What Problem Does Technology Help Schools Solve? TeachThought

by Terrell Heick

Will robots replace teachers?

I was asked this in an interview a years ago for Futurism and tried to offer up some abstract nonsense whose lack of clarity represented my own thinking:

“Will artificial intelligence replace teachers? Will the students themselves replace teachers through self-directed learning, social/digital communities, and adaptive technology?”

These might be the wrong questions, a product of our sentimentality as a culture and human insecurity in general. For example, if we say that robots can replace teachers, it is seen as a slight at teachers because we suggest that even simple, mindless machines can do what teachers do.

Of course, that’s not at all the point or truth.

That’s what’s confusing about new tools: they don’t improve things as much as they change them.

These questions are difficult to answer for other reasons, too, mainly because we are thinking about teaching and learning in terms of technology, automation, and the increasing the efficiency of teaching as it is instead of rethinking teaching as it might be.

That’s what’s confusing about new tools: they don’t improve things as much as they change them.

But if we can ignore that time/space paradox and assume that the pace of social and technological change will continue to outpace change in education far, then technology can very well replace teachers as we think of them.

Will it be AI that does it? Again, today we think of AI independently and often emotionally and as an idea in the same way we used to think of electricity.

Or we think about ‘mobile devices’ today primarily in contrast to the previous tradition of ‘non-mobile technology.’ We can think of a smartphone as an improved wall phone rather than something else entirely.

What Problem Does Schools Solve?

Telephones solved the problem of needing to communicate across distances.

AI–is it solving a problem or creating something entirely new?

Technology, as a vague term, is often (though not always) created to solve a problem.

What problem were schools designed to address or solve?

What About Schools?

What problem were schools designed to address or solve?

‘What do schools ‘do,’ and how might something else–a non-school–do it better?’

What else could current schools–as they are–do or be?

That would be a nice start, but that isn’t far enough. Move farther and ask, ‘What human need did we originally design schools to solve?’

That’s seeing school today as a solution.

What does a person need to know to live well in sustainable interdependence with the people and places around them and what’s the best way to help support and nurture that?

That’s seeing schools as they ideally might be tomorrow.

Should we measure the value of technology by how it improves the former or enables the latter?

What exactly should new tools improve or what exactly should they create?

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