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Kōkiri Ki Tua’s six Kaikōkiri are passionate about learner success and are excited to support and enhance learning and teaching at Otago. From the left: Chen Wang, Nicola Beatson, Jo Borren, Rebecca Bird, Sheena Townsend and Ben Varkalis.

Professor Tim Cooper has a singular mission.

As the University’s first Dean of Learning and Teaching, Tim is focused on advancing Otago’s learning environment, enhancing student success for current and future students.

“We have to be responsive to a changing world and be able to adapt to challenges that come our way,” he says.

“My role is to help facilitate the conversations so we can together figure out a way to respond. And the way to do that is to foster a community of practice, an educational network for learning and teaching.”

In some ways, the educational network already exists, Tim says.

“What we don’t have is a way to join up and share our thinking and insights.”

Kōkiri Ki Tua – (to move forward as a collective), Otago’s new educational network, exists to connect kaimahi together and empower them to share their innovations, ideas, values, practices, and teaching tools in the collaborative mission of student learning success at Otago.

“It has a lovely whakataukī to go with it, which captures the essence of the network. Kei te pae tata te tirohanga ki tua o pae tawhiti – creating a vision beyond the horizon.”

Through a digital network, Kōkiri Ki Tua will connect kaimahi across the campuses and Divisions, so all staff will have visibility of “our home-grown innovations in learning and teaching”.

“My hope is to give space for academic voice, to share their knowledge and experience. The network will help their good work percolate up and in turn help inform the University’s practices, procedures, and policies to enhance learning, teaching, and student success.”

This would not be possible without the commitment and contribution of professional staff, who are also part of Kōkiri Ki Tua, Tim says.

“We all have a part to play in the learning success of our students – teaching, research, and professional staff. We all contribute to our students’ learning environment.”

Tim Cooper teaching forum image

Professor Tim Cooper introduces Kōkiri Ki Tua at the Teaching Forum held in February.

Kōkiri Ki Tua will be overseen by six Kaikōkiri (those who gather people together to ensure they move forward).

“They will sit alongside their respective Associate Deans Academic, who as part of the Boards of Undergraduate and Postgraduate Studies oversee what we teach. The Kaikōkiri will be a part of the Committee for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT) and help oversee how we teach.

“I am thankful to these six individuals for taking on this important role.”

Meet our Kaikōkiri

Dr Nicola Beatson
Otago Business School, Te Kura Pakihi

Nicola Beatson profile
Dr Nicola Beatson

Dr Nicola Beatson is a Senior Lecturer based in the Department of Accountancy and Finance. Over the 14 years she’s been at Otago, Nicola has adopted and advocated for a student-centred approach through her learning and teaching practice and research.

Within the network she sees her role as “as highlighting best practice, sharing information and resources, and bringing staff together to be able to provide the best educational setting for our students that we can”.

“There are so many staff doing amazing, innovative, industry relevant, and cutting-edge teaching within our Division and across Otago. I am looking forward to working closely with my Associate Dean Academic Lynnaire Sheridan to coordinate our efforts and ensure both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of teaching and learning is explored.”

Ben Varkalis
Division of Humanities, Te Kete Aronui

Ben Varkalis profile
Ben Varkalis

Ben Varkalis is a Senior Teaching Fellow from the School of Geography. A Teaching Fellow since 2009, Ben is excited to “see an emphasis placed on teaching and learning with the establishment of the network”.

“It is time to put a spotlight on teaching in a coordinated and organised way, to utilise the wealth of teaching success that our colleagues have to offer.”

Ben also sees the network as central to “inspiring critical discussions as we navigate the changes, challenges and opportunities we all face as teachers”.

“There are excellent and inspiring things happening all over the campus and to bring these innovations, ideas, strategies into view for sharing and enhancement of the teaching and learning space can only be a positive for our students and staff.”

Dr Sheena Townsend
Division of Sciences, Te Rohe a Ahikāroa

Sheena Townsend profile
Dr Sheena Townsend

Dr Sheena Townsend is a Senior Teaching Fellow from the Department of Zoology. As an academic who’s teaching practice has benefited from collaboration and exchange of ideas, Sheena is excited about the possibilities Kōkiri Ki Tua presents.

“I have consistently come away from collaborative experiences with refreshed enthusiasm and ideas for my own teaching, so my primary motivation as Kaikōkiri is to share the benefits of engagement with communities of practice with more people.”

Sheena says a key aspect of her role is “shining a light” on the good work happening at Otago.

“Good teaching doesn’t have to always look perfect. There are people hidden in our departments doing some amazing work, taking risks, and learning new ways to enhance learning. We need to go out, start talking to people so we can connect them, share resources, and start to build capacities across the University.”

Her long-term aim is to “find ways to make doing good things easier for more people”.

Dr Rebecca Bird
Division of Health Sciences (Dunedin), Te Wāhanga Matua Mātau Hauora

Rebecca Bird profile
Dr Rebecca Bird

Dr Rebecca Bird is a Senior Teaching Fellow from the Department of Anatomy. She joined Otago in 2011. Rebecca feels honoured to have been chosen to represent Health Sciences in Dunedin, saying the “opportunity to be part of a collaborative effort to help Otago move into the future was too good to pass up”.

As a Kaikōkiri, she is keen on championing good work and connecting people to others working on similar projects or with similar interests.

“We have so many phenomenal academic and professional staff who have so much collective wisdom, and I’m excited to help give voice to that. My vision for Kōkiri Ki Tua and my role is to help lift up others to share their amazing work, so that we can learn from each other and create the best learning environment and experience possible for students.”

Jo Borren
Division of Health Sciences (Christchurch), Te Wāhanga Matua Mātau Hauora

Jo Borren profile
Jo Borren

Jo Borren is a Lecturer from the Department of Nursing (Christchurch). A nursing tertiary educator since 2017, Jo’s research has focused on learning and teaching practice.

She sees intrinsic value in creating a community of practice that has a “focus on learning and teaching to enhance the experience of engaging in education for both students and colleagues”.

As a key driver of Kōkiri Ki Tua, she envisions her role as helping create “a welcoming space for colleagues to connect and support each other”.

“I see this network as enhancing learning and teaching through promoting the great teaching practice taking place at Otago and providing an environment for colleagues to share the challenges they may be facing as well as successes in their teaching.”

Chen Wang
Division of Health Sciences (Wellington), Te Wāhanga Matua Mātau Hauora

Chen Wang profile
Chen Wang

Chen Wang, who joined Otago in 2021, is a Senior Professional Practice Fellow in eLearning based in the Education Unit at the Wellington campus.

Her role as a Kaikōkiri “aligns seamlessly with my passion for creating connections and fostering collaborative learning environments”.

“I firmly believe that Kōkiri Ki Tua will have a significant impact by unifying academic and professional staff across Otago and by promoting a collective commitment to learning success.”

She aims to be “a driving force in promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and disseminating effective practices in teaching and learning” and is looking forward to bringing her expertise in learning technology and learning analytics to the network.

“I see myself actively contributing to Kōkiri Ki Tua's mission by identifying and championing projects aimed at enhancing learning and teaching practices. Through leading initiatives, my goal is to elevate the overall educational experience for both staff and students.”

Kōrero by Sandra French, Adviser, Internal Communications

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