On choosing to teach: a professor reflects (Part 3) – INVITED BLOGGER OF THE MONTH (September 2010)

This is the third, and final part of a three-part recollection and reflection: “On choosing to teach: a professor reflects”, by Peter Mellalieu. To read part one, please click this link, and part two, please click here.


In the the first and second part of this series I outlined the events that led to my ‘call to teach’ at Massey University in the late 1980s, recalled the earlier influences on my life such as the two innovative teachers I had as parents, and my experience tutoring fellow students at high school and university. I also described my arrival at the university and induction, my anxiety and preparation for my first lecture, and the logistical catastrophe of my first on-campus programme. These have all shaped my consequent approaches to curriculum innovation and development.

In this episode, I explore my advancing teaching practice, and discuss some of the principles of adventure learning.


Advancing my teaching practice

Image source – by Mark Brannan

I recall from my ‘blue book’ that a tertiary teacher often embarks on their teaching according to the manner in which they have been taught. The blue book (mentioned in Part 1) certainly expanded my repertoire of possibilities and approaches. However, I now recognise that by the time I had become a university teacher – in my early thirties – I had experienced as a student an exceptionally wide range of formal teaching and training techniques. Perhaps the learning environments I had experienced are unique in their diversity!

During the early 1970s I was a pupil in what was then regarded as New Zealand’s most progressive state school: Cambridge High School. Our principal, George Nairn Marshall, instructed our senior class in what is now termed ‘critical thinking’. My physics teacher coached a team of students to compete in the NBR/NCR National Business Game Competition in 1972-73. The competition was a computer-facilitated learning experience that I recorded for posterity in the High School Yearbook. Until recently, I utilised a computer-based business game to teach students about decision support systems, financial engineering, and strategic thinking: Thompson and Strickland’s Business Strategy Game, (BSG).

Image source – by Tim Morgan

Whilst Steve Jobs and Bill Wozniak were inventing the Personal Computer (PC) and laying the foundation for Apple Corporation, I was building my own thermionic valve-driven audio mono-fi-amplifier. My equivalent of the internet and Google Search, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, informed me precisely how to make the usual childhood weapons of mass destruction, interplanetary travel, … and yoghurt. I programmed physics problems (Einstein’s relativistic mass equations) by punching out the chad from a Hollerith computer punch card using a bent paper clip: PORTRAN for Portable FORTRAN. These learning exercises were quite autodidactic – or self-directed as we now might say.

The PORTRAN experience led to my selection for a week’s secondary school programme with IBM in Auckland in 1972, and my direct entry into the second year of a practical computer programming course at Massey University where I learned Information Structures and Programming. I recall the use of the GOTO statement was grounds for immediate failure of a programming assignment by our lecturer. With similar ferocity (I wish!), I now forbid the use of ‘and’ as a conjunction in written language, preferring words such as: ‘Furthermore’, ‘Consequently’, and ‘In contrast’. I permit ‘and’ solely as part of a list of items! I argue for using succinct sentences. I prefer students write using English that is comprehensible by an international audience for whom English is an alternative language (EAL). Consequently, I recommend students learn to speak and write McAlpine’s Global English! I now have statistical evidence from a pilot project that students who are superior at writing formal academic English have a higher likelihood of gaining higher grades in their final grades and a diverse variety of assignments – even including multi-choice tests! (Mellalieu 2010, December 6).

At university, beyond lectures and tutorials I experienced science and engineering laboratories; field trips to paper mills, fellmongeries, and dairy factories; team projects to design a factory – including its business plan; case studies; computer simulations, and annual 12-week industry work placements.

Image source – by Oisín Duke

Whilst pursuing postgraduate studies in public policy with the intention of becoming a United Nations diplomat, I undertook a ‘finishing school’ in the ‘final act of diplomacy’: I learned to soldier. During my concurrent three years part-time training as a military engineer (sapper), I experienced competency-based training in a variety of skills such as marksmanship, rifle care, grenade throwing, navigation, bridge building, parade drill, explosives, and latrine cleaning. Perhaps more importantly, I learned the importance of ensuring that every team member was carried through (literally, if necessary) to the objective destination – together. The latter value is something rather difficult to inculcate amongst my students, yet I am convinced it would be valued by employers beyond the military.

During my professional, pre-academic life in the New Zealand Public Service, I experienced an extraordinary participative strategic organisation development process – the Strategic Orientation Round (SOR) developed for the Philips multinational. I have used SOR extensively in my consulting and to a lesser extent my teaching. Mellalieu (1987) presents my first published example from my pre-university career as an industrial scientist.
Wisdom from the mentors: what should you teach .. and how?

