Why I Teach

This is my post for http://whydoyouteach.wordpress.com

I never wanted to be a teacher.

I’m from a family of teachers: parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents… my parents’ friends were teachers, half of my childhood friends became teachers. Teaching was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. It seemed so… predictable. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I didn’t want to teach. It was something I actively resisted; I transferred from my first degree (music and performance) to something else because I knew if I stayed at music college I’d likely end up teaching.

I did NOT want to be a teacher.

So I left music college and started a Linguistics degree – a good move as it turns out, as it introduced me to multiple disciplines including phonetics and speech synthesis, formal semantics and AI, anthropology, sociolinguistics… the list goes on. When it came to my intensive project, I had such a fantastic time measuring hundreds of samples looking for 10msec differences in the length of ‘a’ in 4 words in various English accents (yes, really) that I realised I wanted to carry on with research; to always be learning. I also wanted to carry on making things for the web (which was my sideline). Luckily, I came across a research  post that allowed me to do both. Best of all, it involved NO teaching, just pure R&D.

Sixteen years later, here I am: teaching.

So how the hell did that happen?!

By accident, in all honesty. An academic in the department passed away just before the autumn semester in 2000, and I was asked to deliver his multimedia modules (they were desperate – term was only a week away) and that’s how it started.

I spent the next 5 years delivering a range of multimedia programming modules to students who were not much younger than I was. Although it was fairly mechanistic as I was told what to teach, I enjoyed it – and I think they did too. We had the same cultural references and knowledge of the Manchester social/music scene and I suppose it worked well partly because I understood them and could create assignments that they could relate to.

But I still didn’t want to be a teacher. Not really.

In 2005 I started using blogs and wikis with students in Europe as part of an EU project based around international student support, and this led to a Eureka moment. When I say ‘Eureka moment’, I mean that it was this shift towards open, connected platforms (where multiple audiences could engage in dialogue – to varying degrees of (in)formality) that led to my theoretical knowledge (of social constructivism) being transformed into a powerful experience; deep, authentic and meaningful. I wasn’t just describing the concept; i was feeling it. Through using open, web-based platforms we really were moving towards a culture of reflection, self-expression and participation. I was learning more about students as individuals, rather than just as cohorts taking particular courses. I became interested in learner identities, and found myself taking an increasingly holistic approach to education as these ‘web 2.0’ technologies allowed us to blur the boundaries between public and private, between education, home and work, between formal and informal learning. I had been using Garrison and Anderson’s Community of Inquiry model in my work on the EU project, and found that social presence was enhanced significantly when using Web 2.0 platforms. They would write about how they felt in a personal blog more readily than they would in a standard discussion forum specifically set up to discuss ‘the course’. Most importantly, they weren’t just communicating with their peers and their tutor; they were potentially communicating with the world, presenting themselves as individuals with hopes and fears and dreams – not just as students in formal education.

Social presence is the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community of inquiry, thereby presenting themselves as ‘real people.’” (Garrison & Anderson, 2003:23)

The idea of ‘real people’ is key here. Once I started using these platforms in my own teaching, my curriculum changed. The starting point wasn’t the syllabus. The starting point was the individual. I’ve moved from ‘teaching’ multimedia programming into something that’s much harder to define. My courses involve transmedia production, digital scholarship, networked learning, with smatterings of cultural and media theory (Keegan, 2013). I’m still based in Computing, Science and Engineering, but fortunately there is growing recognition of the value of moving beyond disciplinary boundaries. Through connecting with others and developing our networks, we’re more open to opportunity and serendipity and multiple perspectives. I’d describe my ‘teaching’ now as based on learning to learn, questioning assumptions and opening minds to new ways of seeing; a pedagogy of being which is far more indebted to Freire than Skinner.

Connected learning has led to connected teaching which has led to connected courses. Nowadays i’m just as likely to work alongside colleagues on the other side of the world, connecting our learners through open, social platforms in projects that cross levels and disciplines (Cochrane et. al., 2014). I’m constantly learning from and challenged and inspired by those i’m connected to through online networks. The same goes for my students; they challenge me, they inspire me and I learn from them. I’m aware I may be eulogising here, and ‘free-range’ learning and teaching might not be for everybody. However, I can honestly say that now that my courses have become more like unbounded communities of inquiry where we go on a journey together, often into the unknown, I’m genuinely thankful to be ‘teaching’.

Because to teach is to learn together.

When I sat down to write this post I made a list of the reasons why I teach. It’s a long list. It made me realise that while I may have started teaching for reasons that were largely instrumental and accidental, it’s now become who I am.

