Building a digital whare to support Māori learning anytime, anywhere

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

Photo of Te Wānanga o Raukawa (TWoR) building

Te Wānanga o Raukawa, New Zealand’s first higher learning institution steeped in Māori protocols and values, is a pioneer in its field. With the help of technology solutions provider Intergen and a range of Microsoft technologies, it’s also at the forefront of digital education. Their partnership has transformed the institution’s entire operations and avenues to interact with students, lighting the path for other institutions to break down the barriers to learning and create a truly equal experience for on-campus and at-home students to learn in their own space, place, time and pace.

The first tertiary institution of its kind, Te Wānanga o Raukawa (TWoR), was born from a confederation of three iwi (tribes) with a history of joint ventures. Since the early 1970s, the founding iwi, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Ngāti Raukawa and Te Ātiawa, have been on a mission to reclaim and grow mātauranga (knowledge of all things) Māori.

At the time, it was visionary – establishing a wānanga for Māori to further education, founded on the key principles that te reo Māori is a taonga (treasure), people are its wealth, the marae is their principal home, and self-determination is essential. In 1981, they launched with just two students. Since then the vision has only grown, to enable education for Māori which will build a healthy and wealthy economy through its people.

Around 40 years on, there are more than 5,000 students, but the demographic has changed radically from previous decades. Many of them are “mature students”, with an average age of 39, and in recent years part-time numbers have increased exponentially.

Feedback to the TWoR leaders was that the need to care for families impeded students’ ability to stick to regimented daily study, course loads were too heavy in the existing format, students had difficulty attending classes in person given they lived all over Aotearoa, and balancing full-time work with study was also an issue. The Wānanga knew it had to adapt delivery to suit.

Oriwia Raureti, Pou Whakahaere (Manager) at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, explains: “The student has chosen us. We believe in utu, which is reciprocity. If we receive an enrolment, we have to do everything in our power to make sure they are successful.”

A vision for space, place, time and pace

That meant making another giant leap – into the world of business intelligence and the truly modern workplace. IT systems at Te Wānanga o Raukawa hadn’t been significantly updated for more than 20 years, and its multiple platforms were not integrated with each other, making useful reporting an impossibility. That meant a simple update wasn’t going to work. Change had to be built from the ground up.

As Raureti says: “We found we could not do the best job we wanted to do because our internal systems were weak. We had many sources of truth, different databases spread across the organisation, didn’t have visibility to track students; there were too many gaps through systems not talking. We had systems that suited us and were designed for administration and not students.”

Telephony and email were the main tools for communication which meant that if the network went down, business stopped. Furthermore, relying on emails meant a student’s communication wasn’t visible to the wider Wānanga team. Documents and data were not accessible to the entire campus, resulting in multiple copies of the same material being stored within the TWoR network.

TWoR understood that the future success of its students and the ability to provide an accessible education to them required a business-wide transformation, driven by an inherent responsibility to serve students in their time, wherever they were and whenever suited their needs. Or in other words, in their space, place, time and at their pace. That also meant providing full visibility of each student’s progress in real time.

The team’s leaders wanted a single view of the organisation, with low-cost integrated data sources and a platform that would enable greater business intelligence without too much customisation that would prevent it being flexible as the organisation’s needs changed. It had to be easy to use, and scalable so it could grow with the Wānanga. And above all, it needed to support the best outcomes for students, while reducing TWoR’s reliance on third party service providers to maintain and make changes.

So TWoR flipped itself on its head, refocussing its entire operation not on administrative needs but on the student journey. Using Microsoft’s Book of Dreams resource for educators, which helps create a roadmap for organisational transformation, the Wānanga mapped its path to success, conducting workshops to identify pain points, key functional relationships across the organisation, key points of communication, functional intersections/crossover and phases of the journey.

It had a plan. But how to make it a reality?

Building a digital whare

The brand-new student space, learning centre and library at TWoR’s central Ōtaki campus, Te Ara ā Tāwhaki, provided Raureti with the inspiration to treat the Wānanga’s digital transformation as a digital whare. This helped create the right foundations and treated each of the different things they were trying to achieve as part of a whole structure.

“One morning as I thought about our recently constructed masterpiece Te Ara ā Tāwhaki, I thought about how each piece was dependent on another to become the cohesive, usable, high quality, high tech whare.

It was at that time we decided to build our workplace whare. Find the right partner, who in this case came to be Intergen, and bring our collective strengths together. We had a clear and sound case to move. It needed us to be visionary, bold, and creative, focused on success and underpinned by our guiding values.”

This is where Microsoft solutions partner Intergen came on board to provide essential supporting pillars for the whare, helping design and construct the digital solutions, with Microsoft platforms and services as the foundation.

