Using teacher power

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Using teacher power

Postby Richard » 20 Sep 2018 08:04

A few days ago, I was chatting to Sachiko about her research and she mentioned how laborious transcribing interview data was. Since I had mentioned how useful SoundScriber is in the RM course, I asked her if she was using it. She said 'No', since she uses a Mac. Without SoundScriber transcribing is truly laborious, so I showed her how it works on my computer and mentioned how Steve makes transcriptions (using SoundScriber on a PC, and typing on his Mac). Once Sachiko realised how useful SoundScriber is, she asked me why I hadn't told her in the RM course that she MUST use SoundScriber when transcribing.

Dictating to students what they must do goes against all principles of learner autonomy and reducing power gaps between teachers and students, but in this case using must might have saved Sachiko a lot of pain. Is dictating to students what they must do justifiable, and, if so, when? Do the benefits of making students' lives easier outweigh the potential reinforcement of power differences?
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Re: Using teacher power

Postby stevelouw » 24 Sep 2018 10:52

This is a good question. I have the same with managing my teachers. Should I tell them they 'must' establish classroom routines, or do I allow them to mess up their classrooms until they realize what they have been told works well. Respecting teacher's autonomy, allowing them to learn from the problems, and also understanding that teachers go through periods where they are 'ready to learn' something makes sense, but in the mean time the learners' learning is compromised, the school management is upset, and there are times where teachers don't recover. In these cases it's so much easier to just tell teacher they 'must' start their lessons with a song, and so on. This threatens to makes me a rather dictatorial manager. When a teacher can argue against my prescriptions with something they prefer or which works better for them, it's probably time to hand over autonomy.

Back to Sachiko's case: as a student awash in the wild waves of research and data, even highly self-directed and motivated PhD students might appreciate a bit of authoritative discourse.
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Re: Using teacher power

Postby sgtowns » 04 Oct 2018 07:13

There are probably a few different ways to answer this question based on supervisory styles, so there is probably no right answer that fits every supervisor-supervisee relationship. However, there are two ways that come to my mind as to how we might approach the problem.

The first is that the supervisor's use of power could be based on the importance of the task. For example, if writing a journal article is deemed to be the most important task of a PhD, then the supervisor might feel justified in being authoritative and demanding regarding the content and the quality of the article. Whereas the final thesis might be considered to be less important since it is just a write up of what the student did, and the supervisor might be more lenient and give more autonomy to the student to complete the work. (Every program and every supervisor around the world might have different ideas about what are the most important steps, so the above is just an example.)

The second way we might answer this question is to consider the (un)conscious/(in)competence model we have been discussing in another thread. Using this model, I would assume that when most students start a PhD program, they are in the unconscious/incompetent or at the very best, consciously incompetent, stage of being a PhD student (or, at least I was). So therefore they need a lot of support and scaffolding from the supervisor, and the supervisor's power might be at the highest point. Then, as students become more skilled and knowledgable and move into conscious competence, then the supervisor might have less need to be authoritative.

This second model fits in well with what Steve says above about "handing over autonomy" when the student/trainee is ready. And I agree with him that this "incompetence" model has nothing to do with whether or not the student is self-directed, motivated, or intelligent. It's just about experience, content knowledge, and (in our case in the PhD) research skills.
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Re: Using teacher power

Postby sgtowns » 05 Oct 2018 07:05

I thought about this a little more, and perhaps we can combine the two ideas in my last post by separating out global goals from sub-goals.

The overall goal of a PhD (perhaps) is to become an independent researcher. In that overall goal, students (hopefully) become more competent as a result of their PhD journey. But for the sub-goals such as researching enough to have a good proposal, passing a QE, gathering data, analyzing data, drawing conclusions, writing and disseminating the results... each task has its own incompetence -> competence path for the student. So perhaps the supervisor's authority vs the student's autonomy can vary as new and different tasks are attempted and new knowledge and new skills are learned.
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