I just returned from 10 great days in New Zealand, knocking off a couple of keynotes (Distance Education Assoc of New Zealand and Moodlemoot) and two very fine visits and talks at Massey and Otago universites). Like most visitors I was impressed by the scenery, hospitality, friendliness and strange pronunciations (I couldn’t get used to being called Teary).

A highlight was learning about  Ako Aotearoa (Maori for teaching/learning in New Zealand) the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.

I encourage all readers to spend a few minutes on the Ako Aotearoa web site where you will be rewarded with a host of features, resources and ideas including:

Resources: These include reports listed by topic and by discipline. Many of these were commissioned by Ako Aotearoa and written by New Zealand authors. I found the recent Taking The Lead: Strategic Management for e-Learning of particular interest and value for all of us trying to get our heads around the business of e-learning in educational institutions.

Projects: Funding for small scale research and development projects is critical to stimulate innovators and early adopters to explore and define effective use of new technologies and pedagogies. This area also lists calls for and results of small-medium sized ($10-100,00) research projects.

Communities Though the e-learning forum doesn’t seem overly active, the opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns and other ways communicate with colleagues in the development of a network of practice is critically important for real change.

Awards Ako funds National Excellence in Tertiary teaching award competition with individual awards up to $30,000 (OK, they are New Zealand dollars but still….)

Regional Hub Activities Though by Canadian standards, New Zealand is a small country, they still recognize regional differences and thus support staff and activities in three regional hub cities.

Maori teaching Hub Maori language, culture and opportunities permeate New Zealand popular and institutional culture in much more visible and profound ways than we see First Nations influence in Canada. This is reflected in a set of resources for teachers from Maori background.

Good Practice E-Book. Ako funds post-secondary faculty members $3,000 each to compose 2,000 word good practice chapters on a host of topics relevant to teaching and learning in tertiary education. The results are a very impressive e-book with 30 chapters online  and still growing.

As you will see after a few fruitful moments on this website, New Zealand is doing a great job of supporting the development of high quality teaching and learning in tertiary education. By contrast in Canada we have no National support for teaching and learning at any level and none of the provinces come close to matching the resources and services available in New Zealand. Ako Aotearoa’s 2008 Annual report lists a budget of $4,729,000 (approx. $3.2 million Canadian) for all of the services noted above. One can contrast this with the ill fated Canada Council on Learning (CCL) which was allocated $85 million (though I understand they even failed to spend it all! ) before loosing further support from the Conservative government. Admittedly, CCL’s mandate was much broader than tertiary education, but there accomplishments, as measured by New Zealand standards were much less.

I only hope we can learn from New Zealand and manage to devise a strategy, rather than the current tragedy, to leverage the ingenuity, technology and resources of Canadian higher edcuation system to not just compete but really lead globally in the critical function of lifelong learning for the 21st Century.