The Role of The Teacher (In A Nutshell)

This is the overview of the second to last section in the heart of my dissertation. The version that appears in the dissertation will be well supported by citations of constructivist theorists, educational technologists, and video game scholars. This will occur at each step of the way, so the video game section won’t be segregated at the end. I’ll post that version here when it’s ready. In the meantime, any comments are appreciated.

An active teacher plays an important role in a constructivist learning environment. The teacher must first and foremost be able to engage students. In fact, the teacher must plan and create an environment in which students are engaged and motivated, and in which student learning is context-embedded, inquiry-driven, and socially negotiated. Naturally, the teacher also plays an important role in supporting student reflection and metacognition. In sort, an effective constructivist learning environment cannot exist without the careful planning of a skilled educator. In a sense, the teacher becomes the producer and designer of the learning environment. Development of a learning community within such an environment also falls to the teacher.

A constructivist teacher needs to not only have knowledge of subject matter, but also of sound constructivist pedagogy and of the individuals whom they teach. Only then can a teacher serve as a coach (and diagnostician) to individual students. As a coach the teacher can offer positive support. Teachers are also needed for their guidance, particularly in facilitating deliberate and intentional learning – as opposed to the sort of incidental learning that takes place despite a lack of guidance. Teachers may need to help students through guided practice before students are able to succeed at new tasks alone. Teachers can also serve as leaders to students, constantly challenging them and expanding their horizons. Most importantly, teachers must be able to take advantage of teachable moments (and create environments in which such moments occur often).

Of course, teachers are also responsible for assessment of student learning. Constructivists, though, call for assessments to be authentic and embedded in student tasks, rather than the isolated and relatively context-free assessments usually associated with traditional education methods.

Ultimately, a constructivist teacher aims to help students become their own teachers capable of driving and monitoring their own progress.
Finally, though educating an individual student is important work, a teacher will ideally work with a higher calling in mind and the goal of implementing positive social change.

When it comes to selecting (or modifying or creating) video games and simulations for the classroom, the teacher must play these same roles. The games and simulations must fulfill the requirements of constructivist learning environments (or effectively supplement them). Teachers can serve as a coach to students before, during, and after play. Naturally, games can be an effective (and motivating) means of implementing embedded assessments. In offering support (and reviewing assessment results) teachers can help students develop their own powers of decision making, strategy, and metacogntion as they play through a game or simulation, thus helping students grow in their ability to regulate their own learning. Also, as the serious games and games for change movements suggest, video games and simulations can be powerful platforms for advocating positive social change.

However, in order for any of this to be possible, teachers need to develop their own literacy in video games and simulations, and this can only happen by learning to use the technologies and play the games themselves.