DOES THE TEACHER STILL MATTER?

Do something today that your future self will thank you for.(1)

My second blog post, written as part of Open Networked Learning course I’m taking for my PhD, is about my (unpopular) view that open education is NOT an ideal recipe for everyone.

In his TED talk, David Wiley tells a story of a professor who claimed CC on his class lectures. David’s criticism of this professor and his consequent question “Why are you in education?” followed by a pause with an implied message ‘…if you are this mean?’, is disturbing for me. It seems like when we talk about openness and free access in education, all the words we use to describe it are shining with virtues: you as a teacher want to share your knowledge with the world. You are generous and caring, open-minded and transparent, collaborative and flexible, reliable and resourceful, etc.

Bravo, the Open Teacher! (<loud applauses>)

As the opposite to this, there is a teacher who creates her online courses accessible for XXX €, demands credit for sharing her resources (which you can’t resell by the way), etc. Now add in- and un- to all the above adjectives describing the open teacher. In the context of openness in education, this other teacher is almost perceived as mean:  you as a teacher hide your knowledge, share it to the chosen ones only, you conceal and withhold your knowledge, you are unavailable, inaccessible, reserved.

Shame on you, the Evil Teacher! (<rotten tomatoes>)

Sharing your knowledge with the world – supposedly the ultimate teacher’s mission – in the digitalized education is risked by being faceless. The teacher’s role is redefined and not in a good way. In the comfort zone of abundant free online courses, why would one bother getting to the lecture of that professor, only available for students who can afford tuition fees or gain a decent scholarship? At the ONL webinar we talked about a tendency in digital education to avoid the cult of a teacher: it is the knowledge that matters, not the teacher as an individual. Hard to disagree? I disagree. With this approach of erasing teacher’s importance, the teacher is no longer special or exceptional, no longer valuable as personality; it is her skills and knowledge uploaded on YouTube under CC that are valued instead. The teacher becomes an altruistic faceless source of sharing her expertise. This education without a face is not my choice. My best teachers were outstanding personalities in the first place, whose ‘company’ had to be earned. You often have to be a student of a certain university to attend certain teachers’ classes. Their lectures are not always open and available online, and there is nothing wrong about it. Maybe the effort we take to learn is what makes us value our education?

Education is, by all means, sharing. But, it is also many other things: it is business, it is ideas, it is progress. Business is not charity, ideas need to be protected sometimes, progress is not easy to achieve. Education may be free and open, and such education is important. But, education may as well be closed and costly and not easily accessible for everyone, and this does not take away the value of this kind of education. It even adds some value, I think.

NB: you are not allowed to use this post for commercial purposes or remix 😈

References:

ONL172 Topic 2 Webinar: Open Education, Openness and Sharing.

Creative Commons guide.

Open education and the future, Short TED-talk by David Wiley

Photo credit: Touchstone pictures (from the movie “Dead Poets’ Society” 1989)

14 Responses to “DOES THE TEACHER STILL MATTER?

  • Reading your post (excellently dramatized btw :)) I so much recognized the reactions I had to topic 2 last year. The option to being open is painted with all black colors, or something like that, I remembered commenting in my blog. Now, a year later my attitude is maybe more synthesized and I realize that the teacher role is equally important as a human capital but not always as a course content creator. That cumulated knowledge, all these long hours of reflection in a subject, definitely should come to more valuable usage than just managing the presentation of content in a course. How this nice idea then is realized in practice – have not fully come to that point yet ;), but asking socrative questions, challenging with comments is a good start!

    • Thanks, Malin! A synthesized attitude is what it should be I guess, and not black or white.
      I agree that the teacher doesn’t have to be a creator of a content. My concern is that online education is more content-focused, the teacher is secondary, and I don’t like it.

  • I would reply that the role of the teacher is now even more important, not as a creator of content but to support, challenge, inspire and to provide a safe and inclusive learning space for students to learn in. It’s a much more demanding but more rewarding job than delivering content and the teacher is still an essential element in the students’ development. That is not negated by openness. If the teacher is willing to share their content and practice they can get valuable feedback, gain reputation among peers and thereby get new career opportunities. Openness is often misinterpreted as devaluing the role of the teacher but I see it as the opposite. At the same time there is a dangerous lottery in education in that if you’re lucky you get an inspiring teacher but many are unlucky and get the opposite with the result that they fail and end up hating that subject. If teachers worked more in teams we could maybe make sure that that there is a greater chance that the quality will be more even.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective on the teacher’s role in open education. I agree with your point that team-work among teachers should become more wide-spread. This will create space for sharing within the team and will become both secure and rewarding. In Ukraine I was familiar with the “two-teachers” approach in language education. It was not only team work on the content, but also the presence of the two teachers in the classroom. Have you ever taught in such a format?

