Indigenous learning practices: Creating reflective spaces for growth and transformation

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Higher EducationLearning DesignIndigenous Learning
Western ways of “knowing” and “being” have dominated higher education for many centuries, contributing to the perpetuation of existing practices and voices within political and economic systems. In higher education / university / wānanga contexts, there is a need for learning design approaches that invite educators and learners to engage in diverse knowledge practices other than those associated with Western traditions, especially for learners who would benefit from education grounded in indigenous learning practices. This chapter focuses on a course that is founded on an indigenous te ao Māori worldview to illustrate the significant learning that can occur in an authentic, locally situated and context-specific practice environment. Its learning design showcases a way of decolonising the curriculum, learning environment and health professional education and practice. Interviews and observations with teaching staff and students informed the analysis of this hybrid learning environment. Taking an ecological approach grounded in practice theory, the analysis draws on the Activity-Centred Analysis and Design framework to examine how an assemblage of elements (including tools, tasks and social design elements of the course) influences its emergent activities. Four distinct learning activities from the noho marae (overnight stay) are described and evaluated using a learning design framework through an iterative process of “zooming in” and “zooming out”. The chapter provides operational details for learning design and argues that authentic, locally contextualised, culturally respectful learning practices can be highly effective for learners and their subsequent graduate practice. This design is in alignment with UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of good health and well-being (SDG3) and quality education (SDG4).


The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 4 centres on “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education” to support learning that improves societies (UN, n.d.; UN, 2021). In this chapter, we argue that in order to address “inclusive and equitable quality education”, learning experiences need to be relevant to all learners, not just to those from a dominant group. This calls for learning designs that address and develop culturally meaningful learning opportunities.

This chapter focuses on a case study extracted from a larger, multiple-case study investigating the design of productive hybrid learning environments in a university in Aotearoa New Zealand. The term “hybrid” is used to denote the incorporation of a variety of digital and material elements, coexisting in varying configurations within post-digital designs for learning (Fawns, 2019; Goodyear, 2020).

The case described here involves a course founded in te ao Māori (see glossary), a Māori worldview that incorporates innovative use of learning design, including curated forum discussions and “he rangitaki” (reflective online journaling) within a learning management system (LMS), as well as a nohoanga marae (Walker, 2012) – a face-to-face, overnight marae-based, live-in environment that provides the setting for learning activities built into the course design. This case illustrates how the richness and breadth of knowledge, social norms and cultural practices can enhance learning environments, and argues that this can positively influence graduate practice. The use of authentic pedagogies that are grounded in indigenous traditions allow cultural traditions to be maintained in higher education settings, and can have significant beneficial impacts on the academic journeys of all learners.

In this course, which is part of an undergraduate programme within the health and wellbeing disciplines, the lecturer embedded principles in the learning design to decolonise the curriculum and the learning environment, as well as education and practice in the health profession. Interviews for this study were undertaken by the first author with the lecturer-designer, teaching staff and students along, the data from which were combined with observations of learning activity in digital and physical spaces. Findings revealed key elements of learning design that allowed the course to be fully contextualised and relevant to learners in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The chapter discusses some innovative pedagogical strategies, such as the learner considering “Ko wai au? Who am I?” in relation to understanding their place within a wider context, engaging with their line of descent traced back from an ancestor, and viewing decolonisation through the lenses of Tangata Whenua (people of the land) and Tangata Tiriti (people of the Treaty of Waitangi) in a safe and supported learning environment.

Overall, this chapter examines core design elements that seem to support the enactment of authentic, locally contextualised, culturally respectful learning practices in a university course. These operational elements can contribute to highly effective learning practices and beyond; that is, not just for higher education/university/wānanga learners, but also in their subsequent professional practice, thus embodying the UNESCO SDGs of good health and well-being (SDG3) and quality education (SDG4).

The next section introduces the analytical lenses used in this study. Then, a short overview of the Aotearoa New Zealand context and te ao Māori (the Māori world) are provided before the discussion of specific learning sessions. We conclude the chapter with recommendations for learning design that aim to support authentic, locally contextualised, culturally-respectful learning practices, and our areas for future research.

Analytical lense

The analysis of this hybrid learning environment takes an ecological approach, grounded in practice theory. Drawing on the Activity-Centred Analysis and Design (ACAD) framework (Goodyear & Carvalho, 2014), the analysis identifies core design elements in the course which seemed critical to the unfolding authentic, locally contextualised, culturally respectful learning activity.

