Recently I read a great paper from Mary Stewart on the role of an instructor in student centered learning. Stewart states the old theories of distance learning were to “set the course up and it runs itself.” Funny thing is: this is the way it used to be. I have taken numerous distance education courses and every time I asked for assistance from my professors, they all kept telling me (through email of course) that I had to try to use different resources. There was no clarification on the content I asked about, there was no “Tim, I understand you’re having a problem so call me so I can clarify things with you.” I was left to fend for myself.
Mary Stewart believes there should be three changes to our thoughts about distant education. The first thing is “Authority.” We all know the professor has the final say for assignments, grading and so on; however if the professor uses his influence in a positive manner, creating discussions with the students and allowing the students to come up with their own consensus and then showing the students what the professionals believe with regard to their consensus (whether they are right or wrong); it gives the students the power to try something new without fear of failure. The next thing is “Guidance.” Guidance is truly an art form. The best professors and instructors guide the students. If we can guide our students in the direction we want them to go, instead of telling them where to go, allows the students to have that “Ah ha” moment. I have always found those students to be more confident because they found the their own way, to use the metaphor “I didn’t carry them there, they walked on their own.” The last one is; “Presence.” Presence is hard to define. Too much and the students become nervous; however not enough, then the students are left to fend for themselves. As an instructor, you have to know when to step in and when to adjust to the students needs. If I have the mindset that once I set the course up, it will run on its own, then I am no longer an educator; I’m just the IT guy who starts the course. I don’t want to be that guy. I like being an educator.