Invited Scholars Seminars – Rachel Spronken-Smith – 2008


Rachel Spronken-SmithRachel initially trained as a geographer, graduating from the University of Otago with a B.Sc. (Hons) in 1987. She then worked as an agricultural meteorologist with the New Zealand Meteorological Service. After a couple of years Rachel moved to the University of British Columbia where she did a Ph.D. in Geography. Her research interest was in the climatic effects of urban parks. She then returned to New Zealand to a lecturing position at the University of Canterbury, where she worked for nine years. Her teaching was recognized with a University of Canterbury Teaching Award in 2002 and a nomination for a National Award for Teaching Innovation in 2003.

In 2002 Rachel completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Tertiary Teaching through HEDC at Otago. During this study she became more interested in aspects of learning and teaching and was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in HEDC in 2004. Her interests in higher education research include aspects of the student experience (e.g. the Otago Millennium Graduate project), student-centred learning such as inquiry and problem-based learning and field teaching, and the teaching-research nexus.

Rachel has an interdisciplinary focus including:

  • Higher Education – student-centred teaching methods such as inquiry-based learning, graduate conceptions and experiences of higher education, and the research-teaching nexus within universities.
  • Climatology – surface-atmosphere interactions with particular interests in energy exchanges in a diverse range of environments including urban areas and complex terrain. Rachel is also interested in urban climate in general, including air pollution.
  • Furthermore, Rachel’s two key interests intersect in the realm of Higher Education in Geography and this is manifested through her research on innovative curriculum design in geography and field teaching.

Rachel believes strongly in the value of collaborations and has sought these in her research areas. She is fully involved in her research communities through membership of: the editorial board for Journal of Geography in Higher Education; the International Improving University Teaching Board; the NZ national committee for the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia; and the Southern Hub Advisory Group for Ako Aotearoa.

In 2006 Rachel was one of two participants from New Zealand invited to attend an International Colloquium on Academic Enquiry with eminent higher educationalists (56 in total) in the United Kingdom. As a result of this colloquium she is involved in an international project on inquiry-based learning. Rachel has been awarded a Visiting Fellowship to the Centre for Active Learning at the University of Gloucestershire for six weeks beginning February 2009.

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