Student Learning Research Team

The Student Learning Research Team

The Student Learning Research team works specifically with student learning as their focus as part of the larger vision of the Higher Education Development Centre. 

Each member has their own area of expertise and their own unique research interests within the larger sector. 

Click below to learn more about our individual team members. 

Meet Our Team

Dr Rob Wass

Senior Lecturer

Rachel Spronken-Smith


Tony Harland


Dr Tracy Rogers

Teaching Fellow

Dr Nave Wald


Vijay Kumar Mallan

Associate Professor

Dr Ana Stojanov


Dr Ruth Toumu'a


Dr Qian Liu


Dr Lee Adam

Senior Lecturer

Dr Rob Wass

About Rob

Rob co-leads Student Learning Development and is an academic developer focusing on improving student learning outcomes. He is a Co-Editor for the Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) journal and the HERDSA (NZ) Branch Chair. In 2022, Rob was awarded the HERDSA TERNZ Research Medal Award for outstanding contribution to tertiary education research in New Zealand.

Rob's Research Interests
Rob's Teaching
Rob's Supervision
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Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith

About Rachel

Rachel is a professor in Higher Education and Geography and works as an academic developer in HEDC. She initially trained as a geographer, taking up a lecturing position at the University of Canterbury, where she worked for nine years after returning from completing her PhD in British Columbia. Her teaching has been recognised with a University of Canterbury Teaching Award in 2002, an OUSA Supervision Award in 2012, a University of Otago Teaching Award in 2013 and a national Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015.

While studying for a Postgraduate Diploma in Tertiary Teaching through HEDC at Otago, Rachel became more interested in aspects of learning and teaching and was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in HEDC in 2004. She worked as an academic developer and was Head of HEDC from 2009–2012. In 2016 she won the TERNZ-HERDSA medal for Sustained Contribution to the Research Environment in New Zealand, and was also awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award for research in the US on graduate outcomes for PhD candidates. She was the inaugural Dean of the Graduate Research School from 2013–2022.

Rachel's Research Interests
Rachel's Teaching
Rachel's Supervision

Dr Tracy Rogers

About Tracy

Along with my colleague, Dr Rob Wass, I manage Student Learning Development at the University of Otago. My key responsibility is oversight of the Peer Learning Programmes (PLP) which includes Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), English Language Peer Support, Peer Writers, and Peer Assisted Numeracy (PAN). I provide professional development to the team of student facilitators employed within the PLP, drawing on my research into metacognition and peer observations of teaching.

I coordinate the Manaaki New Zealand Scholars orientation programme in collaboration with International Office. The orientation programme provides international students on the MFAT scholarship with core academic skills and an introduction to the fundamental wellbeing and support services available at the university.

I am the academic co-leader of the Academic Women’s Mentoring Programme. The programme offers early career academic women with a mentor who is a senior academic staff member.

I am also the coordinator of Teaching and Learning Circles, a University-wide reciprocal peer observation of teaching programme. Teaching and Learning Circles enable academic staff to engage in dialogue and teaching observations with those who are similarly passionate about teaching.

My doctoral research explored the educational persistence of schoolgirls in rural Cambodia, and prior to embarking on my PhD, I taught English as and additional language at the University of Otago’s English Language Centre

Tracy's Research Interests
Tracy's Teaching
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Professor Tony Harland

About Tony

Tony is a marine ecologist who began to study higher education in the 90s.

Tony's Research Interests
Tony's Teaching
Tony's Supervision

Associate Professor Vijay Kumar Mallan

About Vijay

Vijay is the first person outside the United Kingdom to become a UK Council of Graduate Education recognised doctoral supervisor. He is also a founding member of the International Doctoral Education Research Network.

The Otago Doctoral Supervision Programme, which he developed, has been acknowledged to be a highly interactive teaching form that stimulates personal and critical inquiry. It is highly regarded by peers. This is evidenced by the fact that he has been invited to advise institutional leaders and educational developers in 43 universities across 23 countries on how to develop and quality assure doctoral supervision practices.

