Friday, June 01, 2012

Shifting Teaching Landscape

This may sound strange, but the teaching landscape in university and seminary education is really changing. The new focus is on learning.

You may ask, "Well, what was it about before?" There is always "what we say" and "what we do." The "what we do" is the real thing. The "what we say" is a game humans play, a very funny game.  The peacock squawks and spreads out its feathers.  It does a little dance.  That particular game is about mating, to put it nicely.

But teaching at the college level and beyond has tended to be about a professor saying something.  A professor was someone who had something to say, a smart guy or gal. Whether or not anyone learned anything was up to the student. In many cases, a grade might all come down to one test with one question at the end, a poor assessment at best.

Now, it's about good teaching or, more precisely, about effective learning. Online teaching has particularly hammered this fact home to me, especially in formats where the content and pedagogy are standardized and pre-loaded into the course like at the University of Phoenix. A person might be an amazing facilitator that the students love because s/he gives immediate feedback and is able to move discussion along in stimulating ways.

Notice I said "facilitator" rather than "professor." A facilitator needs to be good at facilitating learning. He or she or she doesn't have to be a leading expert at the subject, although certainly students prefer and benefit most from someone who is both an expert in a subject and an excellent teacher as well.

So many of us went into teaching (or preaching for that matter) because we like to talk or seem to know stuff. There will always be a place for a speaking circuit. But room for the genius know-it-all professor will increasingly be limited. Their days in the average college are numbered, because they often cannot do anything but talk.

While this is sad for people like me who like to talk, it's a boon for most students, who will learn more. And maybe we can bring in the brilliant but pedagogically-challenged occasionally as a side-show, just so students can know what genius is... but we'll have someone else help the students process the show...

9 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Are you suggesting that teaching facilities are to become places of indoctrination, instead of real learning? And that these facilitators are to be told "up front" what they are to facilitate? Instead of real learning, it will be a form of manipulation? And what is the real purpose of end of such teaching? Wouldn't such teaching be "strong arming" the facilitator, as well as the student?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Isn't treating the facilitator and the student as a "project" (indoctrination) making humans a sacrifice (unto "God" Romans 12:1) OR does God require the student and facillitator to choose to be indoctrinated? Is "God" appeased (and pleased) by such sacrifices of human beings of their mind, and life? Does "God" survive on, lust for, and live on "human flesh"? Does he "eat" his own creation and call it "good"?

Ken Schenck said...

Not at all! The facilitator model is actually much more likely to help a student formulate his or her own positions than some talking head at the front of the room spouting off what he or she thinks.

π² said...

A subset of the online cohort had a few discussions about this over the last three years. We found the idea of a "pure" facilitator lacking. If I wanted to simply learn on my own, why would I pay an institution? Good online and face to face teaching should bring the instructor's knowledge to the table and facilitate independent learning, IMO.

Ken Schenck said...

The problem is that brilliant minds are often not brilliant pedagogues and brilliant facilitators often arent leading scholars. There are the rare exceptions, and the iwu lot have the potential to be both...

JohnM said...

But what subjects are we talking about? Not all subject matter lends itself learning by discussion. How do we avoid the blind leading the blind in discussion? I mean, just sit in on a typical adult Sunday School class :)

Ken Schenck said...

The Phoenix model is 1) to use content experts to generate top level content for the course, 2) to use pedagogical experts to put the content into the best pedagogical form. This becomes the template for that particular course in perpetuity. Then 3) you use an expert facilitator to guide students through the live course based on the template.

JR Rozko said...

Offering a paper related to this topic at the American Society of Missiology conference in a couple weeks. Endeavoring to tease out implications of the doctrine of the missio Dei for the world of theological education. Hopefully the trajectory isn't just toward learning, but the more holistic aim missional formation.

Ken Schenck said...

I edited the post to be more balanced... that's the problem of the quick post...