Teacher roles and responsibilities are changing on a number of fronts. The accountability movement, especially in the United States, has placed considerably more responsibility on the teacher in the form of standardization of content, evaluation, and documentation of student achievement. Brain research is telling us more about child development and how humans learn, in addition to providing the means to identify auditory processing deficiencies, autism, attention deficit disorder and countless other exceptionalities. Government increasingly looks to education to solve complex social challenges. Meanwhile, technology evolves at such a frenetic pace that we barely have the chance to consider the educational value of one tool before another takes center stage. Teachers are continually asked to do more with the same or less resources. It’s easy to understand why they are overwhelmed. Some embrace these changes losing sleep over how to address them. Others find safety in their comfort zones. Ultimately, we will all have to come to terms with how these issues affect our roles as educators and learners.
Teaching and learning involves social interaction, even in the most traditional sense between teacher and student. Social technology “has fundamentally changed how we can be together” (White, 2008), so it seems natural to explore the potential impact of social networking on education and how it might change our roles. This reflection will focus specifically on the impact of connected learning on teacher roles. However, it is wise to consider implications to all of the issues listed above to further reflect on how networked teacher roles might address educational challenges beyond mere technological implications. Such is a topic for future study.
Appropriate responses to change
Teacher as entrepreneur
Teachers, by nature, take pride in their control and structure. Traditionally, this is how order is maintained. Control is further regarded as necessary to efficiently cover large quantities of content. However, managing change requires flexibility. Experimentation is essential in any dynamic environment. Effective responses to rapid change include an open mind, flexible attitude, and entrepreneurial spirit. Teachers, like their students, can learn a lot from their mistakes. Empowering students requires exchanging control for greater freedom. Greater freedom promotes positive risk taking on the part of both teacher and student. Everyone benefits. Let’s Talk Business, an online guide to business success, suggests that successful entrepreneurs are optimistic, tenacious, ethical, eager to listen and learn, confident, disciplined, and self-controlled (Prairie Public Television, n.d.). Imagine these qualities in a networked teacher, emphasis on self-controlled versus controlling.
Impediments to change
Teacher as change agent
Even in a storm of change, some teachers manage to maintain enough autonomy within the confines of classroom walls to escape administrative directives and avoid collegial pressure. Therefore, the networked teacher must assume the role of change agent. In many cases administrators are not familiar with connectivism and the potential of connected learning. The teacher as change agent possesses leadership qualities to be modeled by other teachers. He or she is a decision maker, one who doesn’t just use technology for its own sake but exhibits thoughtful applications of each new tool. Furthermore, change agents are confident, visionary, and persistent (Gwinn and Taffe, 2007). They will visit fellow colleagues one-on-one as much as necessary to influence their practice. One of Paul Skidmore’s characteristics of network leadership is helping people grow out of their comfort zones (Skidmore, 2006). The teacher as change agent helps others manage this shift.
Impact of current trends
Beyond skeptical colleagues, the networked teacher faces obstacles of limited time, contradicting pedagogy, unbalanced focus on accountability through testing, increased costs with lower budgets, and slow change at upper administrative levels. Yet emerging technologies are providing lower cost, efficient alternatives for building robust personal learning networks. As the trend toward less expensive computers, ever-expanding storage space, and user-friendly social networks continues, more educators will experiment with connected learning thereby exposing more students to its endless learning potential. Once students are empowered in this way, no one will be able to take that away.
What could be?
What does this mean for the networked, connected teacher? What new roles emerge? On his blog, Konrad Glogowski explains, “his classroom transformed itself from a place where knowledge was pre-packaged for students to a place where they are now given a responsibility of creating it, where they have to participate in existing networks (class blogosphere, for example), nurture their own (Furl or del.icio.us accounts, blogs), and look for connections” (Glogowski, 2005). He further identifies the point when he began teaching students to recognize and formulate connections and patterns as the point when he became a teacher of connectivism (Glogowski, 2005).
Konrad, Clarence Fisher, Alec Couros and others in my own personal learning network inspire me to take on new roles to make networked learning possible for my students. I’m about to embark on a 6-week connectivism project with my Contemporary Issues class. They will build a personal learning environment based on a topic for which they have great interest. I will take on a number of new roles including that of modeler, network administrator, curator, concierge, community leader, technology steward, information filter, Sherpa, researcher, change agent, learning entrepreneur, and evaluator. Some of these roles will be foreign and uncomfortable. But, I’m open minded, confident, ready to experiment, and prepared to learn from my mistakes. (See Concept Map in post below this one.)
Brown, J. (2008). How to Connect Technology and Passion in the Service of Learning. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(8), 99.
Brown, J., & Adler, R. (2008). Minds on Fire. Educause, Jan/Feb, 17-32.
Cormier, D., Downes, S., & Siemens, G. (2008, November 7). CCK08 UStream Session Chat. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from www.archive.org/search.php?query=creator%3A%22Dave%20Cormier%2C%20Stephen%20Downes%2C%20George%20Siemens%2C%20CCK08%20participants%22%20AND%20(mediatype%3Amovies)%20AND%20subject%3A%22role%20of%20teacher%22.
Entrepreneurship: Characteristics. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://www.prairiepublic.org/features/END/entrepreneur5.htm.
Glogowski, K. (2005, September 14). Teaching Connectivism blog of proximal development . Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://www.teachandlearn.ca/blog/2005/09/14/connectivism/
Gwinn, C., & Taffe, S. (2007). Integrating Literacy and Technology: Effective Practice for Grades K-6 (Tools for Teaching Literacy). New York: The Guilford Press.
Siemens, G. (2007, August 24). Connectivism Blog. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://connectivism.ca/blog/2007/08/networks_ecologies_and_curator.html.
Skidmore, P. (2006). Leadership themes school leadership in the 21st century. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:C6_YNOXjQvYJ:networkedlearning.ncsl.org.uk/knowledge-base/programme-leaflets/leadership-themes-school-leadership-in-the-21st-century.pdf+paul+skidmore+network+leadership&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=us&client=firefox-a
White, N. (2008, November 5). Full Circle Associates » Guesting with Connectivism & Connective Knowledge. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://www.fullcirc.com/wp/2008/11/05/guesting-with-connectivism-connective-knowledge/.