ACAD differentiates between “designable components” (or the components that are open for changes through design), and those that are not (such as the emergent activity of students) (Goodyear & Carvalho, 2014). Designable elements are represented by the epistemic, set and social design dimensions of the framework (see Figure 1). Epistemic elements revolve around the organisation of knowledge, the sequencing and pacing of information, and the resources that are provided for meaning making. Set elements refer to items, such as physical and digital tools or artefacts that are present in a learning situation, including how elements may be positioned within a learning space. Social design considers how learners are organised, and may range from individuals, pairs, triads, small groups, classes or entire cohorts. The coalescence of these three designable aspects supports co-creation of knowledge at learn time, when learners interact with the specific assemblage of elements put together by their lecturer. This last aspect is an important feature of this framework, in that those who design for learning cannot fully predict or control what might occur when a specific group of learners comes together in a specific learning context. Lecturers can however – through their design decisions – nudge learners in certain directions. They do so through their choice of elements in epistemic, set, and social design.

Figure 1

The ACAD framework (adapted from Framing the analysis of complex learning environments by Goodyear & Carvalho, 2014)

In order to theorise the relationship between design elements and emergent practices, four distinct learning activities from the noho marae are described with specific details outlining the learning design, intended outcomes and analysis of a session using a learning design observation template adapted from Fawns et al. (2021) and the iterative process of “zooming in” and “zooming out” (Goodyear, 2020; Nicolini, 2012). The process and focusing questions are provided in Appendix A.

Walker (2012) has emphasised the importance of the way in which guest observers understand themselves when entering indigenous spaces. An observer from a culture different to that of a case study could misinterpret the significance of what they observe. Walker argued that the researcher should allow their perspective to be informed by those of the culture in which the case is situated. It is essential for Tangata Tiriti researchers to acknowledge guardianship, rather than ownership of analysis of this course’s design for learning. The research team includes Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti investigators and this chapter is written in consultation with the Tangata Whenua course designer-lecturer. Consultation with collaborators steeped in te ao Māori knowledge seeks to balance the potential risk of overlooking significant cultural interpretations.

The Aotearoa New Zealand Context – Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti

Aotearoa New Zealand is distinct from other countries in regard to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and The Treaty of Waitangi. The intention of this agreement was the formation of a respectful bicultural partnership; however, these historical documents are regarded as a current social contract that strengthens relationships between Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti (Ruwhiu, 2019). Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed in 1840 by 42 Māori chiefs and a British Crown representative. Over the following four years, Te Tiriti o Waitangi travelled from one end of the country to the other and was signed by 513 male and 13 female Māori chiefs by 1844. It outlines the relationship between the two tangata and guarantees the rights of Māori and the responsibility of the British monarch (Wilson et al., 2021). Tangata Whenua refers to the people of the land as the first arrival people in Aotearoa New Zealand. Tangata Tiriti denotes the people of the treaty, referring to the second arrival people in Aotearoa New Zealand, who signed a treaty with Tangata Whenua in 1840.

Despite the good intentions outlined in the agreement, Māori have had to continuously and increasingly challenge institutional racism and the effects of colonisation throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly since the late 1980s in respect to the policies of the government and its institutions (Ramsden, 1993; Walker, 1986). This is evident in both the education and health systems. At present, the Waitangi Tribunal are investigating more than 200 claims accusing the Crown of operating a sick, racist health system that fails Māori. The Health Services and Outcomes Kaupapa Inquiry (Claim WAI 2575) at Tūrangawaewae marae in Ngāruawāhia heard from claimants, some of whom were health professionals, that Māori die earlier and suffer worse health outcomes than other ethnic groups (Waitangi Tribunal, 2019). The effects of 181 years of control by the Crown has resulted in marked social and health disparities (Came et al., 2020).

Māori continue to experience the intergenerational effects of colonisation and discrimination. It is through partnership that understandings are cemented and actions that build equity for Māori in social and health systems are taken. It is the everyday work of health practitioners and others that contribute to this agenda. This case is centred on mana enhancing practices, which respect a person’s authority and status, and recognises the centrality of emotions, reflection and spirituality within te ao Māori. It is through acknowledgement of the consequences of colonisation and by a deliberate effort to develop a partnership based on understanding that health practitioners (and others) can develop respectful interactions with people seeking healthcare support (Ruwhiu, 2019).

A course that enacts te ao Māori worldview

This course is part of an undergraduate programme within the health and wellbeing disciplines at a university in Aotearoa New Zealand. Students are distributed across many geographical locations within the country. The course is offered as a third-year, 12-week (mostly) online course and caters for around 60 students. It involves one lecturer and two supporting teachers. Students start the course with four weeks of asynchronous, online learning and then meet in person for a nohoanga marae weekend learning experience. The remaining weeks of the semester are delivered asynchronously, online. Ethics approval for this research requires that specific details about the participants, courses and university remain anonymous. We differentiate the participants in this research by referring to the lecturer and course designer as “Kaiako 1”, the supporting teachers as “Kaiako 2” and “Kaiako 3” respectively, and the student participants as “Student 1”, “Student 2” and “Student 3”.

