Paddling the waters our journey to Ako Atea


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This is a copy of the presentation I gave at the LIANZA (Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aoteartoa) conference in Hamilton in October 2013.
My presentation is called Paddling the Waters : our Journey to Ako Atea. It is about our new model of integrated learning and library support at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. The presentation explains some of the drivers for the change, outlines some of our successes and challenges, and ends with my thoughts about the skills and leadership practices that seem to be suited to this model of service. The full paper can be found on the LIANZA website at

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  • Kia orakoutoukatoaKo Lee Rowe takuingoaI’m the KaiarahiAkoĀtea at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. Naumauhaeremai - welcome to this session “Paddling the Waters : our Journey to AkoAtea”
  • AkoĀtea is a learning commons that opened in 2012, and is part of a new student support services model called Ako Awe. ‘Ako Awe’ was created after the merging of three separate business units: a learning centre, a library, and a teacher development unit.
  • In today’s session I’m going to explain why our new model Ako Awe was introduced, and how it works, with a particular focus on AkoĀtea. I’ll also discuss some of the challenges and successes we’ve faced, and conclude with some thoughts about the staff skills that seem to me suited to this model. I hope you enjoy this presentation. I’m going to begin by telling you about 2 of our students who began bridging courses with us earlier this year.
  • 16 years of ageBeen in CYFs care since aged 10No family supportMental health issuesFinds socialising trickyAttendance was an issue. No car and Homeless for a period of time, living on street, took off to Hamilton early in the course.No computer or internet access at homeDoing the course because his older brother told him that he would take him on if he finished a course at Tech.
  • 45 years of age with 5 childrenBeen on DPB for a very long timeLeft school with no qualsVery overwhelmed when she first started on the courseNever had a home computer or internet accessPut quite simply, our new model was created for these 2 students and the many others like them. All learners bring their own uniqueness and individual challenges with them. But there are some, like these three, who face really significant hurdles. I’ll come back to these 2 students later on in the presentation.
  • Here is a little bit of wider demographic background about our Polytech, to help put my discussion into context:Vocational higher educational institution in Tauranga3204 equivalent full time students Māori learners contribute to 31% of the institution’s students which indicates the relevance of the Polytechnic to Māori, especially as Māori account for just over 16% of the population in the region. 1% Pacifika and quite low numbers of 1% International.The majority of our students are under 24 years of age, with many under 20. And of course we have a significant number of mature students as well.
  • Provides a lovely complex mash-up for student support services! Diverse needs. Old young, tradies, academics, with a mix of cultural backgrounds with high percentage Māori.
  • For this discussion I’m going to group these categories – Education, Political, Socio-Cultural and Technological.
  • Changes in teaching and learning pedagogies were one of the drivers for change. For example collaborative learning methods whereby students work together much more, meant we needed an environment more suited to support group work.From a library perspective, most of our help desk queries had become IT related but support being provided to students was fragmented. The separate Library Team and Learning Centre Teams, alongside our IT department, although making valiant attempts to work together cooperatively was basically an un-cohesive service with lots of duplication and frustration for staff and students. There was a clear need to a provide more effective, streamlined IT support service.Similarly the Learning Advisors and the Librarians were trying hard to collaborate, but our separate team structure wasn’t conducive for sustained collaboration.
  • One of the drivers for the creation of Ako Awe political environment. In New Zealand, government agencies monitor and measure our performance using educational performance indicators (EPIs). Some of the EPIs are: more people completing qualifications at levels four and above, more Māori and Pacifika learners achieving at higher levels, and more students progressing to higher level qualifications. Bay of Plenty Polytechnic’s performance is in the upper quartile of the Polytechnic sector for most although not all of the indicators. There is a strong push for us to increase levels of performance. There are big chunks of government funding which are tied to achieving performance measures.
  • Whether this economic focus on performance is good or bad is a topic of current debate in education circles, but if we take a positive view we can say, that it does help put a sharp focus on learner success.
  • This economic focus has been somewhat balanced by an emphasis on cultural identity, inclusion and social development. There’s been a strong push to address inequities, reduce barriers for disadvantaged learners, and improve the achievements of Māori and Pacifica. Many of our students are first generation tertiary learners who may not have the benefit of the ‘lived experience’ of tertiary study at home or within their whanau. Māori learner outcomes have been a priority for the Polytechnic for some years. The Bay of Plenty Polytechnic has developed TeWakaHourua, “The Twin Hulled Waka” which is a programme aimed at providing “an environment where Māori aspirations are valued...and supported.
