Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Sorcerer's Apprentice in the Digital Age: Mentor Networks and Re-Thinking Learning Objectives

In the previous post I suggested to you that if we are to realize a new culture of innovation within our societies, how we educate young people will be key. I suggested to you that given the need to design e-learning courses in which the learner is an agent of change in the world that they live in, we need to develop cross disciplinary learning that will utilize professional mentor networks that students can connect with readily. The idea that the teacher is the fountain of knowledge that students can turn to in tackling real world issues and problems is over. Today's teacher can't possibly fulfill the role as defined by the past. If the teacher is to re-define his or her role as a change agent, he or she must become more than just a facilitator. He or she must become a mentor and activator who can help students learn how to connect with others who are needed in addressing the problems that they tackle. This points to the need of mentors who are on the leading edge of their fields. In this scenario the educator is like a conductor of an orchestra who directs and imagines how the parts of the education pieces fit together in a grand opus that not only benefits the students but ultimately benefits the societies that these students become citizens of.

Transformational teaching of this order also requires us to re-think how we arrive at learning objectives and how we assess the learning outcomes. If we accept the need to establish these mentor networks on a global scale then we must realize that these mentors will have a role in the design of learning outcomes because only they know what are worthwhile components of their discipline that play a vital role in the solution of the real world problems that students will face in the course they are taking. This means that the educator in collaboration with the mentor network would co-design the learning objectives. The educator would share his or her expertise dealing with how people learn (pedagogy) while the mentors whether they are game designers or Astronomers would give guidance so that their perspective is well represented by the problem and will be properly assessed when students responses are examined. The mentors become stakeholders in the education of a digital generation.

If the learning objectives are co-designed by educators and the particular mentor network in play, then it also stands to reason that these mentor networks would take part in the assessment of student solutions. I have already described how assessment might work in a previous post dealing with the Mt. Everest Scenario. These mentor networks can also do what has always been a struggle for educators. It is important to students that they receive feedback on what they have created from those who students would consider to be important people in the disciplines that were involved in what they were learning. Mentors could provide the opportunity to showcase student solutions in their professional journals and have feedback such as questions and suggestions directed back to the students first and then the educator who as an activator gives students direction.

What we are faced with is a great opportunity to engage and inspire. It starts with the idea that transformative teaching is more than just the pedagogy, it is also an art. Sir Kenneth Robinson has the final word here about the changing role of the educator in all of this:

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