Vijay's Research Interests
Vijay's Teaching
Vijay's Supervision
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Dr Nave Wald

About Nave

Nave entered the field of higher education by chance working on a small research project, never left and made it his new academic home. He has a broad interest in many aspects of the field, although my research and teaching are mostly in the areas of assessment practice and critical thinking in higher education, as well as other topics such as student peer review and training students to be researchers. He is also a geographer with an interest in development studies, food politics and grassroots civil society, as well as having a background in economics.

Nave's Research Interests
Nave's Teaching
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Dr Ana Stojanov

About Ana

Ana's background is in social, developmental and educational psychology. Originally from Macedonia, she completed a Mphil in Psychology and Education at the University of Cambridge and PhD at the University of Otago. Early in her career, she worked as a Program Assistant, and later Program Coordinator, in Education-related Projects focused on policy, but her true passion is research.

Ana's Research Interests
Ana's Teaching
Ana's Supervision

Dr Julie Timmermans

About Julie

Julie is a teacher, researcher, and educational developer with experience facilitating learning in various universities and countries, including Canada, Japan, France, and now, New Zealand. In all her work, she is committed to enhancing student learning and academic staff’s experience of teaching. She believes that the ideas which cause us intellectual and emotional discomfort might offer the greatest opportunities for development, and that learning is enhanced when environments are designed to allow people to explore the edges of their knowledge and understanding while being well-supported. She tries to model this approach in her own teaching, research, and academic development practice.

Julie's Research Interests
Julie's Teaching
Julie's Supervision

Dr Qian Liu

About Qian

Qian provides academic development support to staff and students, teach within the programmes offered by HEDC, and research in the field of higher education. Prior to this role, he was a professional practice fellow (eLearning) in a medical school, postdoc research fellow in a business school, assistant researcher in a policy research institute, and training specialist in an oil and gas company. He completed his doctoral research within three years at the University of Auckland and the thesis received Dean’s List award. He gained a Master of Science degree from the University of Edinburgh, and a Bachelor of Management degree from a Chinese university.

Qian's Research Interests
Qian's Teaching
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Dr Lee Adam

About Lee

Lee’s specific area of interest is supporting students to succeed at university. In particular she researches how students’ learning experiences and outcomes can be enhanced. Her research into students’ experiences enables her to gain insights into how policy and practices might be structured to encourage students’ retention and success. Lee is currently working with a nationwide team to examine students’ academic integrity beliefs and behaviours. She is researching how “just in time” academic skills teaching impact on students’ success. Other current research is centred on dental public health, again with a view to exploring how people’s experiences can inform policy and practice. Lee is Director of the Education Research Programme for the Sir John Walsh Research Institute, and is a member of the Faculty of Dentistry Research Advisory Committee. She sits on the University Academic Integrity Advisory Committee, and on the University Committee for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CALT).

Lee's Research Interests
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Dr Ruth Toumu'a

About Ruth

Kia Ora and Pacific Greetings. I have multiple heritages in Oceania (Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea) and Aotearoa’s Te Wai Pounamu, with Tangata Tiriti ancestry tracing back to northern England and Ireland. By marriage I am also part of the Kingdom of Tonga.

I research and provide specialist advice and coaching for academic literacies and skills development. I am TESOL trained and have over 15 years’ experience in tertiary education contexts in academic skills development, research, and executive roles in New Zealand and Pacific universities.

My research and work is driven by the kaupapa of supporting successful independent learners at all levels from first year through to PhD, and I particularly enjoy supporting the retention and success of students from underrepresented backgrounds and equity groups at the University as well as those for whom English is an additional language.

Ruth's Research Interests
Ruth's Teaching
Ruth's Supervision

We are working on a lot of wonderful collaborations and projects.