How To Teach

How To TeachThe internet has caused some amazing things to happen to education. Information is now available to anyone who is connected, and is available practically whenever they want. Teachers used to provide knowledge in their class, but that role is now diminishing. So how does that change how we teach?

Information can now be used to settle arguments instantly, data no longer needs to be remembered – which is great for those that want facts. If any information is not available on a website, answers can be found on forums or social networks. And collaboration means that multiple users can pool their resources and create something new.

Students still need guidance, so that part of the job is still very much relevant. Students also need knowledge to be explained, and shown how it all fits together. In other words, teachers and schools are still required, but educators should be aware that students will come to class having acquired knowledge on their own, in their own time, in their own way. And this should not only be allowed, but encouraged. Most teachers, I imagine, don’t have an issue with this, but the problem is still real – how do we deal with it? How can we make sure that students manage all this information properly? What else could we be doing?

Well, there are certain skills we can still teach. Being able to tell the difference between truth and propaganda. To reference information appropriately. To be able to condense information without reducing the quality or meaning. To present information without distorting it. To be able to communicate accurately and articulately. So does this mean that a teachers role is purely as a skill-enabler? Of course not.

It is very tempting for everyone to assume that gaining knowledge is all there is to teaching (and vis a vis, teachers may no longer be needed), but anyone who has spent any real time in a classroom knows that to be inaccurate. Understanding and application of that knowledge is a significant part of teaching, as is knowing where, when, and how to best use it.

And let’s not forget that all these benefits and opportunities are also available to teachers, too. Recognising which resources are useful, which sites will benefit learning the best, and so on. Educators will need support on all these things. Training will also be required on how to manage it all and the best way to meet the needs of the students. Training and raising confidence in staff is key to having any real effect on raising the attainment of students. Without this, the distance between students and teachers may grow too far to be of any benefit.

Technology can bring all these strands together, not only easily, but in a real meaningful way. Using the internet to find information is obvious, as is using appropriate software to present that information. Technology can help students take home an example their teacher may have made. Live collaboration means that students can not only work together, but support each other, and explain concepts in their own words – from wherever they are. Lessons can be flipped, so that the actual knowledge and learning happens outside of school, and the understanding and application can happen inside the school.

Note-taking becomes more fluid, flexible – all helping to see things differently and how it was intended. Information is no longer tied to one location or in one format. Collecting ideas and thoughts becomes tangible and a point of reference for all. Teachers still have a big part in a student’s life – maybe bigger than ever. They need to support, manage, explain, guide, and even teach their students how to understand the wealth of information that students have access to. The first step, I think, is for schools to recognise this. Once they have, teachers can be supported in the right ways, and carry on preparing their students for their future.

The choices and possibilities are just starting to be explored. Where will it take you?


Image courtesy of Flickr, woodleywonderworks


  1. “Students still need guidance, so that part of the job is still very much relevant. Students also need knowledge to be explained, and shown how it all fits together. In other words, teachers and schools are still required”

    This statement calls your whole article into question as an apology for the school paradigm. The classroom of school where things are explained and fit together in the patterns of prevailing world view needs to give way to a conversation where information is fit together in a collective analysis. School was not friendly to Einstein, to Bill Gates, to Steve Jobs, to Ken Robinson. The essential power that human beings now have to access the sum total of human knowledge from their hand (smart phone) make school, as it is presently professionally organized, not only irrelevant, but a hindrance to human creativity.

    “Information is now available to anyone who is connected, and is available practically whenever they want.” is a brilliant insight that does not need to be apologized for. We no longer need a professional teacher class teaching a fixed body of knowledge. We need to share the code of the alphabet and other literacies with learners and join them in the social construction of reality through past experiences, present data input, and future rearranging of the elements of reality. We do not need to learn to think outside of the box, we need to throw the box away.

    1. Thanks for the detailed comment Bufnet. Your strong stance is very valid and it will be interesting to see what kind of conversation it promotes. I agree that school as an institution needs to change and embrace the vast collective knowledge that is the Internet. I think your last line sums it up perfectly – “We do not need to learn to think outside of the box, we need to throw the box away.”. That sounds like a great article all to itself.


  2. As an ESL (language specialist) teacher in a high school setting, I offer students skills development in academic reading strategies, research skills and writing structures. However, I am also finding that I am having to broaden the concept of ‘literacy’ to include multimodal varieties. For example with regards to ‘digital documentary’, without explicit guidance, students tend to produce multimedia texts without any thought for the message or mood communicated by their choices of audio, visuals and gestures. I agree with Bufnet that both students and teachers should be the co-contributors to the greater social discourse of what we collectively know and understand.. I’d just like to see our students learning how to do it well.

    1. Thanks for the comment Amy. I think you are right in that there are certain skills students learn best from one-on-one or one-to-many interactions with the teacher. Skills such creating media content (written, video, audio, etc.) with message and mood are learnt through practice and the type of feedback that only personal interactions can create.

  3. Hi everyone, and thanks for your comments. It has made me think of this in another way.
    I guess, my main point was to suggest that although teachers may not be the main source of drawing information from, students still need a “guiding hand”. A tiller on their boat.

    For example, you could get some of the information on how to bake brownies from a TV show, and a child might do an OK job. If, however, you have someone who has some prior experience, they can help you avoid mistakes, and understand the process better to produce a great brownie.

    In a school, the guiding hand might be from their teacher, or it might be from one of their friends. I believe that there will always be a need for a teacher in the classroom. Long distance learning, forums, and video tutorials are useful, but its like comparing video-conferencing with speaking in person.

    There is much to learn from history, and I think it can be helpful to look back, but I agree that we should not be limited by it. Those people mentioned by Bufnet are the exception, not the norm, and it could be argued that the school should have been better prepared for supporting them (then again, it could also be argued that those same people only became successes due to their experience on school. Hard to say). Collective understanding can still happen, even if it begins in a classroom guided by one person.

    Schools seem to be moving towards a more “wiki” style of teaching and learning, where a person’s age doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the authority on any given subject. Schools should be a place where every member can still learn something and where every member has the opportunity to teach something. That would be a an example of a good school, in my opinion.

    I make no apology for this great access to information everyone has, nor do I apologies for thinking that teachers are still very much relevant in the classroom. This model has been around for thousands of years, and is likely to remain with us. The only difference is where the information comes from – learners will still need help digesting it and understanding how it fits in their world.

    I suppose another difference might be WHO the teacher is. It may not be the nearest adult…

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