@hsp writes, “I have no issue with social constructivism per se, but I do have an issue with the relative and subjective knowledge that it can generate. It leaves room for groups of people to come to different conclusions based on the same facts.”
We’ve digressed a lot from the topic of ‘the role for educators’ but in an interesting and necessary way. And indeed, many of my discussions of MOOCs begin with a discussion of the nature of knowledge.
Allow me to begin, though, by dividing the discussion into a practical thread and a theoretical thead:
the practical matter of whether educators ought to see themselves as conveyors of authoritative knowledge, whether or not such knowledge actually exists, and
the nature of truth, and whether there are truths that can be known in an absolute sense, as opposed to the relativism described by @Zerove
With respect to the second matter, I think that the net result of some 2600 years of philosophical enquiry into the nature of knowledge and truth is that knowledge and truth are at best relative to a community, a symbol system, a model, a perceiver, or some such non-global entity.
It does not matter that “a further dialectic process towards a global understanding of facts” is hampered by this. [x] Arguably, this is beyond our reach - we could engage in the process forever, but never know whether we are even getting closer to a conclusion.
We could discuss the state of knowledge and truth at length, but that might best be a separate thread.
The practical question is whether, despite this, and for more pragmatic reasons, teachers out to be seen as conveyors of authoritative facts and knowledge.
Several reasons have been advanced in the discussion this far:
it may be the case that students are unable to learn unless facts and knowledge are presented in this way, ie., there are pedagogical reasons
it may be the case that there are cultural reasons for presenting knowledge and information this way, ie., there are cultural reasons
it may be that the stability and prosperity of society as a whole may depend on a common understanding (or, if you read Rawls, agreement) on certain propositions, ie., there are social reasons
Against these arguments I offer my own proposition that social, pedagogical and cultural issues are better addressed by encouraging learner autonomy than by encouraging teachers to act as sources of authoritative facts and knowledge.
first, it is arguable that students learn better if they are able to understand and reconstitute the knowledge for themselves, rather than having it distributed to them as already known and authoritative. There have been some recent discussions around the Common Core approach to mathematics that are illustrative of this.
second, it is arguable that culture, rather than being harmed by a decline of authority, is actually strengthened by it. This is a long digression which I won’t explore here, but a significant topic worthy of discussion.
third, society as a whole is more stable if the ondividuals in it are viewed as autonomous, pursuing (as Mill says) “their own good in their own way”. There has been a lot of recent discussion showing the quality of decisions and stability of social systems are increased when organized as networks of diverse autonomous members.
One final note. We will not doubt touch on the distinction between ‘authority’ and ‘expert’. The two are very different. The former represents a perspective that is imposed on the learner. The latter represents a perspective that is given weight by being recognized as such by the learner.
Contrary to the perspective of cMOOCs offered in the paper cited by @Vivian below, the position of connectivists (or, at least, of me) is that while teachers should not take on an authoritative role, they can and certainly should function as experts.
Their role is not merely to facilitate - that is a conflation of connectivism with constructivism. Their role is, to put in slogan form, to model and demonstrate.
[x] In the same way the assertion that “we do not have wings” hampers our ability to fly. But no much it hampers our ability to fly, it does not follow that we have wings.