A literature review focused on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and e-Learning in the context of Te Reo Māori and Kaupapa Māori education

Publication Details

The Ministry of Education has identified the need to further explore the use of Virtual Learning Environments particularly in the context of te reo Māori and kaupapa Māori education. This literature review was sought to provide further understanding for the Ministry of Education in this area.

Author(s): Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai and Hans Tiakiwai, Kiore Enterprises Limited. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: March 2010

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This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.

Section 5: Teaching and learning practices

Teaching and learning practices that appear most likely to contribute to enhanced learning outcomes for students in Kura Kaupapa Māori


The dearth of literature on e-Learning and kaupapa Māori environments makes it difficult to confidently assert what types of teaching and learning practices might contribute to enhanced learning outcomes for students in kura kaupapa Māori settings. However, there were common themes in the literature which suggested how Māori might consider or approach e-Learning technologies. For example, in his introduction to the ITPNZ report (undated) Monte Ohia commented that with the advent and proliferation of e-Learning technologies, Māori needed to be in a position to explore and use them confidently:

Māori have enough entrepreneurial spirit and opportunism to be at the cutting edge of technological innovation and creativity, and lead in its engagement with Māori learners and resource people. This knowledge and skill will not jump out of the sky at us. In the best traditions of Tawhaki, we have to retrieve it in cooperation with those who already have it. For e-Learning, Māori initially will work with experts who already have the skill and experience, and gradually build our own expertise. (p. 3)

This final section of the report reflects on Monte Ohia's words and considers what has emerged from those who have the skill and experience (and who have informed this literature review) to inform ways in which Māori might eventually take more control over teaching and learning effectively and appropriately in kaupapa Māori e-Learning environments.

The importance of the learning environment

The creation of learning environments that are conducive to Māori students has proved possible in an e-Learning context. The literature identified several ways in which such environments could be created, including acknowledgement of and incorporating Māori cultural knowledge into e-Learning environments and settings. The hangi interactive (as discussed on pages 16, 17 and 20 of this report) and opportunities to communicate in te reo Māori on the wickED website (as discussed on page 10) were two examples of how Māori cultural knowledge could be incorporated appropriately (see also Waiti, 2005; Trewern and Wenmoth, 2008). The lack of suitable, easily accessible and appropriate resources in te reo Māori continues to be an issue for kaupapa Māori environments. Waiti (2005) noted how teachers in some kaupapa Māori settings were still developing their own resources – some translating resources into te reo Māori while others developed their own – thus adding to concerns about whether this is an effective utilisation of teachers' skills and time, and the impact this might have on their teaching practice. Conversely, the engagement by some of these teachers in developing and/or adapting these resources to the specific needs of their learning environments could also suggest that these teachers are engaging appropriately with e-Learning resources in ways that seek to get maximum benefit for the teaching and learning experience. These contradictory statements point to a need for further research on what is happening in kaupapa Māori settings to better understand how e-Learning does work for Māori students.

The importance of the learning environment in kaupapa Māori e-Learning contexts also extended to the physical e-Learning environment. Here, the physical environment relates to the technological infrastructure or ICT support systems that are required to facilitate e-Learning. In particular, experiences of unreliable data connections, lack of access to technical expertise and the 'learn as you go' approach were seen as being inhibitors to effective engagement in e-Learning for Māori (Waiti, 2005). Examples were given in Waiti's study where teachers (and subsequently their school leaders) experienced frustration when technology failed, meaning that lessons designed specifically incorporating e-Learning technologies (such as video-conferencing, PowerPoint presentations and so forth) were wasted. At a structural level, Waiti (2005) found that while the KAWM initiative gave schools involved support to "provide a "critical mass" of hardware, software, technical, and professional support," the impact across the schools involved was variable, complicated by differing expectations of what the technology was wanted for and what it could actually deliver (p. xiii).

At a more basic level, Waiti (2005) also noted that some teachers in the KAWM initiative struggled to provide appropriate physical teaching and learning spaces for their students. Examples were given of how teachers at times had to 'make do' with corners of classrooms, or space in the school staffroom – highlighting that while e-Learning might have been functioning at the school, e-Learning was not necessarily incorporated more widely across the school curriculum. Teachers involved in e-Learning, and their calls for more furniture and physical dedicated spaces appropriate to e-Learning, suggest that a disconnect exists between e-Learning aspirations and e-Learning realities in kaupapa Māori settings.

Waiti (2005) noted that the creation of positive physical learning environments was also dependent on school leadership, school systems and their support for the e-Learning environment. For example, teachers and school leaders who were engaged in cross-school, collaborative e-Learning and teaching initiatives found scheduling video-conferencing teaching problematic at times due to each of the schools having different timetables (see for example the Paerangi initiative discussed in Waiti, 2005). Trying to find times where students could come together through video-conferencing, on occasions, meant taking students away from other school activities or classes, which Waiti (2005) noted required constant negotiating and raised dilemmas for schools who were trying to provide greater access to specialised learning whilst also ensuring student engagement in everyday school life.

