Last time we began exploring the role of educators within networked learning environments, broadly using a theory by George Siemens called “Connectivism” as our base.

3 Alternative roles of teachers in networked learning environments

Today we will further that exploration via a few definitions mooted by pedagogues over the years, each of which offers a useful insight into how the role of instructor needs to change in environments were content and information is freely available, but where collaboration, creativity and critical thinking needs to be ever more actively, and explicitly encouraged.

  1. Atelier learning

    Professor John Seely Brown, (PhD computer and communication sciences) is among a many other things a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. He is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Southern California, and has also published over 100 papers focusing on networks, collaborative innovation and networked learning.

    In his article, New Learning Environments and subsequent book, A New Culture of Learning, Professor Brown, among many, many other things, promotes the idea of studio or atelier learning.

    In fields such as art, sculpture and architecture learning happens in an open space, where each student’s work is more or less permanently public. They practice on their own projects, yet in full view of both “master”/ teacher and other students. In this environment students learn not only through slight direction from the master, but also by observing the course of others as well as the comments made by other students, as well as the teacher — what Jean Lave’s theory of situated cognition refers to as Communities of Practice.

    When enabled by technology, studio-style instruction becomes infinitely more practical as teachers can use a host of tools to connect students to one another, share projects, encourage debate and peer feedback. Brown feels that the immediacy and collaboration of a studio model inculcates students into the nuances, feelings, idiosyncrasies and “beingness” of the skill they trying to master whether its being a writer, animator, architect, scientist or mathematician.

  2. Educator as concierge

    Curtis Bonk (PhD) is a former accountant and CPA, as well as educational psychologist. He is currently Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. His blog post here describes his thoughts on teacher as concierge best.

    In the hotel industry a concierge is there to assist guests to find what they need, helping them to organize the information, as well as introduce them to information and experiences they may not yet know about. The trick is that guests approach the concierge with a need, and the concierge does their level best to find them all the best sources of information and assistance they require.

    It is in a sense the inverse of what teachers do — tell students what they need to know, and ask them to develop and seek out the resources to find out more. Bonk acknowledges there is still a role for the “one-way” lecture, if only to present a learning goal to students — they design their own road map, and rely on teachers to be the ultimate tour guide.

    In his book, The World is Open, Bonk tirelessly lists the ways in which learning has become democratized and open, and argues that teachers need no longer try and keep pace with content creation, and only need create arresting, interesting and accurate road maps students can use to explore the myriad of online resources available.

  3. Teacher as network administrator

    Clarence Fisher does not have the same academic pedigree as the authors above, and is “just” a teacher, in Snow Lake (where he’s also the mayor), Manitoba, Canada. This, though, probably makes him best able to comment on the issues and challenges facing teachers in the networked learning world.

    Some of Fisher’s ideas and practices are quoted in a number of books including Personal Learning Networks by Will Richardson and New Literacies in Action by Bill Kist. One of his concepts is that teachers can be redefined in this age of networked learning as “network administrators”.

    He says, “In an age of information abundance, I argue that teachers need to become ‘network administrators’, helping students to form and evaluate a personal learning network of their own. Classrooms become ‘information portals’ where learners are taught to work within the constantly evolving stream of global information.”

Closing thoughts

I have found it immensely interesting to examine how our thinking about education changes, when we acknowledge that we, the information and the people we need to learn are all inextricably linked via a network. In fact network studies are one of the fastest growing masters and PhD topics at the moment, so there is no doubt that we will have many more ideas and concepts to consider with regard to networked learning in future.

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