Teachers that love to learn are often the best instructors. They create an excitement in the process of guiding and relaying information. Through preparation of materials, research and discovery, the act of teaching is the act of learning. This may be ascribed to the fact that the teacher must prepare and know his/her subject well, and in the sharing of that information he/she becomes more knowledgeable. This is the theory and idea behind the method of teaching that embraces the role of the instructor as a facilitator rather than the teacher dispensing information to passive receivers. The goal of the facilitative instructor is to engage students and stir them with a desire to search out information and share it with others; to become excited in the task at hand. While lectures may have a place in learning, teachers need to set-up their classrooms, either on-line or on the ground to include methods which open new avenues of exploration and learning.
One method to move the learning more into the hands of the students involves small group activities. Although this may not work as well online, success has been achieved in traditional classroom settings. Malcolm Knowles experimented with this technique and used “units of inquiry,” to stimulate interest from the students. He set up the syllabus to identify the objectives of the course and the corresponding units of inquiry. Students chose an area of interest to tackle. The teacher provided resources and then let the students dig-in and put together a group presentation of what they learned. The instructor managed the process of learning; the students learned how to lead. In the process, the instructor saw they had become more energized in their learning (Knowles, 2005).
Seminars are considered to be small group activities, where students learn to lead and take part actively in discussion, according to Bach, Haynes & Smith (Bach, 2007). These can be as large as 25 students and require a space or classroom for meeting. However, this may not facilitate learning and teachers may need to assist students in forming smaller groups. Teachers need to facilitate a good learning experience for students by assigning reading before they meet, which will encourage group discussions (Bach, 2007). Seminars and small groups are not only confined to the traditional college campus. Instructors can relay information to the group, either through email or message boards. It is even possible to form groups in an online course, using synchronous video and text (Rabe-Hemp, 2009). Online conference platforms that are used in business for meetings are an option for higher education to encourage group discussion (Mujtaba, 2004). Smaller groups are more likely to include everyone’s input, whereas the large groups of 25 may leave students hanging back and not participating.
One of the disadvantages of group activities is the lack of availability to get everyone together. When this happens, the few students that take the lead end up doing all the work and resenting those that did not join in. The students left out, have missed a learning opportunity. This is a drawback in traditional classrooms as well as online. However, students may be able to coordinate time in virtual space better than a brick and mortar space. Students meet using a cell phone or laptop. This online discussion can happen “live” in sync with other students or can be asynchronous, accessing discussion boards and message boards where fellow students have left information to share (Bach, 2007). Teachers may find advantages to the online asynchronous seminars. Students are less likely to sit back quietly and let another member of the group present ideas and do all the work. Bach reports that this type of seminar “promotes independent thinking.” (Bach, 2007). But even then, the teacher must take an active part in the discussion and set a feeling of equality between educator and learner (Tyler, 2011). It can become an area of sharing thoughts and bringing previous knowledge to a forum where students feel comfortable contributing. National University uses a program called Class Live Pro Chat rooms, where students and teachers are involved in a synchronous environment (Tyler, 2011).
Often students will benefit from the help of a tutor. On the ground classrooms require the same coordinating that is needed in setting up seminars or group activities. Instructors facilitate learning by providing access to outside help in a face-to-face setting. This is especially true in higher education where class sizes for freshman students can reach in the hundreds. Students can feel lost and give up when they do not understand. Instructors do not have the capability to reach every student. In an online environment, tutoring can be accessed at any time. Teachers can provide sources where students find help online. This is where experience in evaluating good sources is important in helping students learn to solve problems. The Internet has become a repository of good information and bad. Links to well-done videos that explain difficult concepts will save the student time. Even though learning to research is an important student skill, directing learners to the better sources will save their time and prevent discouragement or wrong information. Bach recommends that teachers “organize the curriculum so that it reflects problem-based scenarios and is not driven by subject and discipline-based knowledge categories.” (Bach, 2007) Teachers provide the place to go. Students do not become discouraged, but instead begin to solve the problems.
