Reconsidering Teachers’ Roles (I). Steve Wheeler: Learning and Teaching in the Digital Age

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VIII International Seminar: Teacher Training: Reconsidering Teachers’ Roles, held in Barcelona, Spain, on October 6-7, 2011. More notes on this event: eLChair11.

Steve Wheeler, Learning Technologies, University of Plymouth, UK
Learning and Teaching in the Digital Age

As the pace of times is changing very fast, it increasingly makes less and less sense to educate in specific knowledge, but in how to get it by yourself. Education is about teaching people to learn. The problem is people do not like change, and instead set up Innovation Prevention Departments to stop change from happening. Resistance to change is widespread and strong.

And it is not lack of knowledge that has to be fought, but ignorance, the lack of the ability to tell true from false, to find knowledge. Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything they learnt at school, Albert Einstein.

Young people are increasingly finding schools less interesting because they have more engaging experiences outside the school, and this include educational experiences, because technology makes it possible. Thus, there is a need to flip the school, to turn it upside-down. The teacher has to lose control and let the students get control of their own learning process.

Most “ICT switches” have not performed the former flip, they have just added technology to the teacher’s control over the students and the learning process, but have not flipped it. The question is: are we preparing students for the future or for the past?

Learners will need new literacies, not skills. Literacies are skills plus the ability to actively engage in a specific culture. Social networking, privacy maintenance, identity management, creating and organising content, reusing and repurposing, filtering and selecting, self presenting… these are new literacies that will be needed to keep being part of one’s community, of one’s culture.

Trends in education:

  • Just for me: apprenticeship model.
  • Just in cast: standard curriculum.
  • Just in time: bespoke curriculum.
  • Just for me: personalized learning.

Personal learning environments: generating content, organising content, sharing content. Personal learning environments are made of personal web tools + your personal learning network. And social media are ready-to-use tools at everyone’s reach, that’s why a personal learning environment can be set anytime by anyone.

So, what are the new pedagogies that are emerging?

D. Cofer (Informal Workplace Learning, 2000) states that 80% of what we learn is by informal channels and just 20% through formal learning.

Indeed, it’s our connections what really provide us with valuous knowledge and, thus, learning, as George Siemens or Stephen Downes state in their Connectivism learning theory. We don’t have to know everything, we just need to know the one who knows it.

Teachers cannot be replaced by computers because teachers do have a role, though maybe different from the ones that they usually did.

New roles of teachers:

  • Content curation.
  • Collaboration: foster, boost, enhance collaboration between learners.
  • Co-learning.
  • Facilitation.
  • Learning support.
  • Inspiration.

Triadic assessment: peer assessment, self assessment, tutor assessment.

Multimedia brought the world in to the classroom, smart technology will take the classroom out into the world.


Q: How far can you fight against “IPD’s”? Wheeler: the fact is that anyone can use anything online, despite one has the permission or not. So, if one is not allowed to use a specific technology within the classroom, it will be used outside of it. So, what is the use of forbidding specific technology (or practices)? Schoolr or universities should encourage innovation, not try to stop it.

Ricardo Torres: How do we turn theory of change into practice, how do we introduce innovation? Wheeler: the first step is ask some specific questions: is it going to be an improvement? who wins? who loses? how will it increase the students’ ability to learn? Then, show best practices and point out what are the benefits of these best practices, and also which are the flaws or voids (things these practices won’t do).

Q: Is there a danger in content curation? can it be taken too far? how to teach what is relevant and what not? what is to be trusted or not if the content is already “packed” by this curation? Wheeler: content curation is a stimulus, a starting point, it is not the ending point or the full package of content that has to be explored. Is is not a closed system, but an open one. Content curation is not about putting a full package together, but setting up gates towards further sources.

More information


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning VIII International Seminar: Teacher Training: Reconsidering Teachers' Roles (2011)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2011) “Reconsidering Teachers’ Roles (I). Steve Wheeler: Learning and Teaching in the Digital Age” In ICTlogy, #97, October 2011. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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