Education Review asks Te Taka Keegan, recipient of this year’s Prime Minister’s Supreme Award at the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards, about what it takes to shine in tertiary teaching.

Education Review: Congratulations on winning the supreme award at the TTEAs this year. What does this accolade mean to you?

Te Taka Keegan: From a personal perspective, it is a huge honour to be mentioned alongside so many other great tertiary teachers of New Zealand. Ako Aotearoa has created a tremendous resource of innovative and effective teachers who have, over their careers, shaped and inspired thousands and thousands of learners. It is indeed a privilege to have my name mentioned alongside this collection of outstanding educators.

But the accolade is not just about me personally. It is an honour for my wife, for my parents and whānau, for my iwi and for all of those who have over my life shaped me to be the person that I am. And it is more than that too. In the weeks following the announcement of the award, I estimate that I received congratulations from 300+ people.

The award clearly meant a lot to a lot of people, including colleagues at the University of Waikato, and in particular my students, many of whom I hadn’t heard from for many years. So it has also been an opportunity to honour the discipline of computer science, to honour te reo Māori, and to honour the students that I have been fortunate enough to spend time with. All of this is quite a humbling experience.

It has also become apparent that the accolade comes with some benefits and responsibilities. The benefits include opening doors that may have not otherwise been opened; opportunities to have a voice where otherwise my opinion may have not otherwise been considered (like for example having this opportunity in Education Review); and being able to connect with some really great people that I may not otherwise have been able to connect to. Also, having time with the korowai Rauaroha is a privilege that obviously comes with a responsibility of tiaki. Other responsibilities of this accolade involve making time to share this award, to share my experiences, and to share any knowledge that I have learned. I do all this in the hope that it will make me feel a more worthy recipient.

Q: What do you think gave you edge over the rest of the winners, in terms of being selected for the Supreme Award?

TK: This is a difficult question for me to answer. The rest of the winners looked to be awesome, passionate teachers who genuinely care about their students, truly deserved in their own rights. I would love to have been their students.

Maybe something I had was the fact that a lot of the projects I have been involved with have affected many learners in New Zealand, especially in regards to te reo Māori. I received a lot of really great comments on my research and my teaching. And I think I was given some really good advice on how to prepare a portfolio. I have a lot of people that I am very grateful to.

Q: Why are such awards important?

TK: This award is particularly important because the awarder, Ako Aotearoa, forms a collection of awardees who represent the best tertiary teaching practices in the country. It creates the amazing resource of teaching excellence and then looks at ways to share and distribute this teaching knowledge across the sector.

Secondly, to apply for an award you have to undertake some deep soul-searching on your teaching practices. You have to undertake some serious analysis on what works and what doesn’t work in your teaching. It is deeply reflective and forces you to go places that you wouldn’t normally go. It is a serious stocktake on your teaching pedagogies, and in some ways it is like flicking the master reset button on your teaching. This has been both refreshing and empowering.

The third point is that it is rare for us to have opportunities to celebrate great teachers. For a teacher the biggest reward is the joy in seeing students inspired, transformed, and excited about learning. Teachers are successful when their students are successful. Teachers celebrate when their students celebrate. It is not really in the mindset of a great teacher to put themselves forward for an award. It almost goes against a code of good teaching practice. So because it is rare it makes it more important that great teachers are acknowledged and it is important
we have opportunities to hear and learn about their teaching practices.

Q: What led you to become a tertiary educator?

TK: My own learning, and being transformed myself by tertiary education. In my mid 20s I was able to change my career and the course of my life by undertaking tertiary study. I wanted to continue the research, in particular in the intersection of te reo Māori and computer science, and the best place to undertake this was in a university. As a university lecturer, part of the role involves having to teach. This was never something I set out to do; it was just one of the roles a lecturer has to cover. But I quickly became seduced by the joy there is in assisting and inspiring others to learn.

Q: What do you relish about your job?

TK: I enjoy the balance I have between teaching and research. With teaching you have the opportunity to make an impact on students directly; the rewards are in the personal relationships you form and then the subsequent empowerment and wonder that you can instil in your students.

The rewards are at a personal relational level. Depending on the class sizes, there are maybe a hundred or so students you can affect in a year. With the research that I do, I have the opportunity to affect maybe hundreds of thousands of people a year. I don’t get to form a personal relationship with these people, but I do get to see lots of examples where the results of my research into te reo Māori and computing science are being used. That is also very gratifying. Having a good balance between researching and teaching is the important thing.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?

TK: There are two primary challenges that I regularly have to face. The first is common amongst many of the award winners, I think, and that is the challenge of time. There are so many opportunities and directions that I want to spend time on: teaching, research, supervision, supporting Māori and te reo kaupapa, supporting Māori research in technology, supporting iwi and marae initiatives, supporting my whānau, and supporting sporting interests, just to name a few. But yet there is only so much time that can be given to each activity.

The second challenge is that I work at the intersection of computer science and mātauranga Māori. This is a unique space and there are only a few people working there. This does present a whole raft of challenges and ethnocentric perceptions that need to be overcome. Perhaps this award will help to shift some of those perceptions.

Q: What advice do you have for new or aspiring educators?

