When I was a student, teachers told me I had to work hard to go to college in order to get a white-collar job. The rationale was that robots were going to take all the other jobs. At the time this sounded like science fiction. Mostly because I, being a middle schooler, immediately imagined humanoid metallic robots walking around and doing human type things. I was no tech expert, but I knew science wasn’t quite that advance just yet.
However, as I grew up, I indeed did see robots replace a lot of jobs though it didn’t look the way I thought it would. Obviously, machines have replaced a variety of factory jobs. Cashiers have also been replaced by computers and scanners in supermarkets. Toll road collectors have been replaced by cameras that don’t even require you to stop anymore. This was predicted, but some white-collar jobs have fallen victim too because as it turns out computers are really good at writing quarterly reports, researching and entering data…tasks that used to be the domain of people in office settings.
This brings me to my question: Can teaching be automated?
I used to think the answer was no. I couldn’t imagine how a computer would do all of the tasks that I had to do. How could a computer build relationships? How could a computer manage a classroom? How could a computer talk to parents?
What I have realized is that computers don’t necessarily have to all of the things I do to be effective. There are a lot of things computers are simply better at than humans that can make up for the areas where they aren’t.
For example, they can’t build relationships, but they can make almost everything into a fun and engaging game to hold a student’s attention. They may not be able to manage a classroom, but a lot of teachers can’t do that either. Computers actually can communicate with parents, and at lightning speed.
I still don’t think computers can fully replace teachers, but the students at my school do spend an hour a day on the computer, and it’s actually purposeful. The math program meets every single student at their grade level. It would be very hard for a human teacher to do the same. The program is even reasonably fun and engaging. On the flip-side, a teacher still has to be in the lab to redirect students who do manage to get off task. But to flip the coin back over, not every school or class would require as much supervision as the environment in which I teach.
I don’t know if teachers, will ever be replaced but as I make lesson plans for next week, I find myself, using several online, automated interfaces.
We will likely always need teachers in some capacity, but it may not always be the same capacity and we should prepare for that.