Rethinking the Way We Teach

When I was working on my Master’s in Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario I took a course on library services for science and engineering. In this class we had a guest lecture from a science librarian who made an analogy that has stuck with me. She described reading as creating hooks in our mind on which we can connect new ideas in the future.

Every time we read something, watch something, or experience something new, we are building a new hook. You never know when that hook is going to connect with something and what the result of that connection will be. I have always believed in diversifying my knowledge and reading on as many different subjects as possible because I have discovered that ideas that I find in one discipline or area of my life often connect to things that I am thinking about in another area.

I had that experience today when I received the latest issue of Ottawa Parenting Times Magazine in my email inbox. The current issue contained a story entitled “How is your imagination?” by Richard Fransham (http://www.ottawaparentingtimes.ca/how-is-your-imagination/). The article was written to introduce an organization called OPERI – the Ottawa Public Education Remake Initiative – and its efforts to change the way that classes are organized. The article described the desired model for education as follows:

“With the democratic model, students are seen as the clients, and the teachers as service providers. Schools become community learning resource centres that respond to the unique needs of each student without saddling them with labels. The students assume responsibility for their own learning and everyone is a teacher and a learner. The actual teachers become facilitators, mentors, coaches and co-learners who cultivate diverse learning communities that bring the big world to the attention of the students.”

I have been seeing this model of education more and more in a variety of contexts. Much of the professional and labour training that I have undertaken has been run by facilitators who focus more on engaging participants in group discussions than on lecturing.

The book Inspired Collaboration: Ideas for Discovering and Applying Your Potential by Dorothy Stoltz et al (ALA Editions, 2016) included a section that discussed library staff training which read:

“Too often, library staff development trainings or educational classes seek to transmit knowledge or fill one’s mind with facts and “crucial information.” While knowledge, facts, and instruction are important and should not be overlooked, the heart of effective staff development and education for today’s library workers is helping them learn to think. Learning to think effectively is multifaceted – learning how to learn, unlearn, and relearn, and how to challenge deeper thought and reflection in those practical, everyday ways.” (Stoltz et al., 2016, p. 89)

When I took courses to learn about teaching adult learners the emphasis was also on engaging learners and encouraging them to share their own experiences and knowledge and de-emphasizing the role of instructor as “sage on the stage” but rather as a facilitator of discussion and knowledge sharing.

I think that I have been conscious of this shifting role of teachers and instructors because it is such a contrast from the system of teaching that I grew up with…and I am a member of the millennial generation. I definitely entered my undergraduate degree – and exited it – with a sense that the role of the professor was to accumulate vast amounts of knowledge and to share it with an audience of students. The measure of a good teacher was depth of knowledge and delivery style.

Moving away from this style of teaching takes work. It requires that we reimaging our role as teachers and instructors. It requires us to introduce different types of activities in our classrooms (or whatever learning settings we are using). When I was learning how to develop training sessions and materials I made the mistake of using these as a vehicle for showing off my own knowledge and including content that wasn’t of interest to my audience. I’ve learned from this mistake, so now when I develop training in my workplace, I structure classes around what students want to know – based on questions and feedback that I have received from them – rather than on what I want to teach. I also know that my journey to becoming a great teacher or instructor is an ongoing one and that it requires learning more about how people learn and how to facilitate that learning.

Featured image by Denise Krebs

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