Category Archives: Postgraduate study

Secret lives of killer whales explored

A series of recording devices will be deployed in Antarctica this summer to explore the secret lives of killer whales in an unprecedented monitoring programme.

University of Canterbury PhD student Alexa Hasselman is preparing for her first Antarctic field season with Gateway Antarctica this summer. In an expansion of Gateway Antarctica’s ongoing Antarctic top predator programme in the Ross Sea  the recording devices  will monitor the species for four-weeks,  24 hours a day.

As top predators, killer whales are sentinels for the Ross Sea ecosystem. More specifically, tracking their interactions with one commercially important prey species in particular, the toothfish, is critical to supporting the recently announced Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area (MPA) established under the auspices of CCAMLR.

Gateway Antarctica’s work is leading the effort to meet New Zealand’s commitment to study top predators such as killer whales under that agreement. Alexa’s work adds a key capability  says  field team leader Dr Regina Eisert,  who is Alexa’s supervisor at Gateway Antarctica.

“Establishing a passive acoustic monitoring network is a critical step in getting the data we need to effectively protect the Ross Sea.” 

The research team includes two acoustics experts, Dr Andrew Wright, also of Gateway Antarctica, and UC’s College of Engineering Associate Professor Dr Michael Hayes.

Alexa says the New Zealand-made devices will be recording the sounds made by killer whales, and other marine mammals, for several weeks at multiple locations.

“The recorded sounds give us the ability to study animals all day and night, even at times when we cannot be in the field. This will provide a comprehensive record of the various patterns of the whales’ movements, and explore whether Antarctic killer whales have a regular daily schedule.”

In addition to supporting the MPA, this information will direct other work by Gateway Antarctica, specifically the deployment of non-invasive satellite transmitters onto the whales.

The wider initiative, funded through United Nations Environment Programme and a Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship to Dr Eisert, aims to provide further information about the ecology of Antarctic killer whales and other top marine predators, and the connectivity between the Ross Sea and New Zealand.

Two UC students win Meritorious Poster Awards

Two UC researchers have won Meritorious Poster Awards at the annual American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) convention.

Dr Amy Scott and Dr Leanne Wilson’s were chosen for their “extraordinary, exceptional and innovative work” in the field.

A total of 55 posters were selected from a field of 1895 submissions worldwide, each accompanied by a 50 word abstract and a 1000 word research summary.

Dr Amy Scott’s PhD focused on engaging teenage parents with books and how this enhances the early reading experiences of their young children.

Her poster submission showcased “probably the most unique and interesting part” of her research, detailing the language used by parents and children during reading sessions, and how this changed in response to her intervention, providing unique insights at a level of detail only rarely explored.

She was able to then give comprehensive information on the language and literacy abilities of teenage mothers and children who were engaged through a Teen Parent Unit.

Her work looked at the mothers’ literacy and the way they read with their young children to support early literacy development, for example, introducing new words, talking about letters and sounds, and asking engaging questions during reading.

“The most interesting finding from this research for me was less of a formal ‘result’,” she said. “Rather it was the realisation of the incredibly diverse nature of teenage mothers, how complex and different their backgrounds and situations were, and how this impacts on their ability to fully engage with education.”

She spent a year investigating these interactions, embedding herself in their daily lives.

“This added strength to my research to be able to consider the impact of their complex backgrounds when making sense of my research outcomes.”

Dr Scott says the conventions are a great way to hear about new research in the field, as well as a place to network with other researchers, “which makes a nice change from reading journal articles”.

Dr Leanne Wilson believes recognition for her work was partly due to the novelty of her research.

She examined pairs of speech-language therapists (SLTs) and primary teachers working collaboratively as part of their professional practice placements in Year One classrooms.

“There is a paucity of research looking at the efficacy of inter-professional education for prospective teachers and SLTs despite the critical importance of collaboration between the two professions in promoting children’s speech, language and literacy development,” she said.

Given this was a novel research area, she had to first conduct a survey examining what student teachers and SLTs knew about each other’s professional knowledge alongside their understanding of collaborative practice.

Based on this study, she designed and implemented two forms of inter-professional education – half-day workshops and five week placements – and looked at their impact on the knowledge and skills of student SLTs and student teachers.

“Throughout my doctoral research, I came to appreciate that successful collaboration requires practitioners to possess a complex set of attitudes, knowledge and skills,” she says.

“I was surprised, however, that student SLTs and student teachers developed many of these collaborative competencies when they were supported to co-work during relatively short professional practice placements. Moreover, most of the student SLTs and student teachers founds ways to co-work that positively impacted children’s speech and early literacy development.”

She said her findings emphasised the power of prospective professionals co-constructing their own learning to become collaborative-ready professionals.

“Educational practitioners in New Zealand and internationally are increasingly expected to work collaboratively which makes these results very exciting and I hope my work encourages further research into innovative practice in teacher and SLT education to ultimately improve children’s learning outcomes.”

The convention will be held in Los Angeles in November. Find out more about ASHA here>

Restoring Māori literacy narratives

Recipient of the prestigious Brownlie Scholarship Melissa Derby (Ngāti Ranginui) hopes that her research makes a difference in the lives of the children participating in her study. She also hopes they will find enjoyment in reading just like she did as a child.

Melissa Derby

A student at the College of Education, Health and Human Development | Te RāngaAko me te Hauora, Melissa’s whānau inspired in her a lifelong passion for reading which, in turn, means this project holds a special place in her heart.

Working with bilingual children – specifically te reo Māori and English – Melissa has co-constructed a literacy programme designed to support phonological awareness (the ability to hear and decode sounds in words) and vocabulary knowledge. Both skills are widely recognised as being key predictors of children’s later success in reading and writing.

With one in three children unable to meet National Standards for Year One reading and one in four unable to meet National Standards for Year One writing, Melissa hopes to give early recognition for those who may fall behind in order to give them the best possible start.

“Once children fall behind, it can be difficult to recover their skills, and this may have implications for their experiences and outcomes during their formal schooling and beyond,” she says.

“We know what skills children need to be strong in before they learn to read so I am very happy to be employing a strengths-based approach in my study, where I am working with pre-school children to develop their skills so that they start primary school with the best possible chance of success in reading and writing.”

“It is my hope that my research makes a difference in the lives of the children who are participating in my study, and that they will find enjoyment in reading just like I did as a child.”

“My thesis is also unfolding as a platform to promote global human rights and self-determination particularly of Indigenous groups. I argue that literacy is a human right that is key to accessing other human rights associated with health and wellbeing, community engagement, cultural imperatives, and lifelong learning.”

Melissa has given her thesis, which is part of the A Better Start National Science Challenge, the working title of Ko te kai a te rangatira he kōrero: Restoring Māori literacy narratives to create contemporary stories of success.

Her supervisors are Gail Gillon and Angus Macfarlane, who she calls “the biggest draw card to UC” having long-admired his work in Māori communities and schools.

Prior to her work at UC, Melissa obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Education and Māori Resource Management from Victoria University of Wellington, a Master of Arts in Māori Development (First Class Honours, Dean’s List for Exceptional Theses) from AUT University and she holds a Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Studies from Columbia University, New York.