Still a place for the ‘expert’…

We’ve just finished a three day Easter revision school at PFA, and very successful it was too. We had close to one hundred students per day, almost 50% of the year 11 population, and several staff gave up part of their Easter break to run classes and lectures on all the main exam subjects.

Interestingly, it was the lectures that were particularly well received. Students wanted to sit ‘passively’ and receive ideas for how to improve their grades; it wasn’t about collaboration or creativity, but about students keen to get the knowledge they needed to give themselves a kick start with their revision.

In these days of Googling, it’s easy to jump wholesale onto the bandwagon which sees the teacher’s role change radically from sage on the stage to guide on the side. After all, of our kids can get everything they need on line, do we need to tell them anything any more? If we listen to edu prophets like Ian Jukes, the answer is yes: we should radically rethink our role in the classroom.

But, this overlooks one major factor in how we learn: we often learn most effectively when we trust the source. Teachers have often spent years working on developing a relationship with their classes, having gone through the pain barrier with them in years 9 and 10, and finally getting to a place where genuine, deep rooted relationships can flourish. It is at this point that meaningful learning can truly occur, when the class are with you 100%, working with you to achieve often amazing things. That collective energy has to come from the initial groundwork the teacher puts in, as both sage and guide. Remove the former, developing a trusting relationship, and the latter is so much harder. You cant have one without the other.

Technology is an amazing thing: devices like the iPad can deliver some wonderful outcomes. But should using them remove our role as knower, as deliverer of knowledge? I don’t think so. What we can instead do is use technology to disseminate this knowledge further, through resources like iTunes U: my lectures on Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls were recorded and have been uploaded onto iTunes U for those who were unable to make the lectures. So far the reception has been very positive: students have been very receptive of what many would consider a rather old fashioned way of teaching.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Independent learning through mobile devices is a wonderful thing, but sitting in a lecture theatre, listening to someone you trust give you the stuff you need to pass your exams, and then being able to listen again on line, should not be overlooked. We didn’t spend years in higher education for nothing!

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