I started my professional life as a high-school teacher and soon found I was particularly interested in “non-traditional” students – those students who were not aiming to go to university. After three years I left high-school teaching to start a work scheme for unemployed people, and soon moved into adult “second chance” education. Among other exciting adventures, this led to founding a school for adults in “developmental” education that operated successfully for 13 years.
Since then I have led national professional development projects, and held a wide variety of of positions in teaching and academic development in universities, polytechnics and the Wānanga (Māori university). I am particularly interested in the experience of under-represented groups in higher education, and links between student achievement and teaching development. This year I have started doctoral studies which I hope will lead me to further understanding in these areas; my particular interest is in how to provide effective online teaching for widely diverse students.
My current role is as Teaching and Online Consultant at Massey University in Auckland, responsible for supporting teaching staff to develop and deliver pedagogically sound papers and programmes based on contemporary principles of teaching, learning, assessment and curriculum design. Much of this support involves negotiating teaching development programmes of workshops and ongoing follow up with key stakeholders.
I have been using dialogue approaches – without calling them that – in my work since I started teaching “non-traditional” adult students 30 years ago. I slowly developed activity-based, negotiated approaches as a response to the needs (and often demands) of these students, who were adults aged 16-65 and included long-term unemployed, high school dropouts and parents returning to the workforce. I learned so much about teaching from these students as they were were candid, sceptical about education and their own competence as learners, and had no time to waste in pointless activities. I often taught groups of 12 to 15 for two or three whole days at a stretch, so there was plenty of scope for interaction and personal relationship development as well as experimentation with different teaching techniques with instant feedback.
After I completed a Masters’ degree in Education I moved into teaching development work with other teachers of “non-traditional” adult students and shared my activity-based approaches with them. It was wonderful to discover Jane Vella’s writing and the dialogue approach, which fitted so well with my values and the way my teaching had developed over the years.