With the advent of more and more student-centered learning approaches and other new methods to increase the active involvement of learners in their own learning process, the traditional roles and responsibilities of both teacher and learner have changed in several ways. However, in one area, they remain the same.
In the traditional educational model roles and responsibilities are clear and well-defined. Teachers are responsible for the effective delivery of content as well as assessing learning achievement. They are the knowledge experts and their primary role is to impart that knowledge to their learners in effective ways.
Learners are responsible for attending class and completing reading and other assignments as proscribed by the teacher. Although their first role in the process is as passive listeners, listening requires paying attention during class. Outside the class, their role becomes more active, requiring reading and completion of assignments selected by the teacher.
Some traditional teachers felt their responsibility began and ended with excellent presentation of content and later assessment through examination. The responsibility for paying attention and studying was left up to the learner. In some university and post-graduate environments, class attendance is left up to the student.
Today we look for active student involvement in the learning process. But what does that mean? Are all learners capable of making decisions on their own with little or no input from the teacher? Do they know enough to select their own class projects and assignments?
Some critics see student-learning environments that allow unabridged freedom of choice as an abdication of the teacher’s most important responsibility – to ensure learning is taking place. Indeed, some go so far as to say some contemporary attempts at active involvement are little more than anarchy, allowing the “inmates to run the asylum.”
Even under traditional approaches, good teachers often refused to accept without question the actions of students who showed no interest in learning. So it should be with today’s educational approaches, be they discovery learning, student-centered learning, or any other active involvement technique.
When John Dewey’s progressive education led to some classrooms allowing total student freedom, Dewey himself cautioned the teacher was still ultimately responsible to ensure learning took place. He saw the teacher’s role as that of coach and facilitator who still maintained the ultimate responsibility for ensuring an effective educational environment.
In today’s language, one might say the teacher is still “the adult in the room”, in that he or she knows what needs to happen for learning to take place. Some teachers approach the challenge of achieving appropriate student involvement as something of a contract negotiation.
At the first learning session, focus is on what the teacher will bring to the process and what the learners are expected to do. A good teacher allows sufficient time to ensure expectations and standards are discussed and understood by all. In addition, good teachers are willing to modify expectations if necessary and to accept student input.
However, once the expectations for teacher and learner roles and responsibilities are set, it is the teacher’s job to see that they are adhered to.