Not just content
The first thing that has struck me is that teaching isn't just about providing content, but facilitating the means for students to connect with each other so they can learn from the content together. D'arcy Norman (2008), in his post 'Content is not enough' says
"Content is the least important part of education. What is far more important is what takes place between and among the students. The activities of the community of learners. What they actually DO with the content and with each other.Great content IS important, but only if there is also a functioning and active community working together to learn, create and share. Otherwise, all that takes place is content dissemination. And that’s not education..."
So how do I encourage, facilitate or support the formation of a community of learners amongst my students? If knowledge is in the network, how do I work with the network in my role of a 'teacher'?
Being a networked teacher
I think it is time for me to review how I 'teach' and how I am as a 'teacher'.
I have been thinking for some time about my role and it has been interesting to chart my thoughts about this over the last year. Last November I was questioning how open I am with students, feeling a huge degree of reluctance to reveal myself as a person as opposed to a 'professional' teacher. I came to the conclusion that I need to be more willing to share who I am in order to break down some of the teacher/student barriers. Bit I continued to recognize that there was a tension in this at times because the issue of power does not go away very easily.
In January this year I was asking myself if I was a web 2.0 teacher, but at this point I was focusing very much on the online technologies. But just because I have a blog and Delicious account doesn't mean I am an effective teacher.
So maybe I need to get away from the idea of being a teacher who 'teaches'.
Teacher as steward
One way to align the use of technology with networking and learning is in the role of technology steward as defined by Nancy White (2008) in her presentation 'Stewarding technologies for communities' and blog post ' Definition of a community technology steward'. Nancy says that a technology steward is a person
"with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community."
With so many of my students having minimal knowledge of how to network and with what tools, I feel it is vital for me to recognize what technology is appropriate, and lead and support the students as they identify what tools they require for effective networked learning.
Teacher as curator
Over a year ago I heard George Siemens (2008) talk about the teacher as curator. He says in his paper
"Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing roles for Educators and Designers".
"a curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of
dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and
connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don't adhere to traditional inclass teacher‐centric power structures. A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. While learners are free to explore, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline. Their freedom to explore is unbounded. But when they engage with subject matter, the key concepts of a discipline are transparently reflected through the curatorial actions of the teacher."
I have to admit that when I first heard George present this idea of the teacher being a curator, I didn't fully understand the concept - I had images of rarefied museums where visitors were kept well away from the exhibits. Even now, I'm not 100% sure I fully grasp the concept because I think there are times when students need very strong guidance and direction as opposed to being left to freely wonder around. And I struggle with the tension between facilitating fully autonomous learning and trying to adhere to learning outcomes, timetables, program rules and curriculum, not unlike Dean Shareski (2008) in his blog post "I'm sure I'm doing it wrong" and Sarah Horrigan "Learning outcomes and random musings....". Nevertheless, I totally agree that part of my role is to provide access to learning resources, support students' networks and support students as they critique the resources.
Teacher as jack of all trades?
What I am rapidly beginning to think is that we cannot truly label what a connected teacher does or is because I think teaching is a constantly evolving role depending on any given context at any given time. What a teacher does need to be able to do is quickly adapt to her rapidly changing environment:
- "Content and course materials are no longer necessarily something to be owned and hoarded, but freely and openly shared;
- Curricula is no longer centrally organised and dictated, but instead contextually interpreted and adapted;
- Enrollment is no longer controlled, but instead open to all ages, levels of experience or existing knowledge, and geographical regions;
- Information no longer flows one-directionally from an expert to a novice, but is instead discussed, interpreted and negotiated by a network of its participants…"
So are we actually jack of all trades? Wendy DG (2008) in CCK08-Who is Teacher in a Connectivist Framework?' talks about the teacher as being a "modeler, network administrator, curator, concierge, community leader, technology steward, information filter, Sherpa, researcher, change agent, learning entrepreneur, and evaluator". Whilst Maru del Campo (2008) in Formal CCK08 2nd paper. Shorter version. suggests a teacher should be a lurer - luring students to learning.
What I feel confident about is that while I may be a 'jack of all trades', it doesn't matter if I am a 'master of none', because I will surely find that 'master' somewhere in my network, and be able to direct my students to the 'master'.
Teacher as learner
The other facet of my role as a connected teacher is of learner. And along with Elizabeth DG (2008), I am "open minded, confident, ready to experiment, and prepared to learn from my mistakes".
Image: 'When it all blows over' davebluedevil