Saturday, September 10, 2016

Teaching is teamwork

One of the biggest barriers to the uptake of educational technology is the simple fact that teachers are already overloaded and don't have time for professional development or testing new ideas and methods. Many already devote hours of unpaid overtime each week to keep up with marking, preparation and a never-ending stream of reports and administration. They realise that they may lack some necessary digital skills and that maybe they should spend more time redesigning their courses but good intentions generally come to nothing when the term starts and the day-to-day demands of teaching must get top priority. Furthermore, teaching is still seen by many as a solo activity where you are expected to be subject expert, classroom manager, IT-support, counsellor, administrator etc. The demands of teaching today mean that trying to combine all of these roles in one person simply leads to stress and feelings of inadequacy.

Teachers are stressed and the solution generally offered by governments is to hire more teachers. This is of course positive but a post by Willem van Valkenburg, We don't need more teachers, we need more course teams, offers a wise alternative solution, namely shifting the focus to giving teachers more support in the form of multi-skilled course teams. Team teaching has been around for many years but the teacher is only one part of the teams that Valkenburg proposes. Teachers need the support of an educational technologist, librarian, assessment expert, multimedia expert, student assistents and so on. One teacher simply cannot be expected to perform all of these roles, even if there are many who make valiant attempts to do so (often at a cost to themselves).

Investing in extra teachers in higher education might seem like a proper way of spending extra budget. Investing in better course teams will have a much bigger effect to unburden teachers. Don’t invest in extra teachers, make existing teachers much more effective by properly supporting them. So better value for money!

The key is a change of culture and such changes are the hardest to achieve. The solo teacher is a strong symbol in our society and is embedded in the way educational organisations are run. Moving towards a team model demands changes in how education is run; it affects budgets, quality systems, regulations, job descriptions and career development. Many attempts to move towards a team culture are thwarted by traditional structures and administrative restrictions. The role of support staff needs to be made more visible and rewarded accordingly. Many institutions have all of these support roles in place but they are thinly spread and the concept of a course team is not established in the institutional administration and culture. When teachers can focus on teaching and work as part of a qualified and recognised team then we can move forward. Until then we will simply keep trying to put out fires.

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