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The UK Council for International Student Affairs has a website crammed with useful information for students planning to come to the UK to study. It deals mostly with the official and procedural information, but there is also advice on choosing courses and some information about the cultural adjustments that may be necessary for many as they come to live in the UK. The UKCISA website is at


Prepare for Success Website

An excellent resource for those wishing to explore their own preparedness to study, particularly overseas students looking to come and study in the UK, is 'Prepare for Success'. The comprehensive website, which needs a reasonable level of English to navigate, has resources that explore the different types of Universities, courses, and patterns of study that might be encountered. There are also very clear and helpful 'study guides' on everything from how to undertake reading on the course to preparing for a seminar. The website is at


I delivered a webinar recently on technology enhanced learning. It was a 90-minute session (possibly too long) in Adobe Connect attended by some 15 faculty. Several of the evaluation comments suggested that the first third of the webinar, dealing with shared understandings of terminology and a history of the subject under discussion, was unnecessary, superfluous. I'm struck by how often in my current practice in British higher education that the contextualisation of what we do is often treated as a luxury. Pragmatism pervades everything and there is an assumption that we all know where we are, we all know what needs to be done, and the objective is simply to do it. Universities have often been accused of being ivory towers, places where people ruminate detached from reality, but there must surely be a place for a pause and a thought.

Rongomaraeroa - Te Papa's Marae
Rongomaraeroa - Te Papa's Marae (Authors Photo 2005)

Perhaps the reason I reacted with some discomfort to the suggestion that the historical context to a discussion of technology enhanced learning was superfluous has to do with the reactions I get from colleagues on another project currently underway. The POISE project, part of the HEA Internationalisation change initiative, stands for personal orientation to international student experience. The original idea had been to establish to support individuals to identify their own epistemological assumptions, students and staff, in order that a more meaningful dialogue about adjusting to higher education study might be possible. But whilst the stress of the original project was on personal orientation the realities of implementation in the British HE context consistently stresses the student experience, the here and now, today's problem being dealt with by today's student support person. There is a sense in which holistic medicine, whole person medicine, has been replaced by the liberal prescription of the pragmatic pill.

I found myself turning back to the concept, the principles, of Kaupapa Māori. I am not Māori, and so these principles are necessarily engaged with at an intellectual and emotional level rather than from within, based on three periods of working in New Zealand since 1998. In 1990 Graham Hingangaroa Smith outlined six principles of Kaupapa Māori within the context of education, its implementation and research. Other theorists have expanded these concepts further in the years since. This is an evolving body of a communities’ intellectual, spiritual and inter-personal exploration of identity. In a very real sense this is ‘identity-work’. It is something we appear to do very little of in the British ‘academy’.

Kaupapa Māori principles include (but are not limited to):

Tino Rangatiratanga – The Principle of Self-determination: to sovereignty, autonomy, control, self-determination and independence, allowing for and advocating Maori control over their own culture, aspirations and destiny.

Taonga Tuku Iho – The Principle of Cultural Aspiration: asserting the centrality and legitimacy of Te Reo Māori (language), Tīkanga (customary practices, ethics, cultural behaviours) and Mātauranga Māori (wisdom).

Ako Māori – The Principle of Culturally Preferred Pedagogy: acknowledging Māori teaching and learning practices and learning preferences.

Kia piki ake i ngā raruraru o te kainga – The Principle of Socio-Economic Mediation: the need to positively alleviate the disadvantages experienced by Māori communities.

Whānau – The Principle of Extended Family Structure: acknowledges the relationships that Māori have to one another and to the world around them. Core to Kaupapa Māori and key elements of Māori society and culture, acknowledging the responsibility and obligations of everyone to nurture and care for these relationships.

Kaupapa - The Principle of Collective Philosophy: the shared aspirations and collective vision of Māori communities.

