reflections on ex tch Isabella

Success Story

Reflections on Excellent Teaching

8 November 2019

Learner Access and Pathways, Pacific learner success, Māori learner success, Learning Designs and Teaching Strategies, Assessment, Adult and community education, Supporting learners

Isabella Lenihan-Ikin, student representative NZUSA, reflects on the impact of excellent teaching at the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards ceremony at Parliament, October 2019.

Ngā mihi kia koutou katoa, kua huihui mai nei i raro i te tuanui o tō tātou nei whare, hei tautoko i te kaupapa o tēnei rā. Tēnā koutou katoa.

I feel very honoured to have been asked to represent the voice of students, as we come together to acknowledge teaching excellence within the tertiary sector.

Alongside my study, I work with other students – from class representatives to elected members of Academic Boards, Senates and Councils – who advocate for the needs of students at their institution. A common question students – who are often the only non-academic or non-staff member at the table get asked – is “what do students think?”, suggesting that there is a single student voice. However, we are an incredibly diverse community, comprised of parents and grandparents, first in families, high school leavers and people retraining, some of us were born in Aotearoa others have recently arrived. Students are also workers – full-time and part-time, and we are either studying towards undergraduate or post-graduate qualifications across certificates, degrees, diplomas, masters and PhDs  – and all of this is separate to other aspects of our identity – our gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability – which are integral to experiences as students as well.

I emphasise the diversity of the student body for two reasons. Firstly, to clarify that I speak here as a student, carrying my own journey and experience into tertiary education. I don’t claim to speak for this entire community of learners.

The second reason, is that the diversity within the student body is immensely powerful, and something we should not lose sight of. Diversity relates to the journey people have into education, the skills they hold, the passion and excitement they bring to their study, and the dreams and visions that they have for the future.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a lecturer for a reflective conversation about their teaching for a project I am involved with at VUW called Ako in Action. On the topic of assessment, the lecturer told me that her criteria for setting an assessment was whether it had the potential to evoke feeling, and arouse emotion and reflection within each of her students. Despite having completed 5 years of study, until recently, I couldn’t have said an assessment at university had evoked such feelings or aroused emotion and reflection. And this was across the three tertiary providers I’ve been to – not just where I am currently studying.

However, in one of my most recent papers I was tasked with creating a material project, which explored an aspect of my identity. Each student was trusted to choose the topic, we were given autonomy over the choice of materials and medium and the method of presentation. Capitalising on this freedom and creative licence, and building upon our existing skills, each of us in the class produced a piece of work, which not only required critical thinking, but afforded us the opportunity to use our university education to explore an aspect of who we are as individuals.

I accept the fact that not all assessment has the ability to be this flexible and reflective, however, even having this one opportunity has been one of the most useful and powerful aspects of my student experience. What I believe made it so powerful is that it did not confine learning to particular outcomes, or limit the diversity of ideas, emotions, skills and techniques that we were able to use. Instead, it was designed to foster diversity, and evoke feeling and reflection within each of us.

I know that across the tertiary sector, there are many teachers and educators enshrining both reflection and diversity into assessment. I have no doubt that all of the teachers we are celebrating here this afternoon are among this group – as are many others, across Aotearoa who are dedicated to teaching excellence. Thank you for trusting us – for nurturing our passions, and for believing in our potential. You don’t just stand ahead and teach us, you walk alongside us. You feed and water the seeds of hope you’ve planted; you foster the diversity of skills we bring and validate the diversity of stories and visions for the future that each of us carry as we progress through our tertiary study.

Thank you.