If I have a dream, what would it be? (Part 1)

Dreaming about replacing teachers by machines and automation? That’s how Tony Bates has started his “nightmare dream” here (My views and comments in italics):

Tony says: “I realised he wanted me to change what I was writing to make the case that computers can replace teachers in higher education. He told me that his CEO and a number of CEOs from other companies all thought this was the right way to go, and were trying to influence the market to accept this. I was so upset that I woke with a start.”

Would computers replace teachers in higher education?

My response: “Yes”.  If I were to trace back the pattern where technology and internet has been used in the past decade, there surely were strong indications that computers and technology have been put in place to deliver “self-paced” teaching and learning over different spaces, networks and communities (including colleges).  

There has been lots of toolboxes developed where learners could learn all the unit content by themselves, without much intervention by teachers.  There has been tens of thousands or even millions of educational videos put on various educational channels, University websites, and Youtube, blip.tv etc.  Besides, learners could develop their own personal learning networks, using the social media and tools.

The role of the teachers or professors working in institutions would then be to ensure that the learners have followed through the learning program (online programs in particular), done the assessment, and then assess the learners as to the degree they have achieved the competency, through examinations, assignments and projects, and  by checking through the “auto-assessment” grading and thus provide an auto feedback based on the scores achieved.  Even the granting of certification could be done via the technology – a computer system which issues the certificate online.  The learners could access and print them at any time they want.

 Mission accomplished – with computers replacing the teachers in higher education. Right?

Tony continues: “No, they really ARE trying to get you

Let’s start with xMOOCs and automated marking and peer review to get around the awkward point that one instructor cannot provide adequate feedback to thousands of students. No problem: a combination of big data collection and analysis and multiple-choice testing will solve most problems, and the ones that it won’t solve will be solved by dumb students marking less dumb students.”

The experiment on x MOOC has already shown early signs of such automated marking and peer reviews to be a plausible way to “semi-automate” the assessment.  So, even if the subjects are based on humanity studies with multiple possible answers, students could be used to help in conducting the peer assessment with “little difficulty”, once they are “taught” through the video lectures prepared for the course.  Otherwise, one could introduce the multiple choice or projects as options, in order to avoid those issues.  

Relating to the videos teaching, wouldn’t these be similar to the videos showing whilst on-board of airplanes when passengers are shown how to respond to emergency, and how to put on the safety gears and evacuate the planes.  Here the virtual teachers could do the job equally well, or even better than a real teacher, as there is “little” waste of time in questioning and answering any part of the content in a virtual session, but not a real life face-to-face.  Even so, there is no need to worry if one doesn’t understand the content, as one could repeat watching the videos again for unlimited times, and check out the answers to questions until complete mastery of content, based on mastery learning pedagogy.

Then there’s the Republican Party of Texas whose election platform contains the following (p. 12):

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification, and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

(It also reads as if they oppose clarity in sentence construction, but that’s another matter.) However, if you can’t teach critical thinking skills through automated computer-based teaching, get rid of the requirement for critical thinking. Brilliant!

(I am not too sure if the link is really serious about the policies, or may be that is only for fun).

The focus of education (HE and VET) seems to have shifted to the “teaching” of practical job skills and literacies.  I think knowledge based education are designed to prepare learners to join the workforce, and follow the systems, processes and procedures, so as to become a valued member at work.

Are critical thinking skills and similar programs simply a relabelling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification?  I could say yes and no.

Yes, but is that the purpose of Higher Education?  To shape students to become valued citizens, though it must be aligning with the values and cultures of the community and society where these students are based upon.  

No, if that is the only reason why the parents send their children to receive Higher Education.  Parents surely would expect their children to be equipped with the skills, competency and capability to face the unknown future, but more than ever, they would like them to be able to own a living independently, through getting on with a job, living with a decent life, and most importantly hoping that their children would aspire to their dreams and passions – like having a family, or bringing up their next generation, contributing to the society etc.

Education, including Higher Education is just a stepping stone for these young students to step upon.  If the computers and technology could provide those skills for their children, then why not?  We have already doubted if we could even raise the quality of teachers in education, then what might be the best solution to such problem?

To this end, I would like to relate the purpose and task of education of my previous post.

What is the purpose of education?

“Our primary aim is to encourage each Etonian to be a self-confident, inquiring, tolerant, positive young man, a well-rounded character with an independent mind, an individual who respects the differences of others.   By the time he leaves the school, we want each boy to have that true sense of self-worth which will enable him to stand up for himself and for a purpose greater than himself, and, in doing so, to be of value to society.”

What is the task of education?

In this Knowledge Building paper, the fundamental task of education is to enculturate youth into the knowledge-creating civilization and to help them find a place in it.

How often did we hear that learners were just passive participants looking for information, and not contributing to the class community or network?

Could we treat learners as members of a knowledge building community?

What are the purposes of education?  Here Dave Cormier says:

Education, it seems, is the method by which we attempt to make the world come out the way we want it to. It is about using our power to shape and control the world to come so that it comes into line with our own hopes and dreams. In any way we move it, even towards chaos and anarchy, we are still using our power to shape and control the future.

There are others who also share their purpose of education, see here, and here.

Let’s hear the stories from those professors, and we would find that they all have their own aspirations.

Here is the personal story of Clayton Christensen.

Tony continues:

“This was followed by the California State University system deciding to outsource online learning to a commercial publisher.

Then it turns out that the California two year college system has undergone nearly $1 billion of cuts since 2008, resulting in a waiting list of 470,000 students who cannot get into classes. Talk about creating demand for automated courses.

Still in California (do they have too much sun there?) Stanford University has just created a new Vice-Provost for Online Learning, who turns out to be a computer scientist (as are all the people heading up Coursera and Harvard/MIT’s EdX). Who needs someone with expertise in teaching for positions like this?

Lastly, in Canuckistan, the Ontario government is looking for more ‘productivity’ from the post-secondary institutions, and is asking how online learning can lead to improved productivity. In this case, that’s a good question; it’s the answers people may come up with that scare me.”

Educating the world, with more automation seems to be the trend that wouldn’t be turned back.  Productivity is the key to mass education, and the wheel would move on.  So, we might be better off in checking the pulse of such changes, and adapt to them, in response.  Education is a great business for every one to get into, in order to lead us to a great future.

Refer to my part 2 on 

Do we really need teachers in post-secondary education?



2 thoughts on “If I have a dream, what would it be? (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: If I have a dream, what would it be? (Part 1) | Digital Delights | Scoop.it

  2. Pingback: Would computers be replacing teachers soon? | Learner Weblog

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