Could, Should or When will Artificially Intelligent replace teachers?

This month we welcome a guest post by Armand Doucet

 

Could AI robots replace teachers?  Should AI robots replace teachers? Thanks to advances in robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), virtual reality and sensor technology, they probably could.  But, should they?

Well, that depends upon your goal. If your goal is to save money (ok, massive amounts of money), operate schools all year round, keep non-unionized ‘staff’ on campus 24 hours a day to deliver the curriculum or meet with parents, then your answer is Yes! But if your goal is to have master teachers utilizing pedagogy based on assessment of their students, seizing ‘teachable moments’ that have nothing to do with the curriculum and everything to do with humanity, then your answer must be Hell, no!

Personally, I think we need to be cautious and ETHICAL when experimenting with the digital age. I refer you to AI Twitter account that had to be shut down within 24 hours because it became offensive and tweeted inflammatory and hate-filled messages. In all fairness, that incident said more about the twitter trolls and society in general than it did about AI.

Other scary thoughts for a classroom:

-Stepford Wives type robot – benevolent, obedient and perfectly calculated delivering curriculum content with a smile, standardization. Any lifelong professional educator will tell you that teaching is (INSERT SARCASM HERE) monotonous, humorless and repetitive profession. I’m sure students are going to be submissive, self-motivated and excited to perform their daily task.

– Robocop robot – the judge, jury and executioner programmed with data from prejudices of a bygone era in the hallways

– Megatron robot – programmed to a dictators every whim, pushing the world further apart through racist and sexist populist agenda subjugating (and I dare say brain washing) of millions

– IRobot – The scariest of them all, the robot that deviates from his programming because we really don’t understand what happens with the “black box” and its self-learning.

You need to understand, I am not a Luddite. However, very large ethical questions needs to be debated and answered throughout the process of integration to protect our students. It needs to be fast, but done well. The digital age tools used in our classroom should be created hand in hand with our teachers and other developmental experts such as cognitive psychologist, social workers etc. and the students data protected like Fort Knox.

I firmly believe that technology has a supporting role in education. I myself use it in multiple ways including assessment, attendance, recording students’ self-reflections, and helping me personalize the curriculum for each of my students. If you look closely at the research, you will see that teacher-directed instruction combined with inquiry-based instruction at the appropriate time, is what is best for children. So teaching is both an art and a science. It requires solid pedagogical knowledge, good judgement and empathy.

So where does the digital age fit in the classroom? It’s already here!  AI can write personalized text books, it can learn a curriculum, and then adapt the presentation to best fit each student. It can be a translator for immigrant students. Sensory technology can track attendance in schools. Avatars can showcase a world 2000km away through virtual reality.

Where could it fit in the classroom?  I can foresee R2D2 taking care of formative assessment and handing the data to the teacher. C-3PO could do instant translations for your diversified classroom when they do collaboration, instantly helping with inclusion. Not a Star Wars fan, Ironman utilization of holograms to showcase the inner workings of organ or his use of his personal assistant to make multiple avatars function personalizing some curriculum to elementary students via their passions.

Where should it fit in the classroom? That question is best left to the voter and taxpayer, but I know where it shouldn’t fit: at the front of the room taking the place of a human being.

I am not an expert in AI or robotics. But, I am a teacher. I believe there is a place in our classrooms for the digital age that greatly benefit both teacher and student.  You and I must work together to create platforms and support systems that educate, protect and provide the humanistic elements to our students.

There’s a robot in my backpack

Kids today are armed with technological superpowers. If they own a cell phone – and many, if not most of them, do- they already have a mighty computer in their pockets. It will really not be too long before they also have a robot in their backpacks. And get along with it pretty well.

Will that robot become their teacher?

Not likely. It has been said widely enough that many jobs are in route to extinction at the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and it may very well be so. But the jobs that are most likely to disappear are the ones that can be automated. If our work as teachers was to put kids together at a huge assembly line called the “School Factory”, then maybe, yes, we should be worried.

But kids are not furniture, cars, toys, or any piece of merchandise, for that matter, that can be mass-produced to a standard. And a teacher’s job is not the repetitive task many believe it to be, as if we were just filling little brains one after the other. “First grade teachers put in reading and writing, second grade teachers cement addition and subtraction, third grade teachers put in the times tables…” and so on.

Education is a tailor-made suit. It must fit each child precisely – and adjust while she is growing.  It is not perfect – in fact it is usually unpredictable, messy and complex – but it is also beautiful and profoundly uplifting.

Every teacher that is true to his calling is an artist, every child, a collective masterpiece. One in which the creation is also creator.

But times are indeed changing, and teachers will need to adapt and grow, not for fear of being replaced by robots – that won’t happen, I am certain. However, as Trucano (2015) writes: teachers who don’t use technology will be replaced by teachers who do.

Too often we have been caught up in the discussions of what studentsneed to thrive in a challenging, ever changing world. That is a discussion worth having, of course, but let’s not forget about the teachers. What kind of teachers will continue to flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?This is an important question.

 

 Dead man walking

Are you a teacher in need of strong survival skills? You are in good company. Here, some suggestions that might just keep us off the “job death row”:

  • Be willing to do more.Technology will do us the great favor of unburdening us from many boring and time consuming administrative tasks – but we should spend that extra time learning how to manage and create stimulating environments using that same technology – and how to be better teachers overall. Strong teaching and digital skills are your best bet against extinction.
  • Get out of the classroom and collaborate.Gone are the days of the solitary teacher with a classroom as her undisputable kingdom. Your colleagues are no longer the lords of neighboring castles, ready to go to war if their imaginary borders felt threatened. And more importantly, your students are not your subjects, condemned by divine right to be your loyal servants. Your word, my dear, is not law. So go ahead and open the frontiers of your mind, expand your reach and allow yourself to be invaded: by new ideas, practices, pedagogies, methodologies, unconventional courses and subjects. Let yourself free of the tyranny of teaching to the test.
  • Be human.This is, after all, your most important differentiator against robots! Take time to develop and nurture relationships – with students, parents and other teachers. Be loyal and humble. Show your feelings, as they don’t expose our weaknesses, but strengthen our ties. Grow alongside your students. You, too, have a potential that deserves to be fulfilled.

And about that robot peeking out from the backpack: welcome it to the classroom, the schoolyard and the hallways. Who knows? Maybe we will learn to co-exist and co-create.

 

References:

Trucano, M. (2015) “Will technology replace teachers? No, but…” World   Bank. Edutech.    http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/tech-and-teachers. Retrieved on May 21st, 2018.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What kind of teachers will continue to flourish in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?