How technology will make teachers more human

When Yong Zhao was last in Australia, I asked if he would consider contributing a guest post to bluyonder.  I’m pleased to say his Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 12.54.51 pmpost, which is adapted from his newly published book ‘Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 Ed Tech Mistakes‘ is below. Yong suggests that we need to consider handing over some of the tasks traditionally done by teachers to technology. Look forward to your comments on this.  

With increased ease of access to vast amount of information and learning resources online and big-data-driven adaptive learning systems, will technology ultimately replace human teachers? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe technology will help make teachers more human educators. But this requires us to reimagine the role of teachers and the relationship between technology and human educators.

“Never send a human to do a machine’s job,” a statement from the movie The Matrix, is good advice for us to reimagine the relationship between humans and technology in education. Technology is developed to extend or replace human capacities. It is designed to do things that human beings are unable or unwilling to do or do things more efficiently than human beings, either more effectively or at lower costs. By design, technology is meant to replace certain human abilities. In other words, if technology can do certain things better with more efficiency or even things that are impossible for humans to do, we should let technology do it. There is no reason for humans to compete with machines. As a result, technology has replaced human beings entirely in cases where human involvement is straightforward and simple. For example, ATMs have replaced certain banking jobs and robotics has replaced certain manufacturing jobs.

Education is much more complex than depositing a cheque or getting cash from a bank teller. It is fundamentally a human endeavor. Technology will probably never be able to replace human teachers entirely. But many tasks that have traditionally been performed by human teachers can and should be done by technology so as to free human teachers to do things that machines cannot do or do as well. In other words, technology can make education more human if used properly.

To better capitalize on the potential of technology, schools and teachers need to reimagine the relationship between technology and human educators so as to determine what can be delegated to technology and what must be done by human educators, or can be done better by them. The reimagining can happen at multiple levels, and how it looks like depends on student characteristics, present arrangements and resources, grade levels, and educational objectives. But the advice would be the same: Never send a human to do a machine’s job. To paraphrase, we should not send human educators to do things that technology can do more effectively or at lower costs, and we should certainly allow technology to do things that human teachers cannot do or are unwilling to do.

A realigned teacher-machine relationship is essential for realizing the reimagined paradigm of schooling. As previously discussed, a personalized curriculum and product-oriented pedagogy requires schools to transform from one-size-fits-all factories into personal learning ecosystems. In a personal learning ecosystem, learners pursue their interests, create meaningful products, and take on the responsibility for their own learning. To realize this transformation, schools have to provide a lot more resources and opportunities and rethink how to organize and develop them. The increase in demand for resources and opportunities cannot possibly be met by human teachers alone. Thus schools will need to rely on technology, but not use it to replace human teachers. Instead, technology is meant to expand human capacities.

An essential element of the learning ecosystem is social and emotional support and personal guidance so that individual learners are properly challenged, supported, and mentored on their personal learning journey. No technology, even so-called big data, can be as socially and emotionally engaging to the human learner as another human being. No technology can understand the psychological conditions of an individual human learner, nor can it interpret human purposes. No technology can have the same level of wisdom, intuition, and caring as a human teacher. Thus emotional and social support, as well as mentoring, can be achieved only by human teachers.

However, no human being can compete with Google in terms of how much information one can hold and give access to. No single human can present information in engaging and multimedia ways that rival the computer, nor can one single human store as much information as banks of data servers. Additionally, no human teacher can be as patient as a machine when dealing with repetitive mechanical tasks. Thus human teachers should withdraw from such tasks as information gathering, storing, and transmission, as well as tasks as mechanical exercises.

After all, there is no reason for teachers to compete with Google or YouTube!


3 thoughts on “How technology will make teachers more human

  1. The personal learning journey is a wonderful motherhood statement, requiring the time to develop the resources to provide it. Time and training must be provided by the system to allow for teachers to adapt and adopt this pedagogy.

    I am in favour of using technology as a tool, but after 41 years in the classroom I am hesitant to allow technology to dominate.

    The overall result of handing out computers to students has been an increase in the following:
    1. Financial costs to schools i.e. taking funds from other budgets. Schools could have a computer lab between every two classrooms, whilst the vast majority of homes provide a computer. Our school survey in Lakemba showed 95% of homes possessing a computer less than three years old, and an internet connection.
    2. Social cost to families as students spend endless hours being entertained not educated, at home. Parents battle against their children justifying hours in their rooms.
    3. The disruption to classroom practice as teachers supervise student use, and support computer technology

    Technology is disruptive, and not just to schools.

    The information revolution has impacted society as did the the industrial revolution, and educators need to be aware, as should business, government and families.

    The forms and means of communication have become less personal and more machine dominated.

    Individuals of all ages are glued to their little screen anxious not to miss out on something ‘important’.

    Future generations will look back and ask; how did they cope with the change? Did they realise the impact of the technology on society, its mores and values? Why did they allow communication channels to become convergent?

    Future generations will learn from our mistakes.

    Technology has a place in our world, it is not the silver bullet to solve educational issues, learning difficulties and social disruption.

    Geoffrey Brien (ICT Coordinator 1999 – 2015)

  2. “In a personal learning ecosystem, learners pursue their interests, create meaningful products, and take on the responsibility for their own learning. ”

    These sort of statements go unchallenged all too often. I don’t believe the purpose of schooling is for students to pursue their own interests. Every country or system has a curriculum, and the science or maths curricula, for example, in just about every education system is broadly similar. This is because there is a body of knowledge that is the shared legacy of humanity, and this is what we should be passing on to our students.

    When learners pursue their own interests we’ll have thousands of students becoming experts in Minecraft. When they create products we’ll be further drowning in unread learning blogs. And lots of 14 year olds have not the inclination nor aptitude for taking responsibility for their own learning.

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