Later today, we’ll be launching the first unit in Connected Courses: Why We Need a Why. For the kick-off, Mike Wesch will be in conversation with Cathy Davidson and Randy Bass contemplating the purpose of higher education.

Why do we do what we do?

What’s our CORE reason for teaching a specific class?

As a companion ‘make’ for this unit, we want people to share their WHY – specifically, Why Do You Teach? We’d love you to contribute short videos and images that we can pool together into a video like Mike’s A Vision of Students Today – except this time it’s us; faculty.

So have a think. Make a list. Pick one. Pick more than one. It’s always good to remind ourselves why we do what we do.

To find out more about how to contribute, come on over to http://whydoyouteach.wordpress.com

Something for #whyiteach

A post shared by Helen Keegan (@heloukee) on


Cochrane, T., Antonzak, L., Keegan, H., Narayan, V. (2014). Riding the wave of BYOD: developing a framework for creative pedagogies. Research in Learning Technology. Available at: http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/24637. Date accessed: 13 Sep. 2014.

Garrison, Randy & Terry Anderson, (2003). E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice (p. 23).

Keegan, H. (2013). Emerging Pedagogies. In: Fraser, P. and Wardle, J. (Ed) Current Perspectives in Media Education – Beyond the Manifesto. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 128-144. http://usir.salford.ac.uk/29556/

Australia/New Zealand Week One: CANBERRA

I’m writing post in the air (on a chair!) between Australia and New Zealand, where I’m spending nearly six weeks hopping about due to a mix various speaking engagements (seminars, keynotes etc.), and co-delivering hands-on workshops which will mean finally working alongside (yes, as in face-to-face!) some of the people with whom I’ve been collaborating over the past three years. It’s a fantastic opportunity both to share practice with, and learn from others, so in terms of personal development I’m expecting to return to the UK with a much deeper appreciation of learning/curriculum innovation and institutional change elsewhere. The first stop was the Australian capital, where I’ve spent the past week at the University of Canberra and (a last minute addition) the Australian National University, working with staff to explore possibilities for new ways of learning and teaching through social and mobile technologies.


It’s been a fantastic experience so far, and I’m blown away by the talent involved in #ucsaffire – the University of Canberra’s campus-wide project which aims to remodel learning and teaching across disciplines and faculties through integration of digital literacies and pedagogies. The #ucsaffire team come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and between them they cover pretty much everything you’d want in a Teaching and Learning Centre (and then some), including some cutting-edge AR work, an award-winning cinematographer and an amazing woman who alongside specialising in interactive/digital performance has also hitched her way around the world on yachts… (Cynthia, next time I’m coming too! 😉

It’s been a most thought-provoking, challenging and rewarding experience exploring current (and future) practice over here, and I’m genuinely excited about the possibilities for learning and teaching at the University of Canberra, which closely parallels Salford in many ways – so I’ve found myself drawing on not only my own personal experiences, but also the drivers behind learning innovation at my home institution. I look forward to maintaining our relationship virtually as both a critical friend and an ardent supporter of #ucsaffire now that this week has come to an end.

Before sharing some goodbye drinks at the end of the day on Friday (Jean *waves*!), I was whisked over to the Australian National University to present to staff there, and again was heartened by the openness and the attitude towards experimentation with emerging (and in this case, risky) pedagogies. Again, I look forward to keeping in contact and sharing experiences in relation to curriculum design – in this case we were specifically considering simulations and alternate realities in the legal disciplines. Exciting stuff!

It’s not been too bad working in opposite time-zones, as I’m able to do ‘Salford work’ in the early mornings and evenings, with ‘Oz work’ in between. More than ever, I’m appreciating Instagram for ambient social connectivity, and I love being able to stay connected with students back on home turf through photo-sharing – in fact, I’ve found myself referring to Instagram on many occasion this week, as a platform that both academics and learners are using in unanticipated ways to share knowledge and sustain connections over time and space…

Thank you to everybody I’ve met, talked at and talked with this week. You’ve all been wonderful (and a special thanks to Jonathan Powles for inviting me over in the first place and Traci Ward who has looked after me every step of the way), and I’m leaving Canberra feeling rather excited about the road ahead. I probably say this way too much but I’m going to have to say it again…


(pics on Flickr)

The Rest Is Noise: immersion in learning

I’m inspired, energised and brimming with ideas after attending another Rest Is Noise weekend at London’s Southbank. The Rest Is Noise festival (inspired by Alex Ross’ book) is running throughout 2013, and so far I’ve managed to make it to three of these superbly curated weekends of talks, debates, films and performances which “help to explain the relationship between classical music and the social and political changes of the last century”, allowing us “to see the music of that period ‘in the round’ – bringing in the history of science, technology, philosophical and political movements”.

