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Teacher As Student
when the teacher becomes the learner?
Teachers in the Paradigm Swing
With increased online learning mandated by the
Academic and Professional Marketplace, instructors frequently become
learners in other teachers' classrooms. In perhaps uncomfortable role
reversal situations, instructors are more and more frequently "going
back to school." They have become a new set of learners in Distance
Learning online and experience, from an ambiguous perspective, the same
fears and frustrations as their fellow students. The teacher qua learner
becomes unwilling to "go public" in conferences and chat
sessions until he or she feels secure in the new learning environment.
Perhaps the culture is different, the requirements are unclear, the
content is new, or the technology is challenging. I have seen colleagues
with great professional skill who, when placed in the unknown online
learning environment, exhibited the neuroses and uncertainty they felt way
back as freshman in college.
I have just finished an excellent and intensive
online course required by University of Maryland University College UMUC)
for experienced F2F instructors assigned to teach their first online
class. Local students had a classroom component. Three thousand miles
away, I took the course entirely online. I was totally bewildered by
immersion in new and rich experiences in a discipline where I (previously)
had considered myself an expert. I had not allocated enough time to do
justice to these opportunities. I became a lurker, unwilling to show
myself until I understood what was happening. I was always behind, and
fearful of being dropped from the course. Finally, I dropped everything
else I was doing in order to participate (and pass!).
Here are some of my parameters for online learning.
Success of online learning requires group participation. Presentations
from the faculty should be purposefully short to "set the stage"
for dialog and contributions of class members. Many class members bring
professional experience; others have questions. There is time enough to do
research and dialog to develop the topic in a way not possible in a
traditional classroom. When people really "get into it," the
collective sharing of experience is rich and exciting.
Conferences are initiated by the instructor.
There may be several each week; each requires reading, research skills,
and dialog. The resulting interactions and issues that develop day-by-day
are addictive – the academic equivalent of Survivor.
In Study Groups, student-teams, guided gently
by the teacher, need to set their own goals and schedules and assume
responsibility for the entire project and report. Every team is unique.
Usually a leader emerges. Some groups subdivide tasks and appoint an
editor to integrate the results. Others share research via email, chat
rooms, and posting to the study-group web page. As the report or project
is assembled, each member adds-to and edits the page. It is a lesson in
teamwork and trust. One of the truly unique experiences attached to
successful online learning is that of teamwork and trust.
I have always been suspicious that conferences and
chat rooms don't produce a lot of substance. I was wrong. As Keller's
research indicates, the learner needs clear goals, knowledge of value, and
confidence of success. It is the instructor's job to set the stage and get
the ball rolling. I found I learned a great deal. My knowledge, skills,
and attitudes were changed and bettered by the course, which, although I
sometimes thought it would never end, was over all too soon. The following
week I returned to my instructor role, but it will never be the same.