Friday, November 02, 2007

facilitate or teach or learn

In response to Leigh's posting as you prepare to facilitate try not to teach. To teach or not to teach. to facilitate or not to facilitate. To moderate or not to moderate! Is there really a debate to be had I wonder?

I believe that all this angst has come about because "a teacher" decided some way back that he or she would replace the word "teach online" with "facilitate online". It means the same!

Because we have all been encouraged to step back a bit and stop pushing information at students and encourage them to do more thinking for themselves and more self-directed learning, teaching is now facilitating. But is it?

Learner-centred is the new buzz word along with facilitated learning - it is still about teaching. The teachers, you and I, leigh, are still seen as the experts in the discipline we are teaching otherwise we would not be asked to "teach" the course.

So why have we been asked to teach the course and not the local butcher who is equally able to facilitate a jolly good discussion?

Because we have some expertise - like it or not, we have to teach our class something so they can teach themselves. Teach or model, facilitate or model - otherwise they will not just be feeling frustrated or confused - too much to learn - they will be really, really angry and p...ed off. Why didn't we just send out the handbook with the instructions for the course and the assessments with a few readings and tell them to get on with it?

Because we have to teach them something. that involves not just facilitating a good ole discussion, it involves giving information, brokering information, helping/facilitating them to find information, setting up systems and facilitating ways for them to develop as a community, directing them towards the things they need to complete to pass the course or not. Is that not teaching in one sense?

Making it interesting and challenging and scary enough to make them come back for more - fear as in the kind you get on a rollercoaster. Fear can be a great stimulant!

In my mind, good teaching is about good facilitating and treating the learners as individuals and as competent intelligent people who can think for themselves and who are encouraged to think critically.

In response to some of leigh's questions -
  • Why is this course called facilitate online learning communities and not teach online learning communities? To be absolutely pedantic here it is Facilitating eLearning communities. So just as Leigh has replaced eLearning with online - have we not replaced teaching with facilitating?
  • Is teaching and facilitation really interchangeable?
  • Yes mostly it is because good teaching should strike a balance and the teacher should step back when necessary and step forward and teach when needed - sometimes we need to be more proactive to facilitate scaffolded learning and not just assume people will enjoy struggling to find out everything themselves. The level of support needed, I believe, depends on each person's zone of proximal development(Wikipedia, 2007), for each situation and each topic. As you will see a person can be assisted to develop not only by the teacher but also by their peers - so does the peer then become a teacher too?
  • Is facilitation simply one of many techniques that a teacher employs in their work? Or is teaching just one of many 3rd party services that a facilitator might call on in their work?
  • Is it possible to be both a teacher and a facilitator within the same group of people?
  • In response to these questions, I believe the answer is yes in both cases. Why? Because firstly, I see the terms as interchangeable where someone really knows how to support learners albeit called teacher or facilitator. Secondly, a balance is crucial in contemporary society .
  • What are the differences in the roles and what are the social dynamics in play when they function?
  • It depends on our definitions for teacher and facilitator and these depend on our philosophies as this discussion is demonstrating.
Examples: If facilitating a meeting - we might approach it in different ways. We can talk and dominate the session for the bulk of the time and answer questions, or present a slide show and demonstrate what we have been doing and/or would like to see being done and answer Qs. we can set an agenda and call for contributions, and chair the meeting to keep discussion on track and comments relevant. we can dominate the meeting by always bringing up points of discussion. a meeting can be facilitated by all members and all members contribute equally thus teaching others by telling them new things or bringing up points they may not have thought of.

I guess it depends on whether you believe that learning occurs all the time and whether when we learn we have taught ourselves or learned from others. Does that then make them teachers?

Oh boy - is it not all about letting others speak, and about people having an equal chance to contribute, and valuing each person's contribution and unique style?

To me that is much more important than debating the difference between teaching and facilitating. even someone standing up in front of a class and delivering a lecture for an hour, has facilitated learning in some way. what they may not have done is facilitated group discussion or critical thinking but they could have and I always tried to operate this way in large lectures.

So lecture is not synonymous with monologue or transfer of information - it depends on the style of the lecturer - just as tutorial or discussion is not synonymous with interaction. as we know people can just sit there and wait to be told and not contribute no matter how excellent the facilitator might be. Intrinsic motivation can play a huge part in how actively people engage and contribute.

You facilitate an exam perhaps not teach in it. That is the only example I can think of where there might be a difference BUT you actually supervise an exam or invigilate not really facilitate it. You facilitate a discussion or a meeting but you may not do it well just as you may not teach well. And for me good teaching is about being a good facilitator of knowledge, of interaction, of information, of learning and of people. Are there other examples you can think of where you facilitate not teach?
Bron