Discussion: Who Needs Teachers Anyway?

Dr Giselle Ferreira

What could be the role of the teacher in an Open Educational Resources scenario – an education system where content is packaged in an open library concept, allowing visitors to help themselves to whatever they find? Will teachers – based on this development – become obsolete in the future? This is a core question Dr Giselle Ferreira will raise at OEB. A lecturer and educational reseacher, she works at the Faculty of Maths, Computing and Technology at the UK Open University. In her presentation “Out with the Old, in with the New? Questions Concerning the Role of the Teacher in 21st -Century Education”, she will concentrate on findings from her recent study on the impact of open-access informal-learning environments.


OEB: Dr Ferreira, you’ve said you consider the role of the teacher to be in question, but does anyone really believe that teachers will become obsolete at some point in the future?


Giselle Ferreira: I think the role of the teacher and the teacher are two very different things. I feel the teacher, as a professional category, is being challenged as part of a broader issue by the notions of expert and expertise provider. The role of the teacher, on the other hand, seems to me to be an intrinsic element of the learning process; if so, it simply cannot become obsolete. Some forms of professional teaching, however, may have to change into something dramatically different to keep the ‘teacher’ relevant and alive.


OEB: You mentioned that when you were talking to your colleagues, they expressed a strong desire for guidance. Can it be said that – in the long run – even the most didactically refined e-learning course does not work without a teacher?


Giselle Ferreira: Yes, when my colleagues put themselves in the position of learners, which is something that teachers often have to do, they did feel the need for guidance in one some form or another, even if only to save themselves some time. As I suggested earlier, I’ve been thinking that the role of the teacher is essential to learning, but whether the presence of a teacher is essential or not may depend on context: what is being learnt, by whom, when, how and, quite importantly, why or what for. Things may work in some contexts that won’t work at all in others, so we need to be flexible, creative and open to the notion that we may have to change plans sometimes.


OEB: What capabilities should a future-oriented teacher have?


Giselle Ferreira: Put very briefly: in the same way that we expect our students to become independent learners as much as possible, perhaps we need to identify ourselves as learners much more clearly than usual. This requires a high degree of flexibility and, if I may say so, humility. Indeed, I see quite a lot that is ethics-related in the choices we ‘teachers’ need to make, but I’ve only just begun exploring this.


OEB: Taking all this into account, how can online informal learning take place efficiently?


Giselle Ferreira: I think that online informal learning, like any other form of learning, needs to be purposeful; it needs to have a why or a what for, whatever that may be. Basically, I’ve started thinking about teaching and learning as two sides of the same coin, which implies that online informal learning, like other forms of learning, is intrinsically linked with dialogue. Of course, on the subject of dialogue: these thoughts are all quite preliminary and tentative, so I’m looking forward to discussing them in December!


Dr Giselle Ferreira will speak in the session “Who needs teachers anyway” on Friday, December 5, 2008, 11:45 – 13:00.

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