One of the dreaded endpoints of any higher education course is the grade at the end of the term. It may be argued that grades are the incentives to just getting the work done, memorizing and even cheating to get the end-goal of a good grade. This is aggravated by the fact that colleges are highly competitive, requiring prospective students to spend $1000 in test preparations just in order to get accepted. This spills over into the classroom, as grade point averages determine which students advance to more prestigious careers or higher education. Teachers are aware of competent students who do not test well (Bach, 2007). Alternate ways of “testing” the grasp of knowledge have always included essays, papers, presentations, and attendance in traditional classroom settings. Though, some institutions of higher education have resorted to multiple-choice exams, administered at mid-term and final. This may ease the grading for instructors and make their life easier for them, but the success and excitement of learning may be lost. Methods of grading in the virtual classroom are being developed and used by National University, where “students are currently assessed for their performance and subject matter mastery … from threaded discussions, Class Live Pro chat rooms, midterm and final examinations, and individual research papers or projects.” (Tyler, 2011). When teachers broaden the field of testing knowledge to include more than one medium, students that are weak in one area are still able to excel in others. The instructor then becomes more of a facilitator than dispenser of information, reaching students with various learning capabilities, and instilling the excitement of learning.
Many times teachers are bound to standards that are set by state and federal governments. This often puts restraints on testing methods and curriculum. One university, Hillsdale College recently dropped its credential teacher program, concluding, “that it would be wasteful to dedicate precious resources to an accreditation process that lacked both value and credibility.” (Coupland, 2012). Instead, they chose to continue an education program to prepare students to become teachers in settings and schools that did not require accreditation. They “recognized that teacher certification is not the same as teacher education … the professors in the Education Department embraced this new freedom and began to think about what teacher education could be without the ideological straightjacket (i.e., “standards”) from the state.” (Coupland, 2012). With government very much in control of most of the schools, many universities will not embrace this. But the apparent need to refocus on what makes a good teacher an excellent facilitator of learning is worthy of change. The private education system may begin to look better than the public system, if trained teachers with a vision for facilitating learning use their creativity to foster the excitement of finding new knowledge.
Probably the most important element of a good instructor is passion, which reaches into all areas of teaching; “extraordinary teachers have great passion for their work; they know what to teach, how to teach, and how to improve.”(Mujtaba, 2004). Students may instinctively know if a teacher is bored with his job and only there to collect a paycheck and secure a pension. Enthusiasm for a subject is catching, and good instructors get their students excited to learn. “Effective facilitators of learning use innovative strategies to achieve the stated outcomes and they tend to involve students in the learning process.”(Mujtaba, 2004). There is not much an outside source can do if the teacher has stopped learning. The quest for knowledge should be at the very core of not only the student, but the instructor as well. “Mahatma Gandhi once said that you should ’Learn as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.’" (Mujtaba, 2004).
Bach, S. H. (2007). Online learning and teaching higher education. New York: Open University Press.
Coupland, D. (2012). A college reinvents teacher education. The John William Pope Center for Higher Education . Retrieved from http://www.popecenter.org/commentaries/article.html?id=2718
Knowles, M. H. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. San Diego: Elsevier.
Mujtaba, B. (2004). Faculty training and development practices in distance education to achieve high performance. Journal of College Teaching & Learning , 1 (6). Retrieved from http://www.journals.cluteonline.com/index.php/TLC/article/viewFile/1957/1936
Rabe-Hemp, C. W. (2009). A comparative analysis of student engagement, learning, and satisfaction in lecuture hall and online learning settings. (M. &. Simonson, Ed.) Quarterly Review of Distance Education , 10. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=DP69B5oa0ZkC&oi=fnd&pg=PA207&dq=a+faculty+member+must+display+to+be+an+effective+teacher+of+adult+learners+for+both+on-ground+and+on-line+settings.+&ots=RwkdLEoWX1&sig=Mo_KChcopGKh7jimjWujpgOXlTY#v=onepage&q&f=false
Tyler, C. E. (2011). Can multiple intelligences enhance learning for higher education on-line instruction? E-Leader. Retrieved from http://www.g-casa.com/conferences/vietnam/paper/Tyler.pdf