Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards - Learning and Teaching - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards

The Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards are annual awards established by the Government to recognise and encourage excellence in tertiary teaching. The award recipients are selected by a Tertiary Teaching Awards committee, appointed by the Minister of Education. These awards were presented for the first time in 2002.


Professor Ursula Cheer, Law

Professor Cheer received her award in August 2017 in a double celebration for UC alongside Associate Professor Ben Kennedy, the first time UC has achieved two sustained excellence awards in one ceremony. Professor Cheer admitted in hr submission to Ako Aotearoa that she never planned to be a teacher but that now “it is so much of who I am”. She entered law to go into legal practice but ventured into the civil service before settling into the world of academia. In 2016 Ursula was appointed the Dean of the Law School where she was “formally and fantastically responsible for teaching generally”. According to the judges, her tertiary teaching excellence portfolio "clearly highlights her amazing relationships with students and their success. She has used student feedback to consistently be more innovative and curious with the teaching of law and its place in society. Her consistent positive student evaluations and accolades from colleagues in the legal fraternity as well as her own experiences confirms her sustained commitment to excellence in teaching." They commended her guiding prinicple that: “This is effectively and inspiringly, a journey without end.”


Associate Professor Ben Kennedy, Geological Sciences

Associate Professor Kennedy received his award in August 2017 in a double celebration for UC alongside Professor Ursula Cheer, the first time UC has achieved two sustained excellence awards in one ceremony. The panel noted that Ben inspires the best possible outcomes for students through reflective teaching that is student centred, experiential, highly structured, and constantly updated through collaboration with peers. Drawing on his experience of working with Dr Carl Wieman (Nobel Laureate and world-leading science educator), Ben creates an atmosphere of excitement that resonates with the concept of ako and the tuakana/teina approach of support and mentoring. As affirmed by a student: “You have to engage during the class, so you can’t just, like, sit there just looking cool. You actually have to think and process things.”

He brings theoretical concepts in geo-science alive through a compelling blend of in-class pedagogy, virtual simulations, and authentic learning in field trips to active volcanic sites. A senior colleague notes: “students are able to connect the ‘dream’ of studying volcanoes for a living, with the reality that volcanologists actually do exist, and contribute useful science-for-society”.

Overall, Ben’s approach contributes to a culture change in teaching at the university, with benefits to students far beyond the department.

Professor Angus Hikairo Macfarlane, Professor Māori Research

Professor Angus MacfarlaneProfessor Macfarlane is the University’s first winner in the Kaupapa Māori category.
The award recognised his contribution and commitment to the professional advancement of kaupapa Māori imperatives for pre-service and in-service teacher education. He states that he attempts to adopt an approach to teaching and learning that is culturally-grounded, evidence-based, student-focused and committed to advancing awareness and understandings that can be translated into practice.
Educated in Rotorua and Auckland, Professor Macfarlane’s leadership in Māori traditions was fashioned and refined at secondary school where the emphasis was on te reo and tikanga Māori, scholarship, performing arts and sport. A period as head teacher of a school for students with profound behaviour difficulties focused Professor Macfarlane’s interest in educational and cultural psychology, which became the foundational disciplines of his university teaching and research. He is also Kaihautū (Senior Māori Advisor) for the New Zealand Psychological Society.
“The greatest satisfaction I derive from tertiary teaching is the development of human potential, which must be highly valued and reflected in the content and context of teaching programmes,” says Professor Macfarlane.
“While my teaching is primarily geared toward kaupapa Māori orientations, I strive to be inclusive of all cultures. The fine examples of excellence that my tipuna [ancestor], Makereti, provides are the qualities that I draw from to guide and inform my tertiary teaching practice,” he explains.
Professor Macfarlane recalls and acknowledges the many key people who have inspired him and kept him motivated over the years.
“A real sense of purpose and enjoyment was inspired through working in proximity to tertiary education leaders such as Fred Kana, Waiariki Grace, Tamati Reedy, Linda Tuhiwai, Ted Glynn, and others,’ says Professor Macfarlane.

