IN recent decades the attention of educationalists has shifted from teaching to learning. The focus is on education for capability and outcome-based education. Increasing emphasis is being placed on lifelong learning and self-directed study with students expected to take more responsibility for their own learning.
The availability and application of new learning technologies has further influenced the approaches to teaching and learning.
In their paper in the International Journal of Academic Development, 1998; 1(2), Angela Brew and David Boud pointed out that more complex demands are now being placed on university teachers leading to change in the nature of their work tasks, introduction of new academic roles and diversification of existing ones.
They wrote: "There has been significant shift from thinking that clever people can do everything to recognition (sic) of the complexity and range of academic work."
The teacher's role goes well beyond imparting information. Modern teachers have a range of roles to play in the education process. "Education," said poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), "is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." If students are to learn desired outcomes in a reasonably effective manner then the teachers' fundamental task is to get them to engage in learning activities that are likely to result in their achieving those results.
The following are some of these roles:
Traditionally a teacher is seen as an information provider -- an expert who is knowledgeable in his or her field and who conveys knowledge to students usually through lectures or practical sessions.
With the availability of other sources of information, both print and electronic -- including exciting interactive multimedia learning resources -- the part of teacher as information provider has changed.
Now the best use of lectures is to:
• provide information which is not yet available in standard texts
• relate new information to the local context
• explain concepts that are usually difficult for students to understand
The introduction of problem-based learning, with a consequent fundamental change in the student-teacher relationship, has highlighted the transformation in the involvement of the teacher from information provider to one of facilitator.
No longer is the teacher seen as a dispenser of information or walking tape recorder, but rather a manager of students' learning.
The teacher's role is not to inform students but to encourage them to learn for themselves using the problem as a focus for learning.
A good teacher helps his students to learn, guides them to be self-directed learners and promotes lifelong learning. John Biggs (http://pdfserve.informaworld.com/14380_758502438.pdf) describes the art of teaching as the communication to students of the need to learn. "Motivation," he suggests, "is the product of good teaching, not its prerequisite."
Just as a group of players needs to be coached to be a good playing team, a bunch of intelligent students needs to be taught to become a good learning team.
Learning is a social phenomenon and cannot happen in isolation.
Good teamwork is needed not only in learning but also in work after learning.
Teacher as a mentor is a critical friend who provides positive feedback and offers alternative solutions to the issues faced by students.
This is not only for educational supervision, but also for counselling and guidance. In this capacity, teachers reflect on their own roles as well as guide students to think about their own activities and learning process.
This helps to identify the areas that need to be modified or improved and aids in achieving the desired outcomes.
Teachers may also be requested to be mentors of their junior colleagues.
The role model
Albert Bandura in his book Social Foundations of Thought and Action suggests "role modelling is one of the most powerful means of transmitting values, attitudes and patterns of thoughts and behaviour to students".
The General Medical Council in the United Kingdom acknowledges that "the example of the teacher is the most powerful influence upon the standards of conduct and practice of every trainee".
Examining students is an integral aspect of the teacher's role and part of the occupation of teaching in higher education. Good teachers know how to assess their students' learning and they want to do it well.
Most teachers have something to contribute to the assessment process.
This may be in the form of contributing questions, acting as an examiner or invigilator, marking the answer scripts or serving on the board of examiners faced with the key decision of who should pass and who should fail the examination.
Teachers are expected to make contributions to curriculum and course planning and its implementation. It may include preparation of academic calendars and timetables.
The resource developer
An increased need for resource materials is implicit in many of the new developments in education such as study guides telling students what they should learn, the expected learning outcomes of the course, how they can acquire the desired competencies and what opportunities are available. The learning resources can be both in print or electronic media.
The concept of teacher-as-researcher is included in recent literature on educational reform, which encourages teachers to be collaborators in revising curriculum, improving their work environment and developing policies.
Universities are expected to generate new knowledge and lecturers are required to work towards that end.
In recent years, there has been an emphasis on research in Malaysian universities. Teachers are required to take part in research either as principal investigators or co-researchers. Each academic staff member is expected to publish a defined minimum number of scholarly papers in peer reviewed journals every year.
Teachers are expected to take up a number of administrative responsibilities such as head of the departments, coordinator of a phase of a course or an examination/assessment. They may be asked to organise staff development activities or a variety of programmes for students.
The educational leaders
Teachers are expected to be leaders in their respective fields. They must be experts in their field or discipline and need to learn to impart their experience to students.
However, a good teacher need not be equally competent in all the above roles.
In fact, it would be unusual to find and unreasonable to expect one individual to have all the required competencies. Human resource planning should involve matching teachers to the roles for which they have the greatest aptitude.
• The writer is Professor of Paediatrics and curriculum coordinator of the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Teknologi Mara. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The New Straits Times Letters To Editors 2011/05/21