Teacherless classrooms?

Someone has made yet another prediction that teachers will shortly be replaced by technology.  Teacherless classrooms are, apparently, the way of the future.

I recall this prediction being made, to great fanfare, thirty years ago.  I was, at the time, a public school teacher, and at a conference on science education.  The first speaker of the day took a bit of time out from his presentation to discuss the issue, and stated that any teacher who *could* be replaced by a computer, *should* be replaced by a computer.  His point was that teaching is a profession, not the push button assembly line job that many people seem to mistake it for.  Any teacher who is so repetitive, so lacking in imagination, so single dimensional, so robotic that they can be replaced by a machine or a process, should be replaced.  A teacher should be able to handle more than “do you want a diploma with that?”

(Go ahead.  Make my day.  Ask me if this is going to be on the final.)

One way or another I have been teaching for more than forty years.  I have taught (in the public school system) every grade level from kindergarten to grade twelve.  I have taught in two-year colleges, and at the post graduate level in academia.  I have taught for business and in commercial training.

I also have a rather broad experience in “distance education.”  I have participated as both director and teacher in video and audio production of teaching materials.  I have created online tutorials for computer-based courses.  I have designed and programmed interactive computer-based training.  Over twenty-five years ago I ran the telecommujnications component of the World Logo Conference, which was the first (and possibly still only) event to fully integrate onsite with online participation.  (And which also, since Logo is a “teaching” language, involved many teachers and computer educators.)

I have mentioned that I don’t like Webinars.  That isn’t because I inherently object to the very idea.  I think a good Webinar might be an interesting experience.  But, so far, nobody has figured out that that good distance education requires more work, not less.  (In the same way, publishers of textbooks haven’t yet understood that a good textbook requires better writing, not worse.)  We figured this out at the WLC more than two decades ago.  The developers of debuggy figured it out about programmed learning more than three decades ago.

There are some, few, isolated examples of individual lessons that have been done well using video, or the Web, or programmed learning, or various other forms of technology.  But they are, still, few and isolated, and drowned out in the vast sea of mediocre and wretched attempts.  Technology has uses, and good teachers know that.  It’s great for drill and practice in some areas.  The Web is a great place for discovery and research.  Letting a kid loose on the Internet without guidance is a recipe for disaster.  We are a long way, a very, VERY long way, from the use of technology to create entirely teacherless classrooms.

Yes, we can certainly use extra training for a number, possibly a very large number, of teachers who are afraid of the technology and don’t use it well.  But don’t tell me that you can replace them with droids until you can show me that you understand what teaching is all about.

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