Teachers talk too much

The CCK08 round up was an interesting meeting. It seems like it was held at a difficult time for some and clashed with their teaching commitments, so a few familiar faces were not present.

There was quite a lot of talk about assessment. I think it will be worth listening to the recording again to capture this conversation. 

Most intriguing was George’s apparent frustrations with lurkers. He thought that in the next run of the course they would have to do more to encourage participation – in his view people need to participate more to make the course work. ‘Lurking is not appropriate.’ George expects everyone to be transparent in their learning and by default become a teacher in the course.

There seemed to me to be loads of participation – both in the blogs and in the discussion forums.  I personally would not have coped with any more. I’m not sure what percentage of people were participating in blogs and forums – probably not the 10% that Nancy White recommends should be active in an online course – but then this wasn’t a course in the true sense of the word – or was it? This question of whether the word course should be used to decribe the CCK08 experience was also discussed.

Perhaps Stephen and George need to be really clear about whether they are running a course or not ; they do appear to have different views on it. If they are just establishing and managing a learning community or network, then I think participants would view their responsibilities differently. In a community or network, peripheral participation is legitimate (Wenger) as George acknowledged. Lurking (I prefer to think of it as reading or observing) is legitimate. People get drawn into conversations as and when they need them. Stephen seems happier with this than George.

However, in both a community and on a course, (but maybe not a network), there are leaders who try to draw in participants and increase levels of interactivity. This requires skills and ‘teacher-type’ interventions, whereas I think Stephen and George’s model was more – let them (the participants) get themselves organised into groups, decide for themselves where they want to communicate and get on with it.

So it seems to me that you can’t really have it both ways. Either you let participants just get on with it, in which case you leave them to lurk if they want to, don’t worry about it and are happy with whoever, however small the number, actively participates. Or you go for skilled teacher intervention. George stated that he wanted a less didactic style for the CCK08 ‘course’ where he and Stephen would become less prominent as the course progressed – but this ‘hands off’ approach isn’t something that just happens. It has to be cultivated by skilled facilitators/online teachers. In my experience as an online tutor, I have to work very hard at the beginning of a course, helping participants to make appropriate relationships, establishing an ethos of security, trust and mutual respect, and that once this is set up I can withdraw. But it doesn’t just happen. It depends on my initial interventions (and I don’t necessarily equate interventions with ‘talking’).

I agree that very few participants took the mic. in the synchronous Elluminate sessions, but I don’t think that is necessarily down to a lack of willingness to speak;  maybe more to the teaching style adopted for these sessions. It occurred to me yesterday that maybe it was a case of  ‘the teacher talks too much’. It was very noticeable in yesterday’s session that at the beginning of the session when there was only one tutor (George) participants took the mic. a lot more than they did at the end of the session when there were both George and Stephen, who then tend to talk to each other. 

There’s plenty of research around about teachers talking too much and there has been for many years. The original research showed that teachers are really surprised when they are observed and are given the evidence of exactly how much they do talk. Student teachers also always struggle to see that their job is not so much about their teaching, but about their learners’ learning and that if the focus is on learners’ learning, then the learners need more time to talk, even if this means tolerating silence while learners gather their thoughts.

So what I am saying is that if George and Stephen want more people to speak in Elluminate sessions, then perhaps the way in which the sessions are organised needs a rethink. Again, if they want more participation in the various communication groups, Ning, Facebook, Second Life, blogs, wikis, Moodle, then there might need to be more teacher intervention at the beginning of the course to establish this – but it seems to me that more teacher intervention is the antithesis to what the CCK08 experience (or whatever you want to call it) is all about.

So we are back to the tension between CCK08 being a course and the type of open learning experience it is trying to achieve. Not an easy one, for which there are no easy answers. Would a discussion about these very issues right at the beginning of the CCK08 course help?

I’ll be very interested to see how the course is run next time round at the end of this year.

9 thoughts on “Teachers talk too much

  1. Lani February 24, 2009 / 3:57 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    Reading your post and listening to the recording, your thoughts on “teachers’ talking too much really resonated with me!!

    I hope that I’m being somewhat politically correct as I continue—

    There seems to me be a duality in the “teacher” language and what I perceived as “connected learning” and “networks”. I’m wondering if seeing oneselves as the teacher rather than facilitator makes a huge difference in approaching both the building of norms of conduct, and in designing Elluminate sessions.

    I really like your language of “interventions”! My experience with that term stems from Facilitating Courses in an Online Environment by Collison et al. And it struck me before I listened to the recording (as my thoughts were somewhat mentioned there too) that a group of volunteers (not forcing!) who would assist in moderating , facilitating both tech concerns and dialogue for folks with different interests might be of great value. Both in making people feel more comfortable with active participation (very honestly, comments made about novices by teachers led me to avoid various elements of the course completely) and in deepening learning. Perhaps even a hierarchical design of moderators that could provide differentiated assistance depending on their role and help keep some folks from falling through the cracks, those who were really interested in learning. We’re both coming from a community model aren’t we?

