What is the role of a teacher?
A teacher/instructor/professor obviously plays numerous roles in a traditional classroom: role model, encourager, supporter, guide, synthesizer. Most importantly, the teacher offers a narrative of coherence of a particular discipline. Selecting a textbook, determining and sequencing lecture topics, and planning learning activities, are all undertaken to offer coherence of a subject area. Instructional (or learning) design is a structured method of coherence provision.
This model works well when we can centralize both the content (curriculum) and the teacher. The model falls apart when we distribute content and extend the activities of the teacher to include multiple educator inputs and peer-driven learning. Simply: social and technological networks subvert the classroom-based role of the teacher. Networks thin classroom walls. Experts are no longer “out there” or “over there”. Skype brings anyone, from anywhere, into a classroom. Students are not confined to interacting with only the ideas of a researcher or theorist. Instead, a student can interact directly with researchers through Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and listservs. The largely unitary voice of the traditional teacher is fragmented by the limitless conversation opportunities available in networks. When learners have control of the tools of conversation, they also control the conversations in which they choose to engage.
Course content is similarly fragmented. The textbook is now augmented with YouTube videos, online articles, simulations, Second Life builds, virtual museums, Diigo content trails, StumpleUpon reflections, and so on.
Siemens asserts in his article that teaching remains, “a critical and needed activity in the chaotic and ambiguous information climate created by networks.” He briefly describes seven roles teachers play in order to shape or influence the developing networks of students.
3. Wayfinding and socially-driven sensemaking
7. Persistent presence
The explanations Siemens offers greatly inform my understanding of my teaching role in the shifting culture of the classroom. At times as I read his article I said to myself, “this is what I am doing!” and at other times I realized I had to shift my intentions. There are many moments when my students are engaged and networking that I feel my actions are unintentional. It is the pace or learning and the desperate ways my students are approaching their learning. It does not simply manifest itself in the computer lab. I see it throughout the day. I don’t know exactly what is impelling this differentiation wave, but I wonder what will happen when my nine and ten-year olds meet secondary school and undergraduate classrooms in four to eight years. It could be very exciting.
Or their wave could break on the imperative for “precise outcomes” and all too familiar assessment for learning we spend much of our time developing. As Siemens says, it is a comfortable and logical design. Siemens points out that, “In all other areas of life, ambiguity, uncertainty, and unkowns reign.” I hope we resolve this seeming contradiction for our students. The article is well worth reading.