While that (possibly) sounds a little weighty, the programme is so brilliantly put together and accessible that it’s far from elitist. All presentations are engaging, often with some weird and wonderful titbits of information that stick in the mind (“Nazi Porno Kitsch” anybody?). Expertly overseen by the wonderful Jude Kelly, who has an obvious passion not only for the audience experience, but also a deep grasp of the diverse range of topics in the programme, The Rest Is Noise is without doubt my favourite way to spend a weekend in the UK.

There are usually around 5 parallel sessions every hour, but to give you a flavour, highlights so far (for me) have included:

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Teamwork: Interdisciplinarity and Pedagogical Beliefs

A few days ago I attended an ‘away day’ along with my academic colleagues who deliver modules on our BSc Professional Sound and Video Technology degree (PSVT). We’ve been running the PSVT programme for over 10 years now. It is a combined technical/creative degree with elements of audio, video and web. It’s less ‘technical’ than our other course offerings within Computing, Science and Engineering – such as Digital Broadcast Technology and Acoustic Engineering – and while it used to be seen by many as a poorer sibling to the more technical degrees, as our organisational culture has gradually shifted towards interdisciplinarity (resulting mainly from a general shift towards renewed appreciation for interdisciplinarity in HE along with our move to MediaCity) it’s now really coming into its own. Entry tariffs are increasing year-on-year, and our students are building up fantastic portfolios and blurring the boundaries between education and industry through a smorgasbord of live briefs and student placements. And yes, our students ARE awesome.

I’ve never opened up in an online space when it comes to PSVT as a programme – or as a team of educators. Nowadays, our academic identity can be played out over so many spaces; from our personal learning networks (blogs, twitter), to international collaborations (in my, case I often work alongside colleagues in New Zealand and other countries more than I work with colleagues in my own institution). While we work and often socialise together, I’ve certainly never shared deep discussions with most of my immediate colleagues on the PSVT team in relation to THEORIES of learning – and crucially, our personal beliefs. The reason? Partially, time – but also, we’re so damn different…

This is why Tuesday’s meeting was so special. We spent 3 hours together with the sole intention of learning more about one another’s approaches to assessment and module content in order to identify areas for improvement in terms of curriculum, pedagogy and overall coherence. We’re already very proud of the PSVT programme which we review/refine every year, but thanks to ‘Our Leader’ Dave Eustace (sorry Dave, hope I’ve not embarrassed you) we all came away from this meeting with a much deeper understanding of one another’s practice, identifying emerging relationships between modules and discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the broad range of pedagogies that the students experience on the programme, which is highly interdisciplinary in nature. Upon entering the room, we were greeted by guitar music played and recorded by members of the group – enjoyed by us mere mortals while the audiophiles critiqued the production (there’s an insight into the team right there – I love that we can rib one another in this way). Dave had peppered the walls with quotes and articles from educational research/reports designed to get us thinking, and opening up about our practice and how it fits (or not) with the rest of the group.

I feel truly honoured to be part of a team who are able to open up and articulate their beliefs and pedagogies in the complex space that characterises PSVT (traditionalists… progressives… scientists… arts… teaching vs. learning curriculum), and it was basically the perfect end to the academic year for me. These are the kinds of discussions that would be commonplace in a school of education – less so in a science faculty (which is where we ‘belong’). Our discussions were illuminating, informed, respectful, and genuinely rewarding. I feel extremely positive about our team and our programme, and in all honesty it’s great to feel this way after what has been a turbulent time both within our institution and the HE sector in general.

I’d be really interested to hear from others who work in highly interdisciplinary teams. What are your experiences? How to do articulate your practice to one another? How do you resolve tension and conflict in terms of pedagogical beliefs (assessment is an obvious one here)? How do you negotiate the terrain between traditional and progressive approaches, between diverse/competing epistemologies?

So many questions… would love to hear your thoughts.

A new academic year: global, connected, creative – and not (quite) a MOOC

So, teaching starts next week – and yes, I’m excited. Been working on a new MSc module that will essentially be more of a class research project looking based around Spreadable Media (challenging the notion of ‘virality’ following Henry Jenkins et. al.). I think it could be a great way to be both hands-on creative and scholarly in approach, and for learners to develop a really deep understanding of networks, audience, culture – and of course, the social web.

