“We’re all students by nature”

Recently, I attended a workshop where the presenter talked about the importance of conducting course and program level assessment. “We need to better assess what students are doing and to what extent they’re doing it,” she explained. “But the students aren’t the only ones we should be assessing. As educators, we need to reflect on our instructional techniques and learn from our work. We’re all students by nature. This should be part of our DNA.”

The idea that “we’re all students by nature” really resonates with me, not only for what it says about us as a profession but also for what it says about our ability as educators to succeed in the future.  More than one report has identified some challenging years ahead for educational institutions.  For instance, Educause recently published its 2012 Horizon report which examines several emerging technologies that will play a role in our educational future.  From tablet computers to learning analytics to gesture-based computing, there are some exciting technologies on the horizon.  What effect will these technologies have on how we teach and how students learn?  It really depends on us. “The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet,” the Horizon report states “is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators.”

But revisiting our roles as educators means that we have to assess what we’re doing, embrace our natural tendencies as students and learn.  I know this isn’t a foreign concept to many of my colleagues. I’m blessed to work with so many creative people who are willing to take risks and try out new pedagogical techniques.  Like the many outstanding students I’ve had the pleasure to work with, they are true inspirations.

But the Horizon report also identifies significant obstacles for educators “who are students by nature.” “Institutional barriers,” the authors write,  “present formidable challenges to moving forward in a constructive way…. Much resistance to change is simply comfort with the status quo, but in other cases, such as in promotion and tenure reviews, experimentation with or adoptions of clearly innovative applications… is often seen as outside the role of researcher or scientist.”

While challenges exist in almost an institution, especially institutions of higher education, I see real promise in the making.  People are starting to embrace the scholarship of teaching and learning as a critical aspect of our work.  While the philosophy may be new to some, it’s really just about cultivating a culture where educators and “students by nature” can thrive.

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