Teaching Philosophy

My own education prior to beginning PhD study at Bangor University was undertaken in American institutions.  In both secondary school and university programs, I primarily attended small seminar-based classes, incorporating open discussions, group exercises, and frequent essay-based assessments.  As such, these experiences have contributed largely to my own teaching philosophy and methods.  I also feel that my wide base of teaching experiences – from teaching in American universities, teaching online in the UK's Open University, and my current position teaching at Bangor University – allow me to apply a variety of techniques and approaches in my teaching.

I am a cross-disciplinary instructor, as I work in the areas of Creative Writing, Technical Writing, and Digital Media.  As a practitioner as well as a researcher in all of these areas, I am comfortable approaching teaching these subjects in both practical contexts and theory-based contexts.  Further, my professional experience as a writer – professional and creative – allows me to offer a real-world perspective to the material that benefits students interested in careers in the Creative Industries.

The Master's in Professional Writing degree (a terminal degree in the U.S., considered PhD-equivalent in the Creative Writing field) I earned from the University of Southern California enhanced my writing experiences and skills in areas such as Fiction (Short and Long Form), Creative Non-fiction, Technical Writing, and Scriptwriting.  I have been able to offer this expertise to MA students as their supervisor over the past two years, for a wide range of Creative Writing projects.  I have found this experience, as well as the experience supervising 3rd year students in their undergraduate dissertations, illuminating.  The dissertation experience at Bangor University, similar to my dissertation experience at USC, is a largely independent research endeavour; my role as a supervisor is not only to ensure the students complete the project, but to ensure they understand the expectations surrounding the project, how to research effectively, how to plan a research project, and how to manage time.  I feel I have progressed significantly as a supervisor, and as I greatly enjoy the in-depth explorations these dissertations encourage, I look forward to more supervision experiences.

At postgraduate level, I firmly believe that research into the creative arts should be composed not only of the creative project, but a critical discussion as well.  This critical discussion should include, but certainly not be limited to reflective analysis.  The creative and the critical feed into each other, much in the same way that scientists’ literature reviews and experiments are intertwined, forming the base of their research knowledge.  Undergraduates are introduced to this link in some modules, and possibly in their dissertations, but I find that many enter into their MA program with a limited understanding of practice-based research.  It is expected that creative practitioners will focus heavily on the creative elements; while this focus on the craft of art is appropriate in practitioner-based degrees such as the MFA, it is insufficient for research degrees.  I have begun emphasising the importance of creative work as research in my advanced-level modules, promoting active research design and participation, in an effort to better prepare students for their practice-based or -led dissertations.

In the classroom, I find that my research is also very beneficial to my students.  As a creative writer who has worked to publish in mainstream markets as well as experimented with form and process as a practice-based researcher, I am able to offer students guidance on shaping stories for publication in addition to exploring current theory and methods.  My experience with the digital platforms I have used to create my own work – from code-based applications like Processing, Action-scripting and HTML to WYSIWYG and Web 2.0 platforms such as blogging and wikis – enables me to help students develop the practical skills and troubleshooting required when working with these tools.  This cross-disciplinary experience and approach will enable me to coordinate modules that seek to teach students to write fiction specifically for digital media, a genre of creative writing requiring as unique a skill set as scriptwriting or poetry.  Writing for digital media is more than writing a story down and then adding hyperlinks and images; it requires an understanding of the medium itself, how it can shape the story, how it affects the reader, how it affects the writer's process.  In my experience, while many programs offer literary analysis modules that examine digital texts, few programs have personnel with the skill-set to teach students how to write the digital texts themselves.  I feel this is a particular strength that I can offer to a department seeking to be on the forefront of the digital fiction/writing field.

I also feel that digital media offer interesting tools for learning in general.  As part of my portfolio for my Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education, I conducted a teaching and learning “cycle” examining how reading and writing entries for the Electronic Literature Directory can be an effective tool for enhancing critical thinking and communication.  I used the ELD as a resource and active exercise in creative writing and literature courses to improve my students' critical analysis skills, specifically textual analysis, and to enhance their ability to read and interact with electronic literature.  Overall, the results demonstrated that while this innovation was successful in improving critical analysis among first- and second-year students, it was only the first in a series of possible actions to address this issue.

When it comes to my teaching, I do tend to create a learning environment as close to my ideal as possible: small class size, open discussions, plenty of critical thinking exercises, and a clear structure that lays a path for students to follow to meet the class goals.  As I often teach writing or practical digital media courses, the class size is never inordinately large, though often larger than I would prefer for some of the more in-depth activities.  I am constantly striving, however, to find new ways to generate discussion and build the class structure so that it best suits the students.  I feel that confidence in discussions and development of critical thinking skills go hand in hand.  As students gain confidence in their ideas in one forum, they are more capable of expressing them in the other.  In my future classes, I am trying to find ways to develop this confidence, including breaking into smaller groups for discussion, playing games, incorporating informal presentations, and having the students keep reflective journals or blogs.

I hope continue to develop methods that engage my students more in the classroom, and to build their critical thinking skills both in their writing and their discussions.  Clearly, this is a constantly evolving process, so I treat all teaching as a learning experience myself, keeping notes and reflections my classes and supervisees.