Friday, November 22, 2013

Who Can be Replaced by a Computer? Not I!

Dschen Reinecke // Wikipedia
Arthur C. Clarke once stated, "Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be!" (Electronic Tutors, 1980.) I love this quote because it's my semi-sarcastic reply to concerns of teachers who fear online, blended or flipped learning. Now of course I'm sympathetic to these fears, and would never actually reply in such a way if a teacher were  afraid of the implications for future advances in educational technology. But I'll think it! 

Perhaps it is confidence or naïveté but blended and flipped learning do not worry me. For anyone who's led a flipped class, you realize that teachers play a more important, not less important role. In addition to the obvious like creating the videos, assessments, curating the content and making adjustments, the teacher has more contact with students in a flipped class. Watching the video is only a small part of the learning cycle. Students have questions, need motivating, and yearn feedback. In a given class period, I'm providing direct instruction and clarification to small groups and individuals. I'm asking questions to probe student thinking or to help them realize that they are mistaken in their thoughts. I'm lending a hand in experiment execution. I provide a gentle nudge to students off topic or give time management advice. I lead post quiz conferences for struggling students to help them realize their mistakes. I help negotiate social issues that interfere with learning or referee disagreements. I clarify points of confusion and identify whether the videos were effective. I provide feedback. If the original tools prove useless, then I'm changing learning materials on the fly. I'm slightly altering expectations and grading accordingly. I set up labs. I even facilitate whole class discussions and peer instruction. It's the simple fact that I'm invaluable. The course works because I'm constantly evaluating and making adjustments to the course and I'm negotiating the complex personalities of my students. A recent experience with a substitute proved this point. I don't recall students saying they missed and needed me after returning from an absence until this year. 

Hey, if a computer can do all of those things, then kudos to its designer. If I can be replaced by that computer, then I ought to be!