14 April 2012

Classroom Roles Are A-Changing

Every educational institution defines its reality through its norms, thus establishing its patters of common behaviour to the participating members. When considering the different levels of education and their reality of age differences – i.e. age differences between teachers and learners will create different social relationships, e.g. age differences between secondary and tertiary students will develop different patterns of behaviour in the relationship with the teacher and syllabus. However, there remains an impertinent question in regard to tertiary classroom cultures:
i) Is there really less “management” of learning at tertiary level than at other levels?
ii) If the managing of learning is still there, though less visible, hence more intangible, does it is more subtle?
iii) And if so, what are then the markers of that discourse?
Related to these issues, is of course the purpose of formal education and classrooms as we know them in their present state: is the justification for the object of teaching meant as a need for learning, learning here meaning the internalizing of external modes of reality in order to continue sustaining that reality?
From my experience and observations in classrooms, these are features which I have found and reflect upon.
1)    It is the institution which pre-determines the roles of teachers and learners, though one should always take into account the different personalities of each of the participating members.

2)    These roles and statues will also contribute to the determination of the teaching approaches applied by the individual teacher.
3)    The curriculum – syllabus and its testing – may condition teaching attitudes and procedures in the classroom.
Nevertheless, there are changes in process.
Changes which will not be stopped nor prevented any longer.
Classroom walls are open.
Learners have free access to whatever they want, whenever they want.
Roles are changing.
Can these changes be measured? And if not, are they not worth inquiring into?
“Questions which cannot be measured are not seen as challenging the notion of measurement, but rather as not worth studying. The impact on society of such a definition of knowledge is the undermining of independent thinking an decision making.”(Reinhartz 1990:422)
What Students Want on PhotoPeach

What do your students want?


Reinharz, S. – 1990 “Implementing New paradigm Research: A Model for Training and practice”, in Human Inquiry, ed. Reason, p. & J. Rowan, John Wiley &  Sons


This entry is a cross-posting from Dreaming Weaving Learning


  1. Hi Cristina, I just dropped in on your blog and all I can say is wow! You have been busy! Some great stuff here, thanks.

    I wanted to respond to your comment that the classroom walls are down and students can access what they like. Although I agree with the last part, my experience in HE institutions in the UK over the last year has shown me that, although a lot of (mostly overseas) students have i-phones, college policy tends to ban mobile devices and there is a distinct lack of hardware available for students, meaning that internet access is driven underground. Having no networked computers has driven me back to basics, which is not so bad in that it forces me to be more inventive. The point I'm trying to make is that one constantly has to adapt to institutional restrictions and, despite the potential of the internet for learning, it remains a social tool which students generally use to 'skim the surface' and look for quick solutions such as an app or simultaneous translation. Students of the so called 'digital generation' may still have a long way to go before they can really take control of their online learning environment.

  2. Hi Nathan,

    Thank you for passing by and sharing your thoughts and experience. I can related easily to what you say as when I was last in the UK teaching post-graduate students, I too had to deal with a number of tech issues - ranging from no projector in the classroom to no access to wifi for students' laptops.

    Yes, these institutional challenges do make one to be more creative/inventive :-)

    As for learners use of digital tools: it's a learning process. They obviously are online but it is up to educators to show them how much more they can actually do online. One also needs to take age groups into account - for instance, I am certain that if were 16 today, I would have other interests other than how to use wikis :-)

    In other words, "taking control" of an online learning environment is not straight-forward but a learning process just as any other. Despite the successes I have had with my students developing/creating digital stories, these activities remain classroom task and not really free time activities. I am comfortable with that.

    Digital literacies need to be developed and with time and maturity, learners will realize how relevant they are.

  3. Hi Cristina,

    I agree that educators can show learners ways to manage their online environment but I think that the driving force behind most online activity is social i.e. the students are far more engaged with their i-phones than anything that is going on in the classroom.

    I now have top of the range hardware installed in class - two IWBs and 3 monitors for the teacher, but no student pcs and no internet connection. Although I strive to make this technology learner centred, i.e. by handing over to students to operate the teacher pc, I don't have an i-phone myself, so can't connect with them through their own channels (even if they wanted to connect!) and banning the use of i-phones would be very difficult to police. So, back to the crux of the problem: how do you motivate learners to participate when they have so many online distractions? How does one bridge the divide between 'formal' learning and the desire for online socialisation when they have a connection and the teacher doesn't? These are the dominant issues for me. Unfortunately the solution often has to be to ignore the online environment completely.

  4. Hi Nathan,

    The issues you raise are twofold:

    1 - the lack of physical tech in the work place. This clearly reflects the lack of importance digital education the institution gives to E-learning - or a lack of financial funds.

    2 - Learning IS social and not only because today there is tech. As a young teen, I didn't have tech to distract me but like all teens of my generation, there was always a distraction if classes were boring; reading under the desk is an example.

    Regarding iPhones/mobile phones: I don't ban them in my classes. It is a waste of time and energy. I do however establish rules and give students opportunities to use their mobiles, for instance, to go around campus and take 1 photo to then write/speak about; record a story, make a video, use their dictionaries and so forth. Obviously I cannot do this every day, but whenever appropriate and meaningful for other tasks which will follow.

    In a situation like yours, I would teach students how to blog - this however puts extra pressure on the teacher to then check students' blogs at home. Writing, for instance, would be pair proof-reading/editing for student to then work on their blogs at home of where ever they have access to computers.

    Without the hardware in the classrooms, it is indeed frustrating for teachers to guide learners in a digital environment but there are still activities which could be done - another example which springs to mind is to have a wiki/blog which students check at home; there would be videos, questions for them to think about (e.g. how important is it being a digital citizen) and then discussions/feedback in class.

    Whenever I have worked in such environments, the only option I had was to flip the classroom - flipping in the sense that digital work was done outside class and during class there were questions, discussions and yes, writing too.

    Motivating learners is another issue; motivation is not imposed from the outside. Motivation is physiological and each individual has to have his/her own degree of motivation. The teacher's role is somehow to find a way to latch on to what motivates learners and create lessons that are meaningful to them.

    As always, easy to say; more challenging to put into practice, especially without tech in the classroom. Learners today deserve more than they are getting in education.