Expert Teachers: The Risk of Becoming Knowledge Workers
The idea of teachers being experts is certainly not a new one in the field of education. For centuries, the tutor or teacher has been the recognized expert in the field from whom students must learn. In this conventional context, the expert teacher transfers information and/or skill to the student through explanations, demonstrations, and examples. The overall goal is that in turn, what has been learned becomes useful to that student within relevant life contexts. While the concept of learning seems feasible and remains the overall goal of all education, the reality is that there are several stages in the process of learning that may or may not be facilitated by the teacher. That is, while the initial transfer of information from teacher to student is widely accepted as necessary in the process of learning, often stages of ideas sharing and application of the learning, which help to actually build knowledge, are often not included in the process. In other words, many learning contexts (courses, seminars, workshops, etc.) remain in the information transfer stages and never attain the level needed to develop new knowledge.
This is, in my opinion, for two main reasons:
- Teachers believe their job is to transfer information--the understanding of which can be easily measured in standardized tests; and
- Student do not recognize the difference between understanding information and building new knowledge and, therefore, do not necessarily a difference between the two.
As evidence of learning has generally been diminished to test data, teachers are faced with a risk they must take if their goal is to become that of knowledge worker rather than information manager or transmitter. That risk is to perhaps seem to not have "covered" all the material or to be spending too much time in non-essentials, which would undermine a teacher's perceived success as an educator. Students, too, run the risk of seeming too inquisitive or wasting time or stalling the progress of learning, as well as presenting themselves as lacking in knowledge in order to pursue knowledge. As we look closer at the risks involved in becoming knowledge workers in the learning process, we must also address various approaches to teaching and learning that can heighten knowledge development for both teachers and students.
From Information to Knowledge
For many years, social constructivists, critical pedagogists, and transformative theorists have talked about the importance of not only engaging students in the learning process but understanding that process and its focus on application of the learning. That is, without meaningful application that results in changes of individual or social behavior, true learning has not taken place. What often passes as knowledge is, then, merely information. And while knowledge requires information that is relevant and applicable, the process of application and knowledge development requires student engagement, exchange of ideas, students building on the ideas exchanged, and those ideas being formed and applied in meaningful ways that develop new knowledge for the student.
The process of teaching and learning must be about building on what is known and forming what has yet to be formed. This is a dynamic process of integrating experience, information, and knowledge building in a learning process of dynamic transformation for the learner. Friere (1970) talked of the importance of engaging the experiential reality of the individual learner in the process in order to achieve a transformative learning experience for the individual and society as a whole. The problem is we have defined knowledge as simply an increase of information and do not wait for the process of learning to take place that will move the student through an engagement with that information and to application and transformation.
This level of application is demonstrable and, therefore, effects real change for the student. At this point, such theorists would argue, is knowledge constructed, not before. In most contexts of learning this level of application is not attained by students generally, although it may be reached by individual students through their own efforts. The reason for this is of course that teachers, for the most part are driven by pre-set standards that must be reached by students if programs are to continue, funding is to be gained, and the learning is to be tested and scored as successful. Meanwhile, learning theory tells us that true learning is always measurable and demonstrable and always relevant for the learner. Two challenges exist:
- How can teachers become the workers or facilitators of knowledge development rather than merely remain as sources and transmitters of information?
- How can students be supported in knowledge growth that expands individual knowledge through meaningful application within the confines of regular coursework?
The main reasons that these challenges are resisted in current contexts of learning are that the focus is not the process of learning but the testing of information. The result is that students are prepared to reproduce information that answers quick and easy test questions, and, while project work might or problem solving might be encouraged by individual teachers, the results of these kinds of assignments are not what are valued in terms of noted student success. Rather than assignments that support learning being the central focus of a course, they are diminished as secondary to conventional tests and exams that usually do not require any new knowledge development for the student.
New technology provides excellent opportunities to support the process of knowledge building; however, the successful use of these tools is dependent upon the mindset of the instructor and the design of the instruction. For example, asynchronous discussion boards can be used to exchange information or build knowledge. Blogs can be used to journal information-gathering or identify new ideas upon which the author and others can build. Wikis can be used to post and develop information or create collaborative knowledge building. And so on. The point is, the tools themselves do not build knowledge. New technology is, as much as any conventional instructional delivery method, dependent upon the intent of the users. When educators state that new technology does not improve learning, perhaps the focus of such statements should remain with the instructional design and teaching methods of the educator, not the subsequent use or misuse of technology tools. In conventional classrooms, many educators, with or without the use of technology, may or may not be committed to the learning process and rather be content to provide information to students and receive that information back from students for a grade. The same is true for online or blended instructors. The teaching and learning environment does not guarantee effective learning, the support of the learning process, or the building of knowledge. If educators are committed to becoming knowledge workers, it requires intentionality of instructional design and delivery.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Seabury Press, NY.
Freire, A.M.A; Macedo, D. (Eds) (2000). The Paulo Freire Reader; ch. 2, "The Banking Concept of Education." The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. London, UK; Now York, USA.
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About the author: Ruth Reynard is the director of faculty for Career Education Corp. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ruth Reynard, Ph.D., is a higher education consultant specializing in faculty development and instructional design. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.