Dr Herb de Vries, Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship

Dr Herb de VriesDr de Vries was recognised alongside Professor Angus Hikairo Macfarlane, as UC scored its first double success in the national tertiary teaching awards competition. 
The annual awards were presented by the Minister of Tertiary Education, the Hon Steven Joyce, at a special ceremony in Wellington in August 2015. 
Dr Herb De Vries left high school at 17 and overcame learning difficulties to excel in his own successful manufacturing business, before deciding at 36 that he wanted to be a university lecturer. He completed an MBA and a Certificate in Adult Teaching, which led to a period of contract lecturing and then a position in the Christchurch College of Education Business School. Dr de Vries says the outstanding teaching culture there had a positive impact on his development as an educator and, after completing a Masters and PhD in management, he accepted a position in UC’s College of Business and Law when the Christchurch Teachers College became the UC College of Education.
Long impressed with the difference great teachers can make to students’ lives, Dr de Vries has gone on to inspire others: “As a youngster I was plagued with reading and writing problems, but fortunately I had inspiring teachers who encouraged me to overcome these problems,” says Dr de Vries.
“Students need to grow as learners and as people, so I encourage them to engage with other students as a learning community. It’s not about me – it’s about inspiring them to set high expectations for themselves. When I walk into a classroom, my students are the centre of my universe – for that period of time, nothing else matters more,” he explains.
This philosophy saw Dr de Vries through the obstacles created by the Canterbury earthquakes, when he delivered lectures to 400 students in tents and offered support to many via drop-in sessions at UC’s Intent Café.
The award includes $20,000 in prize money to be used for career development and to promote best practice in teaching.

Dr Rua Murray, Mathematics and Statistics

Dr Rua MurrayDr Rua Murray, a University of Canterbury senior mathematics and statistics lecturer, has been recognised as one of New Zealand’s top tertiary teachers.

Dr Murray has received one of 10 Ako Aotearoa national tertiary teaching excellence awards.

Dr Murray researches in pure and applied mathematics, with a focus on the behaviour of complex systems. Recent research with UC collaborators includes the way that invasive species may be affected by climate change, and possibilities for reduced energy use in transport. He has taught thousands of students from foundation to graduate level over the last 15 years.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Town said Dr Murray was "widely acknowledged at UC for his tremendous enthusiasm for his subject and his outstanding support of student success".

The award includes $20,000 in prize money to be used for career development and to promote best practice in teaching.

Stephen Hickson

Stephen HicksonUniversity of Canterbury senior teaching fellow Stephen Hickson has been recognised as one of New Zealand’s top tertiary teachers. Mr Hickson (Economics and Finance) received one of 12 Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards during a ceremony held at Parliament. The event was hosted by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce, and the Chair of the Education and Science Committee, Nikki Kaye. The awards, administered by Ako Aotearoa - The National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, recognise and encourage excellence in tertiary teaching. The award includes $20,000 in prize money to be used for career development and to promote best practice.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Hickson said it was "a privilege to receive an award like this" and thanked colleagues who, "by their great stature, have allowed me to stand on their shoulders while trying to make a difference to students".

"And of course to all the students who, over the years, have made the journey very rewarding. Finally, to my wife, who every day has to put up with being married to someone who lives and breathes economics. She's still not sure if I should be let loose on the minds of young people or not but she realises I'm having far too much fun to want to do anything else."

He said when teaching, his main aim is to show his passion for his subject. “I want to connect with what the students already know and find interesting,” he said.

Mr Hickson's teaching strategies include relating content to students' lives, presenting material in multiple ways to help students learn, and structuring assessment so that students are guided into the behaviours that advance learning.

In the citation for the award, Mr Hickson was described as "a superbly effective, energetic teacher who has inspired thousands of students".

"He has been praised for his natural teaching skills, innovation and willingness to do whatever it takes to better serve students," the citation said.

Mr Hickson’s research interests centre on teaching and assessment in economics, looking at whether different types of assessments measure different things, and if different types of students perform better or worse in different types of assessment.

Associate Professor Jon Harding

Associate Professor Jon HardingThe University of Canterbury was again recognised as having one of the top ten University teachers in New Zealand in 2011. Assoicate Professor Jon Harding, from the School of Biological Sciences received a Tertiary Teaching Excellence award, funded by the Tertiary Education Commission and administered by Ako Aotearoa.

Jon Harding’s infectious enthusiasm for our natural environment rubs off on his learners. A freshwater ecologist, he shares his sense of wonder about the beauty and complexity of natural ecosystems and the urgent need to protect them in a polluted world.

