What is the role of a teacher?

Jenny has raised many exciting questions in her post that I couldn’t resist to think.  I think it requires a collaborative response, that is a discussion forum to generate various perspectives.

The questions that arise from Jenny’s post in considering the teacher’s changing role are:

  • Does the teacher need to control or direct the conversation/learning? – always, sometimes, never?
  • Is the teacher necessarily the expert in a given learning situation? Who is the expert? How is expertise defined?It’s interesting that the discussion that attracted most interest in the Critical Literacies course was the one on “the evolving definition of ‘expert’ ”.
  • Does the teacher need to intervene in the learning process? When? Why? How much?
  • Is the teacher accountable  for the learner s learning? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • Does the teacher need to build a relationship with a learner? What might be the ethical consequences of this relationship?

Traditional teaching which are based on a didactic approach may be more appropriate for (adult) learners who are looking for structured learning to well defined outcomes and solutions.  Here the teacher employs a structured teaching process, leading the learners to the “right” or most appropriate answers or responses to the questions, and thus achieving the learning outcomes in an “effective and efficient” manner.

The challenge with such traditional teaching is: Is this what the learner wants? Is the adult learner interested or motivated with this mode of teaching?  How about the adult learner’s previous experience?  How would that be taken into account in the teaching-learning process?  What would be the expectations of these adult learners as they progress in their learning journey?  What happens if they have acquired the metacognitive skills in learning and thinking?  Should these learners be encouraged and supported to learn more independently or interdependently especially in an online or open education environment?

Also traditional way of teaching may not fit well when there are no standard answers or responses to the problems or projects, especially when these problems are complicated or complex ones, or are “ill-defined with unpredictable outcomes”.  So many of the problems require an innovative and novel approach – using PLE and or Community of Practice (COP) learning , rather than mere teaching, to provide the solution.  The teacher within the network, COPs may act as a facilitator, a mentor or a guide, a curator, or a technologist, but most often the teacher may appear as a peer learner, an expert learner, rather than a traditional expert of the field in order to encourage participation and engagement of adult learners.

Refer to this teacher as evolving expert and process experts and content experts

“Supporters of the truly collaborative approach feel that there is no need for that authority to be a content expert. However, studies conducted at several medical schools across Canada, the USA and Europe dispute this idea. For example, in an analysis of student performance following small group experiences with experts and non expert tutors, students at the University of Michigan Medical School rated their experiences with content experts significantly higher than those led by non-experts. They felt that even though an expert tutor may ask the same questions as a non-expert tutor, that the expert was more inclined to ask the questions at the most opportune time and was better able to reframe the question in a way that was more valuable to the students. Ultimately, the students who were assigned to the groups led by content experts scored significantly higher on their final exam.[5] In another study, conducted at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, it was determined that expert tutors use their knowledge to ask more effective questions and are better equipped to keep the groups from floundering.[6] This raises the question of whether a process expert can adequately assess student progress and determine when intervention is optimal and beneficial.”

In a networked learning environment – such as an online course or a social network, can a process expert adequately assess learner progress and determine when intervention is optimal and beneficial?

In this Networked Learning Benjamin commented:

“To what extent is the help of teacher necessary?”

This question is at the root of determining where teachers and students lie when looking at the teacher-control/autonomous dichotomy. Using terms like “approach” or “roles” seems a bit too permanent when one considers the act of teaching and learning as being complex. Instead, being a didactic instructor, facilitator, and coach resemble “activities” as opposed to roles or approaches since teachers, students, and other actors within the learning ecosystem move in and out of these positions quite fluidly depending on the particular discourse. The goal of the teacher is to be prepared to move in and out of these three positions as well as create the same mindset with the students in a way that promotes sustainability. Sustainability will thus allow for learnings – or “understandings” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) to emerge in a more natural and profound way.

I agreed on his views.

In a Chinese motto (that was from Confucius), where there are three people walking together, there must be a teacher for me. So, the meaning of teacher could be “outside” the traditional definition of a teacher being “more” knowledgeable or experienced.  The teacher could just be anyone who could teach me on anything that would add value to me, or to share experience with.  The teacher could be the community, the various people that I interact with, a mentor,  a sounding board which could help me to think and reflect, or one who uses the artifacts to influence, inspire me in the thinking and learning process or journey.
Photos: From Flickr
So, Jenny, Heli, Steve, are we all learning together here whilst sharing our perspectives?
We are all learning together and there is no clear boundary as to who is the “teacher” and who is the learner anymore. Teaching is a “teach” and “nurturing” process which should benefit both the “teacher” and “learner”.  Otherwise, teaching becomes just a one way flow of information, which could be like spoon feeding, without any “digestion”, thinking and reflection required by the learner.
Such spoon feeding teaching may work for novice learners, or young learners who haven’t mastered their basics of learning, but this doesn’t always mean that they are effective or ineffective means of teaching, as it all depends on the context.
In summary, the changing role of a teacher will depend on the type and background of learners, their learning styles, needs and expectations and also the relationship between the teacher and learners, as you mentioned.


One thought on “What is the role of a teacher?

  1. Pingback: #CritLit2010 Social Networked Learning « Suifaijohnmak's Weblog

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