Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Are teachers no longer allowed to be 'experts'?

At the weekend I gave an online presentation at the Connecting Online 2010 Conference. My presentation was a follow-up to the discussion I have been having on my blog post " Working out the difference between teaching and facilitation".

Life-long learning does away with experts
The discussion that arose was very interesting. There appeared to be agreement amongst the participants that the concept of life-long learning has done away with the teacher as an expert - the argument being that we cannot be 'experts' as we are always learning.

Why can't educators be experts?
To be honest I am a tad unsettled by this argument. Yes, I totally agree that educators should not take the "I am an expert so you should do what I say" approach to teaching. And yes, I think we should facilitate learning. However, when I was a midwifery educator I considered myself to be an expert in some areas. I was always learning from students and I never claimed to know all there is about a subject. I used students' own expertise and knowledge. But none the less, there were times when I felt it was appropriate to take a "this is what you do" approach to presenting a topic or subject especially when teaching clinical skills.

Experts or expertise?
It was a conversation on Twitter that has helped me figure this out in a more satisfactory way. I asked what people thought about experts and teaching - and it was Andrew Hazlet who replied

I prefer "expertise" to "experts" - most knowledge isn't static or permanent

My teaching philosophy
So I am thinking that I am a facilitator of learning with an expertise in such and such subject or skill. And it has dawned on me that my teaching philosophy is similar to my midwifery philosopy - I walk around the learning (or childbirth) road with my student or client. Sometimes we walk together - sometimes I lead, and other times the student or woman leads. Sometimes we get to our destination together, other times we end up in completely different places.

Here are the slides I used on Saturday which were designed to facilitate discussion as opposed to 'teach'.


What do you think?


Stewart, S. (2008). Women, midwives, partnership and power. Midwifery Best Practice Volume 5 (pp2-6). Ed: Sara Wickham. Edinburgh: Elsevier.

Image: 'school friends' woodleywonderworks


DaveB said...

False premise. Implies that if you are still learning then you are not an expert.

Reality is that if someone stops learning then they are disqualified from being an expert. All experts are continuing to explore and learn. But not everyone who is exploring and learning is (yet) an expert.

When I pay (or get funding) to go on a training course it costs roughly $3000 for five days. The person running the course had BETTER be an expert or I want my (or my employers) money back.

Is it ok to expect our students to demand anything less? Having said that - I'm not an expert in many (all?) things I teach. But that is a failing, not a badge of honour.

Cameron Campbell said...

I'm with DaveB (t-ball this weekend eh?), this idea that "expert" was ever a terminal point, somewhere a person could say "there, I know everything there is to know about X" is foolish.

That said I thing "expertness" and "expertise" exist on a continuum, I know next to nothing about Dave's job but way more about it than my Dad. I'm not an expert, but I have some expertise/knowledge.

Dave, on the other hand, is an expert in what he does.

As are you Sarah.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Dave and Cameron

I guess I got the impression that "expert" was a dirty word these days in education, but as you say, that is stigmatizing the "expert". I believe you can be an expert yet approach your teaching in a student-centered way, along with being a life-long learner.