A top award for an excellent teacher

9 August 2017

Dr Te Taka Keegan

Dr Te Taka Keegan, winner of NZ's supreme award for excellence in tertiary teaching.

A University of Waikato computer scientist who never planned to be a teacher has won the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Excellence in Tertiary Teaching.

Dr Te Taka Keegan (Waikato-Maniapoto, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Whakaaue), Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, has been teaching for more than 30 years using a Māori teaching philosophy and is the only person known to have taught a computer science paper completely in te reo Māori.

Dr Keegan never set out to be a teacher and has had no formal training, but his teaching style, in English and te reo, has been consistently popular with students who describe him as creative, compassionate and persistent, with an engaging manner.

“I teach using kaupapa Māori methods, even though the students probably aren't aware of this,” he says. “My teaching philosophy is based around important Māori principles, including kia hiki te wairua (lifting the spirits), kia hihiko te kaupapa (incite the passion) and kia hora te aroha (sharing the love).”

Dr Keegan’s working career began in technology when he worked as a computer hardware engineer. A decade later he returned from Australia to complete a total immersion Māori language degree at the University of Waikato, which led to him combining his two loves, computing and te reo, engaging in masters and doctoral study and teaching computer science in te reo Māori for more than a decade.

He says he's deeply humbled to receive the national award "on behalf of our discipline, and of course my students". (Learn more about Dr Keegan's teaching here.)

Outside the lecture theatre Dr Keegan’s work has had impact in Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas.

He managed the development of the Niupepa Collection – the digitisation of the valuable historical collection of Māori language newspapers in the Alexander Turnbull Library. He worked with Microsoft to macronise the keyboard, now a Microsoft standard, and worked on the translation of Office 2003 and Windows XP into Māori.

From 2005, he worked with Google on various projects including the translation of the Google Web Search interface into Māori, a feature that was released in 2008. He then worked at Google Head Office to develop a translation toolkit that led to Google Translate for te reo Māori.

Dr Keegan is also chair of Kāhui Māori and theme leader for Vision Mātauranga on the Science for Technological Innovation (SfTI) National Science Challenge.

The annual Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards (TTEA) aim to recognise and encourage excellence in tertiary education, at a national level. There are two categories for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching – General, and kaupapa Māori, which Dr Keegan was nominated in.

Up to 12 Sustained Excellence Awards of $20,000 each are awarded annually, as well as the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award – worth an additional $10,000.