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Knowledge and learning have always been crucial components in my life, and important for shaping my identities[1]. I remember my mum hunched over the living room table with endless Norwegian papers to grade, and I remember what it felt like to “read” comics with my dad or my older brother, before I eventually came to understand the words without their help – just like magic!

In my role as a student I adopted additional role models, and I have pleasant early memories of what it was like to learn something new and to spot new connections, whether it be alone with a book (mostly), on an online discussion forum (increasingly), or together with teachers and fellow pupils inside a classroom (OK, I do remember that, too). Doors would open. One of my English teachers in middle school was in the process of writing their master’s thesis, and through them I could see contours of something I had yet to understand fully. I gradually came to realise that their teaching emerged from a place of genuine interest and great knowledge; that there was even more knowledge there than what was revealed to us, and that part of their motivation lay in the potential for sparking a similar enthusiasm in their students.

In addition to my school experiences, my perspectives on knowledge, learning and teaching are also to a great extent influenced by my own experiences as a more mature student in higher education. In this I seem to be prototypical, as research into teacher cognition shows “there is ample evidence that teachers’ experiences as learners can inform cognitions about teaching and learning which continue to exert an influence on teachers throughout their career” (Borg, 2003, p. 81). Since I now primarily teach courses and topics that resemble the courses listed on my own grade transcript, I know that I have consciously and subconsciously adopted, continued and built on teaching practices I was exposed to myself as a student, and the learning strategies I developed then.

I still carry with me many more or less subconscious ideas about “What Works”, because it worked well for my past student self in these important and formative years. Overall, these practices can be said to originate in a view of knowledge as “transferable” (from lecturer/textbook to student), a dominant view that has undergone much scrutiny (cf. e.g. Bruner (1997, as cited in Wittek, 2006), Pettersen (2005), Skodvin (2006) and Pike (2018)). I try to keep these experiences in store, and I think my motivation for learning more about teaching and learning has largely consisted in trying to unlock as many of my role models’ secrets as possible. Approaches that emphasised knowledge «transfer» through (predominantly) monologic lectures and long reading lists gave me a (much sought-after!) sense of agency and independence, and enough room to digest and engage with the course literature on my own terms. Through reading and listening, thinking and note-taking, writing and re-shaping my thinking, I engaged in “conversation” with the lecturers in the lecture halls and the writers on the page, even in teaching situations where I never opened my mouth to speak. It seemed to me I was taking part in a highly active process. Bakhtin discussed this notion of the human utterance as inherently dialogic in his “The problem of speech genres”:

(…) the role of these others, for whom my thought becomes actual thought for the first time (and thus also for my own self as well) is not that of passive
listeners, but of active participants in speech communication. From the very beginning, the speaker expects a response from them, an ac­tive responsive understanding. The entire utterance is constructed, as it were, in anticipation of encountering this response” (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 94).

From Bakhtin’s point of view, a lecture simply cannot be purely monologic, and this resonates well with me and with my own experiences as a student. As noted by Skodvin (2000), Bakhtin emphasises the active presence of past and present voices in any given speech situation, and the lecture is no exception: “In this way, the auditorium consists of a whole choir of voices” (p. 17, my translation).

Inspired by colleagues and students, however, I very quickly developed an interest in knowing more about alternative paths to learning, including how to reach people whose past experiences with teaching and learning have been less magical than my own. My own approach to teaching has become increasingly characterized by a view of knowledge as not only «transferable» (or formed as a result of individually engaging with others’ speech and writing), but also emergent, continuously constructed through engaging in activities and interaction with peers (cf. Bruner, 1997, as cited in Wittek, 2006). As Pike (2018) observes, there seems to be support in recent research into learning in higher education even for the lecture, which “works when it promotes engagement, has a steady stream of feedback, and is linked to clear learning goals” (Pike, 2018, p. 145). Lectures also require the important (and often overlooked) oral skill of listening, a skill that can be challenged and developed, and in the process challenge and develop thinking (Nordkvelle, 2007). Principles from the “pedagogically driven lecture” (Saroyan & Snell, 1997, as cited in Fritze & Nordkvelle, 2016) can be combined with even more student-active forms of learning. These days, it is first and foremost from this perspective that I aim to help and encourage my students “to learn deeply and remarkably” (Bain, 2004, p. 5).

[1] In agreement with Bucholtz and Hall (2005), the idea that identity is fundamentally a relational phenomenon – emerging and shifting through interaction with others – resonates with me. In these sections, I emphasize the professional parts of me, viz. my identity as a learner and a teacher/lecturer as it has emerged – and is emerging – through my training and experience, and in relation to the people I meet on this path.

–> 2. English (corpus) linguistics at center stage

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