TK: Enjoy all the joys that teaching can bring. Follow your heart and create a teaching environment that you believe in. Don’t be afraid to fail; that is when the best learning happens. Spread the love and empathy; your students will always feel this. Share your passions in your subject area but inspire your students to find their own passions and their own enjoyment in learning.

Q: Where to from here? What are your next goals?

TK: I have a number of short-term goals. I intend to honour the award that I have just been presented in a number of ways, but in particular with my time. I am currently on sabbatical, so I have a number of papers I need to get written. I need to design a new course to be taught in 2018, so I want to try and make that the best course I have ever taught.

I have a number of long-term goals: I would like the standard of teaching to be lifted by examples shown by the winners of the Ako Aotearoa Sustained Teaching Excellence Awards; I want te reo Māori to become normalised in all forms of technology; I want to increase the number of Māori in computer science; I am part of the Kāhui Māori on the National Science Challenge for Technological Innovation; I want to ensure that Māori are given every opportunity for research in the technological sciences.

And I want to be the best husband and father that I can possibly be.


2017 national tertiary teaching excellence award winners

More than 200 tertiary teachers have been acknowledged through the national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards for their contribution to their learners, organisations and communities since the awards began in 2002. Each year winners receive $20,000, with the Supreme Award winner taking home an additional $10,000.

Ako Aotearoa administers these national awards for the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment. All winners become members of the Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence and continue to contribute to enhancing teaching practice across New Zealand through a range of events and initiatives, often in conjunction with Ako Aotearoa and its regional hubs.

The Kaupapa Māori category was introduced by Ako Aotearoa in 2010 and the Excellence in Supporting Pacific Learners endorsement (worth an additional $5,000) in 2016.

Prime Minister’s Supreme Award winner

(also a winner in the Kaupapa Māori Category – Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching)

Dr Te Taka Keegan

Senior Lecturer, Computer Science Department, the University of Waikato

Te Taka has revitalised the Māori language through technology in his teaching and research.

“I have been able to transform the landscape beyond my classrooms for the betterment of both te reo Māori and computer science.”

Kaupapa Māori Category – Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching

Mereana Rapata-Hanning

Principal Lecturer, Otago Polytechnic

Mereana is responsible for nursing programmes focusing on Māori health, cultural safety and Treaty of Waitangi education.

“My key contribution is in increasing knowledge about contemporary Māori health status and informing health professionals of strategies that will enable them to work effectively with diverse Māori realities that exist in Aotearoa today.”

General category – sustained excellence in tertiary teaching

Professor Ursula Cheer

Dean of Law, the University of Canterbury

Ursula’s previous real-world experiences shapes her teaching with dynamic results.

“I drive my students to become involved with the sorts of activities and conditions likely to generate high-quality and deeper learning.”


Dr Liz Ditzel

Principal Lecturer, School of Nursing, Otago Polytechnic

Her passion to teach came from a desire to help nurses survive the ‘reality-shock’ of their clinical context.

“I love teaching and thrive on being part of a vibrant team of academics who are passionate about nurse education.”


Dr Ruth Fitzgerald

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, the University of Otago

A dynamic and engaging lecturer, dedicated to supporting and encouraging students to follow their interests in anthropology.

“My teaching approach is to forge academic knowledge into tools for successful living (rather than merely facilitating good grades).”


Gail Harrison

Manager and Lead Educator, the Whanganui Learning Centre

Gail’s personal educational experiences have guided how she supports adult learners to succeed in education and life

“I see my role not only as a learning facilitator but as a mentor, assisting learners to achieve goals and to achieve excellence in educational achievement, in spite of the odds.”


 Dr Brad Hurren

Teaching Fellow, Department of Anatomy, the University of Otago

Brad imparts his infectious enthusiasm for anatomy to students, colleagues and the wider public.

“I grab with both hands any opportunity to talk about and pass on what I have learned about human anatomy.”


 Associate Professor Ben Kennedy

Department of Geological Sciences, the University of Canterbury

Ben has successfully created a ‘transformed’ learning environment in line with the top science educators in the world.

“I love teaching and volcanoes, and I am convinced that learning about rocks is fun!”


 Dr James McKinnon

Senior Lecturer, School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

James constantly evaluates and refines his teaching to improve the learning experience for students.

“I want students to learn to be active, creative agents in their worlds, not merely critical bystanders or passive consumers of others’ products.”


 Associate Professor Jay Marlowe

School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work, the University of Auckland

From grassroots social worker to teacher, researcher and advocate for students from refugee backgrounds.

“As a teacher, I talk with students, rather than lecture at them. I relate theoretical ideas to real-world examples and draw on my international social work practice experiences.”


 Amy Raymond

Senior Academic Staff Member, School of Business Studies, Toi-Ohomai Institute of Technology

A night class in accounting has led Amy on a career that highlights how exciting the world of accountancy can be.

“My ‘wow’ is transforming the boring.”


 Haruko Stuart

Teaching Fellow in Japanese, Department of Languages and Cultures, the University of Otago

Haruko coordinates and teaches Japanese language courses with passion, love, patience and empathy.

“Language learning opened up a whole new world for me, and now
it is my turn to share this experience.”

Source: Education Review


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here