The Times are a Changing

I recently read The Role of the Educator by Stephen Downes and it made me realise how much education has and continues to change. The fact that we are even asking what the role of the educator is is an indication of how much it has changed. If you had asked that question 30, 20 or even 10 years ago it would have been considered obvious. The role of the educator was to teach and in a school building it was to teach and keep the kids safe.

According to Downes

Most practitioners in the field are familiar with the admonishment that an educator will no longer be a “sage on the stage”. But that said, many others resist the characterization of an educator as merely a “guide by the side.” We continue to expect educators to play an active role in learning, but it has become more difficult to characterize exactly what that role may be.

Downes goes on to provide a comprehensive list of the roles that an educator plays today, including coach, alchemist and lecturer. It is a comprehensive list but I wanted to pick out the 3 that meant the most to me.

The Learner
Personally I think this is the most important one as I can’t see how you can be an educator if you are not a learner. Times have changed and teachers are no longer the distant figures who stood at the top of a class and instilled fear and/or respect as they once did. I work with teachers and they amaze me. They are at the top of their game in terms of knowledge in their subject but are still curious and, more importantly able to listen to others in order to gain more knowledge. Technology has really opened this up and allowed learners and educators to broaden their field of teaching/learning. It has also given all of us the chance to be learners as well as teachers. We all have something to offer at some point.

Image by John Le Masney

The Sharer
Teaching has always been about sharing in the sense that a teacher knows something which is then passed on. Technically this is sharing knowledge but not really, not in the true spirit of sharing. I spend a lot of time in on-line communities, G+, Twitter etc learning and sharing information (and yes looking at pictures of cute puppies, it’s not all high brow you know!) and technology has made this process less rigid. On average I am doing 2 MOOCs at any given time and the on-line communities are an essential learning tool. It’s not necessarily about having a right or a wrong answer. Sometimes having the debate is more important than the outcome. I also love discovering things which I can pass on and finding things that others have passed on. I have recently been introduced to something that is a perfect example of this sort of sharing. Teachmeet is basically a mini conference which allows educators to learn from each other. The Isle of Wight is hosting their first one on 6th June and although I am not a teacher I will be going along. It is being coordinated by teachers for teachers. It’s short, collaborative, and innovative. It is also relatively cheap compared to your traditional conference. Basically you need a venue and participants but you can go as cheap or as grand as you like. Their home page shows all the Teachmeet events taking place around the country and it gives you an idea of the enthusiasm for this kind of activity.

The Coordinator
According to Downes

this person organises the people who have been brought together, organizing groups or things together for the common good

I see this at school every day as teachers organise classes of students, and in the evenings whilst I complete MOOCs. I have joined and created groups and communities on-line as well as Twitterchats and this is the beauty of studying in a digital world, we can all have a go. I wouldn’t be allowed, and I would be too scared, to organise a group of students in a class as I am not a teacher or teaching assistant. I can however set up a Twitterchat or Google+ community and this role of coordinator allows me to bring together a group of learners and educators in the style of rhizomatic learning. This is something that David Cormier has written about in his blog and describes as;

A rhizome, sometimes called a creeping rootstalk, is a stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads. It is an image used by Delieze and Guattari to describe the way that ideas are multiple, interconnected and self-relicating. A rhizome has no beginning or end… like the learning process

These are exciting times for teachers and learners and never before have we had so many opportunities for teaching/learning. These are also uncertain times but embracing the technology and resources available to us allows us to be more creative, innovative and, I think, gives us more control over our learning. As educators the breadth of jobs that make up a teachers role must be exhausting but also liberating in other ways. Teachers have access to so many different tools for teaching, learning and connecting with students as well as colleagues.

Learning has changed but the school systems are not changing at the same rate. The teachers and students will be the vehicles of this change which is being driven by technology. This is not a bad thing as they will take the tools and see what they can do with them. We just have to ensure that the powers that be acknowledge this and harness the changes to ensure they are used properly and that this spark of innovation isn’t left to stagnate whilst they try to catch up.