George Siemens has posted much needed rethinking on the role of teachers and experts in Networked Learning. He presents the idea of a curator as a central player in initiating a focus for a learning network.

I very much like this idea of the curator and I’d like to add more to it by describing and preserving the integrity of the teacher and the facilitator.

As many already know I try to reinvigorate questions and discussion on the role of teachers from time to time – all be it a little confrontational :)  Lately I have been broadly focusing on the integrity of a facilitator, especially as I reckon the teaching profession is [innocently] corrupting the integrity of facilitation with teachers calling themselves facilitators – but remaining teachers in every sense of the word. I guess teachers do this in response to the as yet illdefined roles needed in a networked learning. They are perhaps prematurely trying to redefine their role of teacher without yet fully understanding why or how, and engaging in the dialogue that George points to. I don’t think teaching needs redifining, it is fine as it is, it just needs to be deinstitutionalised and moved away from being the primary player in people’s learning. Artichoke is in my opinion the deepest and most thought provoking edublogger writing in this vein of thinking, and she is drawing very much from the thinking of Illich.

As George suggests, perhaps the expertise of a curator are more suited to becoming a central role in networked learning – someone that draws on an array of teachers and content to suit a particular purpose. I want to add the facilitator as another important role here, as someone or something that assists people to negotiate the exhibition that the curator has assembled. Not a teacher dressed up as a facilitator – someone who manages to remain impartial while at the same time engaging and interpretive; someone that can respond quickly to various and often unpredictable contributions from participants; and someone who does all this without asserting a sense of authority or even expertise over a topic, but instead calls on teachers and experts to engage when a teacher or an expert is needed. And that’s where networked learning and the Internet really help us. They give us access to a vast number of teachers and experts to call on at any given time!

But where can we find curators and facilitators? I don’t think we can reliably find good facilitators in the teaching sector.. perhaps we will find better facilitators from the fields of journalism, comedy, performance, talk back radio, speakers to the house of reps, etc. And as George points out, we will find curators from museums and art galleries (lets not forget the librarians!) I see the likes of Stephen Downes, George Siemens, David Wiley and so many other “A listers” – or most referenced contributors, primarily as teachers and content providers in this network. People and content that the curator might draw from. Modern day researchers who are available to be teachers and content providers in an exhibition, conference of course. They’re participants as well – especially in areas they are not recognised as experts, but the sustained focus, quality, popularity, experience and depth of their work makes them more teacherly than participants in their field. So it is not them that are the facilitators (although they are often capable as George showed with his facilitation of FOE). But one cannot be both an expert or teacher and facilitator at the same time.

I’m yet to come accross someone in our widened educational network that I would call a professional facilitator and/or curator.. perhaps like the teaching sector, the edublogging sector is not a reliable source for good facilitators. Perhaps the source for good facilitators and curators do not have an online presence and network yet…

But when they emerge I see the roles playing out like this: A curator finds resources and a space to bring together an “exhibition” of content, experts and teachers, then either adopts the different role of facilitator, or employs the services of a professional facilitator who will assist all the participants to negotiate the various aspects of the exhibition.

For example: Someone who organises a conference is essentially curating content, and will either facilitate that event themselves, or hire a professional conference facilitator to do it. The teachers and experts play a secondary role in these sorts of learning environments by providing the content and focus. In a sense, the people and content in this secondary layer are competing with each other for attention and recogniton.. they often choose to collaborate instead/or as well as compete (I mean compete in a very positive sense) for the attention and participation in their topic area. The tertiary level in this type of learning environment are the participants. They move around the content that is presented to them by the curator, and engage in various discussions, workshops and other events with assistance from the facilitator if needed. Often the curators, facilitators, teachers and experts join in and participate as well, but they unavoidably carry with them the status and isolation of their role, while the participants are free to move around unrestrained by an identity as fully formed as a teacher or expert at this “exhibition” that the curator has put on.

An art exhibition (and the opening in particular) is very similar. The artworks, the artists and the critics provide the content; the curator selects the content; and the participants develop the interpretation/learning. The more I think about it, so much of the world works like this. The old practice of classroom, captive audience teaching, and standard set fees is such an abused privilege!

So begins a new/or revisited thread of networked thought I hope… and we may at last be developing a clearer model for networked learning.