Last century, a student was the ‘educational property’ of her teacher. The teacher controlled what knowledge she had to acquire and the conduits through which it would be acquired. I know teachers who have felt personally offended to learn that one of their students was paying a private tutor for extra lessons!
If you are the sort of educator who is offended to think that your students might be asking help from someone else, brace yourself for what is inevitably going to happen, and is already happening in an incipient way: a democratization of education.
By “democratizing education” I mean that the day is coming and may already be here, that a student may not consider you to be her ‘teacher’, simply by virtue of the fact that your initials are on her timetable, and she is forced to attend to your classroom 4 times a week.
As an increasing number of teachers make quality podcasts, screencasts, vodcasts, nings, forums and other resources and make these available to anyone who wants to learn, students will have an ever-diversifying smorgasbord of learning communities to choose to belong to. And this democratization is crossing the traditional boundaries between not only one school and the next, but between public and private schools, school districts, and even countries.
In my own case, I make a biology podcast specifically for my own 20 students, but it has a regular listening audience of about 4000 students! In the last month there have been over 18,000 downloads (representing more than 270 GB of data). The last episode of the podcast was an hour entirely dedicated to answering the questions sent in by listeners by voicemail and email. Among those listeners are a number of students who cannot regularly attend class due to chronic illnesses, a girl who could not otherwise enroll in biology at her school due to a timetable clash, and another who described me as her favourite teacher – although she had only ever heard me teach via the podcast! There is a middle-aged alaskan woman, and a 13 year old in Oklahoma who also listen – not because they are facing an exam, but because they want an education.
Meanwhile, I know that some of my students listen to a biology podcast produced by another teacher who has a very different teaching style to mine. As more and more teachers make podcasts like this, students are not only being given choice over where they listen, when they listen, for how long they listen and how many times they listen to a lesson but they also have choice over whose lessons they listen to!
At the moment we are only beginning to see this happen. But I think its inevitable. And consider this: the most popular teachers in this scenario, may not necessarily even be practicing teachers! They may be university students or retired teachers. How relevant is it going to be for students to come to class at all in this future? If the classroom teacher still sees himself as the ‘font of knowledge’ for those students, then, it may not be very relevant at all. There has never been a more important time for teachers to ask themselves “what value am I adding to my students?”, and even “what is my role as a teacher?” Nor has there been a better time for schools to question the current models of attendance and timetabling.