Saturday, July 2, 2011

Can computers replace teachers?

Today's blog question comes from a topic I read about in LinkedIn ( - can computers replace teachers?

This is an interesting question, and something to think about as our technology becomes more and more advanced. Yesterday I was twittering as I sitting in my living room watching tv with my boyfriend. And as we were sitting there, him on the iPad, and me on the iPod, half watching an older movie/quoting lines from the movie together, and half sliding our fingers across the Twitter screens on our perspective iOS devices, we began to Tweet back and forth to each other. Mind you, we were only about 2-3 feet away from each other and could reach out and grab each other's hands if we wanted to. But there we were communicating to each other through Twitter.

This brought to mind another scene I've seen quite often in my own children, and at times, with my students, and that is texting to each other while standing next to each other. (Is texting the new talking?)

I bring these two scenarios up to show just how reliant we have become as a society on our digital devices. And, I'm sure Hollywood would like for us to believe that there is some possibility for computers to replace our teachers. After all, they've had a holographic program replace a doctor, a robot replace a boy, and an artificial intelligent man become a beloved member of a household, even to the point of becoming the great-granddaughter's husband.

This question also reminds me of a short story I wrote in one of my college English classes some years back about a day when technology failed in an elementary school and everyone had to revert back to battery powered lanterns to light the class, and books (actual hard covered paper books) to teach the class. This sounded very futuristic at the time that it was written, but with so many school districts moving forward in the next five years replacing textbooks with digital copies on tablets, some of those thoughts are not so far-fetched as they once were.

My thinking is that while we may be moving more towards a digital horizon where tablets replace textbooks, and biometrics built into OLED desktops take the place of old fashioned attendance records, students still need teachers. While it may seem like teachers are being replaced by computers with so many online classes are being offered, and students are able to work at their own pace rather than sitting in a physical classroom listening to a lecture by a flesh-and-blood instructor, teachers (certified teachers, at that) are still the ones responsible for planning the syllabus and course work offered in the online courses, and still may be providing the lectures, even if they are recorded.

Today's high schoolers, and some middle school students have the opportunity for acceleration (or remediation) through virtual schools, but the course work, curriculum road maps, tests, assessments, and even data collection, are still done, planned, and evaluated by certified teachers.

As a twenty-first century teacher, it is our duty to integrate technology into the classroom; however the integrated technology is by no means a replacement for our teaching, merely a tool or means of presentation. It is still our duty to evaluate and monitor student progress, measure the lessons according to benchmark standards, and differentiate instruction as we see fit to meet the needs of our students. Teachers make decisions everyday that affect their future lesson plans based on many aspects of his or her students' responses to an activity, some of which is read through body language, and the teacher's understanding of the student.

Sure computers are capable of evaluating and making decisions based on responses, but not to the level of complexity and humanity that a real, live, breathing teacher is capable of. A computer's decisions are based on a series of if-then clauses, zeroes and ones; opened and closed. No computer can evaluate the depth and richness of a student's artwork, or appreciate the complexity of creative dance move. If it could, my bet is that a teacher wrote the algorithm.

What's your take on this? Is it possible for computers to replace teachers? If yes, to what extent?


Post a Comment