Te ao Māori (the Māori world) is evident throughout the learning design of this course. The course environment includes both physical and online components. The course website on the LMS (the “Set design” component in the ACAD framework) is organised according to weekly topics, each of which begin with an introduction to the topic, its kaupapa (underlying foundations) and relevance with images to support the narrative. There is also a karakia (prayer) and a whakatāuki (proverb), written in Māori and English and narrated in Māori by Kaiako 1 on audio, as well as a short video presentation by the Kaiako 1 and a variety of resources in different mediums (written, video, images) for course participants to access. Figure 2 is a screenshot from the LMS course site.

Figure 2

Screenshot of the course site on the LMS

These elements allow students to engage with indigenous ways of knowing and being from the very beginning of the course within the online environment, even before students arrive at the physical, marae learning space. They seem to somehow set the tone, for what is to come and introduce students to Māori aspirations for society and, more specifically, for health and well-being services.

Thematically, the course is divided into three sections (Epistemic design): Ko wai au? (Who am I?); Ko wai koe? (Who are you?); and lastly, a space to consider what has been learnt. Ko wai au? encourages each student to gain an understanding of who they are in Aotearoa New Zealand as they learn more about historical discourses and the Māori renaissance. This is the first kete (basket) of knowledge, introduced via the LMS and lays a foundation for the second experiential kete of learning, during the noho marae (overnight marae stays) event. Throughout the noho marae each of the kaiako share their knowledge and experiences, considered a taonga (treasure), with students who gain a deeper understanding of Māori concepts and practices. The third kete of knowledge brings the many threads of the course together and students are able to reflect on what they have learned.

The concept of whanaungatanga (connectedness, establishing connections and relationships) is essential for te ao Māori and is enacted through different design elements. For example, at the beginning of the course, Kaiako 1 creates a forum space (Set design) for peer-to-peer connection and discussions. This comes in the form of a task (Epistemic design) where students, who usually know only a small number of others, are prompted by questions, facilitating their connection with others:

So, what did you think of the learning package? And what are some of the highlights, or what are some of the challenges in that space there? So, it's all kind of designed to be interactive. (Kaiako 1)

There is also careful consideration given to how to keep the group connected. For example, if there is insufficient activity on the forums, Kaiako 1 delays introducing the next topic because her kaupapa (foundational principle) requires that “we all move together, move forward together. No one is left behind” (Kaiako 1). This is a te ao Māori value, grounded on the importance of the collective, where being still and waiting allows for others to catch up – and for all to move together as a group (Social design). Kaiako 1 reported that this focus on the collective allows students to engage and expand their ideas, building on each other’s contributions. This is seen in the kaiako’s recollection of student forum posts:

I’m really addicted, like I can’t wait to get up in the morning to see, to read all of the posts, … read all of the forums. The other thing is they are… creating their own resource. So, it’s expanding their critical thinking where one peer puts up this and the other peer puts up: “Wow, I never really thought of it like that!” So, they’re building that “Oh okay. I can think of it like this”… they’re sharing experiences as well. (Kaiako 1)

Whanaungatanga allows for connections between students and teachers. In Western contexts introducing oneself is important, but the concept of whanaungatanga within te ao Māori goes deeper than an initial introduction. It is about acknowledging connections to the present and the past, physical and spiritual. This stands distinct from higher education contexts with an emphasis on transactional rather than transformative relationships between learners and teachers.

Throughout this case, there are many examples of co-construction of knowledge. Within te ao Māori, the concept of ako (to teach and to learn) represents the reciprocal nature of learning for both the student and the kaiako. An exchange from learner to teacher and teacher to learner is demonstrated as an “ako” interchange. For example, connections with Kaiako 1 are established in a weekly reflective journal called “He rangitaki”, written by the student and responded to by the kaiako. The term “He rangitaki” is used to describe the reflective state. These include personal reflections on the weekly topic, including reflecting on experiences, feelings and emotions. The rangitaki are not marked for a grade but are instead words of encouragement, wonderment and support are given to the learner. In what follows, we examine four learning sessions that foreground some of the core principles in the course.

Session 1: Whanaungatanga

The concept of whanaungatanga (connectedness) is an essential starting point in the noho marae and extends the online connections made in the previous four weeks via the LMS (Set design). About 30 students brought bedding into the wharenui (large meeting and sleeping space) and set up their sleeping space before undertaking the first learning activity. This was led by one of the three kaiako (teachers) and took place on the marae ātea, the grassed area in front of the wharenui (Set design), which is an important and traditional welcoming space in whanaungatanga.

