Monday, March 14, 2011

Changing Roles of Educators (for CCK11)

As an EAL educator to internationally-educated nurses who are scattered throughout rural Manitoba, I have been given no choice but to embrace technology as a way to reach them. If my dream could come true, education would be as networked as a Filipino BBQ.

But, first, how has the role of the educator changed?
Traditionally, educators stood at the front of the classroom and told students exactly what they needed to learn and dictated how they would learn it. Teachers were the experts on the material they were told to teach.

Today, technology has had the impact of changing how we interact with each other. It allows us to be in contact 24/7, all over the world. We use it to find people and information and it affects our every day lives. With desks and paper on their way out and the possibility of e-portfolios taking a back seat to entrance exams (Barseghian, 2001), there is simply no choice for educators to fight this. To the chagrin of critics such as Mark Bauerlein who believes today’s youth need more “adult pressure” and “suspended social lives”, school-home boundaries are becoming a distant memory (Bauerlein, 2011). Educators need to embrace – in fact, take full advantage of - the technology of a connected world, take a back seat to the learners and stop trying to control their learning outcome (Jenkins, 1999).

What are the appropriate responses?
Ideally, when teaching and designing courses, an educator should remember the following:
  • networks are more effective than groups. Downes differentiates networks from groups by using a “salad bowl” (network) metaphor where each entity is distinct and individuals are encouraged in their uniqueness (Downes, 2007). As an educator, the goal should not be to create like-minded groups of learners but rather open, diverse, networked learners.
  • what we know today is not as important as our ability to stay current” (Siemens, 2007). Information is not something to pass along to others to acquire because it will be obsolete as quickly as we give it. We must equip students for lifelong learning by teaching them how to find information and promote learning as a continuous process.
  • student control and freedom is integral to 21st century life-long education and learning” (Anderson, 2011). We need to be learner-centered, allowing learners to take the reins through active engagement with others.
  • diversity should be celebrated. If “learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions” (Siemens, 2004), we need to discourage the “sameness” that has traditionally been the goal of educators (taking on our teacher’s viewpoint is how we passed our tests in school and kept the peace in Sunday school). We will learn from the diversity we all bring to the network.
  • all learning has an emotional base” (Plato). Downes discusses the concept of “being yourself” (Downes, 2008). You cannot underestimate the value of warmth on the other side of the computer. Educators need to show their personality and their humanity; empathy goes a long way in creating connections and personal connections bring people back.
What are the impediments to change?
Resistance to change is inevitable. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and the “old dogs” are still running the institutions. But there is also resistance among learners whose computer skills are limited, and when the technology is a means to learning (not the goal) this poses a problem in terms of time and resources needed to satisfy the learning curve. Teachers may also cling to their desire for authority and see technology as “a threat to their professional expertise” (Jenkins, p.4).

It is these resistant educators who cling to beliefs that multitasking “muddles the mind” (Holden, 2009), and that young people can’t cope in face-to-face social settings as a result of social networking (Bauerlein, 2009).

And the Filipino BBQ?
My organization recently hosted a BBQ at a local park in celebration of our learners’ achievements. Our predominantly Filipino group (network?) of 40 nurses turned into a multi-age crowd of over 125 people. To our surprise, our learners had brought children, cousins, grandparents, uncles and friends. Former students showed up. If I had taken a course and was being recognized for that, I would show up solo, thinking (in my Western way) “I accomplished this”. What I saw with our learners was the idea of “we did this; let’s tell the whole network and celebrate this”. And, just as we were beginning to panic about not having enough food for the group, everyone in the network started pulling food out and placing it onto the picnic table beside what we now saw as our meager contribution. The variety made us salivate and created in us a desire to try a bit of everything. We engaged with each other, asking about the process used to make each dish and sampled them all. Our “meager contribution” was explained, explored, and consumed and we saw that it was good too. There was enough food for all because, you see, this network didn’t show up empty-handed; they came with rich abundance and with a spirit of sharing. We all left, a bit surprised by what had just happened, bellies now full, new connections made and new recipes to try at home. To me, the switch from the you-will-come-to-my-BBQ-and-eat-what-I-tell-you of traditional education needs to become the oh-wow-all-your-contributions-were-such-a-pleasant-surprise-and-look-how-we-enjoyed-sharing-them-and-learning-from-each-other of connectivism.

Anderson, Terry. (2011). Technological Challenges and Opportunities of Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogies. Retrieved from

Barseghian, Tina (2011). 21 Things That Will Be Obsolete By 2020. Mind/Shift at

Bauerlein, Mark (2009). Why Gen-Y Johnny Can’t Read Non-Verbal Cues. Via the Wall Street Journal at

Bauerlein, Mark. (2011). The Adolescent Instinct and ‘The Dumbest Generation’. Via Inside Academia on YouTube:

Downes, Stephen (2007). The Class Struggle Continues via

Downes, Stephen. (2008). Seven Habits of Highly Connected People via

Holden, Constance. (2009). Multitasking Muddles the Mind. Via ScienceNOW at

Jenkins, Janet. (1999). Teaching for Tomorrow: The Changing Role of Teachers in the Classroom. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2007). The Network is the Learning, Retrieved from YouTube:

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