Educators’ Roles: A Wicked Problem

Each year, the New Media Consortium (NMC) publishes its Horizons Reports that predict key trends, significant challenges and important development in educational technology.  These reports attempt to outline some critical considerations for different learning environment including library, museums, K-12 schools and institutions of higher education. I have a habit of collecting these reports and examining their predictions over the years.  For instance, the 2008 Higher Education Edition predicted that “grassroots video” would have a significant impact on education.  Considering the number of online tutorials that faculty make and the growth in flipped and blended instruction, it’s pretty clear that their prediction was on the mark.

I came across the 2017 Higher Education Edition the other day.  While I tend to check out the educational technology predictions closely, in this edition, I was really interested in the “significant challenges” that they outlined.  The NMC groups these challenges into three categories: solvable, difficult and wicked.  Solvable problems are ones that the NMC says the systems “understand and know how to solve.”  By contrast, difficult challenges are ones that we may understand but for which solutions are more “elusive.”  Wicked challenges are those “that are complex to even define, much less address.”  In the 2017 Higher Education Horizons Report, the NMC identified “Rethinking the Roles of Educators” as a wicked problem.  Here’s their argument.

Educators are increasingly expected to employ a variety of technology-based tools, such as digital learning resources and courseware, and engage in online discussions and collaborative authoring. Further, they are tasked with leveraging active learning methodologies like project and problem-based learning. This shift to student-centered learning requires them to act as guides and facilitators.

While the problem seems pretty simply stated, it’s much more complex for a variety of reasons.  There are social, economic, cultural and political ramifications to this dramatic shift in educators’ roles.  As an individual faculty member at a public university, however, I don’t have much impact on these areas. It’s also hard for me to wrap my head around the complexity and interplay of these dimensions.  Working in professional development on campus, however, I need to consider how to successfully build faculty capacity to prepare them to make this transition successfully. Which is a pretty wicked problem on its own.

In his book Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study, Lortie (1975) introduces the concept of apprenticeship of observation, which may be a huge factor that influences the “wickedness” of this problem.  As they navigate their education as students, Lortie argues, budding instructors are actually being apprenticed into the practice of teaching.  They observe how classrooms are used and how their content is taught.  When these students eventually enter they own classrooms as teachers, this apprenticeship informs how they use technology, how they engage students in the learning process and how they use classroom spaces.  Since many of us don’t have models of “student-centered instruction” in our personal learning histories, we can’t really envision educators’ roles in these types of learning environments.  Few of us have personal experiences with active learning as students.   Factor in the minority of faculty members who have direct experience with online, blended and flipped learning environments as students and the problem becomes even more complex.

Readers may be reaching this part of the post and hoping it will end with some solutions to this problem.  But that’s one of the challenges with these “wicked problems.” As we start to unravel them to identify possible solutions, we just end up seeing how complex and interwoven the problem really is.

References:

Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Hall Giesinger, C., and Ananthanarayanan, V. (2017). NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago.

 

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