Professor Michael Walker – Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Michael Walker (School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland) – Prime Minister’s Supreme Award winner 2011 and Award for Sustained Excellence Teaching in a Kaupapa Māori Context.
Te whenua, Te tangata, Te aronui, Te māramatanga
Education transmits not only knowledge but also the culture and values within which that knowledge is applied. A mismatch between the cultures and values of students and their teachers makes it difficult both for teachers to teach and students to learn. When I joined the teaching staff in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS), I found contrasting opportunities
to contribute to the success of our students in their lives and careers by creating new contexts for their learning.
Retention of Māori and Pacific Island (MPI) students
MPI students enrolling in biology at The University of Auckland are typically the best students from their schools but are challenged by the social context of the University rather than lack of ability. The Tuākana Programme (TP) ensures that new MPI students in biology make new friends quickly and then focus on their studies through peer tutoring in a supportive academic environment. Since 1991, the TP has greatly enhanced the retention of MPI students to graduation and employment with great support from the teaching team in first-year biology. Pass rates for MPI students are now similar to the whole cohort in papers where the TP is well established. The TP itself has been taken up across the University and is now recognised as core teaching business by the Faculty of Science.
Progression of MPI students to employment and postgraduate study
We have developed an academic and professional launch-pad to highly successful careers and postgraduate study for our advancing MPI students. We nominate MPI students for summer research scholarships based on their grades and their scientifi c potential. In 2009, we initiated Pūkenga Pūtaiao (PP), a day-long academic and professional skills workshop for upper level undergraduate and early postgraduate students that is now delivered by the Faculty of Science across all science disciplines. These initiatives mean that the number of new MPI students entering postgraduate studies in SBS has trebled since 2004.
Recruitment of MPI students into the University
From 2000-2007, we recruited successful teina students from the TP to work as tuākana to students at Tangaroa and Tamaki Colleges in South Auckland. The tuākana acted as tutors and mentors in the schools and as role models for science and the University in the local communities. The tuākana were excellent advocates to the students and their families and their work meant that annual enrolments at the University from these schools grew exponentially during the collaboration.
Comments from MPI students on Pūkenga Pūtaiao workshops (2009-11) – overall comments
I found Pūkenga Pūtaiao 2011 to be informative about academic skills and about career information. It has helped to improve and maximize study times by learning how to read articles and how to work with others. The programme also gives great information on how to increase your chance of being hired when graduating after uni.
Overall I think this was a successful programme.
Introducing Māori perspectives into undergraduate biology teaching
My teaching goal for a large fi rst-year course BIOSCI 104 – New Zealand Ecology and Conservation is to set the context in a way that works for both Māori and non-Māori students. The keys to success are working with the knowledge that students bring and being explicit about both the context (the students’ future lives in employment and society) and the content that will enable students to learn from their ongoing experiences. I defuse any potential for conflict by:
- establishing a common platform from which all the students can analyse environmental issues in New Zealand; and
- demonstrating powerful ecological similarities between the colonisations of New Zealand by Māori and predominantly English-speaking people from Britain. This approach permits constructive discussion of the way forward for management of our environments and resources.
Student feedback from evaluations, March 2011
- The take home message slides at the end of the lecture.
- All the examples.
- The way Mike Walker presented his material was engaging and interesting and it was obvious he felt strongly about the topic, which made it easier for me to get excited about it.
- The way the information was in PowerPoints and we were able to actually listen to the lecture without worrying about not taking all the notes because PowerPoints would be on CECIL.
- Things were explained in simple, easy to understand language. The format/structure of the lectures was easy to understand and made learning the material discussed easier.
- Things were explained really clearly, so everything was easy to understand and remember – having the quick review at the end of each lecture probably helped with this a lot.
- Trip to marae, Prof. Walker explained thoroughly if asked question.
- Using the current technology to demonstrate what the lecturer was teaching.
