I have had a lot of questions lately around what constitutes good instruction, especially as I have been learning more about e-learning and online instruction, and visiting classes for my work. I have also been thinking a lot about the difference and distinction between what a trainer does and what a teacher does. While I know there is some overlap and see that there might be some tools, techniques and ideas that are more identified with one than the other, they seem to occupy different spheres. My sense is that the trainer’s work is more concrete, tangible and finite. Whereas in classroom instruction there may be instructional goals and objectives and an instructional method used to arrive at these, the teacher’s work sometimes seems to be hard to measure beyond the student outcomes (grades or test scores). For instance, how does student satisfaction factor in course planning? I would say in the university context, it does not factor much. Therefore, I could see how training and e-learning design can be a more iterative and creative process because its success depends on trainees developing new skills and knowledge that they must implement right away. If they are unable to do so then the training was a failure to a certain extent.
I gathered from Brandon’s article and from our discussion last week how e-learning design requires collaboration and team work. By contrast, in traditional classroom teaching or in the synchronous context, lessons are typically the result of an individual instructor’s effort. Courses are rarely developed in collaboration. While in some schools and colleges there are opportunities for teachers and instructors to collaborate, few teachers do. There are few incentives for teachers to collaborate especially in colleges where a large part of the faculty is on the tenure track. This is true of where I work which is an Institute that provides industry-specific and academic programs to working adults within a university. The way our courses are organized is still very much based on the traditional college course format: one instructor and lecture-based. Students have to write papers in order to receive a grade. Few instructors encourage students to collaborate. The underlying assumption is that our students' lives are busy enough and that asking them to work collaboratively might be too much to ask for. However, I do think that collaboration is useful, encourages creative thinking and problem-solving and can foster innovation.
In the case of instructor collaboration, Bender argues the right balance has to be struck in order for each person to have equal input into the teaching and management of a course. The same principle would apply to students working on a project together. Although she admits that collaborative work can be challenging because the personalities of the teachers and the circumstances of the class come into play and influence how well things go in the classroom. Typically, when there is collaboration between teachers, the partnership or pairing assumes unequal status and experience, e.g., professor and teacher assistant or lead teacher and assistant teacher. The teacher assistant and assistant teacher have less experience and knowledge, and are learning how to teach and manage a classroom from the professor or lead teacher. Thus in these kinds of situations it can be hard for true collaboration to arise unless the professor or lead teacher is willing and open to ideas that the assistant teacher offers. It also requires relinquishing control and the need to be an authority all the time. It would ultimately require for the culture of the university to change dramatically.