A strong believer that science is learned by doing science, he takes all his learners into the field, literally getting his feet wet as they study biology in the wild. Second year learners create insect collections covering all New Zealand’s insect groups, research learners accompany him to Tonga to count mosquito larvae. Lately he has experimented with preparing virtual field trips. His lectures are spiced with humour and anecdote. A learner wrote, “he manages to capture the classes’ attention and promote discussion so easily you forget you are in a lecture”.

Jon is generous with his time, mentoring new staff, sharing resources, figuring out alternative ways to teach a blind learner in his class and helping learners win prizes at national and international conferences. No wonder a learner wrote “Jon’s teaching got me excited to go to class again”.

Associate Professor Emily Parker

University of Canterbury biochemist Associate Professor Emily Parker has been recognised as one of the country's top tertiary teachers. The chemistry teacher was one of 11 teachers awarded a Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award during a ceremony held in July 2010. The award includes $20,000 in prize money to be used for career development and to promote best practice.

A passion for the exquisite detail of the world of atoms, molecules and chemical transformations informs Emily’s teaching. She feels privileged to share her excitement with students by providing this world with meaning, context and relevance. She brings her own research into the classroom to illustrate the excitement of new knowledge and to open a window to an exciting world beyond the undergraduate degree. She stimulates students to feel comfortable asking questions and to grow in independence.

Her student-centred teaching philosophy underpins her interactive teaching. A colleague comments: “teaching is a dialogue between Emily and the students”. First years benefit from practical demonstrations and links to the familiar. One wrote, “You rocked. I loved your experiments, enthusiasm and attitude”. Laboratory courses incorporate self-directed learning. Advanced students become her partners in conducting and presenting research. She inspires them with her energy and enthusiasm while developing their skills. Another student wrote “Emily taught me the principles behind being a successful scientist, she also instilled in me the confidence and belief that I could achieve whatever I set my mind to.”

Professor Eric Pawson, Geography

Canterbury University geography lecturer Professor Eric Pawson has been recognised as one of New Zealand’s top tertiary teachers.

Professor Pawson (Geography) was one of 10 teachers awarded a Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award during a ceremony held at Parliament in July 2009.

The awards, administered by New Zealand's National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence Ako Aotearoa, recognise and encourage excellence in tertiary teaching. The award includes $20,000 in prize money to be used for career development and promote best practice.

Professor Pawson, who was last year awarded a Canterbury University Teaching Award, has taught geography at the University of Canterbury for more than 30 years. He teaches courses at all levels and has supervised over 50 masters and doctoral students.

In congratulating the award winners, Tertiary Education Minister Anne Tolley said “these teachers have gone over and above just ‘doing a job’ and have made it their mission to give their students the tools to achieve in education and other areas of their lives”.

Vice-Chancellor Dr Rod Carr said he was delighted for Professor Pawson.

“Since joining the University in 1976, Professor Pawson has made a significant contribution to higher education in geography that goes well beyond New Zealand.”

Associate Professor Angus McIntosh, Biological Sciences

Associate Professor Angus McIntoshAssociate Professor Angus McIntosh (Biological Sciences) was one of 10 teachers awarded a Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award during a ceremony held at Parliament in June 2007.

Professor McIntosh said he was "a bit overwhelmed" by the award, which included $20,000 in prize money to be used for career development and promote best practice. "Teaching is your core business as an academic so I feel like I've just been doing my job.

But UC ecologist recognised as one of NZ's top teachers says "It's nice to be acknowledged and recognised for something that I enjoy doing," he said. "Teaching is the main reason why I work at a university rather than in a research facility. The students present a great challenge but also great inspiration and teaching them is enormously rewarding. I can't think of a better job."

Professor McIntosh believed his role as a teacher was to inspire students and provide them with the tools to seek knowledge independently. "One of my philosophies is that we should be concentrating on depth of knowledge rather than breadth of knowledge. We should be providing students with basic, fundamental knowledge so they can go out and seek further information on their own."

However, while Professor McIntosh believed teaching was an "absolutely fundamental" part of being an academic, he said teaching and research were inseparable. "I think my research informs my teaching. The fact that I’m generating information helps in my teaching and makes it up to date," he said. "Teaching also focuses the mind on what the important questions are and what you should be addressing in your research. A large proportion of good research ideas come from students and we wouldn’t be doing our jobs right if that wasn’t the case. We should be inspiring them to think creatively."

