Thursday, April 11, 2013

Can computers replace teachers?

Let me be clear: I love technology, and I use it everyday single day. I teach with it and I learn with it. Without technology, my teaching and my learning would suffer.

Let me be clear: Too much of what this video purports can and is being done in a way that is destroying public education.

Even though I am a staunch supporter of Public Education, I am very aware of the problems that plague traditional schooling. I believe that school needs to look a lot less like school. Like Sir Ken Robinson, I too am a supporter of a learning revolution where the goal is public schools that provide students with an opportunity to pursue their passions while nurturing competency, creativity and critical thinking.

However, there is more than one revolution afoot.

The promise of technology and personalization is being co-opted by the perils of profiteers and privatization where one goal is "an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards." Another, more ominous goal is to use technology to cut costs by replacing teachers.
The first half of the video focuses on K-12. Here are my thoughts:
  • Do we really want someone who prefers computers over humans to influence our education system?
  • Authentic personalized learning occurs when the teacher and student have a relationship that leads to them interacting in meaningful ways where the learner plays an active role in constructing their own understanding. 
  • School and work have two very different purposes. At work, the product is the point. In school, the process is the point. When we lose focus of our purpose, our practices and policies are likely to become misguided and rigidity is likely to set in.
  • In the future, poor children will get a computer while affluent children will get a computer and a teacher. See the problem?
  • It's true that there are bad teachers, but this is true of all professions. There are bad doctors, lawyers, accountants and education pundits, but you don't make people better by plaguing a profession with fear and punishment. The solution to bad teachers is to talk about how we make more good teachers. Little good will come from talking about replacing teachers with computers.
  • If you listen carefully, the only way this speaker, and others like her, can define success in a school is by superficial test scores.
  • Things go very bad when we let computers grade essays so why would we think allowing them to replace teachers would be a good idea?
  • The dream of having learners intensely concentrate on using technology quickly becomes a nightmare when it is the technology that is using the learner. When children are mined for data, education becomes something done to them rather than by them.
  • There is a reason why Seymour Papert said, "Before the computer could change School, School changed the computer."


  1. That's a lot of bullet points for about 12 minutes of video (laughing). And yet--the rate of b.s. flow was pretty extraordinary, even for a technology pitch, which tend to aiming for the dazzling rather than the useful.

    Well done. And thanks for pushing past the hype to what this kind of relentless commercial does to the public's conception of schools, pedagogy, innovation, and just plain ol' treating students like human beings.

  2. Reason has become more and more an anachronistic appellation -- this is the group thast still argues Rachel Carson was wrong and her actions resulted in millions of deaths, when Carson's methods have reduced malaria to the lowest point in human history. But I digress.

    Here in Texas we're being hammered by a political smear against a consortium of schools used to write curriculum and materials to try to reduce the work load and improve the work of Texas teaches in educating kids. The critics claim -- wholly without evidence in some cases, and against the evidence in other cases (as Reason does)-- that the curriculum program drives us toward Big Brother.

    Their solutions? Computers, charter schools, private schools . . . all the profiteering folderol that steal money and resources from education now.

    Ms. Flanagan is right. We can dicker about some of the bullets. It's good you're shooting them.

  3. Great blog post. Real food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

    Hope you don't mind I quoted you in my blog.

  4. It's sad that a person educated at Yale and once was a researcher for the NY Times doesn't do any real research before presenting at a conference.

    And she's at it again. This time in print.