Thursday, September 6, 2012

Computers replace instructors, not teachers

CC BY-NC Some rights reserved by btobetun
"Teachers who can be replaced by computers deserve to be." This often quoted statement leads into an excellent article by Tony Bates, My summer paranoia: computers will replace teachers in higher education. The present expansion of content-based MOOCs from EdX, Coursera and co point to an increasing automation of course delivery and even assessment. This leads some people to draw the conclusion that the teacher's role is threatened and others see great opportunities for cost-cutting in higher education.

However Bates points out an essential distinction between instruction/lecturing and teaching. The delivery of information in the form of lectures can easily be recorded and offered on the net. Tests based on checking knowledge of facts can also be automated very effectively and you can then offer a fully online automated course. However the missing ingredient is actual teaching; inspiring, guiding, giving feedback, advising, providing context and all the other less tangible skills that lead to real learning.

"It is very hard to replicate the complexity of a skilled teacher who has to deal with many different variables and factors in real time. It is not just about processing speed and data management, but also about building relationships with students, making intuitive judgments, and being able to handle qualitative issues such as beliefs, values, and the personal feelings of students. Computers are not good at this."

If education was really only about learning and remembering information then we can easily automate it and offer it to the world on demand. That's what's happening today with the growth of online courses. That can work for self-motivated learners with good study skills but does not work for the majority who need guidance, motivation and assistance. That's where teaching comes in and these are not skills that will be automated any time soon. The teacher's role is more important than ever as long as we move away from confusing teaching with lecturing. The internet does not replace the teacher but offers teachers a chance to teach students in new ways. As usual it is not a case of either ... or ... but using computers wisely to enhance learning.

1 comment:

  1. Computers are becoming more progressive and taking over a variety of tasks everyday. While they can act as an instructor, the purpose of a teacher is to interact and communicate on a human level. There is nothing quite like that.