Much of the reading I have done for this course has indicated a shift in the role of adult educators from dispensers of knowledge to facilitators of student learning. In science education, this can be seen in increased popularity of the flipped classroom model (Bart, 2013), inquiry-based labs (Weaver, Russell & Wink, 2008). Each of these methodologies calls on the instructor to go beyond (and in some cases completely dispense with) the traditional lecturer role and to act as more of a guide or facilitator.
In the flipped classroom model, students view the traditional “lecture” material outside of class, and then spend class time working on traditional “homework” activities such as solving problems and answering questions about the lecture material (Bart, 2013). Depending on the source of the material to be viewed outside of class, the instructor may still be lecturing – just in video format instead of live. In class, though, the instructor may now act as a tutor for students who need more one-on-one assistance; a coach for students who need encouragement and a little guidance; a mentor to students who understand the material and are interested in asking deeper questions; or a “learning counselor” as described by Tudor (1993) who helps students to assess their learning needs and goals, and to direct them toward activities that will help them to learn. Although I do not have a fully “flipped” class, I generally spend no more than half of my class time on lecture-type activities and to devote the rest to more active learning, and so I experience these various roles on a daily basis as I move around my classroom and address the needs of individual students.
Inquiry-based labs are those in which students formulate a question, design an experiment, and carry out their own data collection and analysis (Weaver et al., 2008). This model places the instructor in the role of coach, mentor and facilitator, and explicitly discourages the “dispenser of knowledge” role, since the goal is to have students create and discover knowledge for themselves. In my experience teaching an inquiry-based lab for first-year university students, I found that it took some time to change my own mindset from wanting to give students answers when they asked, and to instead respond to their questions with more questions that would lead them to find the answers on their own.
The concept of adult educators playing different roles aside from that of lecturer is an interesting one for me because when I think back to my most life-changing instructors, the first two to come to mind were both fairly traditional lecturers whose passion for their subject matter was totally, wonderfully infectious. In fact, I was so enraptured in two courses in my second year of university – an introduction to invertebrate zoology, and an entomology (insect biology) class – that I ended up changing my major and later pursuing two graduate degrees related to invertebrates. So on a personal level, I have a hard time completely discounting the value of lectures, and part of me always strives to the same level of lecturing greatness as those professors. However, I have come to realize that I’m not just teaching the future PhD in biology in my classes – I need to reach all of my students – and many studies have shown that there are more effective ways to do this than the traditional lecture (Wood, 2009). When I think a little more about that semester of my second year, I remember a graduate student who was the teaching assistant for my invertebrate zoology lab, who in fact acted as more of a coach and mentor, and who ultimately encouraged me to go on in marine biology. The idea of playing many roles as an adult educator is somewhat daunting, but a worthwhile challenge, because different students have different needs, and if I can play many roles then I can likely help more students to succeed.
Bart, M. (2013, November 20). Survey confirms growth of the flipped classroom. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/edtech-news-and-trends/survey-confirms-growth-of-the-flipped-classroom/
Tudor, I. (1993). Teacher roles in the learner-centred classroom. English Language Teaching Journal, 47 (1): 22-31.
Weaver, G.C., Russell, C.B., and Wink, D.J. Inquiry-based and research-based laboratory pedagogies in undergraduate science. Nature Chemical Biology, 4 (10), 577-580.
Wood, W.B. (2009). Innovations in teaching undergraduate biology and why we need them. Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology, 25, 93-112.