I work actively to develop the knowledge and skills required by students at all levels of study. From my first Stage 1 lecture, I encourage the students to answer questions so I know I am communicating effectively. I tell the students that there is no such thing as a dumb question, only dumb explanation, and there is always someone who will be grateful when a question is asked. Conversely, I challenge students to think actively during lectures by interactive questioning and thought exercises that require the students to use logic and/or mathematical approaches to biological problems constructed for them in lectures. My third-year fi eld exercise in pigeon navigation is a problem that has no ‘right’ answer that can be easily written up in a scientific report. Those who take the risk of trying something different are spread across the spectrum of ability, usually finding something they weren’t expecting, and gaining both confidence and extra marks for their effort.
At postgraduate level, students must learn to deconstruct the work of others and design a research study. I provide students with a process for deconstructing research and ask them to analyse published papers. I provide feedback to develop the students’ analytical skills over time, progressively advancing the focus of the feedback through the levels of work within the process. A colleague who had found one of her students using the process asked if I would permit her to make it available to all her students. I happily agreed.
- Mike was a very approachable lecturer and I felt that I could ask even the ‘dumbest’ questions without feeling ‘put down’. He was also very open to answering any question and made lectures relevant to what is happening in our society today. I felt he also had a good structure to the lectures he gave. He made them fun at times and emphasised the important things that students would need to know. In my opinion, it was a very relaxed learning environment.
- Mike was very approachable and friendly so was happy to answer any questions. He presented the information in a way that did not appear to be one sided but still displayed the huge importance of considering Māori perspectives in NZ ecology and conservation matters.
- His teaching style was engaging and definitely stimulated my interest in the subject, and I would definitely like to participate in another one of his classes.
Teaching has enabled me to make significant differences in the lives of both Māori and Pacific Island (MPI) students and all the students I teach by aligning the context and content of my teaching. My first-year teaching roles require me to induct MPI students into the university learning community and to persuade a large and diverse class of students in their first week at university of the value of establishing a novel context in which to teach scientifi c content. If my teaching sharpens the minds of students and enables them to work more effectively in New Zealand society after they graduate, they will go on to make signifi cant contributions to our society and economy.
Finally, I have formed lasting relationships with students from all walks of life who have repeatedly surprised me with their ongoing interest in what I do and, in the case of TP graduates, have always been willing to help out and share their stories (http://www.sbs.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/home/for/maori-and-pacific-island-students) even after 20 years.
Ka rangaranga te muri ka tūtū ngā tūātara o te tāmure. Ko te tangata nāna i noho te whakarua, ko au! ko au! Ko Tūtāmure!
Dr Mel Collings, former Tuākana student, Senior Tutor, School of Biological Sciences
Professor Walker has applied his intellect to the design and delivery of programmes that encourage Māori students to engage and succeed in scientifi c subjects, from secondary schools to undergraduate to postgraduate study, through to scientifi c careers. ...One of the hallmarks of Professor Walker’s approach to enhancing educational achievement is a relentless emphasis on monitoring actual results, and the pursuit of academic achievement to the highest level possible.
Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond
He has led a quiet revolution – teaching Māori about science and scientists about Māori. Professor Walker’s vision has always been much bigger than teaching biology to Māori at The University of Auckland…His vision has been that fostering excellence in Māori science education will benefi t Māori communities and ultimately benefi t our nation. What is remarkable is that he has been able to realise this vision.
Dr Melanie Cheung (Ngāti Rangitihi), HRC Eru Pomare Postdoctoral fellow
I have learned through Michael about the changes necessary to make the school/ university transition more successful for MPI students…One of the most rewarding experiences for me was the impact of his academic and professional skills workshops. Almost immediately I began to get greater numbers of Māori and Pasifika students arriving at my door to discuss their academic programmes and future plans. They were quite articulate about the difference that meeting me fi rst at the workshop on the marae had made – it sent a clear message that they mattered and would be welcome, something I had not been able to achieve before.
Judy O’Brien, Deputy Director (Academic), School of Biological Sciences
Dr Robyn Manuel (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu), Centre for Academic Development