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On-line resource portal for PhD students

Monday, July 14, 2008
Virtual community and on-line resource portal for PhD students

A unique web-based cyber community to support Mäori PhD students will be launched at a symposium, in Palmerston North on Wednesday.

The community has been developed by the University's Te Mata o Te Tau – Academy for Mäori Research and Scholarship – in an effort to create a virtual community and resource portal for the more than 70 Mäori PhD students enrolled at present. The students are based throughout New Zealand and most have limited opportunities to visit a campus or discuss issues with classmates.

Te Mata o Te Tau director Te Kani Kingi says as far as he is aware this is the first virtual community of its type for PhD students.

“The cyber community has been designed to address the sense of isolation many Mäori PhD students feel and provide an innovative communication and resource tool," Dr Kingi says. "There has been a concern that PhD students didn’t feel like they belonged to a community of learning. Often because their degree is not taught in a traditional sense – they do not attend classes, are typically off-campus, and therefore find it difficult to develop a sense of collegiality."

Initial testing indicated that students wanted to see and hear other people and to engage each other in a more interactive way, rather than simply read text. "Through the use of technology we will be able to foster a sense of community, no matter where students are, and enhance their learning and research outcomes. We have students based in Auckland, Wellington, Manutuke and Hamilton, who will now be able to find out information and have face-to-face and virtual dialogue with their peers and supervisor.”

The cyber community and resource portal has been developed using existing WebCT technology used for distance learning at the University for several years.

Dr Kingi says similar technology has been tested and used to good effect with Te Rau Puawai, a Mäori mental health workforce development initiative based at the University.

He says the information available through the portal will include 20-minute audio-visual clips [broken into a menu of 1-2 minute segments] given by supervisors, including a bilingual presentation by Professor Tai Black in Mäori for those students completing their thesis in Mäori, slide shows and notes as well as the answers to general questions about ethics, research methods and online resources to assist with the completion of PhDs.

“Often PhD students raise similar questions about ethics, how to use Microsoft word, how to manage End-Note, or appropriate research methods. They will be able to find answers to these questions, as well as information about research management, research grants, and applying for funding.

“Most PhD students will find End-Note [a computerised referencing tool] useful, no matter the subject area. By providing an on-line presentation they can see for themselves how to install and operate the software. More importantly, they can review the presentation as many times as they like and from any location, which can save them time, and money.”

Dr Kingi says the portal will include a range of tools to assist students to finish their PhD. He says much of the information will be applicable to PhD students generally and some will be of particular interest to Mäori.

He says PhD students who cannot to attend the symposium will be able to watch the presentations via the portal soon after it is launched.

The portal and cyber community was developed by recent Massey graduate Audrey MacDonald and will be maintained, coordinated, and regularly updated by researcher Dr Rangi Mataamua. To facilitate the development of the community, PhD students will need to go through a registration process to help the coordinator assess and meet the needs of students.

Dr Kingi says that the initiative is part of a broader strategy to support and assist Mäori postgraduate students and all universities and wänanga in the country, and could not have been achieved without the support and guidance of Massey University’s Graduate Research School, or the overall vision of Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Mäori) Professor Mason Durie, who has played a significant part in the project’s development.

Caption: Recent Massey graduate Audrey MacDonald during the development of the cyber community. Picture – Massey News

ends

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