Dr Roger Nokes, Civil Engineering

Dr Roger Nokes Roger Nokes, Senior Lecturer, Department of Civil Engineering, has recently been awarded a prestigious Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award for 2006 by Ako Aotearoa: The National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.

Roger has 18 years’ tertiary teaching experience at three institutions: the School of Engineering at the University of Auckland, the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and the University of Canterbury. His holistic approach to teaching extends well beyond the traditional classroom and involves striving for an optimum learning environment and the best possible outcome. Roger’s teaching expertise covers a wide range of core subjects. He has huge enthusiasm for his subjects and always tries to focus on a ‘roadmap’ for each course to encourage learning while being as organised as possible for all classes. He also uses a lot of visual demonstrations to make ideas stick in students’ minds and use them to demystify complex concepts.

A former student states: What makes Roger a truly excellent educator is his passion for the subjects he teaches and his commitment to working with students. Roger’s students are not just names on a roll - he cares about his students as people and will do things that are above and beyond the call of duty to help them. Roger’s ‘stage presence’ in the classroom projects energy and enthusiasm. Students readily sense that he can ‘get down to their level’ which they appreciate.

Dr Juliet Gerrard, Biological Sciences

Dr Juliet GerrardIn June 2004, Dr Juliet Gerrard (Biological Sciences) was presented with a Sustained Excellence Prize at the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards at a dinner in Parliament’s Grand Hall, hosted by the Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Dr Gerrard describes herself as a “learning coach” who likes to challenge and excite her students to the point where they leave their comfort zones.“I think it’s really important that rather than fill students up with information that’s in your head, you teach them to gain the information themselves. “If you teach them things that are easy for them, they could have done it without you. But if you teach them stuff that’s over their head they’re never going to get it. The important bit is to find the bit for each student where they’re going to learn the most. “I try and engender a sense that each student is part of a scholarly community that asks valid questions and challenges existing paradigms.”

The annual Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards were established by the Government in 2001 to recognise outstanding tertiary teachers from all publicly funded institutions and private training organisations.Organisers say teachers are judged on their commitment, knowledge, enthusiasm and ability to stimulate students.Dr Gerrard says she is delighted that the quality of her teaching has been recognised, as she considers teaching to be the core function of a university.“The PBRF (Performance-Based Research Fund) has meant everybody’s very focussed on their research and more particularly their research grade. To actually be recognised for teaching is great.”

The Sustained Excellence Prize gives Dr Gerrard $20,000 to fund activities or initiatives to enhance her teaching career and promote best practice.“One of the things I’d quite like to do is learn how to teach students from other cultures. Maybe visit an Asian university and try and find out how to adapt my teaching methods to better suit those different cultures. Because my teaching methods are based very much on an English style.“The more international students there are in the room the more I’m struggling to keep everyone on board at the same time. So I get the impression that I need extra techniques to pick out enthusiasms and inter-actions from different cultures.”

Dr Gerrard has been described as one of the most effective teachers in the School of Biological Sciences. Last year she received a Canterbury University Teaching Award. At the time of that award one of her students said: “Juliet is incredibly dedicated to her students. She is truly a talented educator and academic.”

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Roy Sharp, travelled to Auckland and Wellington for last week’s awards ceremonies. He said it was a delight to see the achievements of Canterbury University staff and students being recognised at a national level.

Dr Tim Bell, Computer Science

Dr Tim BellTim Bell, senior lecturer and Head of Department of Computer Science has been recognised for his sustained excellence in teaching with one of the first ever Ako Aotearoa National Tertiary Teaching Excellence awards at a ceremony in Wellington in 2002. A key focus of the awards is to identify and reward teaching practices that are student-focused and committed to promoting effective learning. They are open to teachers from across the entire tertiary education sector.

Dr Bell is not daunted by the challenge of teaching complex material. The “Computer Science Unplugged project” is an example of Tim’s innovative approach to developing novel teaching methods. He teaches “real’ computer science principles thorough trying to avoid the distraction of technology when teaching non-technical audiences by introducing thought-provoking and usually humorous diversions in lectures.

Tim has been previously recognised as a recipient of the 1995 Science Communicator Merit Award and the 1999 Science Communicator Award. He has also previously received a University of Canterbury teaching award.

A colleague states: “What makes Tim rise above every teacher I have ever encountered are his personal values and qualities. He knows who he is and why he is teaching. Tim has a deep desire for his students to not only understand the material, but to love the learning of it as much as he loves the teaching.”

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