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Why Technology Can’t Replace Teachers, Yet

April 3, 2011

Post inspired by The Future of Learning by Scott McLeod as I am cross-posting my comment here with some additions.

Original Work by Jos Sances

I remember four or five years ago when I received my own laptop cart, dedicated to only my classroom.  Initially, my students were excited.  But, as many others have mistakenly done, I began by using the technology only as a different method of content delivery.  I became the PowerPoint queen.  When a student was absent from school and returned only to ask, “What did I miss yesterday?”, I was able to direct them to a webpage to review the PowerPoint.  I remember a student saying once, “Oh great!  Now, teachers don’t even have to teach anymore.”  Well, I had a lot to learn then. (Come to think of it, I still do a bit of this when referring them to the class wiki.  I’ll be stopping that this week).

And, I still do.

And, if I am doing my job right, there will always be a lot to learn. Always!

There was some discussion about the direction education needs to take/is taking over at Big Think.  As I am reading through the responses, I can certainly understand the hesitation, on the part of some, regarding the ideas put forth by Dr. Scott McLeod, although he isn’t advocating that technology replace teachers, but rather there will be a reduction on the reliance of live humans.   And, I agree somewhat with other commenters. There still needs to be a place in education for real human interaction and it is important we acknowledge that right now as our government looks to cut as much as they can in education. The technology can not replace all teaching. However, there is certainly room for much of what Dr. McLeod notes and we need to adapt to the changes sooner than later. Perhaps learning will become less dependent upon live human interaction, but certainly not devoid of it.

Case in point #1 ~ My students know how to navigate the online world. They are great at FaceBook, but yet struggle with proper online interaction. They still need leadership and guidance to learn the digital citizenship skills to navigate and interact in an online environment appropriately. They need help to develop the critical thinking skills to ascertain which writing conventions are acceptable given the online community within which they are interacting. The best way we, as teachers, can teach this is by modeling and being active in the same manner.  You can only do this if you go beyond the litigious fear and start communicating in their realm ~ FaceBook, Twitter, email, etc.  Given only the technology tools, many students would struggle on their own to communicate effectively and appropriately.

From Wesley Fryer on Flickr

Case in point #2 ~ Just this week, students were debating in class whether or not the adoption of omg and lol into the Oxford English dictionary is a good thing.  One student said, “Isn’t that just going to confuse us more, because it sends the message it is OK to use those conventions in writing?”  Good point.  As with anything in life, sometimes, things are just a matter of perspective, which I of course turned around for the students.  It is a sign that things are changing and really, that students need to learn in what contexts it is appropriate to use them and where it is not.  Learning to differentiate the use of each imparts one type of critical thinking skill wherein alternating between the two different contexts requires some higher-order thinking on the part of the student.  Students still need teachers to teach them this.

Online Interactions are Very Much Social & Emotional

One of the biggest misconceptions about online learning is that it leaves a complete void regarding human interaction and social-emotional learning.  I have to beg to differ, here.  Technology use and online learning can support social and emotional learning when done correctly.  Textbook-like curriculum, delivered via an online interface, is not true, online learning.  It puts far too much prominence on the tool versus the actual learning that should take place.  Those of us in a classroom daily, who do support the use of technology as a tool for learning, know that in order to be successful, we must strike a balance between teaching, learning, and technology.

I would have to strongly disagree with this commenter’s statement,

Basically, the idea of “humanity” has been perverted and trivialized by electronic media. It’s for this reason that I strenuously protest.”

And I disagree, respectfully.  To each his own.  We can’t all think alike.  My next door neighbor (aka – the teacher in the classroom next to me) and I ensue in this very debate near daily.

The above conversation reminded me of anthropologist, Amber Case, and her recent TED talk about the evolution of the relationship between humans and machines.  Perhaps this new idea of humanity and community is just difficult to accept because it is different than what we know.  Case argues that in actuality, technology is connecting us in a way that makes us more human.

While online connections may be just that for many, for some of us, they are the seeds planted that foster and grow into meaningful, future, off-line professional relationships and growth opportunities that would have never presented themselves but for that initial, online interaction.  If you still do not believe online interactions are emotional, one needs only look to the current statistics for cyber-bullying.  Be it negative or positive, emotional well-beings are at stake.  It is our job to cipher out for our students what is OK and what is not.  A student said this week, “But, Ms. Nestico, no one is really teaching us any of that.”  Of course, I’ll be accepting that challenge.