However, semester 2 is going to be full-on in terms of teaching. I’ll have around 100 students on the Social Tech module, and there are so many things I want to do, amazing connections and projects to pursue – old and new – and it’s really exciting but also rather overwhelming. Having to wave goodbye to the possibility of being able to regularly engage with, and comment on, student blogs is quite a wrench (although in all honesty, following 70+ last semester really stretched me to the max…).

SO, I want to carry on developing our current model-which-has-no-name. I’m not sure what it is – it’s not a MOOC, but it’s certainly pretty open, multi-disciplinary, multi-level and networked, and builds on existing communities of practice and the mentoring that has emerged over the past 6 years (staff and ex-students -> current students). Most importantly, it’s creative, occasionally anarchic and relatively ad hoc (it would be wrong to not give a shout out to #ds106 at this point – #DS106!) – which is probably the best way to describe the way things work with our Social Tech modules…

For the past couple of years I’ve been working with @thomcochrane @mediendidaktik @marett @MaxMobile and a whole host of other people around the globe in a community of practice where we’ve had our students working together on creative social tech projects that cross disciplines, levels, time and space. I wrote about one of them here. However, to work on several international collaborations (which are essentially modules in themselves) at one time with 100 learners – hmm. Quite the challenge, unless I change the way I do things…

One of the difficulties when working on these types of projects is not so much navigating the timezones (although very early-morning/late-night hangouts when working on a few of these projects at a time does lead to a sensation of permanent jetlag…), but the staggered semester dates. However, we’ve decided to re-frame this, and so we’re now looking at the ‘tag-team model’ of education: the projects never end, as there is always a cohort to carry on, and lead into the next group, and when they overlap that’s great – that’s where the genuine collaboration happens.

I was recently most heartened to read about Anne Balsamo’s new DOCC: (Distributed Online Collaborative Course) – a project that ‘uses technology to enable interdisciplinary and international conversation while privileging situated diversity and networked agency.’ I’m a huge fan of Anne’s work (reviewed her book ‘Designing Culture’ last year, and have been recommending it to anybody with ANY kind of interest in interdisciplinarity ever since). This is the kind of model that I’m moving towards – globally connected, but with each cohort grounded with their respective institution (accreditation, QA, etc. etc.)

Alongside this, one of the (many) magical moments of 2012 was when some students who weren’t involved in ELVSS (the international mobile film collaborations) approached me at the end of July (yes, the SUMMER HOLIDAYS) with a brilliant idea for a film which required them to be paired up with ELVSS students in New Zealand – they set up a Google Doc, threw ideas around, and filming will start soon. Bear in mind, this is purely interest/passion-driven, nothing to do with an assessed module, but a genuine desire to create with people across the globe. This is the way I want things to go.

Traditionally, we deliver modules/courses, neatly chunked into 12 weeks, with units of assessment, leading to grades etc. and that’s the way things are (generally) done. I’m not saying scrap all of that, but I do think that modules are best served as springboards to other things. Increasingly, students are connecting across levels and cohorts through Twitter and now we have ex-students getting together with current students, undergrads coming to postgrad classes (and vice versa) as they’ve connected online and have a genuine interest in getting involved in other groups/further curricula outside of their taught modules (must give another shout-out to @ugfl and @watersidestudio at this point!). Obviously hashtags play a huge role in developing connections in this learning ecosystem, but it’s this move towards interest-driven projects, facilitated by network connections that really excites me.

So, the final – possibly serendipitous – piece of jigsaw (time will tell) was tonight’s Google Hangout with @courosa, @cogdog and others to talk about the #etmooc that Alec wants to set-up/explore. This was an initial meeting where we threw ideas around, and I must say it was great meeting Lenandlar Singh, who is a MOOC aficionado (as a student) and getting his perspective, alongside Valeria Lopes and @seani – always great to meet new people ☺.

Whether or not this goes anywhere (i’m sure Alec will make it work – he’s the ultimate networked teacher – i’m just not sure i’ll be able to be involved long-term due to all these other projects), it was a great convo, and I went away feeling excited by the possibilities of developing MOOC-like initiatives that aren’t really MOOCs – which is when we started talking about ‘un-moocs’. Alec went straight off and registered several ‘unmooc’ domains, and it all feels rather exciting…

Increasingly, educators are connecting; networks grow and overlap; we’re connecting diverse groups of students across the globe through both ad-hoc informal projects, and more formal approaches where they are assessed/accredited by their own institutions while working together on a common brief. It’s exciting and potentially rather messy.

