Monday, March 30, 2009

We don't NEED more teachers. We need more people TEACHING!

I've been giving a lot of presentations lately and even have a couple keynotes lined up for this year.  One of the themes that has emerged for me in this new world of collaboration and web2.0 is the idea that we are ALL both learner and teacher.  This idea is by no means radical or some sort of amazing break through.  But if we believe this to be true, and we hope to foster a new educational system, then the old one simply has to go.  And by "go", I mean that the old must not be left as a legacy system holding back the new.  New educational systems have already begun opening their doors to this brave new world...and many more are coming.  There shouldn't be buearocratic barriers to "becoming" a teacher.  If you are good, or knowledgable, at something, then you simply start teaching.

Jay Cross posted an interesting story this morning about his reply to this email question, "How are people using social software to support learning?"
Read his complete post at the Informal Learning Blog.  Here is my favorite line in Jay's reply...
"I don’t find much value in arguing classroom versus network-based learning or formal versus informal because it’s always a case of a little of this and a little of that. All learning is part formal and part informal; what impacts the results is finding the appropriate balance."

Well said, Jay.

I was thinking about the basics of "education" and here are the parts that I needed in order to get through my traditional education:

1) Defined Curriculum - If I want to BE a doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc. I rely on those that ARE doing those jobs or some other expert to organize the order in which I gain my knowledge in that field.
2) Administrivia - I need to manage my day - Sign up for activities, When do I "go to class", when do I read alone, when do I get together with others, etc.
3) Connect to others - I need to find and connect with others that are on the same/similar journey to learn and form relationships.
4) Access to experts (Professors) - I need to hear what the best and brightest in my field have to say and I need to ask questions and communicate with them for deeper understanding. Basically, I need access to their years of experience doing what I will hopefully be doing in the future.
5) Access to resources - I need books, magazines, professional organizations, research documents, and anything else published on my chosen topic of study.
6) Prove my competence - Others need to feel confident in my abilities and I need to provide them with something that proves my ability (my writings, recommendations from professors, projects, etc).

(Did I miss anything?)

I cannot think of ANYTHING in the list of 6 items that I cannot access via new web technologies. And I should be able to access them from any where in the world as well as being able to access ANY resource, professor, peer, content, or curriculum that is located in other parts of the world.  Global location should not matter.  However, connectedness DOES matter.

I've also learned over the years that I learn MORE, and more deeply, when I teach.  (I've heard others say that too, so I know its not just me.) So, shouldn't teaching actually be part of any learning program?  That would also be the ultimate indicator of your own success.  If you can teach others something and THEY walk away praising your name, then I would say that's better than ANY pointless letter grade indicating your ability.

We need to stop thinking of social networking as something bright new and shiny.  The bricks and mortar universities provided the environment for social networking and in my opinion that was BIGGEST benefit of the money spent on my education.  How come nobody asks the same social networking question of traditional universities?  Study groups are nothing new.  Meeting a new peer/friend in your class and then meeting outside of the scheduled class time is nothing new.  Nobody ever asks, "How are people using study groups to support learning?"

Are ivory tower academics REALLY that dense to NOT see the similarities and the powerful learning capabilities of social networking software?  No, I think not.  What academics are REALLY asking/thinking is, "How do I stay relevant, and important as a leader in my field, if my students go to sources other than ME?"

With the introduction of, and the many other freely available educational resources, its only going to become easier than ever to educate yourself for FREE.

Everyone is a teacher.  Its not a profession in and of itself.  Being a teacher is simply part of being a productive successful adult participating within a society.

We don't NEED more teachers. We need more people TEACHING!


Lars Hyland said...

Great post Brent. You rightly identify that a lot of education is more interested in it's processes and flawed assessment models than it is in the quality of the teaching and providing an environment for peer and expert level communication and collaboration that drives real, sustainable learning.

When learners take full responsibility for the teaching they receive and even participate in through the sharing you describe then we'll see real change accelerating. Traditional institutions will then be under real threat.

rip said...

"Everyone is a teacher." - No, that's simply not true. Not even all teachers are 'teachers' in your sense of the word, and certainly not every individual.
I find your post very interesting, but I don't think you're helping your argument by claiming that web 2.0 is a magic wand that enables *everyone* to become whatever he wants. There are more and better learning opportunities, yes. But those opportunities need a prepared and capable mind to profit from them.

bschlenker said...

Hi Rip! Thanks for the comment. I'm certain the issue is mostly regarding semantics. I simply believe that everyone in the world has something to share. And when you share and communicate with others you are teaching. No, you aren't "teaching", as defined by the old industrial age model of education. But, yes you are communicating with another human being who is learning from the things you are saying.
I DO believe everyone is a teacher. The problem is that not everyone makes for a "good" industrial age school teacher. Many "old school" teachers are NOT teaching the topic that is their passion. I believe even 'bad teachers' can become GREAT teachers if they are given the chance to teach their passion.
Lots more to talk about on this topic. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Richard said...

There is one thing that I can think of that you missed off your list.

Opportunities to practice.

I think this is not quite the same a proving ones competence.

Clearly some knowledge, and especially skill domains require offline practice - a medical student has to practise on a cadaver before being let loose on a live person.

But I agree wholeheartedly that we all have knowledge to impart (though often it might be trivial) and therefore can be teachers, and that the web is the best opportunity to harness this on a grand scale.

John Hovell said...

Great post, thanks for sharing. If its helpful, I've blogged a new and specific vision/approach for education/learning reform. We would love your thoughts and feedback (especially as it is very similar to the ideas in this post) -

Anonymous said...

In what i believe, "Everyone is a teacher" it is definitely true because people are contributing each other. No one is self sufficient. Everyone is teacher in life in one way or another,but in different ways.

Thanks Brent for sharing this.