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UC glaciologist wins national tertiary teaching award

Connecting students to the environment is as important as their education in the classroom, according to award-winning glaciologist Dr Heather Purdie.

Dr Purdie’s passion for education and her outstanding career to date were recognised at the 2019 Ako Aotearoa Awards last night, which saw her receive New Zealand tertiary teaching excellence honours.

She was presented with the Ako Aotearoa Award at a ceremony in Parliament by the Minister of Education, Hon Chris Hipkins.

“It’s a bit daunting, but it’s quite exciting as well,” Dr Purdie says of her Ako Aotearoa award.

“I feel really honoured, and quite humbled, to be part of a core group of people who are passionate about quality teaching and learning,” she says.

From the University of Canterbury (UC)’s School of Earth and Environment, Dr Purdie is known for her dynamic, engaging and student-centred teaching.

Her teaching style ranges from experiential learning, including field trips to local ski fields, to reimagining the field in the classroom.

“My research expertise is in the field of glaciology, specifically glacier mass balance, dynamics, and climate change, with a focus on mountain glaciers in the New Zealand Southern Alps,” she says.

“My teaching focuses on fostering the student’s connection to their environment, creating interactive activities that help students understand how natural systems work while stimulating their curiosity and drive to learn more.”

Her Ako Aotearoa Award citation also noted her commitment to integrating te reo Māori and te ao Māori in her teaching practice, using pūrūkau or storytelling to bring the outside in.

For Dr Purdie, winning the national award means more than mere accolades.

“It’s an opportunity to develop connections with other educators and institutions beyond UC, and to contribute to the bigger picture when it comes to elevating tertiary education,” she says.

“Tertiary education is a significant investment, and you want to ensure that what our students get out of their courses will best benefit them in the long term,” Dr Purdie says.

The Ako Aotearoa Awards recognise up to ten educators annually for their sustained excellence in tertiary teaching and learning.

This award follows Dr Purdie’s success in the UC’s 2018 Teaching Awards, which recognises teaching excellence in both undergraduate and graduate programmes.


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