National teaching excellence awards for Waikato lecturers

5 August 2010

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Teaching excellence: Dr Alison Campbell (left) and Te Kahautu Maxwell.

A teacher of Māori language, tikanga and Māori performing arts and a science enthusiast at the University of Waikato have been recognised for their outstanding teaching practices with national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards.

Te Kahautu Maxwell and Dr Alison Campbell were among 11 winners of the annual Ako Aotearoa awards presented at a ceremony in Wellington on August 4.

Funded by the Tertiary Education Commission, the awards acknowledge teaching practices that are student-focused and committed to promoting effective learning. They also provide an opportunity for teachers to further their careers and share their good practice with others.

The awards have been running since 2001, but it’s the first year a new category of award has been added to recognise the contribution of tertiary teachers in a kaupapa Māori context.

The winner of that award, Mr Maxwell, is a senior lecturer at Waikato’s School of Māori and Pacific Development, and departmental head of Aka Tikanga. He said he accepted the award on behalf of all academics at the University of Waikato.

“This award helps profile our Māori distinctiveness at the University of Waikato. In accepting, I want to acknowledge my predecessors Wharehuia Milroy, Hirini Melbourne, Tīmoti Kāretu, Tamati Reedy and all my mentors that have been part of my development as an academic.”

A highly acknowledged orator and kapa haka composer and performer, Mr Maxwell brings real authenticity to the classroom, and is equally at home teaching in English and Te Reo Māori.

“I like to empower students as the architects of their own destiny,” he said. “I bring to the classroom life experience from my own upbringing. I was raised by my elders who demanded high standards and excellence in everything one does in life.”

Mr Maxwell grew up on the East Coast, and is affiliated to Te Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tai, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Awa, Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Maniapoto. He is a tohunga of Te Haahi Ringatū, and a licensed Māori language interpreter and translator.

As part of his teaching, he creates real-life situations for his students to practise their learning – whether it be delivering an oration on the marae or composing and performing a kapa haka programme in public.

“I’ve got a background in traditional Māori performing arts, and I sit on the Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival board and the Te Waka Toi Arts Board of Creative New Zealand, so students expect a high standard of delivery and content,” he said.

Mr Maxwell’s reputation as a teacher has also attracted a steady stream of non-Māori students. International students come to his classes to gain a better appreciation of Māori performing arts and an insight into the Māori world view.

“In my classes I have to relate to different groups of students, providing them with a conducive learning environment, a place where they are comfortable and that encourages learning,” he said. “I’m very serious about setting goals for our students, but I also add lots of humour to my lectures.”

The University’s other award-winner, Dr Alison Campbell, teaches in the Department of Biological Sciences but is better known to hundreds of secondary school students as ‘the skull lady’ thanks to her seminars on human evolution in the Waikato Experience of Biology days which she initiated eleven years ago.

“One of my biggest thrills is seeing a student’s face light up when something I’ve said strikes a chord with them,” said Dr Campbell, who started her career as a high school biology teacher.

As a teacher, she said it was her role to provide her students with more than just ‘the facts’. “One of the things I want students to take with them into their futures is an awareness of and engagement with science.” Her teaching methods include telling stories, asking questions and encouraging her students to ask their own questions, allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning.

Dr Campbell’s teaching reaches far beyond the University, as she holds biology teacher evenings throughout the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, and runs scholarship examination preparation days for the Ministry of Education, helping senior high school students prepare for scholarship biology exams.

Dr Campbell also reaches out to students and teachers from the University and beyond through her blog and websites. Her bioblog provides a medium for describing scientific innovations and events in a way that students can understand and identify with, and Dr Campbell also posts research papers to introduce scientific literature to students.

Dr Campbell’s Evolution for Teaching website, which provides resources for the teaching of evolution, receives about half a million page requests each month from around the world, as does her Science on the Farm website, which was developed for the Fieldays and focuses on high school curriculum.

Waikato’s newly appointed Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching & Learning), Associate Professor Richard Coll represented the university at the awards evening which was hosted by Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce.

“It was a fantastic celebration of teaching excellence,” Dr Coll says. “The calibre of awardees was very high and it was a very impressive effort for Waikato to win two awards.”

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Ako Aotearoa: Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching & Learning) Associate Professor Richard Coll (left) with Dr Alison Campbell and Te Kahautu Maxwell, at the awards ceremony in Wellington.

Dr Coll says the Waikato pair demand very high standards of their students, pushing them to achieve all that they could. But probably most impressive is the passion they have for teaching and for their students.

“The ultimate compliment was that students ‘follow’ these teachers, often basing enrolment choices of the papers taught by the awardees,” he says. “I also was impressed by the humbleness of the awardees - they genuinely felt privileged to be tertiary teachers, and to have the opportunity to make a difference in their students’ lives."

Dr Coll says the wins confirm the quality of teaching at Waikato, and are testament to the hard work and judgement all of those involved in these processes. The two recipients of the awards each received $20,000 to be used to develop their teaching.

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