An article that has won a fair bit of attention in the last week is Who needs a prof? by Stephanie Findlay in On Campus. It deals with students turning more and more to the lectures and course material freely available from top universities via iTunes U, Academic Earth and YouTube Edu. Many students prefer these resources to attending lectures at their own university or reading much of the prescribed course literature. If they can access all the top professors' lectures anywhere anytime what will the role of the regular teacher be? I trust that the headline of the article is a rhetorical question.
The issue here is the fundamental change in education that we're in the midst of, where the role of the teacher is shifting:
"To be effective .... they (teachers) must be “cognitive coaches” rather than conduits of information."
With information freely available everywhere it's context, not content, that counts. Admittedly some students can certainly thrive and learn in self-sufficient groups without a teacher but they are, I suspect, a small minority. The teacher's future role of filter/mentor/motivator/facilitator is much more challenging and rewarding than the traditional one of "sage on the stage" and I see a need for more teachers in the net-based future rather than fewer.
However it's vital that, as we embrace new technology in education, teachers receive encouragement and are rewarded for innovative initiatives. The challenges of adapting to a new educational environment are exciting and demanding but clear incentives, support and leadership will be required.