  • Ako Awe can be seen one of the manifestations of TeWakaHourua and the organisations’s values of Manaakitanga, Kotahitanga, and Whanaungatanga.ManaakitangaMana – prestige of others, Mauri, power within us all.We ask ourselves – does what we do bestow this value? WhanaungatangaWhanau - familyAn idea behind this value is that we are never alone. It is about relationships, networking, connections, belonging. We ask ourselves – does what we do grow a sense of belonging, are we helping make connections? KotahitangaUnity of purpose. We are on a journey together – unified. We ask ourselves – are we together on this? Does everyone understand, has everyone had a chance to contribute?These factors and the stories of Shane and Mariana are the main drivers for the creation of Ako Awe.
  • I’m now going to provide an overview of how the new model operates. Like the tributaries of a river which are often intertwined, it is tricky to unravel the team’s functions.
  • but in general AkoAwhina tributary is a group providing specialist learning and knowledge support. The AkoĀtea tributary focus on providing generalist help in AkoĀtea and also health services and technical library functions.
  • I’m now going to show you a short video which will help to give you an idea of what happens in AkoAtea. This is part of our Orientation video that is shown to all students at the beginning of each semester.
  • I’m now going to tell you about AkoĀtea. AkoĀtea can be seen as the reconfiguration of a traditional library and learning centre into a new learning commons. Philosophically and literally the walls between the separate Library and Learning Centres came down in creating the new space.
  • Now a bright, new place, AkoĀtea reflects a global trend in the transformation of libraries from book repositories to community hubs. It has a range of learning spaces, including social, group study rooms and quiet space.
  • There are help points, a library collection, PCs and laptops, wireless access, and cafes. A Health Centre provides health and counselling services. The intention is to make it easy to access a range of services in one place, in a seamless, integrated fashion.
  • By providing flexible spaces, where furniture can be moved around, students have more ownership - the space belongs to them and they determine the learning and social dynamic.
  • This is how they’ve arranged it on this particular day.
  • In AkoĀtea, generalist staff are available to help students with their learning, technology, information, social and pastoral care needs. A triage system is in place where if students require more help they are referred to the specialised learner or knowledge facilitators.Facilitators work in the open with the learner. The intention is both increase accessibility, reduce the power imbalance between staff and student.
  • There is a focus on whanaungatanga, on supportive relationships. New learning is stressful, and learners need the support provided by relationships with others to help them cope with that stress. The term AkoĀtea is a touchstone for us - ātea meaning ‘clear, free from obstruction’. So there is an emphasis on reducing as many barriers possible.
  • It’s a space where students feel safe on their own
  • and relaxed.
  • An ātea is the space in front of the wharenui on a Marae where the formal welcome takes place and where issues are debated. So it is a particularly meaningful name for our space which aims to increase a sense of belonging and foster conversation and connection.
  • The change process that resulted in the creation of Ako Awe was significant. Although overall employee numbers were not reduced but there was an impact on staff, with departures, beginnings, role changes, and major shifts in ways of working. One example is that there is no longer a single library unit; library functions are spread throughout the Ako Awe model. In addition there is no longer a place called ‘The Library’ – however there is a library collection, supporting services, and qualified library professionals. What is important however is that the role of librarian is still needed as this quote from Seth Godin points out.In our ubiquitous but inequitable and complex digital world – guidance is needed now more than ever. Our learners may be savvy with their smart phones but that doesn’t mean they have had a computer or internet access in their homes or have the digital or information literacy skills need to succeed in higher education, or out there in the wider world.
  • Does it matter what we call this place? I don’t think so. What is important is having a safe space which functions as a ‘connector’, where people’s identity is enhanced, where there is a culture of sharing, where relationships come first. We also need to recognise that for many of our learners the idea of a library is not familiar or comfortable; as Spencer Lilley points out in his research on Maori secondary school students, it could even be alienating if previous experiences have been difficult or embarrassing (Lilley, 2008).
  • Some aspects of new roles were too broadly defined or ambiguous. A consequence of ambiguity in roles is a tendency for an individual to determine the nature and type of work they do, which can be ok, but there is a bit of a risk of going off track. Work is progressing to achieve more clarity and purpose through the establishment of portfolios and more guidance.However there is also an advantage in ambiguity, as it can be a source of creativity.One examples of innovative and creative practices initiated by staff including a successful Breakfast Club project – free weekly breakfast in AkoĀtea.
