(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

The Main Responsibility of Teachers? Make yourself dispensable!

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When I read this week’s prompt for #rhizo14, my first thought was “but isn’t that the point of teaching?” – I always thought it was our responsibility as teachers to eventually make ourselves not needed, obsolete – for our learners. I was just telling my students last week (hey, just days before Dave’s prompt went live) something I have always told my students: “there will always be new things to learn, but there won’t always be Maha” – and especially in a field like educational technology, there is almost always something new to learn, almost every day. My role, as I have always seen it, is to help my students figure out how to learn these new things without needing me to show them.

More importantly, while my students think it is about learning how to find new things, and figuring out the technicalities of how to use them, I think what my role as a teacher really is, is to help them develop the judgment to choose what works for their context at a particular moment in time. Barnett & Coate (2005) make this really important point about the emphasis on skills and performativity: that using a technical approach to skills education forgets the importance of helping learners develop this judgment about how to use a skill and when to use it, how to adapt it to context.

Now I think this whole idea of the “planned obsolescence” of the teacher works with all the ideas we’ve been talking about throughout #rhizo14. (The next part sounds more linear than I intended) It connects very much with independence (if you’re going to disappear eventually as teacher, you should probably work on helping learners become independent); if they’re going to be independent, they’ll need to embrace uncertainty, because that’s the way the world is; if they’re going to be independent embracers of uncertainty, they’ll need the support of community. And Apostolos mentioned on his blog an idea that had come to me: that what we really want to achieve as teachers is to make our learners eventually less dependent upon us, so that they become our peers. In that way, we are teaching so that our learners become part of our learning community in future. This is easier to imagine when your students are adults, but I am also now a “peer” of people who were once my professors.

@Jessifer in y/day’s #moocmooc chat said:

@Jessifer: Education privileges knowing rather than championing not knowing. We need to wear our not knowing more openly on our sleeves. #moocmooc

Once we embrace and value not knowing, once we help our students embrace it, we become peers on a journey to navigate the uncertainty that is the world (even while we are still in the formal course together, but recognizing that learning does not begin or end in any course). A world that is complex but that we often try to make legible (and I owe Terry Elliott a separate blog post on that! Coming soon) and lose the reality of its complexity while doing so.

Every model, every metaphor is limited. It is a representation of reality, it is not reality itself.

I look forward to research (hopefully a collaborative autoethnography) with some participants of #rhizo14 , on #rhizo14, as a way to continue our learning journey here. I hope this research somehow, in some way, manages to represent the richness and complexity of this experience. It will be a representation of our individual realities and how they intersected from our perspectives. Sure, we’d like the course leader to participate, and it would be great if he did. But it will be great either way.

Now one last point: how is it that we supposedly want our students to become independent, for our teacherliness to become less important for them, and yet we continue to remain there? As Jaap said in a comment on Apostolos’ blog – it is not just about the teacher giving students permission to stop depending on him/her, but also the students giving the teacher permission to do before the formal course “ends”.

I love Dave Cormier, I don’t remember seeing him much around during week 4 of rhizo14 (maybe I was too busy myself?) but I know that I did not feel a sense of loss for his absence, and that means something went really “right” with #rhizo14! That I did not feel the need to seek him out. I don’t think I even tweeted to him or tagged him on a facebook post last week. I just noticed all this now as I finished writing this blog post…

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Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

5 thoughts on “The Main Responsibility of Teachers? Make yourself dispensable!

  1. Happy that it’s working. I try to move around just enough content to highlight a few conversations, maybe move things in a direction, but not so much that I become ‘important.’

  2. Dave’s done something amazing – he’s set the scene for lots of us to form overlapping communities. I now can’t imagine my life without all of you in it.

  3. Sarah, I feel EXACTLY the same way. In love with this community

  4. Dave Cormier – a benign presence 🙂

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