Case study: Improving digital literacy at AUT

An initiative originally put in place to enhance the teaching of te reo Maori has improved digital literacy across the board at AUT University.

Hohepa Spooner, AUT te reo maoriPHOTO: Tony Nyberg

​An initiative originally put in place to enhance the teaching of te reo Maori has improved digital literacy across the board at AUT University.

Te Ara Poutama, the Faculty for Maori Development, might be the smallest department at AUT University, but it’s leading the way in the use of digital technology as a teaching and learning tool.

One of the faculty’s key players, Hohepa Spooner, has spent almost a decade digitising the department’s teaching resources, promoting the revival of te reo Maori and educating staff and students about digital technology.

“We have just 25 faculty staff, but we know each other well and we’ve collaborated and drawn on everyone’s talents to strengthen the faculty’s digital reputation,” he says. “And now digital literacy has gone through the roof.”

It all began in 2004 when the lecturer and learning technologist and his colleague Jason King, co-ordinator for the te reo Maori programme, decided there must be a better alternative to the archaic audio cassette-tape method used to teach te reo Maori and other languages.

“It was such a clunky system,” Spooner says. “The tapes would get lost or students would record their responses in the wrong place. Lecturers had to cue and mark each one manually. We thought it would be much easier to turn those tapes into digital files and put them on an iPod.”

With the support of Apple, Spooner and King launched a two-semester pilot programme with 10 students.

“The idea was to take all the resources we used in our beginner’s class – about 50 exercises – and convert them into mp3 files, which we loaded onto the iPods, then devise a way for the students to respond to the exercises through AUT’s online student system.”

It was a such as success that Spooner, King, and Professors John Moorfield and Tania Ka’ai, together with three postgraduate students and two research assistants, were charged with digitising the teaching resources for all the te reo Maori language papers delivered from Te Ara Poutama.

“We had eight months to create approximately 600 podcasts ready for semester one, 2008. It was stressful, but very worthwhile.”

Not only was the new system easier for both students and lecturers, the author of the original resource programme, Professor Moorfield, gave permission for the podcasts to be made available free of charge.

“We believe you shouldn’t have to pay to learn our language,” explains Spooner. “It’s valuable having a student learning te reo Maori. What we’ve created makes the language more available to people.”

To enable students to access these resources 24/7 from anywhere, Te Ara Poutama and Te Ipukarea (The National Ma-ori Language Institute) created an external website, www.tewhanake.maori.nz.

It now offers the most comprehensive collection of Maori language teaching and learning facilities in the world, including language lessons, a bilingual dictionary, animated movies, streamed TV programmes and a forum – all accessible via a range of devices on several platforms.

“The response has been very positive,” Spooner says.

“It’s making it easier for students to learn and access content, as well as improve their technological literacy.

“It’s helping preserve the Maori language, but it’s just one of the many ways to strengthen the revitalisation of the language. I think the most valuable tool is the teacher in front of you.”

In 2011, Spooner’s contribution to innovative education was recognised when he was invited to be one of this country’s Apple Distinguished Educators.

Through his role at AUT’s Centre of Learning and Teaching, much of Spooner’s time is now devoted to improving technological literacy across the university.

He is currently working with the schools of Health Care Practice, specifically paramedicine, Language and Culture, Business, Education, and Art and Design, teaching the staff to digitise their resources and use iBook Author and Adobe InDesign to create digital departmental handbooks and textbooks.

Spooner is also helping to create iPad- friendly ebooks that can be used to promote AUT’s courses to Year 13 pupils who are considering their tertiary study options.

AUT University now has more than 950 academic and allied staff using iPads. To ease Spooner’s workload a small group of AUT students (known as LATTEs, Learning and Technology Teaching Enablers) has been employed part-time to familiarise staff with the tablet and its use.