  • Ako Awe was established to help raise levels of student achievement, particularly for Māori. So is it working? It is always difficult to show a direct correlation between the contributions that learning support or library services make to rates of student achievement, it is possible to look at various sources of data for indications of success.In a recent student survey of our services, 88% of students indicated that the assistance they had received in AkoĀtea had contributed to the completion of their study. 91% of students would recommend services to another student. 89 % of academic staff believed that Ako Awe services contribute to student completions. Foot traffic in AkoĀtea is high, much higher than the previous library. Informal observation and anecdotal evidence indicates a high proportion of visitors and users of the service are Māori learners.
  • The 2012 EPIs showed improvement from the year before. • Course completions were up 3%• Students retained in study increased by 15%• 14 % increase in progression to higher study• 3 % increase in Maori student completions.
  • Now I’d like to come back to the stories of those 2 students I described at the beginning of this session. Perhaps this is the best evidence.With lots of support put in place by Ako Awe staff and their tutors, plus many hours hanging out and studying in AkoĀtea: Shane – now has a home, a support network, and is fully expected to complete his course and moving onto a higher level with us.Mariana, has caught the learning bug, and will also go on to further study. Framed her first marked assessment (library orientation) and hung it on the lounge wall at home. Hugely proud and confident, now supporting other students.
  • And in the remaining few minutes my session I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts about the generic skills suited for this environment.• An ability to facilitate connections between people and people, as well as between people and information.• Having Māori staff is key, but all staff need to be willing to recognise TeAo Māori in order to understand the diversity within our community. • Questioning and listening skills – knowing how to ask effective questions to uncover the real needs and concerns of customers and colleagues.• Adaptability, flexibility, willingness to try new ways of working. • Passion, commitment, care, are as important as expertise (Tosca as cited in Finch, 2013a) which can be trained• Love of learning – the library and education environments are changing,and offering different services, and experimenting with their spaces and technology, staff need to be technically fluent and willing to transform themselves• Social and connected. When libraries have a social role, they need social staff. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be extraverts... we need our introverts more than ever...but it does mean developing our connectedness and our abilities to facilitate connections.
  • These are some of the amazing AkoĀtea staff who are so great at creating those connections
  • Be able to paint a picture of where you are headed. Actively communicate the organisation or team’s vision.Accept ambiguity – help provide clarity where needed, but don’t expect perfectionism.Be present, and be interested, walk amount amongst the staff and the community.Support professional identities which can be challenged in an integrated model like thisEncourage respectful and constructive challenges to your own approach and ideas. Show appreciation and recognise achievement.Relinquish control. Allow others to make decisions and act.Recruit people who are social, energetic, and want to be part of the conversation (Tosca as cited in Finch 2013b).Have fun and support your team (and yourself) to find ways to replenish and restore energy Ako Awe was just a concept at the end of 2011. Turning the concept into reality can be compared to undertaking a journey along a challenging waterway. It is appropriate then to quote from Kuku Wawatai our Former Director and whose vision drove the creation of our new model. “Ako Awe’s travellers have needed to learn to understand the winds and the currents; choose the right sails, and when to change and how to give direction. Water is both a friend and an enemy. It tests people, but also gives them connection and life support. In travelling across a river, people don’t take a straight line. They go upstream, they go downstream. They reflect and negotiate pathways through obstacles. They take nourishment where they can from the food sources and calm moments along the way”.
  • Bringing it back to the wider library context, a key message is that libraries have a social and psychological role, and we need to prioritise our services on where the need is greatest in our communities.It is hoped that this presentation has explained the concept of Ako Awe and shown how one of its tributaries AkoĀtea acts as a ‘connector’, supporting identity, diversity and providing a physical and social pathway to information access and lifelong learning.
  • Kia ora and thank you for your time. If you have any questions, I’ll be around for the rest of conference so please I’d love to speak with you.