The intention of this activity is to decrease anxiety when meeting others for the first time (Epistemic design) and for it to be an enjoyable experience. Creating connections between learners who may have interacted in online forums but who have not met in person is important. Whanaungatanga helps to establish a shared sense of belonging within the group. Attending the noho marae – being in a traditional Māori space in a supportive environment – allows students to challenge themselves and be challenged by others.

And I think, don't be nervous, for the foreigner. You will know much, much more than you expect, or that the other students expect. There’s quite a lot of information about the Māori people, about Māori culture, so it all just opens up your mind. Go to the marae and don't be frightened and then at the beginning, I feel like “Oh my God what's the marae look like? What can I do in the marae?” I know nothing. So, at the beginning I’m so frightened. But now, I want to say to other people, to other students, “Don't be afraid, just open your mind, you will learn.” (Student 1)

The initial task is undertaken by students in groups of 12–15 (Social design) and is based on where students are living during the semester. Each group forms a circle, a collective rhythm is established by two thigh slaps and two hand claps, then one person starts by inserting their name and an action, while maintaining the rhythm. Each person in the group includes their name and action and repeats the names and actions of all those who have gone before them. There is much hilarity, and at times frustration, as the pattern is broken and the group must start from the beginning again. These “errors”, however, provide opportunities to learn by practicing each other’s names. The activity is relaxing, fun, energising and creates an excellent platform for the start of the workshops.

Well, for me, as an internal student, it was the first time I'd meet any of the distance students … it was a really fun easy way to just take the edge off a bit because being around a bunch of new people, even if it is all lovely ... students is always going to be terrifying. Especially in a place that is not somewhere I would normally be. (Student 2)

The association of an action with a person’s name serves as a memory aide throughout other noho activities. Each group is challenged to create a short performance that represents their geographical region. Performances are presented on the first evening before each person recites their mihimihi (to acknowledge the manawhenua, the people of the marae) and their pepeha (an introduction about their connections to family, locations, the environment and spiritual elements that establish connections between the visitor and the people of the marae).[2] Standing to say their mihimihi and pepeha, each person is supported by their group of peers and this collegiality shows the development of tangible connections, which is a key outcome of this activity. The assemblage of elements within the design for learning coalesces to influence the emergent activities. The activity in the digital environment (Set design) plants the seed for connections to be established (Social design), but it is within the marae (Set design) that these connections are deepened and strengthened so that a sense of conviviality and belonging can emerge, reflecting continuity between what students experience as part of their interactions in the digital and the physical settings.

Watch on YouTube

Whanaungatanga is centred on connections and early on in the noho there are formal introductions. Students are provided with links to resources to help them prepare their mihimihi and pepeha ahead of time. Preparation enables students to connect with their ancestral history and during the noho marae many students commented on the significance of this for them personally. Throughout the whanaungatanga activity on the first evening, the manawhenua (marae hosts) are continually making connections between the details that each student is communicating about their ancestry, heritage and the geographical places they have connections with.

Some of the emergent, undesignable aspects in this learning activity, as understood by Goodyear et al. (2021), can be seen in the development of a sense of belonging and collaboration. Students exercise their autonomy, for example, by using their preferred social media app to connect with each other while they are travelling to the noho marae; the use of their preferred device, app or software to develop their mihimihi and pepeha; and in the collegiality that is evidenced in the giving and receiving of acknowledgements that occur during mihimihi introductions.

This was the first noho that this teaching team had facilitated as a group. There had been discussions, meetings and plans made in preparation for this event. During the sessions, the three kaiako were “checking in with one another and noticing the levels of energy, noticing group dynamics … Working together collectively as a tight teaching group” (Kaiako 1). As the kaiako became aware of changing energy, they “huddled” to review the dynamics and to re-design in the moment. The term “huddling” was used as a cue to find a quiet space and debrief about the previous activities, notice any student of concern and plan or adjust the activity coming up. Essentially, the huddle is designed to regroup and give the kaiako a chance to catch up, re-evaluate, ensure that students who may need following up with are identified, and prepare for the next activity or workshop.

Session 2: Aotearoa identities, racism, privilege and historical trauma

Acknowledging personal privilege, cultural identity and heritage are key to understanding the position that a health professional holds in a therapeutic relationship with a person seeking healthcare (Ramsden, 1993). The design of the task described in this section addresses this theme. Similar to the previous task, this task connects and extends themes that have been introduced within the online environment by way of video presentations, historical documents, news reports and forum discussions (Epistemic design). During the initial four weeks of the course, Kaiako 1 foregrounds literature and other sources of knowledge relating to historical trauma as a result of colonisation to heighten the learners’ awareness of significant events that have shaped Aotearoa New Zealand identities.