    Most important, from my perspective, would be the loss of the notion of “teacher” and an adoption of facilitation of learning for all. And that word “teacher” seemed to come alot in the recording. Or was that just me?

    Sorry for the rambling– too much teacher talk always gets me going–


  2. Sui Fai John Mak February 24, 2009 / 11:55 pm

    Hi Jenny and Lani,
    Great to learn about your views here. I have just listened to the recordings, and would reflect on the details later in my post.
    The suggestion of using legitimate peripheral participation rather than lurking (from a social networking point of veiw) appeals to me. I have once read that educators or bloggers would like to lurk (read and observe) first, when in join a course or network, or a community, and see if they would be interested in before becoming more active in “participation”. As Jenny has mentioned, lurker is legitimate. I think it is also part of any social networking and e-learning “induction”.
    I resonate with you (Jeny and Lani) on the discussion of intervention and facilitation. In that teaching seems to have assumed that the “teacher” is teaching the learners some knowledge and skills. In facilitation, the facilitator would encourage participants (or learners) to become “active teachers or mentors to each other” in the learning process (learning as sharing), peer mentoring as you may call it. Facilitation seems to be more effective in community of practice and networking, or even in Elluminate sessions, whereas teaching may sound appropriate in lecturing and traditional face-to-face lessons, where the purpose is to “transfer knowledge from teacher to studens”.

    I will need to reflect more deeply on the notion of course versus network learning before responding to assessment.

    Thanks Jenny for your post and Lani for your insights into facilitation.

  3. ulop February 25, 2009 / 12:51 pm

    I had no problem with lurkers in CCK08, but I did have a problem with those that were critical of students who contributed a lot in the forums. I think Catherine Fitzpatrick referenced this first. My position would be to let the talkers talk, and the lurkers lurk, and the teachers’ job is done once a dialogue is underway, in a course of this nature.

    In courses of a different sort, a teachers may have to guide the discussion more, in order to achieve whatever the aims of that course may be. In CCK08, although we were guided towards a buy-in of network theory, learning in the nodes and other such concepts, the discoveries and conversations were very broad and I don’t think any definitive goal existed, except to experiment in bringing people together through the technology and the hosting of a chin-wag to push out some concepts.

  4. Nancy White February 25, 2009 / 3:55 pm

    Great reflections, Jenny, and really useful to me. I think I have been moving more towards the “let them lurk, but try and know why they are lurking” mode of learning facilitation. In other words, make sure they aren’t blocked by technical difficulties, life challenges, etc. Then let them lurk. If we design for a network experience, then the periphery is a VERY REAL element. If we want full participation, I think it is no longer a network event, but one with a boundary. You are in if you participate, you are out if you don’t.

    (By the way, did you get my email about being part of the communities and networks connection? Please?)

  5. jennymackness February 25, 2009 / 7:13 pm

    Reply to Lani – thanks for your ‘ramblings’ which actually I don’t think are ramblings. You have got me thinking about the role of a ‘teacher’ and how this is different to the role of a ‘facilitator’. Could it be that a teacher can also be a facilitator, but that a facilitator is not necessarily a teacher? I’m very much in support of facilitation, which is what I think I do in my online work, but I have also spent my career teaching (in the traditional sense) and training people to be teachers, so it’s a bit of a struggle to give up the idea of teaching. I do think that what we mean by ‘teaching’ needs to be carefully thought through, and that thinking about it from the learner perspective is a great help.
    Thanks Lani,

  6. jennymackness February 25, 2009 / 7:17 pm

    Reply to John – many thanks John. As always you make me think! There was discussion (or maybe chat) in the Elluminate session about the role of lurking at the beginning of a course and the need for ‘novices’ to lurk. Like you, I think it’s interesting to try and tease out the distinctions between teaching and facilitation. Thanks John.

  7. jennymackness February 25, 2009 / 7:25 pm

    Reply to Ulop: Hi Ulop – thanks for your visit. Yes – let the talkers talk and the lurkers lurk and lets recognise that CCK08 was not a traditional course. My only reservation would be that I know from experience of online work that forums that are dominated by a minority of very vocal people can kill a course. On the CCK08 course there were enough people to spread themselves out, so that this didn’t happen, but had the cohort been much smaller, the course could have ‘died’. So, I’m not sure that talkers should talk to the detriment of others, just as lurkers shouldn’t lurk to the detriment of others – but it’s rather difficult to determine when this detrimental effect sets in! Tolerance and inclusivity seem to be key to me!
    Many thanks for your thought provoking comment.

  8. jennymackness February 25, 2009 / 7:29 pm

    Reply to Nancy – Hi Nancy, how great to see you here. You obviously have a very good system for picking up when people are talking about you! It’s still not clear to me whether the CCK08 course was supposed to be modelling and demonstrating a network, or a course. I’m not sure that Stephen and George have got that sorted either – but I think it’s very difficult to run a course on something that is actually the antithesis of a course. A real dilemma. I’m not sure what the solution is.
    BTW – I didn’t receive your email, but I have emailed you about it. I wonder if you will get my email:-)

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