CCK11: Teachers who matter

I can remember all of my primary school teachers (but I’ll keep their names private here). My second grade teacher, frustrated that I completed work quickly and promptly got bored and fussy, found a speed reading machine and set me to that task. In third grade, again acting out, I was sent to kindergarten twice a week to help tutor the itty-bitties. My fifth grade teacher told us about seeing Jimmy Carter on the campaign trail and how his eyes seem to meet the eyes of each person in the audience so you felt he was really talking to you.  These adults were crucial contributors to my small, northern Indiana community.

I love the work of Sugata Mitra and the experiments he conducts with “hole in the wall” computers in rural areas of India not served by traditional education—children create self-organizing systems in which they learn from each other (turned around, they teach each other) with no adult telling them they’re wrong or right. I don’t think children should be simply the passive recipients of adult knowledge until they magically (where? college?) start to contribute back to the network/community. I believe we get in their way sometimes, and the systems we create can sometimes stifle creativity. Schools can be, like all institutions, vile and oppressive and political and undemocratic.

And still…they can also be profoundly important. In all the schools in my life there were teachers who mattered a great deal. They provided the diversity of opinions and pragmatic resources that my family could not. They helped me negotiate relationships with children I hadn’t known until I sat beside them in class. They showed me the number system and the fluid squirminess of water drops under a microscope. They told me what college was and why I might like to go. Not to mention, they helped me learn to read and write! The greatest gifts ever! 

The theory of connectivism as it explains what knowledge is and what qualities of networks support learning makes sense to me. But I would like to see more room for teachers in these networks we’re positing. Teachers—even in schools dripping with technology resources—still matter. I think they matter especially to new learners of any age. On one hand, their experience and knowledge puts them in a curator role, where they can gather and create materials for their learners. On the other hand, they can also, as Stephen says, “model and demonstrate” active ways of knowing and learning.

And on the third hand, they can be trusted touchpoints. Ideally, if No Child Left Untested were revoked, national testing standards went away, and formal schooling was optional, I’d still want caring adults in positions where they could help children who aren’t their own grow and develop. I’d want those adults to be familiar with all the tools and theories many other adults don’t have the time or inclination to think about. I’d want these identified teachers to have the time to find all the greatest resources, so they’re ready when kids ask and want to know about anything.

Even without formal/physical institutions that they are legally required to attend, people seek out good teachers (Buddha is a good example) that help them learn and discover what they want to know. I know that public education in the U.S. (maybe elsewhere; can’t speak to that) will—must—look very different in 20 years. I’m excited about those possibilities. And I still think there’s room for that teacherly role in networks of learning.


8 Responses to CCK11: Teachers who matter

  1. Lars Was says:

    Nice post! Teachers indeed matter a lot to learners. Teachers in a broad sense: people who encourage you to do more than “just enough”, people who let you be creative, people who bring out the best in you.

  2. scottx5 says:

    You’re very right about the influence of teachers and others who step into a person’s life. As a kid I was surrounded by people oddly interested in my not being a total screw-up. Their offerings often unexpected and largely unasked for, these helpers just assumed growing up was something not to be done alone.

    There’s a connection humans share that network theorists can’t seem to account for. So in the name of objectivity or “science” they imagine this sort of neutral node thing that has no agency, agenda or purpose. Like a place holder, a zero. Teachers of any kind aren’t described by that object. They’re much more flexible and active.

    What if there were degrees of mutuality that were always on and activated? A background obligation sort of thing that comes with membership in humanity? As any member of Amnesty International can tell you, degrees of separation can evaporate in a second when a call for help comes in. How does network theory account for this?

    Maybe we over-emphasize the abstract or misapply measuring systems in order to be objective and end up blind from it?

    Good reminder of the human side of what we are talking about in this course in your post. I hate to say it but connectivism feels more like a theory best marketed at the administration level and kept clear of messy learner level.


  3. leahgrrl says:

    Scott, I think you’re right about the “neutral node” stance; in the readings we’ve done, there have been a couple of lines like “you can’t construct knowledge” that reminds me of your questioning here: discussions of agency are missing in some of the theoretical stuff about connectivism. There’s also language like “discovering patterns” that also denies the effects, to me, of a human’s skill at synthesizing.

    That’s part of where this post came from, too: although I’m not working as a teacher now, that is one of my skills: to find and put together information into bits of knowledge and explain it to others. I don’t think that means I’m “transmitting a thing,” though. I rather think I’m forging a path, which can be followed, emulated, or ignored. Good teachers forge enlightening paths. They also create spaces of trust, which I think is important for real learning to happen.

  4. Pingback: Complexity, uncertainty and learning and teachers and chaos #cck11 « connectiv

  5. Keith Hamon says:

    You make a wonderful corrective point for the Connectivist conversation—teachers DO matter. However, I don’t really see anything in Connectivism that denies the need for a teacher. Rather, I see Connectivism softening the rigid separation of teacher from student. For instance, in our current MOOC, George Siemens and Stephen Downes are quite definitely recognizable as and function as teachers, and you and I and others are quite definitely recognizable as and function as students. Yet, George and Stephen are also learners in the course, and we are also teachers. Connectivism opens a space for the students to add value to the classroom, something that happens way to seldom in traditional classes where the only value-add comes from the teacher, the textbook, and the curriculum. Alan November has a wonderful video about encouraging students, even the youngest students, to add value to their classrooms.

    Connectivism also softens the boundaries between classroom and world, so that the world can add value to the conversation happening in the classroom. To those of us thoroughly indoctrinated in the ways of rigidly defined teachers and classrooms, this softening can appear to negate the roles of teachers and classrooms, but I think this is mostly a trick of perspective. We still need teachers and classrooms, even in MOOCs. We just don’t need the isolated, strictly authoritarian kinds of teachers and classrooms that we had.

    • leahgrrl says:

      Thanks, Keith. You’re right that I’m overstating some of the casual remarks I’ve heard in the Elluminate sessions, for example, about school systems. I am on board with the “softening” of boundaries that you talk about that allow students to be teachers and vice versa—ideally. It seems to me that if there’s a position in an organized learning space (a “course,” perhaps) called “teacher” or “facilitator” or whatever, that that position has even more responsibility from a connectivist perspective. Maybe what I’m mixing up is our facilitators’ actions in this “connectivist” course.

      I think a connectivist “teacher” really should be a lot busier and engaged than a normal classroom teacher, to keep one step ahead of the students, to find resources based on her knowledge, to connect the students as she sees their interests collide, etc. And of course that is a way of modeling the behavior that she wants to see from the learners. I love Stephen’s “teachers model and demonstrate, students practice and reflect” notion; I would love to be that teacher. Can you do it in a MOOC with 800 people? Likely not. So that’s a different kind of responsibility, perhaps.

      Hey, I think I just got the beginning of my Assignment #2 paper…Thanks for making me think!


  6. Pingback: Who is the teacher in connectivist and network learning? #cck11 « connectiv

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