The task builds on whanaungatanga (connectedness) as students reflect on some of the initial course concepts (Epistemic design) in pairs or triads (Social design). Kaiako 3 takes the group outside and using ngā rakau (wooden poles, 1.3m in length) (Set design) speaks in te reo Māori, demonstrating a series of actions with the rakau that greet components of the marae and of the environment that nourishes us. The students then move to a smaller space and stand shoulder to shoulder holding their rakau in front of them (Set design). Following the instructions of Kaiako 3, they move either their rakau or their position in the circle, leaving the rakau where it is. Not following instructions or dropping the rakau leads to exclusion from the circle. Both of these activities are linked to the “space” each individual occupies, symbolising privilege, inclusion or exclusion from the group (Epistemic design).

Because this was the first time we can (sic.) utilise this format, and the first workshop of the day, the plan was to … further whanaungatanga development amongst the students. This is why we first sat down to discuss some of the concepts within the learning packages, before going outside. (Kaiako 3)

The kaiako explained that the purpose of this task was to heighten the students’ spatial awareness, their position within space, and to potentially raise awareness of an unconscious bias towards privilege. Students’ experiences were expanded in subsequent group discussions, where they worked through feelings and emotions in relation to these concepts and the relevance of this experience to prior course content (Emergent activity).

Growth doesn't happen in comfortable places. … my role … was to push, push, push, push students, a little bit outside of the comfortability zone and evoke emotions as well and help them to critically think … it's not to say that I have all the answers, because I know myself that I don't have all the answers. (Kaiako 3)

A student participant acknowledged the positive outcomes of the challenge: “[I]t was uncomfortable but in a good way as well you know. It's good to be uncomfortable, we need to have these uncomfortable conversations to move forward.” (Student 2)

Throughout this session, the kaiako was observing, acknowledging group dynamics and responding to specific aspects: “I was recognising the differences within the groups and saying okay, what is another strategy I could utilise to bring out or make the learning more applicable to the respective groups” (Kaiako 3).

The inclusion of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic elements in this session foregrounds a design for learning that is inclusive of a variety of learning modalities that when combined contribute to each person’s learning, deepening their understanding of the importance of health contexts, finding connections, being aware of the influence of privilege, and showing respect when working alongside Māori.

Session 3: Decolonisation – mana enhancing practice

A significant concept discussed in this course is decolonisation. Initial course resources and tasks present key information on Aotearoa New Zealand’s historical and recent colonisation experiences (Epistemic design), and the influence of the Māori renaissance in responding to these experiences. In acknowledging these realities as a basis for this session, Kaiako 1 emphasises decolonisation as “a process by which people peel away the psychological and spiritual effects of colonisation through a facilitated journey of learning the truths of their history” (Bell, 2006, p. 14).

Kaiako 1 asks students to consider the impact of colonisers on Māori, knowing that for each student their ancestors may represent colonisers and/or the colonised. To acknowledge the feelings and emotional responses that may be elicited, the kaiako creates a physically and spiritually safe environment within the wharenui that recognises the sacredness of the space and the presence of tūpuna (ancestors), both in the images that adorn the walls and within the memories of past and present. Kaiako 1 provides a workbook, prepares the learners with a whakataukī (proverb) “Hikitea te ha”, which represents the breath (to breathe in and to breathe out). This helps to connect students with the environment through deep breathing: to connect with the earth, to create a safe place to be vulnerable and for spiritual elements to be acknowledged (Set design). Kaiako 1 notes that:

[T]his physical space was very important, to get the full effect they needed to be in a place that is sacred, reverent and holds the mana of the marae. The whare is that place which opens up the portals of emotions. (Kaiako 1)

Such design for learning infuses personal and spiritual aspects which reach beyond cognition and content towards a holistic approach to learning and understanding.

Another task of connection was to ask the learners to choose a space they preferred inside the wharenui and to compose a letter to their tūpuna, view them in their mind’s eye, and express their feelings (Epistemic design). Before discussing what they had written with a peer (Social design), the kaiako introduced “Mana Enhancing Practice” which centres on engaging with a person through listening, understanding and respecting cultural differences (Ruwhiu, 2001; Ruwhiu, 2019). This practice involves initiating a conversation to identify and co-construct a space “between”, identifying behaviours and body language that indicate distress and preferred responses to acknowledge and provide support. This negotiated understanding creates therapeutic “rules of engagement” in which the learners can meet, share, listen and support each other during their conversation about their ancestors as they initiate restorative healing processes (Epistemic and Social design). The course workbook guides the learners through each of the aspects within this session.

During the observation session, the researcher (and first author of this chapter) noticed students commenting that as they were listening to peers’ accounts of what they would say to their ancestors, they were at times upset, but the peer listener was able to recognise the distressed behaviour and to act in a way that the sharer had indicated was appropriately supportive. And then students reflected, and wrote, and spoke of their ancestors.

