New devices, technology help transform some teachers into ‘facilitators’
by Laura Johnson
Feb 27, 2013 | 5635 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Saks Elementary student Jacob Amberson works with his tablet last week during Monique Grier’s third-grade class. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Saks Elementary student Jacob Amberson works with his tablet last week during Monique Grier’s third-grade class. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Saks Elementary School teacher Monique Grier says that when she began teaching about a decade ago it was difficult to imagine a classroom with a computer for every student.

At the time she taught at a middle school in Gadsden, where her classroom was equipped with three desktop computers and an overhead projector. Today her third-grade classroom is flooded with technology and she says it’s changing the way she teaches her students.

Instead of standing at the head of the class and delivering the information, she often walks around, iPad in hand, as she helps students find answers on their own through wireless devices.

“I think they’re more interested and they’re engaged because they have the device right in front of them and they enjoy learning with the devices,” Grier said on a recent school day.

Grier’s move from educator to facilitator is representative of a larger trend that is slowly emerging in public schools. The facilitator trend is separate from, but accelerated by, the technology trend, leaders in digital education said.

“It allows for a variety of different kinds of learning environments, all of which come together to change the teacher’s role,” said Adam Frankel, executive director of the national nonprofit Digital Promise.

With digital tools, including laptops, tablets and smartphones, students can work at their own pace to conquer academic concepts. Then teachers like Grier walk around classrooms to answer questions as they come up.

With technology, teachers use a variety of techniques to educate students. In addition to solo undertaking studies, students sometimes work in groups to solve problems.

The teaching roles, techniques and the use of technology have prompted many teachers, including Grier, to reconfigure their classrooms. Instead of lining desks up in rows, teachers often cluster students in groups.

“Very quickly the role of a teacher — and teachers will admit to this — can change to that of a facilitator,” said Bailey Mitchell, who chairs the board of the Consortium for School Networking.

Mitchell also heads up the technology department for Forsythe County Schools in Georgia. There, as in Calhoun County, administrators are in the midst of implementing a “bring your own device” program.

Such programs allow students to bring their own wireless devices to class for learning. In his system, Bailey said, the introduction of technology has accelerated the teacher’s transformation to facilitators.

As teachers’ roles shift, students’ roles in education are changing too, educators say.

Digital learning in classrooms where teachers are facilitators puts the onus for education on students, prompting them to shift from passive learners to active learners, according to educators.

“The children are being more responsible for their own learning,” said Betty Merriweather, principal of Anniston’s Golden Springs Elementary School. “The final goal is to teach them to be independent learners.”

The concept of educators as facilitators is growing in popularity, but the trend is still evolving and the concept is not being practiced uniformly.

“I think it is what everyone is striving to do,” said Andre Denham, who teaches education majors at the University of Alabama. “It takes a long time for things to change.”

Denham said traditional teaching techniques still have a stronghold in many grade schools across the country, but at colleges and universities, teaching young educators to think like facilitators is standard. This semester Denham is teaching two sections of education students how to do just that.

In Denham’s class, students focus on comparing and contrasting traditional teaching techniques to new ones while they learn how to encourage students to learn on their own with teacher guidance.

“It’s a shift in thinking right now where the teacher is not looked on as the disseminator of education, but they are facilitating learning,” Denham said.

Educators are quick to point out that although the role of the teacher is changing in some classrooms, it’s not decreasing in value.

Denham said technology won’t replace teachers, though people have long thought that it might. For example, he said, some once thought film and television would eliminate the need for in-class educators.

“We have always had these tools,” Denham said. “What makes these tools successful is the proper implementation in the schools.”

Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.
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