Image source by dkuropatwa

Very early in my teaching career I stumbled across a recently-published review of the state of university-based management education in the United States (Porter & McKibben, 1988). [Not ‘the’ Michael Porter of generic strategy and five forces fame.] The study was critical of the lack of attention to: integration across functional discipline areas (management, marketing, finance…); leadership and people management skills; and international components. At my first Australia-New Zealand management educators conference, I presented a review of this study contrasted with several related studies critiquing the state of management education in Britain Australia, and Japan (Mellalieu, 1989). I noted from a study of UK high flyer managers that: “an ability to take an overview, analyse and develop a strategy for solving problems is a vital skill for top managers. This is a skill which can be developed in a formal class room. Academic programmes would probably have more impact on the real world if more attention was paid to this activity in preference to the presentation of information and abstract theory” (Cox & Cooper, 1989). How relevant that quote remains today!

My literature review strongly informed the development of my teaching practice and philosophy. I am – surprised – to note especially my enduring emphasis on practical problem solving, cross-functional integration through strategic and entrepreneurial thinking, and the development of strengths-based leadership and people management competencies.

Case study ‘problem-based learning’ teaching thrilled me for several years until I was challenged by a postgraduate student to assess the potential contribution of outdoor adventure-based learning. My subsequent exploration led to my engagement with adventure learning, action learning, action research and the necessary co-requisite practice of encouraging students’ reflective learning (Mellalieu, Leberman, Bradbury, & Chu, 1994). Exposure to several personality profile indicators (such as the Myers-Briggs indicator, Belbin Team Roles, and later the Gallup StrengthsFinder) led to my last decade applying strengths-based development in my teaching. Most recently, this pathway has lead to my guiding students to create a personal and professional learning agenda (PLA) as part of their first year of tertiary studies in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Unitec BSNS 5391). Their PLA is intended to act as a regular prompt to remind students of their short and long term aims, their natural talents, and the actions they can take to develop their talents into strengths and excellence (Mellalieu, 2010d).

Image source – by London Public Library

The principles of adventure learning strongly inform my current pedagogy: the design of my learning environments and the assignments with which I challenge my students. Adventure learning – broadly interpreted is strongly consequentialist compared with traditional lectures, and even the case study approach. A student who proposes solutions to a case study never experiences personally the consequences of their decisions. In contrast, a problem framed as an adventure learning task does face the consequences of their decision: a more potent learning experience. Competitive computer simulation games can also be constructed as a type of adventure learning, providing time for reflection is embedded in the pedagogical process (Mellalieu & Emerson, 2009).

Action learning is often confused with adventure learning. They both share a commitment to reflective learning and group processes. However, the former is charged with achieving direct organisational objectives through some kind of project, whereas the latter is typically focussed on learning through outdoor adventure activities often in preparation for individual or team development. I tend to ‘mix and match’ the two approaches with other pedagogies as appropriate.

Whilst developing my competency to co-facilitate adventure learning, I experienced the extremely potent pedagogical design methodology of isomorphic framing under the guidance of Simon Priest. I also gained practice in using action learning and action research from a variety of mentors including the International Management Centres, IMC. This experience lead to the creation of the Action Learning Management Practicum. This course taught students how to design, facilitate, and risk manage client-focussed adventure learning interventions (Leberman & Mellalieu, 1996).

The future for tertiary education

I began my teaching career ‘crowd managing’ over 1000 students per year, examining each student against a single curriculum. Before I entered the Procrustean Bed of the New Zealand polytechnic business education system, I had developed confidence in facilitating senior students to tailor their learning to their own interests: my interpretation of the emergingly-fashionable phrase ‘self-directed learning’.

Image source – by h.koppdelaney

I see the future challenge of tertiary education as being to ‘mass customise’ the learning experience for each student building – especially – on their identified talents and aspirations. Part of the challenge includes focussing attention on ensuring that students achieve ‘basic competency’ in core, generic academic literacies and supporting students’ individual strengths-based development. Certainly, information and communication technologies such as pedagogical games, decision support systems, the electronic text book, and collaborative learning technologies will be amongst the portfolio of instruments that I will continue to advance in my practice. However, I believe that at the heart of tertiary education lies the crucial importance of formal academic writing, numeracy, creative problem solving … and consciously thinking about how to create an environmentally sustainable society. I think the latter presents an outstanding opportunity to build cross-disciplinary thinking and collaboration.

Image source

Peter Mellalieu

Peter J. Mellalieu is a curriculum innovator who teaches innovation, entrepreneurship, strategy, creativity, and sustainable enterprise development at Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. He studied industrial engineering and management at Massey University (BTech (hons), 1973-1976) and public policy at Victoria University of Wellington (MPubPol, 1976-78). His doctoral studies in management science and information systems (1979-1982) engaged him implementing decision support systems for strategic planning in several agribusiness sectors. He is an ardent advocate for education for sustainability. His professional journal is at http://pogus.tumblr.com and resources for teachers and students at http://teach.myndsurfers.org.nz.