This was connecting to their inner self but knowing that their ancestors and tūpuna were present and they could call on them and have a conversation with them. It then led into having conversations with each other… and thirdly, connection with the environment was an important grounding activity. (Kaiako 1)

This session illustrates a design for learning that supported spiritual, emotional and conversational learning outcomes that were personally and professionally significant for the learners. With Aotearoa New Zealand being a bicultural country, the opportunity to understand Māori and non-Māori cultural values and practices within higher education courses allows graduates to develop knowledge that will help them to respectfully support and care for ethnically and culturally diverse populations. Mana enhancing practice acknowledges the personal, spiritual and natural influences on a person. It enables a co-created, safe, therapeutic space within which the person seeking help identifies what is culturally appropriate for them and guides the health professional in how to best support their health and wellbeing (Walker, 2012). Indigenous-oriented design for learning brings a richness of knowledge and understanding that has validity for learners and teachers within a primarily monocultural learning landscape.

Session 4: Te ao Māori worldview – Pā Harakeke framework

The course design also includes Harakeke, a metaphor used by Māori for whānau (wider family), which signifies collective wellbeing and protection. The Harakeke plant (Figure 3) has the three central fronds representing the rito (child) at the centre, with awhi rito (parents) protecting on either side, and tūpuna (grandparents) as the outer leaves providing protection, shelter and support for whānau (Watson, 2020; Wilson et al., 2021). In Aotearoa New Zealand, the Pā Harakeke framework has been used within supervision and counselling, where the person seeking help is acknowledged as the rito. Within te ao Māori, there are tikanga (correct cultural practices) around harvesting and use that ensure the health and wellbeing of people and of the harakeke plant.

Figure 3

The harakeke plant (New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax), which signifies collective wellbeing and protection

Kaiako 2 introduces learners to the Pā Harakeke by way of a karakia (prayer) and a waiata (song), combined with hand and arm actions to represent components of the plant (Epistemic design). The kaiako suggests that learners consider applying the model to their personal health and wellbeing as a way of becoming familiar with the model that they might later use in practice.

The design of this task includes time for describing and viewing workbook diagrams of the harakeke plant, including the ground and stones around the roots which can signify challenge and strength, and their influence on plant health (Epistemic design). The whole group is then invited to go outside to look at harakeke plants growing around the marae. They are asked to form small groups around the garden to examine specific aspects of the plants and to make comparisons between harakeke plants in different locations (Social design). The whole group then gathers to review what they have observed. The kaiako encourages them to look at the many different components of the harakeke plant and the differences in the health of plants in different locations – analogies for people seeking healthcare, their whānau relationships and the environments within which they are living (Emergent, co-created outcomes). The group acts out each of the components of the harakeke plant, identifying which part of the plant they are signifying and then describing their thoughts and feelings about their role within the ecosystem.

Key aspects of the design for learning in this activity include: the harakeke plant as a learning “tool”, the experiential and “hands-on” nature of being out of a classroom, interacting with the environment and interacting with their small group. The use of Pā Harakeke as a metaphor and model for whānau work, combined with various activities including waiata, hand and arm actions, discussions, field work in examining plants and their habitats, and the embodiment of harakeke, culminate in deep learning and the application of a model for graduate practice.

The kaiako facilitated this session three times and noted that each group brought differing levels of energy. This allowed her to “work to the group strength, e.g., the quiet group were deeply reflective whereas the more outgoing group [included] bigger personalities [who] are happy to ‘act out’ and do things differently” (Kaiako 2).

Course participants represent a diverse range of learners, who will soon graduate, and support the health and wellness of people from multicultural backgrounds in Aotearoa New Zealand. Indeed, the experiential learning that has occurred through this course seems to significantly contribute to the development of students’ personal and professional practice, as some of the student quotes illustrate:

I just feel like we explored so much. Not just in terms of learning stuff but spiritually as well … the introduction of Pā Whakawairua which I've actually used as part of my self-care plan for placement. So, will be using that moving forward. So, exploration of self, but also of your place in New Zealand society and me specifically being Tangata Tiriti, what that means for me and my practice. (Student 2)

The learnings were amazing, had some tangitangi (enlightening) moments when things came to light through this course. Looking back to move positively forward for the now and future generations of our people is the goal! (Student 3)

Overall, the hybrid design of this course allows for multiple elements, such as audio, video and text-based elements that can be used effectively in the online environment; it also retains the key aspect of kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face) in the flesh within the noho learning experiences. In addition, Kaiako 1 highlights the influence that this course can have on graduate practice outcomes:

So, if you're comfortable in who you are, where you come from, your cultural positioning inside Aotearoa, your obligations and responsibilities to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, then that's a huge foundation to be able to go out and help others. (Kaiako 1)

Recommendations for hybrid learning environments

The case presented here illustrates how educators might include indigenous principles as part of their learning designs. This is particularly important for teachers in indigenous or bicultural contexts, where considering traditions, values and cultural practices might similarly be incorporated to ground teaching activities into authentic, local and context-relevant, learning environments.

