The New Role of the Teacher

I just finished reading the post “Teaching in the New (Abundant) Economy of Information” by Shawn McCusker, posted March 6th on the blog Mind/Shift.

Click here to view the full article.

In this post, McCusker describes how the role of educator has changed with the inclusion of readily accessible information in the classroom via the internet:

But far from devaluing the role of the modern teacher, the new economy of information has freed teachers from their role as “font of knowledge” and allowed them to become chief analyzer, validity coach, research assistant, master differentiator, and creator of a shared learning experience. Today’s teacher will have to make sense of information that he may not be able to predict (because it is student generated), and yet still ensure that the daily learning objective is met. This is done by highlighting and celebrating successes, building skills, and honing the ability to evaluate information.

I am currently teaching a Digital Literacy class to college sophomores – this course is designed to introduce them to Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Powerpoint and a variety of internet tools.  When I was first told about the course, the idea of being an expert in all of those areas was overwhelming.  How would I possibly research and know all the tools, shortcuts and functions of all of those programs?  I have a strong understanding of the software, and work with these tools frequently, but I couldn’t help but worry – What if a student asks me something I don’t know?

Then it dawned on me, the real purpose of this class is not to show them tutorials and have them memorize functions, but to give them the tools they need to be able to find the answers that they will require!  What is the saying – “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

In a way, this is freeing.  As an educator, it is OK for me to say “I don’t know”.  However, as McCusker describes:

Today, there’s almost an over-abundance of information. A class of students could easily collect and process 100 potential sources in a single class. They can access materials from different eras and regions. They have access to experts and their work. It’s becoming common for actual artifacts to be available online; and in many cases, replicas of artifacts can even be downloaded and reconstructed with a 3D printer.

It is on the teacher to provide students with the ability to sift through the information and pull out what is important to their research.  How do we teach smart searching?  How do we teach critical analysis of found materials?  The role of the teacher has drastically shifted from just a few short years ago, and if we do not shift with it we will be replaced with smartphones, Siri and Google.