A friend of mine told me he attended a science faculty candidate’s presentation at a teaching university in Atlanta. He said that when the candidate told the professors and the students that he would like the students to do collaborative work and explore the possible answers to the science problems, rather than giving them all the information which they would need to find the correct answers. Upon hearing this, some of the students laughed and one of them said: it’s funny that you would expect us to discover missing material by ourselves.”
This reflects a traditional way of teaching science: the students expect the instructors as authorities to give them all the necessary information to find the best solutions to the problems and the best answers to the questions. The student’s role is to accept knowledge from the instructor, digest it, and memorize it. Many scientists recognize that science is hard and objective, and that there are definite and universal truths in the field of science. The instructors are trained systematically in their interest areas and are supposed to be the masters of the knowledge in that area. They are legitimated as the authorities to transmit the knowledge to the students. This assumption has influenced the field of science education and is gradually becoming a culture, a culture that overemphasizes the role of the instructor in teaching and learning—the role of transmitting knowledge to the students through a hierarchical model.
But what’s wrong with this hierarchical model? The instructors were trained in their interests areas and they know the best path to reach knowledge. The students do not need to spend plenty of time and energy to do the exploration work. They can concentrate on learning the best solutions to the problems transmitted from the instructors. It is an efficient way to obtain new knowledge within a short period of time.
It is true that instructors usually know the efficient ways to access knowledge, and students may obtain new knowledge systematically within a short period of time. However, what is most important for students is to have the ability to explore and create knowledge, and to critically learn new knowledge . If the role of the instructor is overemphasized, the students may lose the opportunities to explore other possibilities to access or to create knowledge. Students trained in an instructor-centered culture are not as equal as the instructors, and they do not have the legitimacy to judge the knowledge transmitted to them. Their minds are constrained in a fixed knowledge pattern and they seldom think of other options. Gradually, they will lose their sharpness, their creativity, and their ability to challenge the taken-for-granted knowledge.
Attached video is about ideas naturally arising from bottom-up and ideas controlled and manipulated from the top.