For this course, noho marae attendance is a requirement of the degree and of professional registration. As such, COVID-19 restrictions might necessitate postponement of this activity until physical distancing requirements cease. However, in other learning contexts, if a move to online delivery is necessitated due to the pandemic restrictions, the following suggestions below provide alternatives to capture elements of experiential learning from this course.


Western ways of “knowing” and “being” have influenced higher education for centuries, and contribute to perpetuating particular knowledge practices. There is, therefore, an urgent need for alternative learning designs that honour indigenous ways of knowing and being, and which invite educators and learners to engage in diverse practices. In this chapter, we have argued that authentic learning experiences need to be relevant to all learners, not just to those from a dominant group, and we have illustrated how learning design can address and develop culturally meaningful learning opportunities.

The analysis in this chapter showcases a hybrid learning design, grounded in an authentic Māori context. The chapter discusses key elements of learning design that allow students to experience learning activities as fully contextualised and relevant to learners in Aotearoa New Zealand. Core pedagogical strategies, such as the learner considering “Ko wai au? Who am I?”, allow students to develop a deeper understanding of their place within a wider context, engaging with their line of descent traced back from an ancestor, and to view decolonisation through the lenses of Tangata Whenua (people of the land) and Tangata Tiriti (people of the Treaty of Waitangi) in a safe and supported learning environment. Such examples suggest ways in which indigenous knowledge can surface through learning design, ensuring inclusive and equitable, quality education that is more likely to support diverse practices and contribute to more inclusive societies. Future work will continue to analyse design features that contribute to productive learning in hybrid learning environments within higher education.

Reflective practice


The authors wish to thank Kaiako 1 who designed the course in this case study, Kaiako 2 and Kaiako 3, and the students involved who welcomed our observations and thus contributed to our conversation and analysis. Future, co-written publications are planned to report on a longitudinal study of this learning environment.


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Goodyear, P., & Carvalho, L. (2014). Framing the analysis of complex learning environments. In L. Carvalho & P. Goodyear (Eds.), The architecture of productive learning networks (pp. 48-70). Routledge.

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Appendix A: Design for learning observation template

Template adapted from Agile course design for professional education by Fawns et al. (2021), Design and co-configuration for hybrid learning: Theorising the practices of learning space design by Goodyear (2020), and Practice theory, work, and organization: An introduction by Nicolini (2012).

Learning Design Observation TemplateObservationsDate: dd/mm/yy
Session #:
Description: Learners, course, values, length, assessment
Epistemic design/instructions:
Set design:
Social design:
  • When will it run?
  • How many hours each student’s time this should take up
  • How will they pace their engagement?
Learning before/during/after:
Learning before:
Learning during:
Learning after:
Intended outcomes:
Rationale physical:
Rationale social:
Rationale outcomes:
Focusing Questions when ‘ZOOMING IN’Observations
Doings and sayings:What are people doing and saying? What are they trying to do when they speak and act?
Interactional order:How are participants’ positions (with respect to each other) negotiated and resisted?
Timing and tempo:How do their doings and sayings flow in time? How do they coincide and form sequences? What rhythms do they form?
Bodily choreography:What sorts of things are made present through bodies and how are bodies configured by the practice?
Tools and artefacts:What tools and artefacts are used? What effects do they have? How does their presence shape what is done and not done?
Practical concerns:What do the practitioners care about? What do they see as the main object of the activity?
Normativity and creativity:How do practitioners justify what they do? What regime of accountability or principles applies? How are breakdowns resolved and new variants of practice generated and agreed upon?
Stabilisation:How are novices socialised? Do participants identify with a community of practice? What doings, sayings, and artefacts are used to make practices durable and able to travel between sites?
Focusing Questions when ‘ZOOMING OUT’Observations
What connects the ‘here and now’ of the practice to the ‘there and then’ of other practices? How are bundles of practices (“chains and assemblances of situated practices” Nicolini, 2012, p. 232) kept together? Interest is on the types of opportunities for action in emergent activity that social, set, and epistemic might lead to. 
How does the practice reproduce existing arrangements in the organisation and more broadly? How does it contribute to change? 
How did the practice come to be as it is now? 
When to stop ZOOMING OUT: when you can provide -
  1. A convincing explanation of why the practice is as it is, and not otherwise.
  2. An account of how the local practice has non-local effects.
What counts as convincing depends upon the audience and its concerns: theorising is also a situated practice. (p. 1053)

