23 June 2004 Award-winning tertiary teacher uses sports talk in push for student excellence
Taking a cue from sports coaches and sports commentators has helped make Lincoln University's Dr Derrick Moot one of New Zealand's top university teachers.
Dr Moot, a Senior Lecturer in Plant Science, has won a 2004 National Tertiary Teaching Award for Sustained Excellence, one of just 10 awards made last night (23 June) from 30 nominations countrywide. The awards, in three categories – Sustained Excellence, Innovation, and Excellence in Collaboration, with a Prime Minister's Supreme Award – are open to universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, private tertiary providers and wanganga.
Introduced in 2002, the awards are presented annually under a Government-sponsored programme to encourage good teaching practice across the tertiary sector. This is the second consecutive year that a Lincoln University lecturer has won a Sustained Excellence award.
"We frequently hear coaches and commentators exhorting players to give 100 percent effort on the sporting field or games court but we seldom hear such calls in the pursuit of academic excellence," says Dr Moot.
"Well, I make a point of challenging my students in this way."
"My motivational philosophy when working with students is, where appropriate, to draw sporting analogies to encourage them to maximise their potential."
Dr Moot has a strong sporting pedigree himself, in volleyball and lawn bowls. In volleyball he is a national referee with 16 tests to his credit and he is the current president of the Canterbury Volleyball Association. In lawn bowls he is a former Canterbury junior singles champion and has been a member of successful interprovincial and club teams at provincial and national levels.
Applying principles of sports motivation to academic achievement obviously works because Dr Moot's nomination portfolio for the top national teaching award was full of endorsements from former students who praised his methods.
Tracey Reddecliffe, for example, a Master of Science graduate with First Class Honours in Crop Physiology and now a cereal agronomist with PGG Pyne Gould Guinness Seeds, said that Dr Moot epitomised what a postgraduate supervisor should be – "a motivator, a sounding board, a bundle of knowledge and enthusiasm, and an extremely approachable person".
In her area of study Dr Moot made her feel part of the team, she said.
"He has the ability to build up a student's self-esteem, to fill them with motivation and encouragement whilst always challenging their potential by raising the goalposts."
Andrew Dumbleton, an agricultural science honours graduate and now a Programme Leader with Wrightson Research, praised the goal-setting and timeline techniques used by Dr Moot.
"Dr Moot set goals and timelines for me to achieve my desired outcome and then pushed me to achieve the high standards I had set for myself," said Mr Dumbleton.
"He has the ability to motivate and place students in an academic situation that allows them to use what he has taught them to do something brilliant themselves."
Dr Moot says that his aim is always to have his students achieve their highest possible academic standard. Ninety percent of the honours level students he has supervised since starting his formal lecturing career at Lincoln University in 1996 have achieved first class honours.
Although he has been a lecturer for only eight years Dr Moot has twice won Lincoln University's own Excellence in Teaching Awards – in 1999 and 2003 – and he has been consistently evaluated as among the top 10 percent of lecturers at the University. He is widely regarded as having a natural gift for communicating.
Dr Moot holds a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree with First Class Honours in Plant Science and a PhD in crop physiology. The research dissertation for his honours degree concerned lucerne grass mixes that may be suitable for the Canterbury dryland environment and he has subsequently become an acknowledged expert on lucerne cultivation and its use as a forage crop.
A past pupil of Christchurch's Cashmere High School, he has had professional employment as a plant scientist in the United Kingdom, at Long Ashton Research Station, Bristol; in the United States at Oregon State University's Crop Science Department; and with the former DSIR in New Zealand in its Wheat Research Institute.
At Lincoln University Dr Moot teaches at all levels – diploma, undergraduate, honours, masters, and PhD. He is also a regular speaker at field days and at scientific and technical conferences and his research has been widely published in the scientific literature.
According to Lincoln University's own Teaching Award citation, his ability to connect effectively with a diverse range of people comes from a "natural gift for communicating".
He believes that the need for Lincoln University staff to be involved in the transfer of knowledge and technology to the wider rural community has never been greater. And that there is a big demand for independent advice and research results.
He acknowledges that he is part of a team at Lincoln University and that any personal achievements are the result of the "collegial and collaborative support" of colleagues.
Trying to explain his teaching ability takes him into an "uncomfortable area bordering on self-promotion", but he believes his greatest asset is a relaxed, welcoming, conversational style.
"I aim to be inclusive and participatory, while at the same time provocative and challenging to ensure that critical thinking and analysis are major components of every learning opportunity."
He says he is humbled that so many indicate how thoroughly they have enjoyed his classes over the years.
"The enjoyment for me is watching the scholarship and learning of my students develop in a friendly environment where fun and fulfilment are central."
"We are then collectively able to achieve our goals."
Ian Collins, Journalist, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand