The Education Revolution (Part 7): The Role of the Educator

Eventually, learning will be transformed in this way; the needs of students and the affordances of technology make it inevitable.

Now here is a great article on the role of the educator by Stephen Downes. If you are as serious about learning and the generations ahead as us, you should take your time to absorb the insights and surf the abundance of links.

This article is about learning responsibility and asking the right question about it: WHERE does it reside? With the learner or with the educator?

For myself I have made the following notes:
  • The emphasis is on defining teacher accountability rather than understanding what teachers in the 21st century are supposed to do.
  • Course content is merely a tool employed to stimulate and support learning
  • An authentic learning community is a community of practitioners, where people practice the discipline, rather than merely just talk about it. This is a wonderful insight that links back to the social fabric of learning as describes by John Seely Brown and Jerome Bruner when they say that we can teach people about a subject matter, for example, physics. That is, we can teach them the concepts, conceptual frameworks and facts of physics – the explicit knowledge of physics. But that does not make the student a physicist. To be a physicist he must also learn the practices of this profession.

Downes lists 23 different roles an educator can have in a learning situation. An important observation is that not everybody can perform every role; not everybody wants to perform every role. Another thing he observed is that not every student wants or needs the services of every role.

So rather than asking one person to perform every role, some of them very badly, for a given group of students, it makes more sense to ensure that these services are available where needed and to allocate them according to the needs of the students, the nature of the learning environment, and the type of learning being undertaken. People are finding coaching where they need it, community where they want it, and lectures and demonstrations for those days when they have the time.

Finally, Downes notes that this is not a recipe. We just need to begin thinking and talking about the system this way, gradually adding these components, probably externally to the existing educational system.

Bonus: some great quotes to remember:

On social media:

Today’s school includes Smartboards and computer labs, the Internet and mobile phones, online encyclopedias and social network sites. While some educational systems respond by blocking these new technologies, for better or worse education is moving into the digital arena, and learning support involves understanding and applying at least some of these.

On entitlement to education:

The question of why students should pay thousands merely to sit anonymously in a lecture theater.

Freely available online lectures and textbooks give universities the opportunity to reduce costs and increase quality, while focusing resources on what really matters: contact time between teachers and students.