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Friday 19 November 2021 9:56am

What would a teacher be without their students? The 2021 Otago Excellence in Teaching Award winners are all driven to teach by those there to learn.

Four teachers from across the University were awarded Otago Excellence in Teaching awards at the Otago Staff Awards on Thursday.

Department of Anatomy Professional Practice Fellow Dr Latika Samalia, Department of Management Associate Professor Diane Ruwhiu, Department of Geology Associate Professor James Scott and Academic Co-ordinator Postgraduate Programmes in Pain and Pain Management, Dr Bronwyn Lennox Thompson were all recognised for their contribution to teaching at the University.

Dr Latika Samalia

Dr Latika Samalia – University of Otago Award for Excellence in Teaching (Pacific Island Endorsement)

Dr Samalia was named the Ako Aotearoa Prime Minister's Supreme Award winner for 2021 earlier this year. Adding the University of Otago Award for Excellence in Teaching (Pacific Island Endorsement) on top is humbling and an honour, she says.

“I feel I could not have achieved this on my own since teaching excellence does not occur in isolation, I see a collaborative triangle between myself, my colleagues and my students.”

Originally from Fiji, Dr Samalia trained as a doctor and worked as an obstetrician and gynaecologist before making the switch to teaching.

She now teaches up to 750 students some weeks in five papers across a number of undergraduate and postgraduate clinical courses, passing on her knowledge of anatomical structures and clinical skills to future health professionals.

Dr Samalia has a strong focus on Pacific students and was instrumental in developing orientation sessions for Pacific and Māori students.

She says her love of teaching comes from her students who excite, challenge and teach her new things.

“A teacher should also be able to impart knowledge in a safe, relaxed, undaunting environment and yet be able to instill appropriate skills and confidence into their students.

“I drive myself to be a good role model and my strength is empathy which I hope I can pass on to my students who will hopefully use that in their professions as well, especially since all my students are studying professional courses, like Medicine, Dentistry and Physiotherapy.”

Associate Professor Diane Ruwhiu

Associate Professor Diane Ruwhiu – University of Otago Kaupapa Māori Award for Excellence in Teaching

Associate Professor Ruwhiu says it is incredibly humbling to be awarded the Kaupapa Māori Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“To know I stand beside previous Otago award winners is an incredibly proud moment for me. All wāhine toa of whom I have the greatest of respect and admiration for.”

She has been teaching at the University for 20 years and has been working to develop Māori content within programmes in the Otago Business School.

She says she wants students to understand the success (and challenge) of the Māori economy and economic development, as well as capturing the diversity that such a perspective entails to not only inform, but inspire them to question, challenge and define their own ways forward.

“As a Māori tertiary educator in a business school I feel a strong sense of responsibility to ensure that te ao māori, our identity, values and tikanga are brought to the fore in what and how our students learn about the dynamic and complex world of business, organisation and management.”

She says she is honoured to have the opportunity in her teaching to inspire and challenge all of our students with an understanding of Māori knowledges, values, principles and practices in a way that respects and acknowledges the richness and applicability of Māori approaches to business today.

“I am particularly driven to know that my teaching means Māori students can see themselves, see their potential, in our business curriculum.”

Associate Professor Ruhwiu was also awarded a Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award in the Kaupapa Māori category earlier this year.

Dr Bronwyn Lennox Thompson

Dr Bronwyn Lennox Thompson – University of Otago Award for Excellence in Teaching (Distance Learning Endorsement)

Dr Lennox Thompson started her teaching career 20 years ago, when distance learning was telephone-based teaching. Now to receive an award recognising the hard work she has done over the years is humbling, she says.

“I started in the days of telephone-based teaching where two hours of teaching with a phone held to my ear was the norm! We didn't get to see our student's faces at all. We've used Zoom (and its predecessor) for years now, meaning that when COVID-19 happened, we were already working this way and I could offer what I've learned to those teachers having to very quickly switch to online teaching. “There are major differences between teaching in person and at a distance, as many of our University teachers have learned over the past two years.”

After working clinically Dr Lennox Thompson began contributing to the Postgraduate Programmes in Pain and Pain Management in a part-time capacity in 2001. She is now the Academic Co-ordinator for the programme.

She says she has grown to relish seeing students leave the programmes with greater confidence about helping people with pain, despite also developing greater awareness that pain is possibly even more complex than they had assumed.

“Seeing students question their practice, apply their learning and develop networks amongst other clinicians is one of the pleasures of my work.

“I'm proud to know that students implement changes to their practice from the very first paper they take, ensuring that people with pain receive better and more compassionate care. This makes my work not just about education, but about healthcare improvement.”

Associate Professor James Scott

Associate Professor James Scott – University of Otago Award for Excellence in Teaching

Associate Professor Scott is no stranger to awards for teaching, supervision and research, but receiving this award is an acknowledgement of the hard work that has gone on behind the scenes during the pandemic.

“The last two years have been a difficult time to be teacher - I've been in the middle of courses at the initiation of both Level 4 lockdowns in Dunedin and had to immediately take courses online twice. It takes a lot of effort to keep students engaged and ensure them that they are receiving the high standard of learning that they deserve.

“In one paper, I decided to develop an online fieldtrip to replace a physical one that could not run; even with the support of colleagues, it took a lot longer than I thought it would!”

Associate Professor Scott feels incredibly fortunate to be able to interweave his own research topics into the classroom.

“I don't think that I am a natural teacher, and I never set out to be one. I kind of fell into it: when I was offered a lectureship position in 2013, I had only ever given two lectures in my life and I gather that they weren't very good. I rely very heavily on knowing well ahead of time what I'm going to say or do in the classroom.

“So, it takes me a lot of preparation time to develop the lectures, labs and fieldtrips that I think that I'd have been happy to attend. That's my goal: teach in a way that I'd like to have liked to have been taught.”

Seeing his students become engaged in a topic, having them ask interesting questions and thinking deeply is rewarding drives his love of teaching, he says.

The winners of the 2020 Teaching Awards were unable to be acknowledged last year. They were Professor Hazel Tucker of the Department of Tourism and Associate Professor Stephanie Woodley of the Department of Anatomy. Both received the University of Otago Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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