Teaching with technology: changing roles

My third question in this series (from the list I posted) is: How has your role changed as a result of working with technology?

Recently – it hasn’t changed a lot, since I have been working and teaching online for a number of years now. Just writing this has made me wonder whether I am in a rut. Could I be in a rut when technology is changing so fast?

When I first started to work online (a number of years ago now), there was a marked and startling change in my role as a teacher. It crept up on me – but was none-the-less powerful in  its effect. At the time I was a face-to-face teacher trainer, teaching students how to teach science to school children. We had a heavily content-laden curriculum, where we crammed in as much content to our face-to-face science sessions as possible. The only relieving factor was that science is a very practical subject, so there was always a lot of hands-on practical activity in the sessions – but even so, we felt we had to cover the content of the curriculum – facts, facts and more facts. The introduction of a VLE into our institution released me from this heavily content driven teaching. I quickly realised that I could put as much information as I wanted up onto the website, and I could add as many links to as many websites as I wanted to, which meant that I was freed from covering this content in teaching sessions. What an amazing release. This changed my approach to teaching. I no longer worried about whether I had covered the curriculum, but focussed instead on eliciting and discussing students’ misconceptions. We were no longer learning facts, we were learning how to learn. So technology completely changed my approach to face-to-face teaching.

When I began to teach online, my approach changed even more. There was a lot of talk at the time of changing from a ‘Sage on the Stage’ to a ‘Guide on the Side’, to a point where people began to say ‘never let me hear that expression again’. Whilst the expression became a bit of a cliche, it did make people think about their role as teachers and whether or not we should be centre stage. It suited me very well not to be centre stage as I was never a ‘performer’ type of teacher (as I mentioned in a previous post). It was such a relief to me that I no longer had to be ‘the font of all knowledge’. In online classrooms it is so much more possible to access each individual classoom participant’s knowledge than it is in a face-to-face classroom. As an online  teacher I have far more contact with each of my students than I ever did face-to-face and it was a complete revelation to me, when I participated in my first online course as a student, how much I could learn from my fellow participants rather than from the teacher.

All this made me rethink my teaching role. There are still times when I might need to be ‘Sage on the Stage’, but not very often, because there are so many more qualified easily accessible (through technology) ‘Sages’ out there than I could ever be. I am much more likely to be a ‘Guide on the Side’ and even more likely to be a learner in a learning community with responsibility for ensuring that my fellow participants learn to their full potential.

Viewing myself more as a learner than a teacher means that I now have much greater respect for learner autonomy, that I like wherever possible to negotiate how the learning will take place with my students and offer lots of choice, that I try to listen more than speak and to ask questions rather than influence my students’ thinking with my opinions.

So I think I might describe my change in role as having become a ‘backseat driver’ 🙂

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