Some of the online relationships I have created with others, while learning & teaching alongside them online, have blossomed over the years into very real and meaningful relationships that have led to face-to-face meetings and interactions. They have, in fact, met just as many of my social-emotional learning needs as colleagues just down the hall from me in school.  I am fortunate to have good colleagues and exceptionally supportive administrators.  Social-emotional support and learning comes from an array of the experiences with which we surround ourselves.  Online interactions serve to enhance what we already have.  It doesn’t take the place of them.

When you become immersed in technology and it becomes nearly invisible, human relationships remain at the forefront.  When you can walk into a room of several hundred people at a conference in your home state, but a person from five states due south, hurries across the room and through the crowd to greet you with a smile and a hug, social and emotional learning needs are met.  When a blogger from afar celebrates your victories and shares in your mistakes & misfortunes, social and emotional learning is enhanced.  The technology is just a mere link to the human on the other end but the key here IS the human on the other end.

Bill Davis recently reprinted Idaho Representative Brian Cronin’s plight to Idaho’s Congress regarding public education,

The skills that are most in demand today, the skills that are required of leaders and followers in this new economy, the skills in which there may be a deficit in the workplace are the skills that humanity has always prized: clear and convincing writing and speech; the ability to collaborate productively with peers; the ability to assimilate and analyze ever growing amounts of information and data; the ability to solve complex problems—often in a team environment, the ability to focus on a single task and see it through to the end; the ability to make relevant and creative connections between seemingly disparate sets of information.

At times it seems that I live and die by my computer. But I know that there isn’t a computer in the world that can teach any of these things. Good teachers impart these critical skills and they always have.

Yeah!  A legislator who gets, “it!”  But, there has got to be a balance between education via technology and the human element.  While our students may not need as much guidance to navigate the digital world, they do need to learn how to operate fully and effectively within it.  So, for right now, no.  Computers can not replace human interaction via teachers.  They can only serve to enhance it.

For those who believe technology really is ‘just a tool,’ please open your minds a little. Start small.  Find one new tool or way to educate yourself first, online, and start playing. You can learn socially and emotionally online.  Be persistent. It pays off.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2011 9:56 AM

    Great Post,

    I agree that we’ve been cyborgs for quite awhile now… we just don’t see it because the machines are not embedded or permanently connected to our bodies. Though, we may be getting close when we look at teenagers and cellphones….

    Case in point. A group of my fellow educators and I were visiting a school is Oregon. At the Portland airport, I picked up the latest Time magazine, because the cover story was about one of the books I am reading currently, _The Singularity is Near_. One of my friends was shocked by the idea of machines augmenting our intelligence. I asked, “So you’re saying you don’t want any machines augmenting what you body can do naturally?”

    “Yes!” my friend replied.

    “Can you fly naturally?” I asked.

    “No.”

    “But you’re willing to do so today, augmented by this machine…”

    “Thats different, I’m talking about machines augmenting our minds! That’s just weird.” my friend insisted.

    “Care to Google that?”

    • April 3, 2011 11:29 AM

      Thank you so much for commenting, Dave! Agreed. Many people take for granted that much of our modern world is technological in nature even if it isn’t attached to a computer screen. I assume your friend proceeded to board the plane, yes? Airplanes, automobiles, and televisions are old news. What we are experiencing now is just simply, change.

      Funny you should comment… I actually have a draft in the works about your Twitter comment regarding ‘shouldn’t teachers be able to vent?’ But, the quarter is drawing near and my students need some feedback about the interest groups they are developing and grades are soon due. Stay tuned…

  2. Val Rushanan permalink
    April 27, 2011 1:40 PM

    I agree with you, and enjoyed the Amber Case video. Technology doesn’t make the human side go away. I think the key is to identify and increase the awareness of the educational benefits of technology. Excluding technology from education means eliminating a major connection to students’ view of reality as well as the world of work they will inherit.

  3. July 18, 2014 8:30 AM

    Its not just the classroom. Many such jobs are now facing technology threat. These technology jobs can now be a real threat to all.

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