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February 14th, 2018 at 9:00 am

Should we make way for the teacherbots?

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Will teacherbots applied with artificial intelligence be doing our job one day? Will they do it better than us? Jude Barback takes stock of some of the recent thinking around the future of education.

A photograph of Times Square in New York City taken in 1905 appears on the screen. There are countless horses, carting people around or tied up. The horses provided employment for some 10,000 people in New York City, Don Carlson, director of Microsoft Asia-Pacific tells the audience at last year’s Bett Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur.

He then changes the image. The second photo is also of Times Square, but taken 20 years later. And there is not a horse in sight.

“When people say we need to bring back the coal industry, are we effectively saying, ‘bring back the horses’?” asks Carlson.

The world of work is changing, due to new and emerging technology. There are countless examples to prove it. A Chatbot lawyer saved 160,000 parking fines in London and New York. A 30-storey hotel in China was assembled in 360 hours, thanks to advances in prefabrication technology. Nike can make and tweak shoe prototypes in hours, thanks to 3D printing. McDonald’s is using cognitive technology to convert drive-through orders to text that can be fed directly into the outlet’s point-of-sale system.

But all these efficiencies beg questions about what is beginning to happen to the jobs of people making shoes, or taking orders, or fighting legal cases.

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According to Futurist Thomas Frey, the profession of teaching could also be under threat. Frey predicts two billion jobs will disappear by 2030. Among those on the doomed list are teachers, along with those working in the power and transportation industries.

Frey says that nearly a quarter of all kids don’t attend school at all and he estimates we are short 18 million teachers globally.

“There simply aren’t enough teachers at the right time and place to satisfy our growing thirst for knowledge.

“Over the coming decades, if we continue to insert a teacher between us and everything we need to learn, we cannot possibly learn fast enough to meet the demands of the future.”

Frey says we have started shifting away from teacher-centric schooling to more of a learning model, where ‘place’ isn’t as important.

Teaching requires experts, he says. Teacherless education uses experts to create the material, but doesn’t require the expert to be present each time it’s presented.

Frey says we’re standing on the brink of an artificial intelligence (AI) revolution.

He talks about a world where we could see teacherbots applied with AI that have the ability to learn each student’s interests, preferred tools and ways of learning. The AI will let the bot know when a skill is deficient, what’s needed to address the deficiency and when we’ve addressed it.

Brad McBean argues in Aurecon’s Just Imagine blog that while our jobs may be at risk of being automated, humans will remain an essential ingredient in the future workplace equation. The role of human creativity and ingenuity will keep rising to the top. Creative thinking will always remain gold.

“McKinsey’s latest report on automation displacement reminds us that, although almost every occupation has partial automation potential, humans will remain an essential ingredient in the future workplace equation. Even those jobs that can be easily automated, such as nursing or teaching, rely heavily on interactions between people and expertise that stretches beyond the knowledge of facts.”

Although teaching was on Frey’s list of jobs that would disappear, coaching was on the list of jobs that would be sought-after in the future. This indicates a shift in the role, rather than replacement.

However, founder of Learning without Frontiers Graham Brown-Martin believes we need to take a different approach to education altogether.

Brown-Martin says for decades our education system has been relying on instructionalism – when the teacher (expert) communicates knowledge to the students (novices). He believes the introduction of technology has not essentially changed anything, rather it has converted this approach to digital instructionalism.

He points to the philosophies of Seymour Papert of MIT Media Lab, who talked about learning as constructionism – the act of constructing knowledge from information.

Where instructionalism holds that the mind processes and mirrors the world, constructionism is about the mind perceiving and constructing reality, impacted by individual perception and experience.

Brown-Martin believes we should be placing reconstructionism at the heart of our education systems. Reconstructionism is where teaching and learning is a process of inquiry that allows the child to invent and reinvent the world, where the curriculum focuses on student experience and taking social action on real problems.

He values small data over big data, in other words talking to the individual student to get a sense of their needs, rather than relying on trends and statistics.

Brown-Martin points to a Harvard longitudinal study that shows that the key to happiness is relationships.

“Yet there is nothing in our schooling to teach relationships,” he says.

Learning should focus on projects, passion, peers and play. It should happen within and across the frameworks of creative, critical and computational thinking.

We need a multi-disciplinary, de-siloed approach to learning, says Brown-Martin, one that focuses on project-based and personalised learning.

“Personalisation is the key and it doesn’t involve technology.”

Via Education Review

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