Relishing new role at polytech

Former Dunedin City Council economic development unit manager Peter Harris is excited about his new role as ''innovation facilitator'' at Otago Polytechnic. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Former Dunedin City Council economic development unit manager Peter Harris is excited about his new role as ''innovation facilitator'' at Otago Polytechnic. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
After a decade with the Dunedin City Council's economic development unit, Peter Harris' new focus is on ensuring Otago Polytechnic thrives amid new trends in learning. Mr Harris left his position as manager of the council unit last year to take on the role of ''innovation facilitator'' at the polytechnic, which included holding the purse strings for part of a $1 million ''innovation fund''.

Mr Harris, who started at the polytechnic last week, said he was ''excited'' about his new role and felt that after a decade at the council the time was right to take on a new challenge.

His background in education - he has trained as a teacher - was another reason he was attracted to the role.

''Education is our biggest industry and I have been interested in the changes that have been happening internationally in education, and this position is picking up on those.''

There were also some similarities with his former role.

''In some ways, I still see myself in the economic development game. It's just in a very specific area.''

A major part of his job was ensuring the polytechnic continued to thrive against the backdrop of the growth of online learning. The tertiary education sector was likely to be the next industry transformed by the internet, as had the music industry, he said.

''[My role is] really about putting a line in the sand about the need to change and the need to be ready for the future that is already here,'' he said.

This meant getting staff to think about what courses could be adapted for an online model.

He would also encourage staff to apply for money through the innovation fund to help them deliver their courses differently, which included offering them online.

Mr Harris was also keen to find ways the polytechnic could ''stand out from the crowd'' in what was a crowded online education market.

Otago Polytechnic director of learning and teaching Prof Sally Pairman said the institution was investing just over 2% of its overall budget in the innovation fund this year, which came in at a little over $1 million.

The money would go to a variety of projects and was part of an ''overall drive'' at the polytechnic to stay ahead of the game amid a changing tertiary education environment.

- vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz