The Changing Role of the Instructor

April 14, 2008

With the popular acceptance of each new learning theory, with the rolling out of the latest standardized testing system, with the acceptance of the latest pedagogical application, the role of the teacher has changed. This change has never been so great as that experienced in the last twenty years.

Computer use in the classroom has become more widespread. Moving beyond the convenience afforded by productivity software, the opening of classrooms to the worldwide web has introduced a host of resources and experiences. Now, in recent years, increased use of distance and distributed learning systems has introduced the most profound changes.

First, is the teacher and the technology. Many instructors still do not feel “at home” with computers—even with basic word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software. Add search engines, social networking, desktop sharing, and virtual environments, and you will place many of today’s teachers in an alien environment.

Next is the teacher and the environment. A majority of teachers are familiar with the same time, same place, F2F classroom experiences. The synchronous chats of distance learning, the asynchronous discussions of distributed learning, and the other activities that are also employed in these systems take some getting use to. Unfortunately, most school districts and institutions fail to provide teachers with adequate professional development opportunities. Imagine having to learn how to rebuild an engine on your own. Now imagine having to do it with the engine still running. And with a bunch a highly critical students watching your every move. No one is going to undertake such a task if they can avoid it.

Then there is the teacher and the content. Whereas being knowledgeable in one’s field was once what was most required from teachers, it is now much less important. They can no longer hide behind content. Instead, they must create an environment where students make a connection with that content.  And, no longer being at the center of the action, they must accomplish this engagement from the sidelines, or at least the backfield.

Finally, there is the teacher and the process. On top of everything else, teachers are no longer the clients of the technology, the ones who use the computer or the classroom. They are now the servers. They initiate the discussions, send out the topics and tasks. They guide student development rather than shape it; and, at times, do it remotely.

Today’s teachers must interact constructively with learners. The ability to communicate individually and with the group, the necessity for engaging students who one cannot see, and the demand that, somehow, the teacher gather the broad range of learners into a community of interest makes for a pretty demanding job.

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