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/

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.

The Joy of Teaching: Learning Journeys and Transformations

One of my undergraduate students posted his weekly course reflections earlier this evening, and I was really moved by this post – extract:

“I cannot shake the growing feeling of “loss” which comes from moving to another semester and the introduction of new lecturers and their module content whilst in the same breath saying goodbye to the friends I have made.”

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ALT-C 2010: Personal highlights

A 4am start the morning after the ALT-C Gala Dinner isn’t what i’d have hoped for (on the way to another event), but on the plus side it does mean there’s some time for bleary-eyed train reflection on what has been a fantastic conference…

ALT-C montage

Where to begin? Well, I could start with Donald Clark’s provocative opening keynote, which certainly caused a bit of a stir. It must be disconcerting for a speaker to visit a conference hashtag (or ‘harshtag’) and realise that they haven’t been received quite so warmly as they may have hoped – brings to mind danah boyd’s heartwrenching post about her experiences at Web 2.0 expo, although i’m guessing the ALT-C crowd would empathise with danah, and bar the immediacy of the twitter back-channel (which wasn’t shown on the screen during the ALT-C keynote) the Web 2.0 expo/ALT-C audiences probably had different expectations and experiences of the speaker’s overall thesis. Luckily the other keynotes didn’t suffer the same fate, including our very own Salford Vice Chancellor Martin Hall, who really impressed the audience with his realistic and informed perspective on new technologies, the codification of knowledge and what this might mean for formal university education.

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Social Media, Education, Industry – and Motivation

(NOTE: There’s a fair bit of context in this post, so the main points are in bold)

When the time came to deliver my new MSc module in Social Media (February 2010) I was feeling a touch apprehensive: firstly, the terminology – since writing the module spec for programme approval a few years ago, attitudes towards the term ’social media’ had changed. The term itself was being seen as increasingly meaningless, the seemingly inevitable downside of buzz-terminology. However, more importantly I was worried about the content, much of which would draw on sociocultural theory, digital literacy and the ’soft’ side of media production (meanwhile the students are working towards technical MScs…). As their other modules were pretty techie I did wonder if they’d object to something that was so epistemologically different and diverse. Continue reading