We are the audience; we are the performers


On a dank autumnal evening in 2013 I found myself in an old Royal Mail sorting office next to Paddington Station in London. Along with a friend, I had come to see Punchdrunk Theatre’s latest production “The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable” – an immersive theatre production that transported Büchner’s ‘Woyzeck’ into a fictional 1960s film studio. Punchdrunk are pioneers of what’s commonly known as ‘immersive theatre’; site-specific productions characterised by multiple narratives, non-sequential action and audience participation. Split into groups of ten, we were given masks to wear throughout (our ‘fourth wall’) and bundled into a lift before being let loose into a sprawling and disorientating four-storey maze of surreal sets, haunting soundtracks, bizarre dialogues and voyeuristic glimpses into snatched moments and fictional lives. This was immersive theatre at its best, and despite thinking that I’d struggle to engage for more than an hour (I was suffering from inbox anguish at the time), three hours later there we were; reunited through the haze after an intense and rewarding experience in which we had all been part of the action due to the blurring of boundaries between performers and audience.

My friend and I had been separated almost instantly upon arriving in the space, and were eager to discuss our experiences, to share stand-out moments, to compare notes, to analyse and deconstruct what we had taken place. However, after a few exchanges along the lines of: a) “Did you see (insert scene)?” and b) *blank look* “No?!”, we soon realised that we weren’t able to share our stand-our moments. Despite attending the same ‘performance’ we had managed to be part of completely different scenes, with only two overlaps (shared experiences) in the whole three hours. That’s the thing about immersive theatre at this scale: everybody’s experience is unique.

I’ve been thinking a lot about immersive theatre this week, as there are many parallels between a production like “The Drowned Man” and Connected Courses:

“Several reviews have complimented the scale of the production and the ambitious use of multiple narratives, whilst also commenting that the scale can at times make the experience feel fragmented and difficult to follow.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Drowned_Man_(2013_play)

Ring any bells?


Fast forward to the second week of Unit One of Connected Courses: Why We Need a Why. It’s been a fantastic experience so far, beginning with Mike Wesch in conversation with Cathy Davidson and Randy Bass (video here) contemplating the purpose of higher education and the importance of the WHY. This Storify to captures the opening event as it played out on Twitter, highlighting the main themes as they resonated with the #ccourses participants who were tweeting during the session.

Immediately after Mike’s opener, we launched the #whyiteach video project (still a few days left to contribute to this – hint hint), and it has been a joy to see the thoughtful, inspiring and imaginative contributions rolling in (both text and visual media) from #ccourses participants – and beyond!

Mimi Ito then hosted two ‘blogside chats’, Friday with Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, the authors of Academically Adrift and Aspiring Adults Adrift (video here), then Monday with Vera Michalchik and William Penual, to discuss assessment in connected courses  (video here).

In case you’ve missed all of this, @paulsignorelli has written a couple of posts that offer excellent summaries of the unit so far: Connected Courses MOOC and #oclmooc: The “Why” of Connections, Collaboration, and Learning and Connected Courses MOOC (#ccourses) and #oclmooc: Connections (and Learning) Everywhere 

At this point I’ll quote Paul (both from the above posts):

Various learners often walk away from learning opportunities with tremendously different results and rewards”

Participation in the latest #ccourses session, earlier today, inspired interweavings so wonderfully complex (and tremendously rewarding) that it could be days or weeks or months before those interweavings are completely apparent.”

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?


I’m acutely aware that I’ll have no doubt missed other excellent summaries. One of the challenges of participating in such a vibrant community is that it can be a struggle to keep up with all the activity. It’s been brilliant reading and commenting on posts, meeting new people and pushing one another’s thinking – but alongside the ‘day job’ it can be difficult to keep up with everything when a community is so active.

We are all the audience; we are all performers.

I know that while highlighting selected posts I’ll be missing so many other, equally wonderful #ccourses contributions. I am certainly indebted to several people who have written posts which I’ll be using as teaching resources (thank you – you know who you are as I’ve commented and tweeted), such as this one from ‪@l4lp reflecting on learner perspective: http://outloudlearning.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/five-whys/. I loved @Googleguacamole’s post “Round Students, Square Colleges” (an analogy which will resonate for many of us). The #whyiteach contributions are pretty damn amazing. I loved @Marj_K’s “Every new semester… I re-work the boundaries between the known and the unknown” ‪http://wp.me/p50q4Y-D – and I can’t forget this one from @EatcherVeggies http://teachingbeyondtropes.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/the-meat-of-it-whyiteach.html – this made a real impact. There are so many demonstrating real passion and richness of thought (which reminds me, I need to update the #whyiteach GDoc…)

I’ve connected with many wonderful educators already through #ccourses and it’s been amazing how quickly we have bonded through a combination of blog-based discussion and tweeting, which has led into back-channel communication of the Skype/Google Hangout variety. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know @Bali_Maha in that ‘kindred spirit’ kind of way where you meet somebody online and feel connected through sharing such a similar (learning) world-view. At this point I want to mention other people but then am wary of excluding others through reifying a specific group, if that makes sense!

I’ve always been fascinated by individual perceptions and experiences of learning webs, knowing that ‘my (imagined) community’ is different from ‘your (imagined) community’. I imagine #ccourses as one of those bubble screensavers, we’re all popping in and out of view, constantly growing and shrinking and moving and overlapping and intersecting – and sometimes missing one another entirely…

“Despite attending the same ‘show’ we had managed to be part of completely different scenes, with only one overlap (shared experience). That’s the thing about immersive theatre at this scale: everybody’s experience is unique.” (Me, at the start of this post)

This could equally apply to Connected Courses. In the past, I have been reluctant to join MOOCs when I’ve missed the beginning, feeling like it will be impossible to ‘catch up’. This whole #ccourses experience is leading me to view things differently. The community/network is welcoming and encouraging, and I’d strongly urge those who may be interested but possibly overwhelmed by the amount of activity to-date just to dive in! Say hi, follow the blog feed, share your thoughts – dip in and out as you can. I’ll be bringing my postgrad students (Research Methods) along for the ride when we hit Unit Four as I think this will be relevant for their course. To quote a #ccourses participant:

“It’s never to late to dive into a cMOOC.” 

And finally, here’s the advice from Punchdrunk:

Your curiosity is key. The more you explore, the richer your experience will be. Delve in, be bold, and immerse yourself.

Now, where’s that blog feed….

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/

The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Online

At this year’s ALT-C conference, I’ll be contributing to a symposium session along with Frances Bell, Josie Fraser and Richard Hall. In our session, The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Online, we will pose a range of issues for debate, provoking participants to reconsider the costs of participation online, openness, and the sharing of resources. I’ll be focusing practice-based scenarios based on the publishing and sharing of digital artefacts that highlight areas of uncertainty, risk and the personal cost of openness. In this post, i’m exploring ideas around:

The Tyranny of Authenticity (identity) Continue reading