About 10 years ago, I got the chance of visiting European Union institutions in Brussels with others students. During one of the visits, we were guided by an Italian, who was working as European functionary for several years. What I want to recall is a question he made: “What’s exactly the European Union?” Certainly, it’s not like the United States, nor like the NATO, nor like a UN… “What’s is this like? To what point want European countries join themselves?” His own answer was that probably there is no answer, and only time will decide. Of course, there is a substrate, a common will. However, there is a lot of things to be discovered and determined.
Probably it is the same in education. There is like a two dimension principle of uncertainty which make it difficult -or sometimes impossible- to give accurate predictions (time) or generalized description of the current global reality (space). Far from skepticism or anarchism, I only want to point that we must be careful when make assessments if we move through time or if we try to generalize. What is more, it could be better if we were able to identified what things, attitudes, methods, etc. have worked in the past years. Since it is difficult to generalize, we teachers have the privilege of analyze our own experience, even of our scholar years.
Given this kind of introduction, there are a number of ideas in the readings of this week that I have liked, and others that put me on guard. I will start with the ones I don’t agree, and then go straight and dedicate this entry to the ideas that I like. I cannot help disagreeing with the generalized critic to traditional learning. In fact, I had liked many assessments made by J. S. Brown. For example:
Inquiry is not a new idea. Is was a core principle of Plato’s academy and it was the cornerstone of John Dewey’s education philosophy. Until now, however, it has not really been possible on a large scale. We now possess a technological infrastructure.
Great! There is nothing as old as liking to have new ideas, and so, there must be many people who may have done better than us. However, we now have such means as they have never dreamed about.
Let us continue with what I have liked and answer the question about the teacher’s role.
Brown expose the distinction between teacher and mentor. One comment I have read in Diigo, made by Vicki Grenier, says that “a mentor is a teacher, in a way, and a teacher is a mentor. A teacher wears so many different hats. Certainly being a mentor is one of them. I think in order to be a mentor you need to have something to teach…maybe it’s a passion you share, but in order to mentor someone else you need to have a slightly larger knowledge base.” I quite agree, and I would add that there are other roles of importance, such as educator (in a humanistic, intellectual sense) or reference, inspiring. Another role that has come to me while reading Douglas Thomas responses, is the role of agent of change. Many things -many changes- depends on him/her. I think that institutions have to focus on teachers for almost any improvement that they want to make. Institutions -structures- are necessary, as Brown says. I would add that it is essential that them and teachers point to the same direction.
As an agent of change, the new learning approach can specify the teacher’s role. It’s him/her who has to make change possible. Let’s start by bringing here some aspects related to this new learning:
Imagine cultivation, by implementing “an environment where it take root, grow and flourish.”
Inquiry, experimentation, play, as way of stimulating imagination.
Participation. Let’s recall a concept seen last week: the legitimate peripheral participation, and its comparison with classic apprenticeship programs.
Collaboration. Quite related to participation.
These two aspects tell that a student is like a toss with two faces: producer and consumer, teacher and learner.
Information -both found and produced- validation and legitimization, accordingly with collective credibility concept of Davidson and Goldberg.
The same things could be said with other concepts: learners’ learning-relations, encouraging activities, autonomy and sociability… The role of the teacher is to develop all these characteristics. But this means not instruct but make students learn, when possible. In other words, make others do, as much as they can. This also means guide, conduct, only if it is needed. Also implies encourage participation, collaboration and motivate students. The teacher have to be that person who is observing everything without intervening, waiting for his/her moment.
It could be summed up by saying that the teacher is who molds the community shape. S/he does using a number of resources. In addition, technological resources give him/her the possibility of designing a learning with the characteristics discussed before.
If we take a look in other professions like doctors in medicine, accountants in banks, security agents, etc., all of them have experienced significant changes due to the technological revolution. The way any of them works now has nothing to do with how it was 15 years before. In education, it is not like that. Teachers have to experience a similar change. Why we have not evolved yet is an interesting question. It could be due to educational structures. It could be due to the intensity of our work. It could be due to ourselves. It could be due to educational budget, to inability to make decisions… Why we have stay behind so long?
Maybe in 2025 all this evolution will have taken place, and teacher’s work will be more specialized. We will have to be experts in learning technologies. We will have to be also experts in molding communities of learners, so particular abilities to deal with students will be necessary as it has always been, although in a enriched sense.
And finally, we will have to be learning-community members. I find it interesting that the best way of doing things will be molding the community from inside. As far as possible, we will have to be one of the members, probably the main member, but one of them. As I see, this is the best way to educate, inspire, guide, be a reference, work together, participate, collaborate… A community like ours can hardly be shaped from outside.