Today, on Teacher Appreciation Day, I want to firmly drive home one very important point: AI will never replace our amazing teachers – and I’m saying that as the CEO of the online learning platform edX and in the business of developing education technology.
It’s common to think of technologies like AI as things that can easily be used to replace people. That certainly happens.
It’s no wonder, then, that when we say “education technology,” “ed tech,” or “online learning” you might automatically think teachers are being replaced.
Online learning has the power to augment and improve what’s going on in the classroom. While MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are generally designed to help students learn autonomously, and in fact millions do, as part of a classroom experience, they function much like new-age textbooks. For teachers who want to introduce completely new curricula to their classes, MOOCs become a one-stop-shop for focused instruction. Similarly, MOOCs can help teachers instruct students in areas that may not be within their particular area of expertise.
For example, Keith Grove, a math teacher and technologist at Cambridge Friends School, in Cambridge, MA used an edX course from Harvey Mudd College, “Programming in Scratch,” to give his students an introduction to the programming world. It’s worth noting that Keith had no prior coding experience. He was able to take the course first himself and then use it as a learning tool in his classroom, exposing his seventh-graders to the world of computer science.
This approach is not uncommon. A study released last year by MIT and Harvard researchers looked at 68 MOOCs with 1.7 million participants and showed that as many as 39 percent of the learners were teachers themselves. Another study, this time from the Online Learning Consortium, found that 71% of the teachers polled would be happy to adopt online educational resources as long as they were proven to be of high quality and affordable for their students.
And let’s not forget that behind every online course there can be upwards of a dozen great teachers, professors, or teaching assistants who have perfected that course in front of students before adapting it for online use. It all comes back to teachers.
At edX, we talk a lot about the blended model – teaching in which some instruction is done online, and some in-person. When implemented, this model creates a great advantage for both students and teachers. Students can learn the basics on their own time, gaining flexibility and the opportunity to study where and when their brains are most receptive.
Online learning technology can also provide insightful tools for teachers, sometimes even giving them powers that may appear miraculous to their students. For example, Professor P. C. Narayanan from India’s top business school, the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, uses the rewind statistics from edX’s video analytics from his online course to focus in-class time where the students had the most difficulty, even as the students remain mystified as to how he divined where they had trouble.
We all know that teachers do more than just pass along information. They also inspire. They see things in their students that those learners might not even recognize in themselves. Last year, I wrote about J.L. Saldanha, the math teacher I had when I attended public school in Mangalore, Karnataka, India. He saw potential in me and pushed me to pursue what I’d thought was an impossible dream. I would not be where I am today without him.
Advances in technology, specifically in AI, are vehicles that take us down the educational path; the roadway that leads to success and fulfillment. Technology takes us there faster, with a smoother ride. But teachers are the ones who clear that path and lead the way. We wouldn’t be going anywhere without our teachers.
On this Teacher Appreciation Day, let’s all take a breath and remember that.
21 May 2019