Reality Check Revisited: Sage on the Stage vs. Guide on the Side

Today, I am revisiting one of my most-read and most-shared posts: Reality Check: Sage on the Stage vs. Guide on the Side. That post really encompasses my own teaching philosophy, which I would describe as pragmatic or maybe more appropriately, social realist (after learning about Maton’s Legitimation Code Theory).

So, how do you know when to step into the sage role and when to step into the guide role? Many of us do this intuitively, but to explain the process requires a lot of self-awareness about one’s own teaching. A really strong foundation in instructional design doesn’t hurt either.

Before I get into the mechanics of sage vs. guide though, a different perspective on student-centered learning needs to be discussed. Student-centered learning is typically thought of as a constructive approach that literally puts students at the center of learning, hence the teacher becomes a guide on the side. My definition differs somewhat. My personal definition of student-centered learning puts students’ social, emotional, and cognitive needs at the center of learning. When you look at it that way, the approach to teaching changes based on a variety of factors, including what gaps exist between what students know and what they need to know (the prior knowledge gap), and matching teaching methods to topic.

I am going to address methods-matching in this post. And the simplest way to do so is to look at teaching methods that fit the three types of knowledge: declarative, procedural, and conditional. Declarative knowledge is factual knowledge (“knowing what”). Procedural knowledge is “knowing how,” and conditional knowledge is “knowing when and why” to apply declarative and procedural knowledge.

With declarative knowledge, lecturing is a method that works just fine (no, the lecture is not “dead”). This is your sage on the stage moment. Of course, lectures can be very ineffective (I think we’ve all experienced at least one professor who droned on..and on..and on). So when lecturing, it is important to keep in mind two aspects of how people learn: 1) they need to be paying attention, and 2) and they need to remember what was talked about. Getting your students (or audience) to pay attention and maintain attention is definitely challenging, but not impossible. One of the most effective methods of the lecture mode (in my opinion) is the use of storytelling as a tool to promote engagement in the lecture and enhance recall. We know student response systems can improve attention as well because they are often used to test recall (so students pay attention) during lectures. Aside from that, any effort to make lectures more active will promote student attention and recall.

Procedural knowledge is all about practice, so experiential learning approaches are important. This is your guide on the side moment. Simulations, roleplay, and project-based learning are just a few strategies for creating experiential learning in the classroom. Internships, field trips, and apprenticeships are real-life approaches to experiential learning.

Conditional knowledge requires the application of critical thinking and problem solving skills that demonstrate a a deeper mastery of declarative and procedural knowledge. This also requires experiential learning, ideally through work within communities of practice. Getting a feel for the “when and why” of knowledge application is really a matter of the dispositional development of learners. It generally doesn’t happen in any given course, but rather over time as a student gains mastery within a field or discipline.  In that respect, conditional knowledge is what the ACRL Framework encompasses (or the elite specialization code in Legitimation Code Theory as discussed in my previous post).

To sum it up, good teaching is a complicated process that cannot be limited to a singular philosophical role. Trying to be a guide when you really need to be a sage or vice-versa is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Knowing when to be a guide and when to be a sage is the hallmark of great student-centered teaching and learning (and it’s also an example of conditional knowledge!).


Analyzing the Knowledge Practices of the ACRL Framework (Part VI)

For today’s post, I analyzed the final frame of the ACRL Framework, “Searching as Strategic Exploration.” Essentially, this frame encompasses the very core of information literacy — Information Technology Fluency — so should be one of the very first sets of KPs that students encounter upon entering college (and hopefully they are entering college having had at least some exposure to these KPs in high school).

While for the most part these KPs are at least semi-visible, they miss the mark in terms of describing the actual product or output of knowledge (what does the knowledge look like when put into practice?). They also tend toward individual competencies rather than knowledge practices within a community of practice (of course, that’s also how they are typically taught).

However, we must remember that in this frame in particular, there may be wider variations in practice as students enter their chosen disciplines. As written in the ACRL Framework, the KPs in “Searching as Strategic Exploration” are probably more suited to the Social Sciences and Humanities rather than the hard Sciences (and that makes sense considering that they were likely written with the Comp classroom in mind).

In my next post, I will discuss how I looked at all the ACRL Framework’s KPs through the framework of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), and how LCT can further inform (and in my opinion, better develop) the usability of the ACRL Framework.

Searching as Strategic Exploration
Knowledge Practice IL Facet Knowing in Action Instructional Strategies
Determine the initial scope of the task required to meet their information needs; Problem Solving Develop a strategic search plan:

·         determine the initial scope of the task required to meet information needs;

·         determine the types of information most appropriate to the task;

·         identify parties who might produce information about a topic and then determine how to access that information;

These first two KPs belong to the same category of research planning. To facilitate the development of research planning skills, use tools such as concept maps, graphic organizers, index cards (for organizing information), calendars (for time management), and collaboration tools.
Identify interested parties, such as scholars, organizations, governments, and industries, who might produce information about a topic and then determine how to access that information; Problem Solving
Utilize divergent (e.g., brainstorming) and convergent (e.g., selecting the best source) thinking when searching; Ways of Thinking; Problem Solving Demonstrate divergent and convergent thinking by justifying why a particular source(s) effectively solves the information problem. In order to assess this KP, it is essential that thinking be made visible, whether through think alouds, annotated bibliographies, presentations, narrated screencasts, etc…
Match information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools; Information Technology Fluency; Problem Solving This should be part of the strategic planning process (see first two KPs above). See first strategy above.
Design and refine needs and search strategies as necessary, based on search results; Information Technology Fluency; Ways of Thinking;

Problem Solving;

Evaluate and revise the strategic search plan as needed. See first strategy above.
Understand how information systems (i.e., collections of recorded information) are organized in order to access relevant information; Information Technology Fluency This KP should be demonstrated during the strategic planning process (it goes along with the second KP). See first strategy above.
Use different types of searching language (e.g., controlled vocabulary, keywords, natural language) appropriately; Information Technology Fluency This is knowing in action when students find appropriate sources. It can be integrated into the strategic planning process (e.g., writing down potential search strings). See first strategy above.
Manage searching processes and results effectively Information Technology Fluency This is knowing in action when students implement an effective search plan [which results in effective research output]. The strategic search plan makes this KP easy to assess. See first strategy above.