Says Intergen Client Director Tristan Faint: “It was clear to us from day one that Te Wānanga o Raukawa had an incredibly strong vision and clear path to support better outcomes for their students. Our role was to help architect and build that reality by implementing technology solutions that were easy to use, supported staff working anywhere, anytime and which ultimately helped students succeed by breaking down the barriers to learning.”

The central pillar was a robust, cloud-based platform, supported by new policies, upgraded software and an operational data store created in Microsoft Azure to enable integration across the various applications. If the network goes down, any communications can be retrieved through mobile devices, making for true business continuity and resilience.

A new staff portal was another key pillar. Azure Single Sign-On replaced multiple usernames and passwords. Thanks to Azure InTune device management, staff have secure access to the Staff Portal on any device, enabling them to work more flexibly. Implementing Microsoft 365, One Drive and SharePoint centralised all the content into one easily accessed information hub, enabling co-authoring of documents and making information easy to find.

Change management was another important element, to help bed in the new structure. Recognising the importance of bringing its people along on the transformation journey, TWoR’s leaders created digital avatars based on the four avatars used in the institution’s te reo Māori language course. Staff formed relationships with their virtual friends that communicated important information and supported them throughout the transformation.

Morale has also received a real boost from the introduction of internal networking tool Yammer and Microsoft Teams organisation-wide, which has eliminated much of the email traffic and provides real visibility and collaboration across the organisation.

Photo of the core team behind the transformation.
Left to right Noti Henare, Oriwia Raureti, and Kiri-Olive Maxwell. The core team behind the transformation.

A blended model for learner success

But it’s the student experience that’s the real purpose of this transformation. Enrolling used to be a time-consuming process on paper forms that gave students no visibility into their progress unless they called or emailed the Wānanga. To address this, the team implemented a Dynamics 365 platform, so prospective students could enrol online via the student portal and monitor the status of their applications along the way, receiving ongoing updates.

Via the portal, students can now update their contact details, access their new Microsoft 365 account and contact TWoR if needed, with everything visible through a “single pane of glass”. For the first time, students can manage the process themselves, even changing courses or updating their personal information without having to call or fill out a form. They can now track their fees and academic progress, submit assignments and communicate with academic staff using a range of different platforms – the ultimate in accessible learning. It has the benefit of giving staff more time to focus on improving services too.

Best of all, the digital platform has enabled vastly enhanced online learning capabilities to allow students to learn at their own pace via a blended learning model that enables them to study on their own time, at their own pace. Now it doesn’t matter where in Aotearoa (or the world) they are – thanks to online courses and videos, as well as the interactive portal, those studying from home are now just as woven into the fabric of the Wānanga as full-time students, a true example of kotahitanga (unity/togetherness). The ability to learn when it suits them increases students’ retention of information, and tracking their progress so easily online promotes ownership of their hard mahi (work). And with digital content replacing paper mailouts, there’s no more limit to the number of ‘from home’ students.

“Our world has changed”

It’s not hard to see why Te Wānanga o Raukawa won a 2019 Tertiary ICT Excellence Award. Thanks to its digital vision and partnership with Intergen and Microsoft, the once ‘radical’ institution of two students can now grow to welcome thousands more without any geographical barriers.

With collaboration and communication enhanced so dramatically across all teams and geographical locations, further service improvements and operational efficiencies are set to follow. Already pūkenga (academic staff) are catering to students’ different learning styles using the various learning tools now available online, providing much faster feedback and changing up teaching methods as needed thanks to the speed of digital engagement.

Underpinned by data analytics and insights tool Power BI, TWoR’s previous static dashboard has transformed into a dynamic and intelligent tool that enables staff to respond to business change and opportunities. The management team can now identify trends such as student numbers, average age, iwi and other important information, while another dashboard tracks student applications for courses to forecast when exponential growth is expected in any particular subject. This functionality makes it easier for managers to allocate staff and resources to meet demand, and communicate changes to students in advance.

Higher learning institutions from across the world have expressed interest in following in these footsteps.

“True to its pioneering legacy of forward-thinking in education, the Wānanga has shown immense leadership and manaakitanga (generosity) in the tertiary education sector, providing a powerful role model to others in the industry looking to achieve similar educational outcomes, sharing their learnings and showcasing this solution to help others in their journey,” says Anne Taylor, Education Lead at Microsoft New Zealand.

Adds Raureti: “Our transformation began as digital but it’s now encompassed the whole of our business. TWoR has implemented an online, integrated platform that is completely centred on the student lifecycle. Microsoft’s 365 suite of products has given us visibility across all platforms, puts the student in the driver’s seat and has given students and staff 24/7 access to support for all their needs, providing a seamless student experience.

Our world has changed.


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