I’d really love to know what you think – is it practical? How to cope with multiple projects where (for example) G+ hangouts at all hours of day and night are integral to the experience? Should we set up an informal ‘swap shop’ where our students can take courses from elsewhere, but are assessed from their home institution? For instance, I can easily imagine some kind of ‘virtual exchange’ with #ds106. But the burning question for me is: what the hell is this, and does it even need to have a name?

How to (IT) support a Pedagogy of Chaos?

Into the Wild: Embracing the Anarchy
View more presentations from Helen Keegan

I’m delighted to be here to present today’s closing plenary at the UCISA Support Services Conference ‘Great Expectations’, which this year is held at the stunning Crewe Hall. In all honesty I was surprised (and very honoured) to be invited, as I’m basically an IT Support person’s worst nightmare (well at least, that’s what I’ve been told 😉 ). However, it’s been great to meet people who are doing brilliant things and working tirelessly to support students and staff in the use of technologies – even if some of the terminology (e.g. delivering services to customers) sends a shiver down my spine. I’m pretty sure some of the stuff I’ll be talking about will make people feel equally uncomfortable.

Preparing for this, and learning about the views of the IT support community, have made me realise that I’m gradually developing a pedagogy of chaos. It’s gone from learning through paranoia, through to learning through frustration… and now this. Having spent time away from my like-minded PLN I’m reflecting on my practice from an IT support POV and realising that in many ways it’s completely unmanaged and unmanageable. We often don’t know what’s happening from one week to the next, what devices/platforms we’ll use – they’re often learner-driven and/or negotiated… along with the curriculum and the assessment. Students are pretty much free to use whatever they want, as long as they take responsibility for that particular tool/platform/programming language.

As an example, in a recent project we had students from the UK, ES, NZ and DE working across levels, disciplines and timezones to produce transmedia reports for one another. Not only was it just-in-time learning, it was just-in-time curriculum planning with the respective tutors meeting up via Google hangouts the night before classes to plan activities which would work for everybody. Each country/group of learners used different sets of tools, and none of us knew every tool. I probably only mastered around 6 or 7 – they used approx. 40 in total. Students found tools they thought looked interesting and learnt about them and presented them to one another. This meant that there was always a resident expert in whatever tool. Nobody complained because the tutors didn’t know all the tools. They produced creative reports which spanned multiple platforms, and we all learnt from one another in a global Community of Practice.

As lecturers, we have the luxury of being able to engage in daily/weekly dialogue with our learners. We can talk honestly and openly, levelling out the power relationship, becoming co-learners alongside our students, the result being that when we don’t know how to use a certain tool they’re pretty cool about it. We’re working from the ground up.

For IT services staff, it’s largely driven from the top-down, with increasing pressure to ‘deliver enhanced services’. However, IT support staff can’t be expected to learn/support every tool/platform/app that appears – most of them don’t stay around for more than a couple of years before they either a) collapse, or b) something better comes along. We can’t expect IT services staff to support everything – but what I HAVE found is that learners love to share their expertise with one another, and there’s generally at least 1 ‘expert’ user of any tool in an institution.

At the risk of sound all ‘Big Society’ (shoot me now…), I do think there’s a place for resident student IT/app experts – in whatever platform comes along this week/month (and dies as quickly) – alongside centralised IT support for the ‘big stuff’. Some kind of accreditation would be great for students, along the lines of Mozilla Badges perhaps? Anything which shows that they’ve shared their knowledge with the wider community.

So that’s it really. I’ll be interested to hear from the UCISA crowd, see what they think about this. It’s something I’d definitely like to see happening at Salford – random, ad hoc, user support groups as devices and platforms emerge. It often happens informally already through Twitter, Facebook etc. – but by recognising/rewarding, there would be less pressure on IT services, more kudos to learners and their interests/skills.

MIT Media Lab: The Principles

Loved this morning’s energetic and inspiring keynote from Joichi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab at the NMC Conference (see the blur in this pic? that’s energy, right there… hehe):
Here's @Joi in action at #nmc12

You can watch the whole thing here on iTunesU. Here are THE PRINCIPLES that got us all fired up and will no doubt appeal to anybody with a rebellious streak 😉

RESILIENCE instead of strength

PULL instead of push

RISK instead of safety

SYSTEMS instead of objects

COMPASSES instead of maps

PRACTICE instead of theory

DISOBEDIENCE instead of compliance

CROWDS instead of experts

LEARNING instead of education