Can Great Technologies Replace Great Teaching?

Technology is far from new. In the history of mankind, we have devised better ways to work, live and learn. Since the invention of the wheel, and even before, human creativity and innovation have met no limits. We have conquered travel around the planet and even outside of it. We can communicate and work with people from far away. We relay daily on technological advancements such as the phone, the car, the computer. They do not replace people, but they certainly impact heavily on what people can do and achieve. 

That said, would you trade your legs for a car?

They both serve you well for transportation. Whereas the car – technology created for movement – can take you further and faster, your legs will allow you into places no car could ever access. Like moving around inside the house, or hiking up a mountain. If people really had to choose, it is highly unlikely that anyone would decide to give up their legs in order to own a car. 

Would you rather have a great teacher or great technology for learning? Many would argue that technology has reduced the need for teachers. After all, most of the world’s cumulative knowledge is now just a click away. 

But, can you find it? And once you do, can you recognize the valuable and true among the irrelevant in disguise? Can our children and youngsters do it, left to their own devices? And even more important: Are teachers responsible for just the transmission of knowledge, which can now be so “easily” accessed? 

If you need to learn a new skill or gain solid knowledge about something, having a caring mentor beside you can make all the difference. Having both the teacher and the technology might further advance learning. Or not necessarily, according to a recent OECD report. 

Technology has a great potential for improving education. It can easily connect people from across the globe and allow learners to witness the world in a way not possible before. It can provide education opportunities to those far away. And certainly it has greatly contributed to the expansion and massification of knowledge. But could technology eventually take the place of teachers?

Not likely. In his foreword for 2015 OECD’s report “Students, Computers and Learning”, Andreas Schleicher states that “technology can amplify great teaching, but technology cannot replace poor teaching”.  Much less a good teacher, we could add. 

Teachers – as well as other professionals - have always relied on an array of tools to better serve their students. Books, pencils, paper and boards are just examples of these tools. ICTs have become the ultimate tool for educators, one that can certainly exponentiate learning. But technology is still a tool. Or, as Dunn & Dunn (2013) eloquently say, “The technology is not the lesson, it is there to enhance the lesson.”  We could add: Technology is not the teacher. It is there to assist the teacher. 

To insist that technology could replace teachers would be an equivalent to say that the hammer – or even advanced machinery - could replace the carpenter. Yes, a machine could produce a piece of furniture in a standardized way much faster than a single carpenter could. But children are not pieces of furniture, mass-produced to a standard (as much as some would like them to be). Children need the artistic touch of human connection to reach their unique potential. And that’s either a teacher, a parent, or both. 

In his fascinating account of his travels around the world to visit schools and classrooms in the countries with highest PISA achievements – and some more – researcher Eduardo Andere (2016) asked teachers and principals their thoughts about technology. One specific question read: Do you think that technology will eventually replace teachers? The overwhelming answer was no. Less than 2% of the hundreds of teachers interviewed expressed concern over this idea. Is that just wishful thinking, or do educators really have a point?

Using technology in the classroom does not relate to the romantic idea of kids dreamily displaying interactive apps in shiny new tablets and lessons going smoothly and with decreased effort from the part of the teacher. In fact, integrating technology to one’s classroom is hard work, one that requires ongoing learning, creativity and a risk-taking mentality. Not to mention the access to internet and devices. Most teachers already using technology in their schools realize that they are working more, not less. Furthermore, “Technology can only do so much. It can be transient and can become obsolete very quickly. What is a constant, though, is the teacher in the classroom” (Wright, 2013).

Technology – even great technology – will not replace teachers, good or bad. But it will certainly, over time, change the way we teach. It has already revolutionized the way we work and live. And, although computers will not take over teachers, “teachers who do not use technology will be replaced by those who do” (Trucano, 2015) 

Technology will offer – and demand from – educators an overwhelming whirlwind of opportunities and challenges. Will technology deliver its promise of better outcomes in education for everyone? Given access and proper training, the answer then lies within the teachers. 

Would you trade your legs for a car? Teachers for technology? These questions are irrelevant, because we don’t really have to choose.

We should have both.
 

References

Andere, E. (2016) “¿Cómo es el aprendizaje en escuelas de clase mundial?” [How is learning in world-class schools?] Volume I & II. Pearson, México. 

Dunn, J, & Dunn, K. (2013) “Technology will not replace teachers.” Huffpost Impact. 

OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing. 

Trucano, M. (2015) “Will technology replace teachers? No, but…” World Bank. Edutech.    

Wright, P. (2013) “Why new technologies could never replace great teaching.”

Themes
Teachers, Education Technology

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