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The internet vs. teachers: who would win?

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By Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga
@aniyonsenga
Sep 10, 2016,  2:58 PM
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The future of education is digital. The internet provides a platform for online learning through virtual schools and videos, and provides databases of teaching resources. Teachers have to adapt to technology and incorporate it into their curriculums. Websites like Khan Academy are even offering informative tutorials in HD that students sometimes find more useful than in-class learning.

Should teachers feel threatened? Will there be a future where these videos become standardized? Will teachers then be pushed to the sidelines? Worst case scenario: will they be out of a job?

Ultimately, the answer is no. What computers can’t provide for students is face-to-face human interaction. If, after using all these digital resources, students still draw a blank, then they will surely need individualized help from a professional. It’s true that the role of a teacher is evolving into that of a facilitator, that “guide on the side” that pushes you in the right direction when you need it. At the same time, a new "super teacher" is evolving.

This is the person in the videos; a technologically savvy individual with skills to incorporate the multitude of high-quality digital resources, and post their own online (sometimes for sale). If standardized teaching videos put some teachers on the sidelines, would it really be such a bad thing?

Let’s see some of the advantages of online learning.

Pros

Education for everyone

By 2020, broadband access will expand significantly, allowing for digital education to grow, especially in the developing world. Broadband access is the key to unlocking online education for all, according to Sramana Mitra of the Huffington Post. Standardized teaching videos would allow for those with no access to education to teach themselves.

Educational researcher Sugata Mitra argues that self-education is the future: “Schools as we know them are obsolete,” he said in his famous TED talk in February of 2013. Even without teachers, children will find out what they need to know for themselves if left to their own devices. After leaving a computer behind in a remote slum in India, he came back to find that children had learned how to use it and had taught themselves English in the process.

Since online classes mainly encourage self-paced learning, online resources are an advantageous alternative for individuals with little to no academic resources.

Power to the learners

For Sugata Mitra, videos such as online lectures and presentations help students pursue what they want to know about any given topic. Access to online videos, in other words, make the learning process more natural and pleasurable because students can learn at an individual pace.

In flipped learning, students can watch the videos at home, pause, and rewind when they don't understand something, then they can bring their questions to class – at least in countries that have educational institutions. Khan Academy, for example, offers tutorials that are more informative than classroom lectures; teachers already assign watching them as homework. In blended learning, teachers can also act in an advisory role while students navigate an online classroom. Students' learning will develop in ways that, as occasionally occurs, less qualified teachers could have stunted otherwise.

More importantly, students can seek to answer their questions by themselves. Instead of acting as robots taking in what a teacher has to say, students can be driven by their curiosity to learn more about the world around them.

More efficient teachers

Standardized teaching videos and other online tools are often easier to acquire than labouring for hours on a lesson plan. There are even websites that generate curriculums such as Activate Instruction. There are an increasing number of tasks, such as gathering resources (Edmodo), that teachers can no longer do as fast as what the Internet can provide. By adopting blended learning, teachers can redirect their time and focus entirely on their role of effectively conveying information.

The most successful teachers will be those who ride the wave of blended and flipped learning. Rather than falling off the wagon, teachers who adapt will learn the skills to implement online materials into their curriculum. The teacher has the option to become "super.” They could even become the source of new online material, sometimes even selling it on sites such as teacherspayteachers.com.

The goal is to be the local expert that successfully incorporates all these fabulous online tools into his or her curriculum so that students have the best of both worlds. With the coming of AI grading systems, teachers could even be liberated from time consuming tasks, such as a grading, and refocus their energy on helping students instead.

Even if their role fell into that of a facilitator, teachers could still benefit from not having to spend hours on their lesson plans and, thus, use that time to figure out individualized ways to help their students reach their fullest potential.

At the same time, will all teachers be guaranteed a place as either a teacher of blended or flipped learning?

Let’s look at the disadvantages of online learning.

 

Cons

Teachers lose their jobs

Teachers could lose out completely to the point of being replaced by a “tech” who works for $15 an hour to make sure the equipment functions. The founder of Rocketship, a chain of charter schools in the U.S. dominated by online learning, has cut back on teachers in favour of online classes where students already spend a quarter of their day online. However, the savings from cutting back on teachers are, arguably, a good thing if funds are redirected to providing pay increases to the remaining teachers.

Challenges of self-paced learning

Assuming that all students have access to the internet at home, how would they be able to watch 2-3 hours of videos without becoming disengaged? In self-paced learning, it's hardest for an individual to judge one’s progress. Hence, teaching videos and online courses must be supplemented by the physical presence of a teacher, at least in a student's developing years.

Some learners at a disadvantage

Standardized teaching videos tend to be useful to those who benefit from visual and auditory learning. Tactile learners, on the other hand, may find it difficult to learn online and will, therefore, need a teacher's presence to help them apply the material in interactive group projects.

Lower quality education

In a school like Rocketship, critics have also noted that the online training it provides may result in a lower quality of education. Gordon Lafer, a political economist and professor at the University of Oregon, states in a report for the Economic Policy Institute that Rocketship is a school “that reduces the curriculum to a near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day."

In other words, students may not have extra support readily available to them; it also suggests that they're not benefiting from having access to a wide range of subjects from which to choose. Moreover, there is a strong focus on standardized testing that takes away from the fun side of learning. If standardized teaching videos have a focus on passing standardized tests rather than enriching students' education, how will students develop as the lifelong learners crucial to our future?

Impact (ONLY use the 'Paste From Word' button to safely copy and paste text from a Word doc) 

All these new online resources are useless if teachers are not trained to use them to their full potential. The Future of Education series points out that in larger sized classrooms, students eagerly engage with digital material, and teachers can fairly distribute their attention throughout a greater number of students. Additionally, if teachers use AI systems to help them identify which students struggle more than others, then teachers can assign more enriching projects to more advanced students to help them continue progressing.

Technology can continue to develop exponentially over the next 25 years, but if humans do not evolve to use it properly, then it will all go to waste. Teachers should not feel threatened by useful resources a student can access online; rather, they should think about how they can make it all worthwhile, then act.

Public Release Date: 
2020 to 2045

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