Quality relationships

Bishop et al (2003) talk about the significance of the relationship between the teacher and the student in face-to-face classroom environments. The literature reviewed here suggests that these quality relationships are equally important for Māori students who are engaged in e-Learning education. As Waiti (2005) found:

From our discussions with the students it was clear that a successful video conference class relies on an excellent e-teacher, who is able to provide a variety of learning opportunities within the online classroom and with whom the students have a relationship (p. 56).

This was also noted by some of the teachers, one of whom noted how important establishing quality relationships was to their teaching:

I just have to do it. If I don't have a connection with the student and even their whānau then I can't be an effective teacher (e-teacher) (Waiti, 2005, p. 27).

For kaupapa Māori teachers, these relationships included building clusters of expertise to provide professional support and advice for e-teachers and newer e-teachers entering into the e-Learning environment. Quality relationships also existed at system levels – where collaboration was seen to be an effective way of sharing limited resources available to Māori immersion settings, and where cluster type relationships enabled the growth and development of expert e-teachers (Waiti, 2005).

Teachers and schools involved in KAWM also recognised the importance of creating quality relationships between students from different schools who were involved in e-Learning. Schools and teachers created whakawhānaungatanga opportunities for those students engaged in e-Learning – such as wānanga, facilitating online sessions for student discussions. These were complemented and enhanced by other social and cultural activities (such as Manu Kōrero and kapa haka) where the students were able to move from the digital environment to face-to-face encounters, the result of which meant strengthened classroom relationships (Waiti, 2005, p. 31).

Cultural understandings

In line with the literature's findings on quality relationships, the significance of cultural understandings was also noted as an important factor for Māori students. In particular, the ability for new technologies to appropriately incorporate te reo Māori and Māori ways of knowing and doing were seen as important in being able to engage Māori students in their learning. The negative feedback from students about the 'facelessness' of the wickED website characters illustrates the challenges facing e-Learning resources and sites as they try to engage learners appropriately and in high-quality ways (Trewern & Wenmoth, 2008).

One of the high-quality ways of incorporating cultural understandings appropriately into e-Learning settings was in creating opportunities for face-to-face interactions between students and teachers. In spite of the nature of online and distance education where physical interaction is not the primary focus, for Māori and indigenous students who engaged in online and distance learning, having the opportunity to connect and make connections and relationships was seen as an important factor in ensuring students did not become isolated from their learning environment (Waiti, 2005).

At a different level, Ereaux (1998) questions whether tribal colleges can continue to be tribal colleges, which operate with the purpose of maintaining local, cultural knowledges, if they accept technology and the "rapid and invasive" changes that technology brings (p. 120). Based on research undertaken at Salish Kootenai tribal college, Ereaux found that tribal colleges could manage these diverse worlds – so long as tribal colleges were clear about how and what types of technology they would be prepared to engage with and provide ways to support tribal college students to understand the ways in which technology impacts in tribal culture. Similarly, Underwood (2007) acknowledged that the use of technology for Te Wānanga o Raukawa was dependent on how well aligned technology was to the kaupapa of the wānanga.

The ability of technologies and systems to recognise indigenous and Māori kaupapa and aspirations still appears some way off. This could be exacerbated as much by the lack of recognition given to indigenous and Māori aspirations by funders and commissioners of technologies and systems as the lack of appropriately and culturally qualified personnel working in these areas.

Pedagogical challenges

The literature reviewed suggests that shifts in pedagogies occur over time and are dependent on teachers gaining access to and participating in professional development to ensure they understand the pedagogical differences between teaching in traditional and e-Learning settings. Waiti (2005) found that over time teachers became more confident in using the technology available to them, noting that teachers spoke of increasingly using e-Learning tools, such as PowerPoint and digital whiteboards, as part of their teaching practice. They also grew in their understanding of how to adjust their teaching practice when incorporating technology into their lessons where, for example, if they used PowerPoint in a lesson, they also had to consider the physical layout of the class, ensuring students were positioned where they could see. Harlow, Cowie and Jones (2008) note that this is reflected in the Ministry of Education's e-Learning strategy (2006), where "effective teaching for all students will depend on teachers becoming confident and capable users of ICT and understanding how to integrate ICT effectively into their teaching practice" (p. 52).


The key areas identified in this literature review suggest the importance of the learning environment, which includes the acknowledgement of culture and quality relationships, in contributing to teaching and learning approaches that may lead to enhanced outcomes for students engaged in kaupapa Māori settings. These areas are similar to the findings of other research projects engaged in better understanding what contributes to enhanced Māori student learning outcomes (for example, Bishop et al's Te Kotahitanga project). This suggests that in spite of the interest in and attention given to emerging technologies and their application in kaupapa Māori classrooms, the key areas as identified above establish the conditions by which enhanced teaching and learning opportunities occur.


  1. The KAWM initiative has been perhaps the most comprehensive project to date which sought to incorporate e-Learning in a range of ways in kaupapa Māori settings.
  2. It should be noted that Underwood didn't explain how the alignment was achieved.

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