Building castles in the university sandbox

University can be a big sandbox in which to build skills, be creative and have fun.

This is the teaching philosophy of John Reed, lecturer in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. He teaches The Matter of Technology to first-year students. The course sounds on paper to cover seemingly dry material, but Reed (and the course) is anything but dry.

“I was not a straight-arrow student. I went to five universities before I had my BA,” Reed says. “University is called ‘universe-ity’ because you are supposed to come in contact with all these things you don’t expect and that is what makes the exciting changes in your life.”

Don’t be afraid of taking different courses or changing your mind about your studies, Reed says. University is all about self-discovery.

“I was like a pinball and bounced all over the place,” he says. “If you don’t know who you want to be or what you want to do, that is frustrating and scary, but that is the greatest creative force in your life.”

Reed walked an unconventional route to university.

He dropped out of university to pursue a career in Hollywood. He worked for Walt Disney and freelanced, all while climbing the ranks in television and film production. He learned the business behind making live television and awards shows, but after eight years in show business, he realized he wanted something different.

At the age of 28, Reed became a frosh student again.

“I worked for a while and realized what a privilege it is to undertake an education,” he says. “Even though I was in a fascinating career, I didn’t have any real choice over how I wanted my life to go and that’s when I started thinking about going back to school.

“So when I came back, I’ve been dancing ever since.”

Teaching a course covering the history of technology has present day relevance, he notes.

Technology such as smart phones and iPads might be new innovations, but the way life is disrupted by technology is not new, he says, citing the introduction of the steam engine as an example.

He encourages students to take the course content and find relevance in other classes or their own lives. While it may not be the first choice course for most, he sees it as a personal challenge to change their minds.

“I really want them to see that they already live this stuff; they are just not paying attention to it,” he explains. “It’s new media, but it is also old media.”

His workplace experience has given Reed a unique lens to reflect the course information. He is not just speaking from a textbook; he once lived it.

“I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity to introduce anyone to anything, and I get to introduce them to university, which is more than just buildings or dorms. It can be one of those great tectonic shifts in a person’s life,” Reed says. “What a fantastic opportunity.”