Identify the expectations of your professional role and responsibility within your teaching context. Discuss how you meet these expectations and how you deal with any difficulties encountered.
I currently teach in two very different contexts. One is a highly structured, traditional college environment with curriculum centres, courses, classes and students. The other is an on-line technical support and information group with hundreds of thousands of learners, an apparently similar idea to Illich’s "learning webs" (Illich, 1971 cited in Minton, 1997). The expectations of the roles and responsibilities I hold in these two contrasting contexts are broadly different, yet with areas of similarity.
My professional role within the college environment is currently that of a course teacher. I teach two units of an AVCE (Advanced Certificate of Vocational Education) course to two groups of about 20 students each. There is one other student group taking the course, and the course includes several other units. Five other teachers also teach units of this course, one of who also has the role of course leader.
I have responsibilities to the students, to the other staff teaching the course, to the organisation and administration of the college, and to the government bodies which regulate it. The proprietary nature of the teaching offered by the college implies that I have no responsibility to learners or other interested participants who have not signed up for a course at the college. I’m not clear what (if any) responsibility I have to the tradition of academia.
My students have an expectation that I will provide them with information, guidance and assistance, to enable them to successfully pass the units I teach. The major difficulty is that the students "arrive in our classes with a all sorts of motives for attending" (Armitage et al. 1999:52) Some students seem to also have an expectation that learning and achievement should occur this without requiring their concentration or involvement. The general approach I take to dealing with this and associated issues is to provide as broad a spread of teaching techniques as I can, and to reflect and adapt them (Wallace 2001, p30) to engage with the particular student groups I teach. Reece and Walker (2000:135) state "Your task is to become adept at using as many strategies as you can and to choose the most appropriate ones for each group you teach".
The structured nature of the teaching in a college context means that there is an expectation that I will attend the pre-agreed lesson times and locations. In turn, I expect that the designated students will attend, too. I am still unsure how much expectation there is that I should be physically at the college at other times. So far I have not needed to arrange "cover" for any of my lessons, but there is presumably a process to cover such an eventuality. There is also an expectation that the students I teach will encounter and learn from a broader range than just that needed to pass the assessment, and grow and develop as individuals according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Armitage et al. 1999:53). My major approach to this issue is to develop schemes of work and lesson plans with a greater scope, and build in differentiation to cope with varying student abilities and enthusiasms.
I am responsible for setting assignments, marking, and providing feedback to the students. "Students must have attainable goals to work towards, be given immediate feedback on their performance, and be rewarded for success" (Armitage et. al 1999:55). The major problem with this is my inexperience with the amount and quality of work expected, so I make sure to compare my work with other tutors in the department whenever I can. There is also a multi-stage internal and external verification process to help eliminate bias and regulate differing assessment approaches.
The college and its staff also have an expectation that my teaching practice will be conducted in a way that is compatible with the practice of my colleagues, and which meets the standards laid down by the curriculum centre, the college, and the national codes of practice. A relatively new teacher can not be expected to intrinsically know all the detail of such expectations, so my approach to meeting these expectations is to study, reflect, and communicate with my peers as much as possible. I make notes on all my teaching sessions and reflect on them in a "reflective journal". I confer with colleagues seeking both to learn their views and to validate my own impressions and reflections. I read widely, both on line and in a growing collection of books; and I have enrolled on a PGCE course in the hope that this will also develop and improve my teaching.
My role within the on-line learning and support community is twofold. I hold an administrative and management position at "The Java Ranch" (Wheaton et al. 1998), and I am also an active teacher, facilitator and individual coach both there and via other websites and on-line communities. This role is not professional in the sense of "receiving payment for work", but may perhaps be considered professional in the sense of "Golf Professional" – an experienced practitioner, sharing skills and knowledge.
In this role, my responsibilities are to my Java Ranch colleagues, to participants in the various on-line communities, and to the wider body of knowledge that I learned from. At present, such ad-hoc "e learning" does not seem to be covered by government regulation, beyond the general rules about libel, pornography, and so on, and it is difficult to see what form regulation for such a multinational effort might take.
Visitors to the Java Ranch have an expectation that the information presented on the site and the discussions contained within it will be clear and free of fallacy (Wheaton, 2002). There is also a general expectation that the content will be useful, timely, and appropriate. These expectations are relatively easy to meet with the more "static" information (articles, newsletters, reviews, web pages, etc.) We have a strong peer-review culture and division of responsibilities within the team. Over time, we have evolved processes, which avoid most of the interpersonal issues that can get in the way of presenting a clear and coherent message.
The difficult part of the operation to control is the large number of interactive discussions, which take place twenty-four hours a day. As with the classroom teaching mentioned above, the major challenge to this is the attitudes and desires of the visitors. Some visitors desire an instant answer, and are unwilling to spend the time or thought to clearly and unambiguously formulate a question. Some visitors want to "stir up trouble" or otherwise cause offence. Sometimes a visitor will give an answer, which is wrong or misleading, or offer a solution without allowing the learner to understand the steps involved. The approach used to tackle all such issues is one of "moderation". When used in an on-line conferencing context, this word has a different meaning to that in common educational use. A "moderator" for a discussion area has the responsibility for ensuring that participants obey such rules as have been agreed and for correcting, moving or removing inappropriate messages. This task is often combined with teaching and supporting learners, as both involve frequent monitoring of discussions, although it is a separate task which does not need such a great deal of specific subject knowledge.
The asynchronous nature of this on-line teaching means that there is no expectation that I visit particular web sites at particular times. This has the great advantage that I can fit it in around the lesson times of the more traditional teaching. The main difficulty is that the opportunity to do more is always present – there is no bell to signal lunchtime or the end of a lesson. I deal with this by relying on the abilities and sense of responsibility of my colleagues, and by managing my time and priorities.
For all my teaching roles, there is also an expectation that I can communicate clearly, and possess sufficient subject knowledge to support learning, however differently the delivery takes place. I address this by continually studying and practising my subject knowledge and communication skills, and reflecting on the effectiveness of my teaching.