Other powerful concepts have developed within Kaupapa Māori including the principles of:

Ata - The Principle of Growing Respectful Relationships (Pohata 2005): relates to the building and nurturing of relationships, negotiating boundaries, creating respectful spaces and corresponding behaviours.

It is not only the substance, and there is undoubtedly something substantial about Kaupapa Māori, that appeals to me, rather it is the principle that behind each action, each intervention, there is a purposeful connection to a collective sense of people, of belonging. There appears to be a disconnect between the day-to-day activities of providing education in the British context and an engagement, a deliberate and conscious engagement, with the development of the individual that education is intended to form.

Kaupapa Māori, and indeed other world views that have developed independently of the western ‘scientific’ positivist paradigms, create different epistemological frameworks, different spaces within which educational discourses occur. I learnt in a very personal way in 2008 when I joined Massey University that the Māori world view does affect the way New Zealand educators, of all cultural backgrounds, see the world in which they educate. I drew a model on the whiteboard and a colleague simply asked ‘does it have to go that way up’. It is subtle, not always as evident to them as to those visiting from the outside, but it is there, a cultural ‘undertone’ that enriches and suffuses the discourse.  Whilst we have done much to think about student centred learning in the UK, we often appear to mean placing the student at the centre of our machine not centering the student. We prepare them to fit into the universal mechanical rational world we anticipate needs and wants them, we do not equip them well to reshape themselves and their world. I continue to believe that understanding the context, presumptions and assumptions of any particular discipline subject or issue is an important precursor to meaning making. I believe an epistemological self-awareness is a prerequisite to a meaningful education.


If you would like to learn more about Kaupapa Māori I would encourage you to visit

Pohatu, T.W (2005) ‘Āta: Growing Respectful Relationships’ (accessed 30 March 2013 at

Smith, G. H. (1990) ‘Research Issues Related to Maori Education’, paper presented to NZARE Special Interest Conference, Massey University, reprinted in 1992, The Issue of Research and Maori, Research Unit for Maori Education, The University of Auckland


We really need to know what we each believe about learning, our personal epistemologies, before we start learning and teaching.  Do we really change the way we see, feel, and hear international voices, or do we just make structural adjustments around the edges of our programmes, curricula and induction processes. We build prayer rooms, but do we build bridges? We introduce new cuisine into our refectories, but how often do we break bread together?

There are many excellent projects and studies across higher education that are informing change. Beyond international exchange schemes and recruiting foreign students, I'm keen to see how transformational they really are, or could be. Next week a colleague and I join representatives from nine other institutions for the kick-off meeting in York for the UK’s Higher Education Academy (HEA) 2012 Internationalisation Change Academy.  We have proposed something we hope will be supported and encouraged that does not have direct structural change as one of its objectives. Rather we want to invite our colleagues, faculty and students, to pause and reflect on what they believe about themselves with respect to learning, to be aware of their own epistemological beliefs.

Statistics at LSE Workshop May 2011

We start from the premise that all our students at BPP University College are ‘international students’. Everyone now operates within a global context regardless of his or her subject discipline, his or her nationality, status or mode of study. Our project, entitled Personal Orientation to the International Student Experience (POISE), builds on this intrinsic international context by providing a consistent, supportive and, we suggest, transformative, orientation to study. But this is not something we 'do' to, or for, international students, it is something the whole institution, faculty and students regardless of programmes of study will be encouraged to engage in.

Aims of the POISE project

Taking a toolkit approach, we aim to provide students and faculty, notably but not exclusively those with Personal Tutor duties, with a single instrument that will guide the individual through a reflective self-evaluation of their epistemological perspectives and attitudes and approaches to higher study. Implemented within the provision of student support across the University, and building on a comprehensive system of pastoral care, the intention is to offer a shared language enabling an exchange of perspectives, expectations and frustrations with respect to university study.