  • Paddling the waters our journey to Ako Atea

    1. 1. Paddling the Waters: Our Journey to Ako Ātea Lee Rowe @leerowe Bay of Plenty Polytechnic
    2. 2. Ako Ātea – a tributary of Ako Awe Ako: to learn, study, instruct, teach, advise Awe: strength, power, influence Ātea: clear, free from obstruction
    3. 3. Session Overview • Drivers for change • Explanation of model • Successes & challenges • Skills & Leadership Easy paddle by Topshampatti on Flickr CC
    4. 4. Student Profile: Shane* • • • • • • • 16 years of age Been in CYFs care since aged 10 No family support Mental health issues Finds socialising tricky No car and homeless for a period of time, living on street No computer or internet access at home *Names have been changed
    5. 5. Student Profile: Mariana * • 45 years of age with 5 children • Been on DPB for a very long time • Left school with no quals • Very overwhelmed when she first started on the course • Never had a home computer or internet access *Names have been changed
    6. 6. Student Profile
    7. 7. Student Profile
    8. 8. Drivers for Change to Ako Awe Educational Political Socio-Cultural
    9. 9. Educational Changing pedagogies IT support Library and Learning Support services
    10. 10. Political Educational Performance Indicators – EPIs: Completion rates Māori and Pacifika achievement Progression to higher qualifications
    11. 11. Sharpens our focus on what’s important: student success
    12. 12. Socio-Cultural Disadvantaged learners Equity Māori Learner Outcomes Te Waka Hourua
    13. 13. Ako Awe Manifestation of Te Waka Hourua programme and institutional values: Manaakitanga Whanaungatanga Kotahitanga
    14. 14. Ako Awe and its tributaries Glacial flow by Vernspics on Flickr CC Ako Awhina and Ako Ātea
    15. 15. Ako Ātea: reconfiguration of a traditional library & learning centre into a new learning commons
    16. 16. From book repositories to community hubs
    17. 17. Flexible spaces
    18. 18. Students determine the learning & social dynamic
    19. 19. Ako Ātea – Facilitators working with students in open space
    20. 20. Focus on whanaungatanga – supportive relationships.
    21. 21. Ako Ātea : a safe space
    22. 22. Ako Ātea a relaxing space
    23. 23. Fostering conversation, sharing and connection
    24. 24. Implications of Change • No ‘library’ anymore…but • Librarians more important than ever “ A librarian is a data hound, a sherpa, and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user” (Godin, 2011).
    25. 25. Welcoming and safe environment Te Ao Māori
    26. 26. Ambiguity – risky, but can lead to innovation, e.g. Breakfast Club
    27. 27. Is it working? • Student perceptions • Staff perceptions • Foot traffic higher, Māori learners a significant presence
    28. 28. Is it working? 2012 EPIs improved: • 83% course completions cf .80% year before • 73% retained in study cf. 58% year before • 38% progressed to higher study cf. 24% year before • 78% Maori course completions cf 75 % year before.
    29. 29. What about the students? . Shane and Mariana
    30. 30. Skills for Paddling the Waters • • • • • • • Connections Te Ao Māori Question & Listen Adaptability, flexibility Passion, commitment, care Love of learning Social & connected Rope by Matti Mattila on Flickr CC
    31. 31. Skills for Navigating the Waka De Vision Constructive challenge Presence Accept ambiguity Support identities Show appreciation Recruitment Have fun “Climate control, not command and control” (Robinson, 2013). Rope by Matti Mattila on Flickr CC
    32. 32. Ako Ātea acts as a connector New Zealand River by Abaconda on Flickr CC
    33. 33. Kia ora Questions? Easy paddle by Topshampatti on Flickr CC
    34. 34. References (a full list of sources can be found in my conference paper on the LIANZA website: Abaconda. (2006). New Zealand river. [Image]. Retrieved from Flickr CC: Finch, M. (2013a, Sep 20). It's about passion, care, and commitment as much as expertise @catatonichic #parkeslib [Twitter post]. Retrieved from Finch, M. (2013b, Sep 20). #ParkesLib Orgs need to hire people who are fun, energetic and want to be part of the conversation. @catatonichic [Twitter post]. Retrieved from Godin, S. (2011). The future of the library. Retrieved from library.html Lilley, S. (2008). Information barriers and Māori secondary school students. Information Research, 13(4). Retrieved from Mattila, M. (2012). Rope. [Image]. Retrieved from Flickr CC : Topshampatti. (2006). Easy paddling. [Image]. Retrieved from Flickr CC: VernsPics. (2012). Glacial flow. [Image]. Retrieved from Flickr CC: