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Introduction to the Project on Bioethics for Informed Choices - page 10 / 115

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540Challenges for Bioethics from Asia

smoking, the teacher reminded students of how difficult it is to give up addictions and how some people would rather keep on smoking and die a bit sooner, rather than give up and prolong their lives. He told a story about what society’s expectations were when he was growing up and how social attitudes change. This anecdotal  approach taken by the teacher also encouraged students to see the issues from humanistic perspectives.

The role of the teacher

The role of the teacher in facilitating the whole approach was vital (Conner, 2002). He established and maintained classroom relationships, facilitated group work and discussions and fostered independent learning through acting as a mediator, an instructor and as an encourager of learning.

At several times during the unit of work, the teacher used socially, contextual, idiosyncratic examples to illustrate different opinions about the bioethical issues or alternative processes for researching and writing essays. This type of modelling, that includes multiple perspectives on thinking, is considered especially important when teaching about controversial issues (Geddis, 1991) and when incorporating metacognitive processes as part of the learning activities (Costa, 1991). Several students reported that the way the teacher usually related aspects of biology to interesting, real-life examples was one of the characteristics they appreciated about his teaching.

The teacher encouraged active participation by visiting individual groups, posing prompting questions and setting up feedback from groups to the whole class.

During whole class discussions, the teacher acknowledged all ideas received and gave his own point of view which was respected by the students. The students trusted the teacher to take their ideas and questions seriously and to manage the interactions fairly. The key here was not what was learned, so much as how the learning took place. Emotions, context, reason and relationships were key elements in this interactional structure. The group/class discussions were a ‘way in’ to promote students’ thinking and reflection on their ideas about the issues. The teacher’s facilitation of these discussions was crucial. He was able to maintain his integrity in that he established mutual respect. When asked for his opinion, he gave more than one point of view to emphasise his objectivity and gave a balance of ideas. He modelled an ability to listen and discuss respectively with those who held views different from his own. This demonstrated a valuable skill to the students and is consistent with the environment considered to be conducive for discussing controversial issues (Solomon, 1991). Most students felt confident and comfortable enough to ask questions and give their own opinions. The discussions in this unit provided students with opportunities to develop respectful disagreement. In order to establish this culture, teachers need to model mutual respect. Otherwise discussions may reflect power structures or egomanical grandstanding.

Conceptions of what "in control" of learning means, is fundamental in providing flexible learning opportunities which allow student-driven inquiry. The teacher in the case described, was prepared to give up part of his directedness and allow students to make their own decisions and ask questions. He did not feel undermined or that he did not have control. Some students resisted and did not want to take on the responsibility of learning independently. They felt that the teacher should “tell” them what they needed to know. The continuum of degree of teacher-directed versus student-directed control over the learning is a professional judgment that depends on the teachers’ purpose.

Summary

Classroom observations, and teacher and student interviews illustrated the essential aspects of the role of the teacher. These were his ability to mediate classroom activities, particularly discussions, provide instructions for activities, particularly the skills needed for researching and writing essays and encouraging students through asking questions and giving them feedback on progress.

The ways in which a teacher interacts with individuals and groups, asks and responds to questions, manages discussions, anticipates concerns and difficulties and acts on disciplinary

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