Trust.  The trust raises money to assist the Nepalis to build schools and hospitals and through its almost 50 years have contributed to the betterment of the lives of many people in Nepal. Therefore, Hillary made use of his status, to better the lives of others.

My aspirations are more modest but greatly inspired by a need to foster better teaching and learning capability within NZ vocational education. I was lucky with the timing of my award. Ako Aotearoa, the NZ Centre for Tertiary Teaching excellence, was set up at the same time. The award provided me with networking opportunities with the new organisation, assisting me to build sound relationships and to participate in a range of Ako Aotearoa activities. To date, I have been able to garner funding to undertake two Nationally funded projects and seven smaller projects, funded through the Southern regional hub (see Projects page on this blog for list and links to project outputs). My post PhD scholarly journey has therefore been largely ‘learning by doing’ through the completion of externally funded projects which require results. In line with my goal to build capability within the vocational education sector to carry out ‘practitioner-led’ inquiry, both the National and four of the smaller projects involved other trades tutors or ITO staff. For most, the projects were the first time these tutors have had the opportunity to complete an in-depth study into the efficacy of their teaching innovations.

There has now been a decade of contributing to the ‘evidence-base’ to assist the improvement of vocational learning. There is still much to do, and my contribution has been small but hopefully a start at building awareness and capability. The current project on e-assessments brings together many of my learnings from previous projects. In particular, the project also builds capability with a team of tutors who have a mandate to undertake some research as part of their teaching roles. I am hopeful some of this team will go on to lead other projects as vocational education research is still sparse. Modest beginnings are always better than no work at all :) 

In so doing, I hope some of the following quote, attributed to Lao Tzu, has transpired.

“A leader is best
When people barely know he exists
Of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will say, “We did this ourselves.”

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