How Digital Technology informs ‘Mantle of the Expert’

What is Mantle of the Expert?
Drama teaching offers all sorts of pedagogical possibilities that empower students; none more so than Dorothy Heathcote’s ‘Mantle of the Expert’. The idea is simple, the students are the ones who use knowledge to construct an appropriate learning environment, rather than the teacher. Heathcote defined the teacher’s role as an ‘enabler’ rather than the traditional ‘transmitter’ role.

What makes this idea so powerful is that apart from it empowering the students, it encourages critical thinking. As the Experts, students need to determine what information they need and why, they consider who needs it, how it is to be communicated. In other words, many of the cognitive processes the teacher would use.

How does digital technology feature in this concept? Quite simply, by providing the information, perhaps on a personal level to those individuals who need it.

I have Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at Plymouth University, to thank for reminding me of this idea. In his fantastic blog “Learning with Es” ( he described ‘flipping the teacher’, a variation on flipped classrooms rather than any rude gesture! ‘Mantle of the Expert’ is an extension of this idea.

Dynamic methodology
Students can research material, get familiar with it, as homework perhaps, allowing the lesson to be a practical exploration in the role of experts. They don’t have to do it this way: scatter a few laptops, iPads or LearnPads around the room loaded with relevant content, hyperlinked to useful URLs and video clips on YouTube and Vimeo so students can explore as required. The teacher needs to plan carefully in the choice of resources but part of the critical thinking process arises out of how students decide what they need and how the content is communicated to others in their group or team.

eLearning can help enormously here. Resources can provide specific content so students obtain the knowledge needed by accessing video clips, audio files, PDFs, Prezis, and any other resource the teacher wants them to use. Formative assessments identify if the students’ understanding is sufficient and redirect them to areas where their knowledge may be weak, assessments that maintain accountability as well. Results build into a progress check useful for writing reports and help students build their own learning profile or e-portfolio. Certificates can be triggered when a student does well, couched in terms of their success as an expert in their relevant field.

Other eLearning courses can be facilitation resources which ‘teach’ the student how to conduct themselves in the context in which they’ll work – as a detective or trial lawyer for instance. These resources can be revisited as and when required – if students work in teams they allocate who needs to use which resource, further evidence of critical thinking.

Over the years I have taught some of the ideas below, others are lessons observed from subject specialists who have used Drama and Mantle of the Expert as the methodology.

Spaceship Earth: This Science and Drama collaboration was an annual feature in my school for Year 8 students. Lots of roles in this project: some students adopt the expert role of being Pollutants – such as Carbon Dioxide, Methane, nuclear power residue and the like. They must understand how they pollute the planet. Other roles are Passengers on the spaceship who must identify which pollutant is causing the most damage, and how?

Dallas 1963: This project in History requires students to become detectives to ‘solve’ the conspiracy theories surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination. One teacher I observed placed laptops and iPads in different parts of the classroom to represent the various parts of Kennedy’s journey such as the bookshop and the grassy knoll. Students visit these locations to obtain information, even revisit to confirm or re-evaluate what they know.

Percy the Penguin: created by a highly innovative Geography teacher who took on my suggestion of using Drama to ‘humanise’ the subject. Students study the Antarctic from the perspective of a penguin who analyses human activities on the continent. Students need the expertise of a penguin so must involve understanding their environment, feeding habits and so on – but crucially what human beings are doing to the landscape and the impact it has on the penguins.

Court Trials: All teachers know how exciting these can be but using Mantle of the Expert diversifies roles – as prosecutors, defence lawyers, defendants, witnesses and the like. Each role requires specific forms of knowledge which can sometimes overlap but the primary benefit comes from one ‘role’ teaching the rest of the class. When each group are equipped with digital technology they can refer to ‘notes’ to help them ask and answer questions. I’ve used this method to explore Priestley’s An Inspector Calls (who is responsible for the death of Eva Smith?) and to establish the level of guilt of Macbeth. I’ve also seen Stalin put in trial in History and multi-national conglomerates prosecuted for destruction of Amazon rainforest.

The Benefit of eLearning
Creating the courses is time consuming but no more so than planning for any dynamic lesson. An advantage is that once the ‘facilitation’ courses are created they can be used repeatedly in other contexts. The simplicity of nimble®Author means resources are soon assembled, you can cut and paste and duplicate materials easily to produce new ones. The best thing of all is that all those PDFs, video and audio files and scanned images you have are contained in resources linked directly to assessments which inform you, as the teacher. It makes learning and teaching cohesive.

Being cloud-based means access if 24/7 too. Students can work at home, parents get to see what their offspring are doing, they can see the content and the instructions. In Dallas 1963 I’ve encountered parents who got equally as involved as the students!

So I’d strongly recommend putting on your Drama hat and trying out Mantle of the Expert and handing over the responsibility for gaining knowledge to your students, with the help of nimble®Author of course!

by Phil Parker
Education Manager and ex Drama teacher