Dr Ocean Mercier – Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr Ocean Mercier (School of Māori Studies, Victoria University of Wellington) – Award for Sustained Excellence Teaching in a Kaupapa Māori Context 2012.
Always Learning and Learning in All Ways
Ko Hikurangi te maunga
Ko Waiapu te awa
Ko Ngāti Porou te iwi
Nei rā te mihi o te uri o Te Whānau a Ruataupare ki a koutou
It’s a bit of a cliché, to see oneself as a facilitator of learning rather than a “Teacher”. But this cliché rings true for me. Perhaps I disown the label of “Teacher” because of my teenaged attitudes towards my favourite and least favourite teachers – for myself I want neither to be revered nor reviled by students! But I have always been hungry to learn new things, and from my first experience of teaching in Sunday School as a 19 year old I discovered how great teaching was to cement my own learning. My background and change of discipline from physics to Māori Studies made me realise that I am always learning. This gives me permission not to know everything, nor to act as though I do, putting me on a level playing field with tauira. I am not the expert – just an informed person who can generate an environment conducive to taking on new knowledge and new ways of thinking. My background and approach challenges tauira to always learn. I enjoy the new and innovative and look for ways to use these things in teaching. Maybe this is a ploy for deflecting attention from myself as the classroom facilitator, yet what it has done in my practice is to promote learning in all the diverse ways available, enriching and centring the student experience.
Connected to learning in all ways is the value of seeing issues from multiple perspectives and thereby promoting mātauranga Māori and Indigenous knowledge in the academy. It’s impossible to talk about Indigenous knowledge without gaining a perspective from another Indigenous person. Videoconferencing is one way to bring overseas lecturers to the classroom, but I wanted tauira to actively interact and discuss the science-Indigenous knowledge interface with other Indigenous students. So, inspired by colleague Dr Alice Te Punga Somerville’s example, I initiated a virtual exchange between my tauira and Native Alaskan students of University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). Over four different years MAOR317 has met with students of my Athabascan colleague Dr Beth Leonard’s CCS601 and ED301 classes on Indigenous Knowledge and Cross-Cultural Communication. They’ve discussed assigned readings via online forums (both Moodle and Blackboard), videoconferencing and Skype.
I thought it was fantastic and invaluable to physically see the people I was communicating with on the forum, especially the Skype session where we were able to discuss our feelings and reflections on the papers & PBE [Place-Based Education] in our respective locations. It was not even hard to set up a convenient time to meet! Anonymous Feedback from UAF/Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) Evaluation, 2011
In an extension of this exchange, I took tauira to the 4th International Indigenous Conference on Traditional Knowledge 2010 in Auckland. We presented a panel discussion about their exchange with students in Alaska and Beth came to co-present. Tauira thus became co-creators of a research output at an International conference.
Ocean’s innovative teaching style drew wide interest and at the conference we spoke about our experience as one of the first classes in the country to explore and engage in international discussions in such a way. Making the most of the Moodle technology I learnt about the diversity of the indigenous world and our own interaction with western science. This particular paper influenced me to pursue my own research about pounamu and consequently I went on to attain first class honours. Dayna Eggeling
I have taken the lead on the Te Kawa a Māui Atlas, a school-wide project that provides opportunities for undergraduate level research in Māori knowledge and development. My goal is to support Māori student retention, engagement and achievement through an “imagination-firing” intervention, rather than a remedial one. It explores visual, map-based pedagogies, diversifying the learning experience for Māori Studies students. Course coordinators set map based assessment, and the resulting student work contributes to various layers in the Atlas. I oversee the material submitted across 10 different courses, doing quality control and compiling the material into a Google Earth interface that is accessible to tauira through iPads, Blackboard and online at http://www.victoria.ac.nz/maori/atlas. This initiative gained significant financial support from the VUW Teaching and Learning Fund 2010, and MANU-Ao, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (FHSS) enabled me to deliver two international conference presentations on the project.
