Thursday, February 7, 2013

Myth #8: The Teacher's Role is New and Different

8 Myths About Digital Learning

"Technology has even changed that old and traditional notion of the teacher as the main source of knowledge and turned him/her into a simple facilitator, organizer, and collaborator."  (25 Techy Tips Every Teacher Should Know About).

We have read this so many times in the last 5 years that we all assume it is true.  It is a myth.

Unfortunately, digital is not yet human.

At its core is the belief that technology will create heightened student information seeking, gathering, and curating, followed by the collaborative building of understanding.  "Teachers can be with students as they learn and give feedback as they go" (Five Ways Technology Enhances Education).

I have written previously about Myth #5: Collaboration.  Let's look now at the changing role of the teacher.  I think that over the last five or so years this role did move toward a new paradigm in some 1:1 classrooms, but also in expeditionary classrooms, PBL and experiential learning environments, and lit circle classrooms.

However, for the most part, the role of the teacher as content curator and deliverer has not, by and large, changed.  Take a look at this piece of information from a new PBS LearningMedia survey of teachers:
Teachers Embrace Digital Learning Strategies

Does this data suggest in any way that teacher's perceive their role in the classroom to be changing as a benefit of educational technology?  Does it suggest a shift of content management from teacher to student?  

To me the survey data suggest that technology in the classroom has not changed the teacher's role at all, and may in fact be returning it to that of the pre-digital educational timeline.  

Why would this be?  Many reasons come to my mind, including lack of adequate teacher preparation, professional resistance at all levels, the primacy of "motivation" or "engagement" over deep learning, and the conservative ELA methodologies many believe are proscribed by the new Common Core Standards (Consider this from Learning Unlimited's Common Core Cheat Sheet: "The standards define what students should know and be able to do, not how teachers teacher. Decades of literacy research should provide the framework for instructional best practices in reading, writing, speaking and listening." If anything, the recommended strategies for close reading and writing instruction put the teacher more than ever front and center).  

Combined, these create a powerful blockade to changing the teacher's role in the classroom. 

But wait, there is more. Placing one adult in a room with a passel of students creates an imbalance. There was a time when Teacher Power was expected in the classroom.  This power came from Knowledge + Technique, and Technique contained many elements that have disappeared from our school culture (Discipline is a big one, Failure is another).  

Technology is perceived by many today as a way to solve that imbalance by turning student attention from teacher to tool, geting the teacher not off of the podium, but off of the classroom see saw. This would be terrific, but it doesn't generally happen.  

Most of the time, technology is expected to be a middleman - a deliverer, a diffuser or filter (as needed), a communicator.  On one end is the teacher, whose goals and roles remain the same (define & clarify content, design activities, units and assessments, address the needs of individuals as well as the group as a whole).  At the other end is the student, who has a body of new skills and content (Standards) to master in a given time and to communicate clearly back to the teacher. 

It would fall to the middleman - technology - to be the true Guide on the Side.  But, unfortunately, digital is not yet human. The quality of what goes in still determines the quality of what comes out.  Technology is not a teacher; the Knowledge and Techniques of the teacher in the classroom are still of utmost importance.  

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