Cox, C. J., & Cooper, C. L. (1988). High flyers: An anatomy of managerial success. Blackwell.
Inkson, K., Henshall, B., Marsh, N., & Ellis, G. (1987). Theory K: The Key to Excellence in New Zealand Business. Auckland, NZ: Bateman.
Leberman, S., & Mellalieu, P. J. (1996). ALP-DevCo and the Action Learning Programme: A Trojan Horse for Moving from Mystery to Mastery – Training educators to use experiential education using an isomorphically-framed training-products development company. In Proceedings of the Outdoor Education Conference: From Mystery to Mastery (pp. 66-83). Presented at the Outdoor Educators Conference, The Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre, Turangi, NZ: Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre of New Zealand. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Examples/Entries/2007/10/8_Training_educators_to_use_experiential_education_using_an_isomorphically-framed_training-products_development_company.html
Mellalieu, P. J., & Emerson, A. (2009). Developing reflective learning in a strategic thinking class. In Unitec Teaching and Learning Symposium. Presented at the Unitec Teaching and Learning Symposium, 28 September 2009, Auckland, NZ: Unitec Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Blog/Entries/2009/9/29_Symposium%3A_Developing_reflective_learning_in_a_strategic_thinking_course.html
Mellalieu, P. J., Leberman, S., Bradbury, T., & Chu, M. (1994). Opening the black box: Beyond adventure-based management education programmes. Discussion paper. Palmerston North, NZ: Department of Management Systems, Massey University. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Examples/Entries/2007/10/7_Should_outdoor_adventure_learning_be_incorporated_into_business_education.html
Mellalieu, P. J. (1987). Strategic orientation in a biological science laboratory (the case of DSIR Applied Biochemistry Division). New Zealand Journal of Technology, 3, 153-157. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Examples/Entries/2007/10/28_Case_study%3A_strategic_orientation_in_a_biological_science_laboratory.html
Mellalieu, P. J. (1989). Educating future managers: A survey of recent publications. In Proceedings of Australia and New Zealand Academy of Management Educators. Presented at the Australia and New Zealand Academy of Management Educators Conference 1989, University of Auckland, Auckland, NZ: Australia and New Zealand Academy of Management Educators. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Blog/Entries/2007/11/13_Educating_future_managers%3A_Does_one_size_fit_all.html
Mellalieu, P. J. (1998). Weaving the threads of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial learning through a university-located reality-TV and master class: Enterprise MasterWorks (EMW)™. In International Conference on Higher Education and Small/Medium Enterprise (SMEs). Presented at the International Conference on Higher Education and Small/Medium Enterprise (SMEs), Rennes, France: Centre Études et Recherche EURO PME, Rennes International School of Business. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Examples/Entries/2007/10/18_Weaving_the_threads_of_innovation%2C_creativity%2C_and_entrepreneurial_learning_through_a_university-located_reality-TV_and_master_class%3A_Enterprise_MasterWorks_(EMW).html
Mellalieu, P. J. (2010b). Course Handbook and Syllabus – Strategy and Sustainability – Unitec BSNS 7340. Auckland: Unitec Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/full/28723688?access_key=key-25nlskq6rdmg2awnueu9
Mellalieu, P. J. (2010c, August 21). Course Handbook and Syllabus Unitec BSNS 5391 Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Scribd. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/36191676/Course-Handbook-and-Syllabus-Unitec-BSNS-5391-Innovation-and-Entrepreneurship
Mellalieu, P. J. (2010d). Engaging a student-directed ‘living curricula’: Progress results and reflections from introducing strengths-based professional development in an international business school. Presented at the Unitec Learning, Teaching, and Research Symposium, Auckland, NZ: Unitec Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://web.me.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Examples/Entries/2010/10/1_Strengths-based_professional_development_in_an_international_business_school_.html
Mellalieu, P. J. (2010, December 6). A Decision Support System for predicting success, excellence, and retention from students’ early course performance: a machine learning approach in a tertiary education programme in innovation and entrepreneurship: Part 1: Project summary. Innovation & chaos … in search of optimality. Retrieved December 9, 2010, from http://pogus.tumblr.com/post/2110849868/a-decision-support-system-for-predicting-success
Evaluating the Enterprise MasterWorks format in a university context. EMW: Enterprise MasterWorks. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Podcasts/Entries/2007/11/29_Students%E2%80%99_evaluation_of_the_EMW_format.html
Peters, T. J., & Waterman, R. H. (1982). In Search of Excellence: Lessons from Americas Best Run Companies (Later Printing Edition.). Grand Central Publishing.
Pettigrew, A., & Whipp, R. (1993). Managing change for competitive success. Wiley-Blackwell. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=5vndy8U2Yp8C&dq=pettigrew+whipp+competitive+success&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=4UZrS86BOIzetgOAjLiuAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CBAQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=&f=false
Porter, L. W., & McKibben, L. (1988). Management education and development: Drift or thrust into the 21st century. McGraw-Hill.
Slappendel, C. (1992). The Emergence and Development of Ergonomics Capability: Case
f0Studies of Innovation in Product Design and Development (Doctor of Philosophy in Business Studies). Massey University. Retrieved from http://encore.massey.ac.nz/iii/encore/record/C%7CRb1334530%7CSslappendel%7CP0%2C2%7COrightresult?lang=eng&suite=def

About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ (http://www.ethosconsultancynz.com/). I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
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