Expert versus Paradigm Learning

Gary Stager is a noted expert in education, and I find value in his constructionist approach to online education. However, he made some comments in Will Richardson’s blog posting “Redefining Teachers as Experts” that caused at a minimum raised eyebrows in this old educator!

Will was commenting on sections of Axel Bruns’ new book Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage, and their relevance to the concepts of teachers as co-learners, co-creators, co-producers with their students. In the book, Axel notes:

“…the argument that they {teachers} should be respected by their students is made no longer on the basis of their role in the academic hierarchy, their positions and titles, but by their established track record as produsers themselves.”

(Bruns’ word – one that a few of us question)

Will suggested that we might “at some point begin to value and respect the ability to model the participatory literacies that these tools require as much if not more than the degree on the wall”. A valid question and one I hope to explore next year in a Faculty Learning Community here at VCU on 21st Century literacy. Bud Hunt of St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado had the first of over thirty comments on Will’s post. He first discussed “…this kind of teaching / co-learning / co-creating…” and then added:

Trust Experts

“I’m uncomfortable with that word “expert” – I think because it carries with it, to me, the idea that an expert is someone who is finished learning. Probably my own baggage.”

Gary’s reply:

“It is your own baggage. A learning community relies on expertise of varying degrees.

A concern I have about the blogosphere is that it celebrates and elevates newbies and diminishes the importance of prior knowledge, expertise and history.”

There is an old joke about the definition of an expert. Divide the word into two parts – an ex can be defined as “A has been” and a spurt is a “drip under pressure”. We certainly do not want teachers to be seen as has been drips operating under pressure! But I also think we need to recognize that expertise today comes in many forms.

I agree with Gary’s statement that a learning community relies on expertise of varying degrees. His comment that paying attention to newbies in today’s participatory read-write web world diminishes the importance of prior knowledge, expertise, and history is one I have trouble with – it seems to imply that new knowledge being created by co-learning/co-creating students is therefore diminished. I hope he did not mean that.

Given my background – including developing a few years back the largest online college program in the state of Georgia – I bring expertise in online teaching to the table, but with the online world continuing to evolve as it is, I still consider myself more of a newbie. I can celebrate my doctorate without assuming, as a good friend once said, that that gives me any “cred.” I can celebrate my 12 years of teaching online without assuming that my way of teaching is the only way. I certainly recognize that I have grown personally this year through open sharing in the blogosphere and twitterverse, and my online teaching continues to evolve as well. I do try in every online and face-to-face class to build a learning community, and community carries with it certain words of baggage as well, such as trust, sharing, values, and boundaries. One way in which I build that community is by openly sharing my own learning and celebrating those occasions when the students can become the teacher.

This sharing and celebration of learning gets at what both Gary and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach discussed about community of practice. However, Gary seemed hung up on co-learning. He asked:

Paradigm Shift

“With all due respect, if you place newbies on an “even playing field” with experts, doesn’t that elevate them?”

My blog is called Learning in a Flat World for a reason. I do believe that Tom Friedman had it right – the internet has flattened our educational landscape, and newbies are entering the field with expertises that I do not have. It seems to me that the denigration of newbies and their contributions is not unlike the story of Galileo and the Catholic Church told so well by Dava Sobel. When new paradigms are emerging, those who held leadership positions in the old paradigms have difficulty seeing the new. Gary suggests we avoid buying Bruns’ book. Is not that what the Catholic Church did with Galileo’s book at the time? I would be happier if we all read new ideas like Bruns’, discussed it, took lessons of relevance for application, drew constructive criticism where appropriate, and did not instead simply stand on our laurels as experts in the field. I think that we are under pressure to seek out and find the new paradigms…something I think Will and others do daily in their blog postings.

[Photo Credits: phauly, CoreForce]