I am Associate Dean (Curriculum) in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS) at the Open University (OU). I am a Senior Lecturer in German at the School of Languages and Applied Linguistics and a Fellow of the Higher Education Agency. I am principal investigator of the “Winding Roads to Languages” research and scholarship project, a longitudinal investigation regarding the impact of Language Studies on graduates of all ages.
As an academic researcher and teacher, I challenge reductionist thinking and long held beliefs and practices about how language and culture shape people’s perception of themselves and the worlds around them. I debunk myths about how we learn languages and the role languages take on in our lives. As a teacher and doctoral supervisor, I give students licence to explore the practices they need to be effective and authentic in todays’ multilingual and multicultural world. My work is supported by more than 30 years of studying, researching and teaching literature, culture, language and ideology in Higher Education in Germany (Freiburg University) and the UK (University College London and, since 1999, the Open University).
As a university leader, I focus on curriculum policy and practice, and challenge structures that are outdated or needlessly reduce the scope, flexibility and transparency of degree study. I have worked in relevant positions (e.g. Programme Director for Language Studies from 2012-16) and chair a qualifications advisory group which has influenced academic framework policy. In my leadership, I build bridges between people, stakeholders and staff groups based on trust and alignment, and I regularly support and mentor colleagues. My work is grounded in my extensive academic leadership and my experience as a qualified, professional coach. My respectful, collaborative and compassionate leadership style is widely recognised across the University.
I am the principal investigator of the Winding Roads to Languages project (WIROLA), a seven year longitudinal study at the OU (since September 2016) that tracks how the study of language and culture at degree level changes people’s capacity, capability and confidence for languages and learning, and how this impacts on their careers and personal lives. It is a multidisciplinary study that investigates, over the duration of the project, student progression and development of a cohort of some 150 students. At the level of the individual, it explores how the studies and the changes in the external environment play out in the complex lives of the learners, based on case studies with seven years’ worth of data. The scope in lengths and participant cohort size and demographics is a significant and original contribution to established work in the field. The multidisciplinary design of the project and its focus on learner narratives intends to further a body of work in Linguistics and cultural studies that is still very recent.
Previously, I investigated the identities, beliefs and values of Associate Lecturers (ALs) in Languages at The Open University and how they mediate intercultural awareness and competence with their own beliefs, values and their teaching practice in distance education. It showed the extend to which research has entered teaching practices and teacher identities in some cases, but also the long journey ahead to firmly embed what we now know or are beginning to know, in teaching contexts.
In another project, I explored how competent and mature L2 learners (CEFR C1/B2) negotiate personal identity and culture in discussions about ‘languaculture’ and ‘rich points’ (Agar, 1995) in self-organised asynchronous text forums. The ability for students to self-manage, construct their own discussions and arguments, and share their life experiences, all in the target language, has influenced my own teaching approach for language students. I am now keen to explore further an emerging sub-theme of ‘trust’ in students’ abilities, competencies and resourcefulness.
In my doctoral research, I challenged common beliefs about research and scholarship during Nazi Germany and the shadows this period cast on the young (West)-German republic. My study on the literary scholar Benno von Wiese discusses notions of guilt, party membership and wilful ignorance in the process of dealing with the cultural heritage of Germany’s darkest period in the 20th century. Working through history is all too often a binary pursuit of opposites and extremes, further compromised by relying on crude proxies (eg. party membership) with only scant recognition of how the complexity of life in politically turbulent times shapes a single person’s attitude and behaviour. Such historically and culturally situated work remains highly relevant, as the current Brexit debate and the polarisation into ‘Brexiters’ and ‘Remainers’ aptly demonstrates.
More recently, I’ve become interested in both formal and every day public speaking, and how, as a result, people show up and start to own their leadership potential. I regularly run workshops on this for university staff and students, as well as holding specialised workshops for multilingual teachers/researchers who (have to) operate regularly in a second language, for example as English Medium Instructors.
Past research includes instant messaging and social bookmarking in language learning, as well as government funded research into Language learning at keystage 2 (2007-2009). I have organised conferences, edited and published in the fields of migration, German film studies and the history of German Studies.
I am editorial board member of IJPL (International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning) and previously of GfL (German as a foreign Language). I was president of the Association of Modern German studies (AMGS) for almost a decade and co-organised conferences and edited special issues in areas relevant to the HE and Schools sector which AMGS aimed to bridge.
My teaching and learning portfolio covers all levels in German Studies at the OU and also cross-languages modules such as Exploring languages and cultures. As a Higher Education teacher , I aim to raise learners’ awareness of the potential of language, their own and those there are studying. I also foreground perspectives that shape learners experience through language, such as multilingual identities, and intercultural professional/communicative competence. The skills-content divide in Language Studies is rarely in service of students needs and I consider my courses and materials to provide a bridge for students to cross that divide and overcome the limitations that stem from it. Teaching economy is rapidly becoming a major factor in learning design and I have led or contributed substantially to initiatives that deliver quality and authentic studying in sustainable ways. I have also contributed extensively to the innovation of pedagogy, production and delivery of audio visual learning materials online.
Teaching at the Open University includes the design and production of learning materials in print (books), video and audio (documentaries, interviews and language practice recordings), and online task-based and collaborative activities. This work connects me to ten years of professional broadcasting experience as a sound man in Stuttgart, Germany, at the beginning of my career. Teaching at the Open University therefore closes a professional and also personal loop in my life.
Being an academic is about more that creating new knowledge and inspiring the next generation of academics. We must also create embodied legacies for the public that can ripple through society and enable people to become active citizens in their communities. I do this
by way of educational artefacts and live or recorded personal appearances. Outside my teaching role, I have produced and authored Open Educational Resources on aspects of languages and cultures. Drawing on my professional experience, my broadcast media work includes academic lead adviser on the BBC three-part documentary Berlin (2009) and several live broadcast appearances on the OUstudenthub platform since June 2015 (http://studenthublive.kmi.open.ac.uk/).
I run workshops on public speaking to encourage participants to take a stance, show up and, with their actions, begin to shape the world within their reach. As Speaker Curation Director for TEDxCoventGardenWomen 2016 and 2017 and TEDx speaker coach, I support people to find and develop their voice and presence for their ‘ideas worth sharing’.
In a public talk in 2015 I’ve come full circle and addressed my early professional life as a sound man and editor in German public radio and television. “Learning to love the sound of languages” explores the acoustic impact and immediate connection with the sound of other languages when we come into contact with them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebV0YTD0lKg).