Using Marlene Schommer’s Epistemological Questionnaire (SEQ) as a basis (Schommer, 1990, 1993) or an alternative, and conscious of their critics (Clarebout, Elen, Luyten, & Bamps, 2001), as well as with reference to Bennett's important work on inter-cultural sensitivities (Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003) we hope to develop an appropriate instrument. We hope also to borrow from Biggs’s Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ) instruments and design a single, or set of inter-related, instruments within a coherent toolkit (Burnett & Dart, 2000). Engagement with the toolkit, by individual faculty and student, will illuminate some well-documented (but evolving) cultural differences in expectations of study at higher levels. This comprehensive personal ‘audit’ will then form the basis for collegial discussion between students and within tutorial contexts.

We think it will prove invaluable to have faculty members also engaging with POISE, providing them with a common frame of reference, a personal stimulus for professional development and reflection, and encouragement to explore the similarities and differences in epistemological beliefs. Faculty will consequently be supported as they move beyond the anecdotal ‘challenges posed by International Students’ to a greater acknowledgement, and deeper understanding, of the richness of learning and teaching opportunities contained within these different epistemological perspectives. We want to support the idea that it is not necessary for individuals to ‘sacrifice’ their own perspectives in coming to understand an alternative. Rather, they must work towards ‘Third Place Learning’ as a shared alternative, indeed perhaps our institutions are themselves inevitable examples of Third Place Learning (Alagic, Rimmington, & Orel, 2009).

Enhancing the Student Experience

We anticipate that the POISE effect will be greatest where it forms part of an early supportive intervention for all students across a cohort and we'll be exploring in this project how best to 'administer' it. But, we also anticipate that it will have value at each stage of the student experience as the individual adjusts, adapts and develops strategies and techniques for negotiating these different perspectives.

Having faculty and students develop a shared appreciation within learning communities of different approaches to study will hopefully enhance students' experience as well as providing a common frame of reference for discussing issues arising from different expectations. This matters. It matters because like many HEI’s BPP University College is expanding the range of its provision for international students and along with this extension of provision comes a raft of additional student support services, both academic and pastoral. Increasingly diverse student populations should be seen as positive opportunities for greater international insights being shared by faculty and students and drawn in to the curriculum.

We will be developing an official POISE website as part of the HEA project I due course but I hope also to share my experiences of this project, due for completion by March 2013. I am also exploring the appropriateness of Baxter Magolda’s ‘Epistemological Reflection Model’ (Bock, 2002) and King and Kitchener’s Reflective Judgment Interview (Kitchener, Lynch, Fischer, & Wood, 1993). I would be delighted to hear from anyone with experience of administering these kinds of epistemological belief surveys with their students, and particularly, with faculty.


Alagic, M., Rimmington, G. M., & Orel, T. (2009). Third Place Learning Environments: Perspective Sharing and Perspective Taking. International Journal of Advanced Corporate Learning (iJAC), 2(4), pp. 4–8. doi:10.3991/ijac.v2i4.985

Bock, M. T. (2002). Baxter Magolda’s Epistemological Reflection Model. New Directions for Student Services, 1999(88), 29–40. doi:10.1002/ss.8803

Burnett, P. C., & Dart, B. C. (2000). The Study Process Questionnaire: A construct validation study. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 25(1), 93–99. doi:10.1080/713611415

Clarebout, G., Elen, J., Luyten, L., & Bamps, H. (2001). Assessing Epistemological Beliefs: Schommer’s Questionnaire Revisited. Educational Research and Evaluation, 7(1), 53–77. doi:10.1076/edre.

Hammer, M. R., Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27(4), 421–443. doi:10.1016/S0147-1767(03)00032-4

Kitchener, K. S., Lynch, C. L., Fischer, K. W., & Wood, P. K. (1993). Developmental range of reflective judgment: The effect of contextual support and practice on developmental stage. Developmental Psychology, 29(5), 893–906. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.29.5.893

Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of beliefs about the nature of knowledge on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(3), 498–504. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.82.3.498

Schommer, M. (1993). Epistemological development and academic performance among secondary students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(3), 406–411. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.85.3.406

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