Appendix B: Glossary of Māori terms

Ako – To teach and to learn
Kaiako – Teacher
Kete – Basket
Harakeke – New Zealand flax plant, Metaphor used by Māori for whānau (wider family) signifying collective wellbeing and protection
Mana – Authority, status, power, control, respect; links to both human, spiritual and natural environments
Mana enhancing practice – Health professional practice that recognises and enhances the mana of a person
Māori – Indigenous person of Aotearoa New Zealand
Marae ātea – Open area in front of the wharenui
Mihimihi – Greeting and acknowledgment to hosts and facilitators 
Noho – The experience of being on the marae
Nohoanga marae – Overnight marae stays
Pakehā – New Zealander of European descent
Pepeha – Personal introduction which includes family connections, environment and locations
Powhiri and mihi whakatau – Māori ritual of engagement
Tangata tiriti – “People of the treaty” refers to the second arrival people in Aotearoa New Zealand who signed a treaty with tangata whenua in 1840
Tangata whenua – “People of the land” refers to the first arrival people in Aotearoa New Zealand
Tangitangi – Weeping, mournful
Tauira – Student
Tauiwi – Non-Māori New Zealanders
Te ao Māori – Māori worldview
Te Reo Māori – Māori language
Te Tiriti o Waitangi – The Treaty of Waitangi
Tikanga Māori – Culture, practices and protocols
Tūpuna – Ancestors
Waitangi Tribunal – judicial system established to consider claims of Tangata whenua for redress of past wrongs by tangata tiriti
Wānanga – A higher education place of Māori learning
Whakawhanaungatanga – Building relationships
Whānaungatanga – Connectedness
Whare - House
Wharekai – Dining room
Wharenui – Meeting house; large main meeting space usually for sleeping in

Jennifer K. Green

Massey University

Jennifer K. Green is a senior lecturer in the School of Nursing, Massey University (Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand). Her PhD research is focusing on productive hybrid learning environments in times of transition. She is a registered nurse with 40 years in clinical and education environments. Her background includes perioperative nursing, and hybrid learning course development with a focus on team-based learning; cooperative inquiry; interprofessional learning; simulation; and clinical teaching. She is a fellow of the higher education academy and an award-winning educator with extensive tertiary and clinical teaching experience. No NgāPuhi me Ngātiporou oku karanga Kō Takota Paulè Ruwhiu taku ingoa Tiheiwā mauri ora
Paul'e Ruwhiu

Massey University

Paulè A. Ruwhiu is a lecturer based at Massey University, in the College of Health, School of Social Work at the Albany Campus, Auckland, New Zealand, however, also teaches on Palmerston North campus. Her social work background includes Māori mental health and tertiary teaching both in a polytechnic and university settings. Paulè has specific interests in decolonisation, transmission of te ao Māori knowledge and intergenerational patterns for Māori. Her PhD was on the process of decolonisation and the experiences of Māori social workers and Māori social work students. Paulè has published in various social workbooks and journal articles as a sole author and co-author. The topics have been around mana-enhancing practice, Māori Mental Health and the Rise in Iwi Social Services. Paulè was involved in the working group for Social Work Registration Board (SWRB) to discuss the Scope of Practice for social work. Paulè’s future ambitions and goals are to keep publishing as a contributor to Māori Scholarly literature and to offer decolonisation programmes throughout Aotearoa New Zealand for professionals.
Lucila Carvalho

Institute of Education

Lucila Carvalho is a senior lecturer in e-learning & digital technologies at the Institute of Education, and co-director of the Equity Through Education Research Centre, Massey University (Auckland, New Zealand). Lucila’s research explores how knowledge and social structures shape the design and use of technology, and how technology influences social and educational experiences. Lucila’s latest books include Place-Based Spaces for Networked Learning (edited with Peter Goodyear and Maarten de Laat, Routledge 2017) and The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks (edited with Peter Goodyear, Routledge 2014). More information about Lucila’s work can be found in her website at: https://lucilacarvalho.wordpress.com/
Nicolette F. Sheridan

Massey University

Nicolette F. Sheridan, PhD. Professor and Head of the School of Nursing, Massey University, New Zealand. She is a registered nurse with 30 years in clinical practice, research and education. She was the first Associate Dean Equity in the health faculty, University of Auckland. She is leading a $1.3 million study investigating primary care patient outcomes, especially for Māori and Pacific peoples, with researchers from Cambridge University (UK) and Karolinska Institute (Sweden). She has led or been co-investigator in 36-studies; chaired expert advisory groups and was the government industry monitor of a wānanga-based Māori nursing programme. She is of Ngāpuhi descent.

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