DOES THE TEACHER STILL MATTER?

This blog post is about my (unpopular) view that open education is NOT an ideal recipe for everyone.

In his TED talk, David Wiley tells a story of a professor who claimed CC on his class lectures. David’s criticism of this professor and his consequent question “Why are you in education?” followed by a pause with an implied message ‘…if you are this mean?’, is disturbing for me. It seems like when we talk about openness and a free access in education, all the words we use to describe it are shining with virtues: you as a teacher want to share your knowledge with the world, you are generous and caring, open-minded and transparent, collaborative and flexible, reliable and resourceful, etc.

Bravo, the Open Teacher! (<loud applauses>)

As the opposite to this, there is a teacher who creates her online courses accessible for XXX €, demands credit for sharing her resources (which you can’t resell by the way), etc. Now add in- and un- to all the above adjectives describing the open teacher. In the context of openness in education, this other teacher is almost perceived as mean:  you as a teacher hide your knowledge, share it to the chosen ones only, you conceal and withhold your knowledge, you are unavailable, inaccessible, reserved.

Shame on you, the Evil Teacher! (<rotten tomatoes>)

Sharing your knowledge with the world – supposedly the ultimate teacher’s mission – in the digitalized education is risked by being faceless. The teacher’s role is redefined and not in a good way. In the comfort zone of abundant free online courses, why would one bother coming to the lecture of that teacher, only available for students who can afford tuition fees or gain a decent scholarship? During my doctoral studies in Sweden we talked a lot about a tendency in digital education to avoid the cult of a teacher: it is the knowledge that matters, not the teacher as an individual. Hard to disagree? I disagree. With this approach of erasing a teacher’s importance, the teacher is no longer special or exceptional, no longer valuable as a personality; it is her skills and knowledge uploaded on YouTube under open access that are valued instead. The teacher becomes an altruistic faceless source of sharing her expertise. This education without a face is not my choice. My best teachers were outstanding personalities in the first place. You often have to be a student of a certain university to attend certain teachers’ classes. Their lectures are not always open and available online, and there is nothing wrong about it. Maybe the effort we take to learn is what makes us value our education?

Education is, by all means, sharing. But, it is also many other things: it is business, it is ideas, it is progress. Business is not charity, ideas need to be protected sometimes, progress is not easy to achieve. Education may be free and open, and such education is important. But, education may as well be closed and costly and not easily accessible for everyone, and this does not take away the value of this kind of education. It even adds some value, I think.

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