Monday, November 4, 2013

Teacher Skills in a Virtual Education Environment: Part I

The first thing I would like to state is that I am by no means a perfect teacher. I am a teacher who is constantly humbled by the skills and wisdom of others and my sincerest desire is that I will continue to be inspired by others and continue to learn so that I can innovate and design lessons that are powerful and meaningful to students. Students today are desperately in need of adults who can inspire them. Too often what they face are adults in positions of power who are not willing to give the effort needed to truly inspire students to do great things. Students need to feel and experience hope for their future; that they have a chance to be the architects of that future. What many students experience when dealing with adults is cold cynicism about the political system they live under, the demands of daily life and the morality of how people relate to others. These are damning statements that some may take issue with and they are within their rights to do so. However, if they agree they are then in position where they have a moral imperative to do something about the issue for the sake of all young people who are being educated.

The teacher is the one person who is in the position to truly make a difference in the life of a student. The skills and experience that he or she brings to the art of teaching have an impact if used in a way with the vision of where we want education to take us in the future. An important fact that we need to keep in mind is that the student's future is also our future. If students grow to be citizens who have a cynical point of view of life and do not feel a connection to the adults who came before, then we are setting ourselves up for a future of despair.
Given the online environment, there are certain skills and attitudes that a teacher should have in order to help students succeed:
  1. Innovator and Co-Learner: Given the nature of the environment, a teacher should be an innovator of new teaching practices and should be able to adapt quickly to the changes that technology brings to the art of teaching. He or she needs to put his or her ego away and admit that like students, they are constantly learning. It is o.k. to admit to your students that you do not know everything there is to know about this new environment; that you with the student are willing to learn.
  2. Explorer: Teachers need to be explorers. Exploration always involves risks. Therefore, teachers need to be able to be risk takers if in doing so the education of their students is enriched.
  3. Inter-Disciplinary Collaborators: Teachers need to be strong enough to go beyond their area of expertise and rely on the expertise of those in other disciplines. One of the most effective tools used in early online education was a volunteer program called:"Ask the Expert". This was a program where people on the forefront of various disciplines offered their time to interact with students to engage them to think about life from the point of view of their discipline. Students NEED to be exposed to an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems. I know that the education systems give "lip service" suggesting that they provide this but I am sorry but from my experience, it isn't good enough.
  4. Challengers: Students need teachers who are not afraid to challenge students and their thinking. Too many teachers are willing to allow students to back away from statements that they have made without forcing them to confront the flaws in their reasoning. The intent is not to depress the student or cause them to lose hope. The intent is to get them to examine their thinking critically from more than one point of view. They need to be able to clarify and refine if necessary. They need to be taught that when they take a position on an issue that they defend that position using verifiable evidence. The beauty of online education is that if this approach is taken, students from countries all over the world now see an issue from many points of view. these points of view allow them to see cultural, regional and in fact global biases that they couldn't experience in a brick and mortar school. A course in logical reasoning should be a mandatory first course in an online education system for teachers and students.
  5. Eclectic: In order for a teacher to be an innovator, he or she should be able to draw on thinking from many levels. This requires a  mind that can free itself from the mundane things of life.
If you wish to offer comments on these posts, please feel free....
More later....

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