Students have contributed quality work in diverse forms, using Google Earth and GIS as well as paper maps and even a 3D wireframe sculpture. Much of the digital work is now in the school-wide database. Students have appreciated the field aspect of the project too:
The use of technology and the practical application of what we learnt in class was hugely insightful. Doing actual fieldwork with data and maps that we had created ourselves helped me to understand and comprehend exactly what cultural mapping was, is and could be in these times. MEAN! UTDC Course Feedback for MAOR210 2011
The Atlas project has motivated our School to innovate in our teaching methods and ideas, and early career staff have enthusiastically adopted atlas-based assessment, with other colleagues and associates in other schools commending these efforts.
When talking about colonisation and its lasting impacts upon Māori, it can be hard to teach Kaupapa Māori in a way that engages, rather than alienates, non-Māori Studies students. This is a challenge I warm to however, as it allows me the privilege of facilitating tauira on a journey of “decolonisation” – one that I experienced by transitioning from physics to Te Kawa a Māui.
She does this in a way that absolutely engages students. For their first assignment for this course there is a choice of critiquing a number of different methodologies and many of the students choose to focus upon kaupapa Māori methodologies. These essays are also invariably well researched and written and I put this down to the initial session with Ocean. Prof. Allison Kirkman
I have given lectures in numerous classes whilst overseas, based on my work at the interface between science and Māori and Indigenous studies. I also contributed to Boston University’s International Honours Programme “Rethinking Globalisation” in 2009 and 2010. In the programme a select group of tauira do a comparative analysis of socio-economic and political conditions through visits to India, Mexico, Tanzania and New Zealand. I spoke alongside author Nicky Hager. Guest lectures are beneficial in forming my research ideas but also contribute tikanga Māori to the culture of VUW and beyond and increase the capability of others to engage with Māori interests. These activities all illustrate the multiple ways in which I’ve lifted mātauranga Māori into peoples’ consciousness.
I’m committed to Māori education at all levels, currently supervise 6 PhD students and have mentored Te Kawa a Māui postgraduates through my work as the School’s Postgraduate and Research Committee convener 2008-2011. In 2010-2011 I co-coordinated MAI ki Pōneke, a network of Māori and Indigenous postgraduate tauira, for which we organised, hosted and ran a national 5-day conference in October 2010, attended by 65 Māori and Indigenous PhD students.
My careful reading and marking of three Master’s theses has also met with unanimously positive responses from candidates and School Research Conveners.
At the beginning of the year, you examined my thesis on access understandings between tangata whenua and landholders. I very much appreciated your commentary - felt that you had listened and read very closely and I greatly benefited from the suggestions you made. MEnvSt student
Outreach is an increasingly important way to ensure that tauira Māori (in particular) bridge across from school to University, and I have given numerous addresses to secondary and primary school audiences, whether at school, during Wellington regional science fair judging sessions, at science wānanga, during prize giving ceremonies, or during major leadership drives such as the Halogen Foundation Young Leaders’ Day 2009, at which I joined Katherine Switzer, Brad Jackson and Nathan King as motivational speakers.
The speaker I liked the most [was] Dr Ocean Mercier. I liked it that she did physics because she felt like it, then did Māori because she wanted to not because of a career or money. Palmerston North Girls High School Student
This student astutely observes a somewhat selfish element of my journey, that I’ve done what I wanted to, but I firmly believe that we should do what we’re passionate about if we’re to inspire others, even if those inspirations change.
I’ve been at school for more than 30 years, so I’m an example of what education can offer to Māori, but there is much work to be done in providing great student learning experiences – and this is something that drives me. What I have learnt to offer as a teacher (whether in bible study, Māori studies or physics) is a humble, facilitative wairua and diverse learning methods. At its heart, it’s the philosophy – Always Learning, Learning in All Ways – that embodies and drives my teaching.