Connecting Moana: Oceania’s Universities take the lead in Pan-Pacific Online Course Delivery

by Dr Paul D’Arcy, History, CHL. [about this image*]

For the last two years a quiet educational revolution with profound implications for education outreach and collaborative teaching and research has been taking place across the entire breadth of the Pacific Islands. The project driving this new approach is called Connecting Moana: the common heritage of Pacific Islanders. It brings together major tertiary institutions across the Pacific Islands in a collaborative course writing and professional development exercise to design and deliver courses for Pacific Islanders on their history, culture, environmental management and external relations. The courses will be presented in a variety of media. The project has received overwhelming support from all tertiary institutions, with numerous academics volunteering to participate. Designed in the Pacific Islands for Pacific Islanders, this collaborative endeavour provides tangible benefits of enhanced course delivery and university outreach, reduced workloads through sharing resources, and enhanced research capacity through linking teaching and research collaboration.  The author has been part of the organizing committee since the project’s inception.

Coordinated by Dr Morgan Tuimaleali’ifano and Dr Max Quanchi of the Suva campus of the University of the South Pacific, the project has won support from the University of Guam, the College of Micronesia’s Pohnpei campus, Divine Word University in Madang, Papua New Guinea, the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, the University of New Caledonia, the National University of Samoa, and the University of French Polynesia.  Recently, Taiwanese universities with large indigenous student bodies were also recruited to embrace the homeland of the Austronesian diaspora. In so doing, the project bridges the gap between the Anglophone and Francophone Pacific and reintegrates Taiwan as the ancient homeland of Pacific Islanders. This reconfiguration has done much to break down externally imposed language barriers and reshape conceptions of the region according to indigenous priorities and shared experiences.

Preparations are well advanced to trial the first course on the history of the Pacific before European arrival.  This will be a Pacific wide, multi-campus undergraduate history course about Pacific societies, emphasizing and empowering Pacific perspectives and grounding students in their shared heritage – a heritage which transcends contemporary language and cultural barriers arising from colonial rule. Due to limited staff numbers and access to resources, few university undergraduate courses currently teach the early history of the Pacific Islands, or the histories of the whole region. This project will provide a collective and truly Pan-Pacific introduction to the history of the inhabitants of Moana (the increasingly recognized indigenous term for the Pacific Islands – formerly labeled as Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia).

A multilingual group of Pacific teachers, researchers and course designers with diverse and complementary expertise has been assembled. In addition to Dr Tuimaleali’ifano and Dr Quanchi of the USP Suva campus, the full project team consists of (from east to west across the Pacific) Professor Eric Conte of the University of French Polynesia in Tahiti, Dr Tamatoa Bambridge of the CRIOBE Research Centre on Moorea, Professor Lau Asofou So’o and Dr Louise Mata’ia of the National University of Samoa, Dr David Gegeo of the University of Canterbury, Dr Stuart Bedford of USP Port Vila and ANU, Dr Bernard Rigo of the University of New Caledonia, Dr Christophe Sand of the Institute of Archaeology in New Caledonia, Professor August Kituai of the University of Papua New Guinea, Dr Linda Crowl and Patrick Matbob of Divine Word University in Madang, Papua New Guinea, Professor Serge Tcherkezoff of the EHESS and ANU, Dr Paul D’Arcy of ANU, Dr Mariana Ben and Dr Delihna Ehmes of the College of Micronesia’s Pohnpei campus, Dr Anne Hattori and Dr Sharleen Santos-Bamba of the University of Guam, Professor Tong Yuan-Chao of the Taiwan Center for Pacific Studies, Nakao Eki Pacidal of Leiden University, and Professor Benoit Vermander of the Ricci Institute of Taiwan and Fudan University in Shanghai.

The course materials will be made available in electronic and printed formats across Moana to allow local campuses to supplement areas where local teaching expertise is lacking, to modify into locally appropriate programs, and to free already over-stretched staff from developing new courses.  These benefits will allow smaller Pacific Island universities to concentrate on completing post-graduate studies and research, and to forge regional research networks of staff and students. In a parallel development, a research network linked to the project has already started which focuses on Pan-Pacific indigenous marine ecosystem management practices across history.

While the Moana project has benefitted from generous start-up funding from the French Pacific Fund, the project organizing committee is now seeking additional funding to push the project through to the delivery stage in late 2013 or early 2014. Building on the past 2 years of experience and preparation, the Moana Pan-Pacific course can be online and in print within a year for $AUD50,000.  A number of potential financial partners and aid donors are currently being investigated, but suggestions for funding would be warmly received by the Moana organizing committee and their collaborators! Please contact Morgan Tuimalealiifano or Alan Max Quanchi for more information or if you can assist with this initiative.

[* “View of the Island of Tinian: Dugout Canoes from the Caroline Islands”, from ‘Voyage Autour du Monde sur les Corvettes de L’Uranie’ engraved by Coutant, published 1825, Berard, A. and Taunay, Adrien Andre.]

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