  • Chaiwat
    3 weeks ago

    Nice reflection for the aspects to think about. It leaves me many questions too after going through topics2. I am not sure whether I am ready or not to go online with my course.

    • Thanks for your comment. Maybe you don’t have to go online with your course at this point.

  • Completely agree that for some reason, sharing lectures/presentations is supposed to be virtuous and something we should do as academics in the field. Interestingly, there’s a huge and growing group of dissatisfied academics who refuse to publish their academic work in journals where the publishers are making ungodly profits. We’re expected to publish, without payment. And now we’re expected to give up our presentations without payment. All the while, there’s a lack of secure and long term positions within academia.

    In other words, I’d be much more likely to openly share my work, if I had a secured and tenured position. As I have only time-limited contracts, I should be paid for my work. People shouldn’t be allowed to use my work without my permission. People may even need to pay me. After all, I can’t keep producing work if I’m never paid. Everyone else is paid for their work and intellectual property, and lecturers should be as well. If you want my slides without asking me, pay for my course.

    • Totally agree with your point on being paid for your intellectual ‘products’. Nobody questions why for example a construction worker would not fix the roof for free. But when it comes to academia, these questions arise, especially concerning PhD students. Yes, we don’t get money for publications and conference papers. But at least in Sweden we are paid as everyone else. In many countries PhD students are extremely low-paid and should be really self-motivated to publish great works and make excellent presentations for minimal monthly scholarship. This is why I will think twice whether I continue my career in academia. Enthusiasm-driven format of work is not for everyone.

  • Kicki Persson
    3 weeks ago

    How refreshing to hear a new voice in the twitterstream of celebrating the altruistic teacher. But I don’t agree. Yes exculsivity is sometimes god, but inclucivity is better. We don’t need more uneducated people in the world rather the other way round. And if sharing resources can promote that it’s god. There Will always be a place for those who can
    pay but some of the mest valuable inventions has been products of open collaboration.

    God teachers Will always be needed, but perhaps the teacher role have to change.

    • Thanks for your comment Kicki. I agree the most valuable inventions were produced in collaboration. However, I don’t think these products (physical or intellectual) were shared outside that team of inventors until that product entered the market. I find similar business model in education very useful. But I see your point and appreciate your different perspective.

  • I am (almost) with you here :) However, what I am struggling with is, given that one wants to share her lecture notes occasionally, what is the best way to do that? I don’t believe Creative Common licensing is much applicable to the struggle here, and not because it’s mean, but because I do not see that fit for material like slides mostly produced in form of text. I could of course be mistaken about CC licensing, but I guess there are ways to reuse the text material without breaching CC licenses.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kaveh! Maybe one way to avoid remixing/reusing your actual presentation (slides and accompanying texts) is to share them in PDF or JPEG (and add your name on each slide);) But in this way you can only protect your presentation from distorting the original, but you will not protect the information being remixed elsewhere.

  • Dear Aliona, Great post! It does appear that it has become fashionable to vilify teachers who are reluctant to freely share their academic ‘product’. You make a good argument. Good teachers achieve their ultimate satisfaction in the classroom. But if this is so, does the potential to share resources (such as teaching materials) with the wider world not still remain? Be the superstar in the lecture hall, and let those unable to attend your lectures – perhaps because they live in a developing country – benefit from some of your talents nevertheless? (Easy to say, I know, and a generalisation – there are many situations where simply releasing your creative work into commons is not appropriate)

    • Thanks for commenting! I tend to think there are plenty of superstar lecturers in developing countries and we don’t necessarily have to be rich to have great teachers:) My best teachers were those I had in my university in Ukraine (sorry, dear Cambridge… I just needed you on my CV):):)
      I think academic products are the same as other products. IKEA does not post the design of their next kitchen utensil they develop. It is accessible when it’s released on the market. But it does not mean it is not affordable for the majority, it may cost 45 SEK. But at least IKEA makes sure the same utensil will not appear by their competitor under a different name before they release their innovative stuff. Maybe business model approach to education is not the right one, but I prefer it. What approach do you take?

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