Are teachers even going to be relevant to education in rest of the 21st century? As I introduce my 5th grade students to blogging and moodle, I sometimes wonder whether, in my desire to engage students using the power of technology, I might not be helping to guide the Trojan Horse into the teaching camp, ultimately leading to the end of our profession…
In this post. I’d like to share some worried, yet essentially optimistic, wonderings.
Looking ahead to the future, it seems self evident that education will inevitably look very different in the digital ages to come. In a world where computers are able to use data analytics based on our every click, our personal computers will come to know our interests and be able to connect us with related resources much more effectively than any teacher. Materials created by the “best” teachers will be available to all who can access technology. Kahn Academy already claims to be filling this niche. Their clear explanations can be played over again and again with no sense of embarrassment for the student or time limits on the part of the teacher.
Will the classroom be a thing of the past or will teachers still have a unique role in such a context? I would like to argue the latter! A good teacher does not just repeat and repeat the same lesson. She questions a confused student to analyze and respond to the source of misunderstanding and then reteaches it the way the child needs to learn. She subtly reads a multiplicity of non-verbal and verbal cues ranging from doubt to incomprehension, wavering focus, or incipient boredom. In response she continually orchestrates a response for the class: varying the pace, energy and level of activity to meet their needs. A good teacher explicitly scaffolds a shared context for new learning by telling stories or eliciting student experiences to connect the lesson to prior knowledge. She brings with her an in depth knowledge of this particular community of learners and uses this to facilitate a collective exploration in which students debate, discuss and spark ideas off one another.
Teachers inspire their students through example and through sharing a contagious enthusiasm for their subject. This can open whole new and unexpected areas of interest that might never be ignited by merely passionless Stumbling Upon a web page. Complex new ideas are often off-putting and a teacher who can pose and answer questions to help a student find meaning is a personal guide as the student becomes familiar with new territory. A teacher ensures structure and direction towards collective growth in the best long-term educational interests of her students. Will the students of the future be learning independently, yet meander in endless fractals, elaborating a small area of interest at the expense of wider knowledge?
Teachers engineer discussions bringing students into conflict with their preconceptions, challenging their established beliefs, and raising ethical dilemmas. They introduce students to the ambiguity of truth. They even set up group projects and activities to challenge existing social dynamics. Will a world of education based on yet more of what we “Like” already, not comfortably ensconce us all within our prejudices so we never need to venture out to associate with, or understand, others who are not “suitable” or “nice”?
A student encounters many teachers throughout their school life. Each different personality brings positive, and negative, lessons in how to relate, what it means to be human, how to work productively in society and an insight into the varied perspectives there are on the human experience. So many of us remember those teachers who took a personal interest in us. The trust that they engendered enabled them to become influential in shaping our lives. Without this essentially human interaction with our teachers will we grow up like Vulcans, rational yet unable to feel?
In the future, will access to insightful teaching become the prerogative of the privileged few or will it continue to democratize the access to knowledge and subvert the standardization of truth?
What do you think?