An evolution for the ‘Sage on the Stage’?



One of the tenets of ’21 Century’ education and learning is that the era of the  ‘Sage on the Stage’ is over and we should consider instead the ‘Guide on the Side’ who ‘facilitates’ learning; this is the instructor who creates a space for colloboration, who weaves discussions (in an online space) and does not teach or tell because that is SO not Web 2.0 or 21st Century.

By and large, that all makes sense. Nobody likes long drawn out presentations; the retention from lectures is generally poor and the flipped classroom method (while not new) is gaining in popularity and has probably tipped thanks in part to the Khan Academy’s popularizing it, so it has entered the mainstream education discourse.

However, some of this has been challenged by my recent experience as a student in Curt Bonk’s MOOC (massive open online course) entitled ‘Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success’. The outstanding and affective part of this open course has been the live conferencing where Dr Bonk is indeed the ‘Sage on the Stage’ (or Elder of Elluminate).

I’ve attended 2 live sessions of the MOOC and the experience has changed my own emotional response to this MOOC and has made me decide I am going to stick it out until the end. Partly due to the sense of occasion a live session engenders anyway, but mostly to the manner of presentation and the intelligent use of interactive devices which together create in a space of two hours a community of students. Surprisingly, I’ve been interested and energised during the live sessions and can partly attribute this to the ways in which Dr Bonk makes the experience feel personal: through reference to participants’ locations, use of personal names, responsiveness to questions, use of quizzing and polling, props and even prizes. (Disclosure: I won a book in the last session!)

Yet the live session was still very much a ‘lecture’ using powerpoint slides to deliver content and subject matter defined by the presenter. And it went on for 2 hours including Q and A. What has made this live presentation ‘different’ from other live webinars more commonly found is the sense of occasion and unpredicability of where it will go and from feeling on the part of  a participant that they are really participating.  The affordances of Elluminate enabling chat, polling, as well as the slides and video in combination create an experience not replicable to the same extent in a face to face classroom, not to mention the international flavour of attendees.

I think what I am saying is that I am willing to attend a live session if I am given the opportunity of co-creating that experience and the ‘sage’ is interesting enough that meeting him or her in real time is an experience different from reading his/her papers, interviews etc. In this session, Dr Bonk answered two specific questions I posed and genuinely seemed to want to be there and help participants come to an understanding of the issues and topics. ??????What I think I am seeing here is a coming together of the power of synchronous classroom experience (which can happen face to face or online) mediated by the appropriate and intelligent use of a live conferencing software (in this case Blackboard Elluminate) which allows things to happen that cannot happen face to face so easily, such as:

  1. Global login and participation regardless of physical location and geography. (The only constraint is access).
  2. Co-construction and realtime development of the presentation through use of interactive quizzes, polls, video and chat functions.
  3. Critical and visible mass of students to enable meaningful participation and meaningful lurking.
  4. The capturing of the near-totality of the experience (results of quizzes, chats, recording of lecture) for others to share soon after.

On reflection, perhaps ‘Sage on the Stage’ is not longer an adequate description of this type of guided live instruction. There is definitely an element of co-construction of knowledge and understanding as part of the lecture, so perhaps something more along the lines of a ‘Catalyser for Learning’ better explains the function and role of the instructor.