Machines won't Replace You, Communities Will

Last Friday I had the pleasure of Skyping into a school in Singapore to talk about my TEDx Talk I did back in September. The principal showed it to his staff and then invited me in via Skype to answer questions.

I got into a conversation with one teachers about whether I believed that teachers would be replaced by machines. That, according to him, teaching is the second oldest profession in the world behind prostitution and that as long as we have been “human” there have always been teachers and no machine will ever replace that. 

I stopped for a moment, smiles and then said something along these lines:

WOW
By Flickr ID: awesomerealm

I agree with you…we’re not going to be replaced by machines, but individual teachers will, I believe, be replaced by communities of learners. In those communities everyone will be a teacher and everyone will be a learner. We might not even distinguish between them. Once students and schools figure out they can learn, what they want to learn, when they want to learn, in always on, always supporting communities then the day of the stand and teach teacher is over. We’re already seeing kids form these communities. There isn’t a video game created today that does not help support a community around it. In fact video game makers have the right approach. You create something really difficult…you let people go at it for awhile trying to solve the problem and then you give a “secret hint” or a “cheat”. Which was built into the game to help hold peoples attention and to help the community get stronger. Everyone sharing cheats, secrets, and talking about the game is a learning community. There are teachers, there are learners, but nobody identifies themselves as such because they are learning something they are passionate about and honestly nobody cares what your age is, where you’re from or what level you’re stuck on. They’re just there to help and learn.

Sure not every subject a student takes in school is going to be their passion (although I think we should get there). But that’s not to say that students still would not choose, if given the choice, to join the community they want to learn from. Who says that this teacher and this group of kids that you are tied to physically is your group? Is your best learning community? They might be, but that teacher in Beijing, or Iowa, or Germany might be a great person to have in your community as well, and what about that student from Inda who is really passionate about this specific topic….why wouldn’t you want her in your community to learn from and with as well? 

We have the tools….it’s the Internet. All we need is a switch. Maybe University of the People is that switch. Once this generation, or their kids generation figures out that school can be just like that community they have on the Xbox…..then you, the individual teacher will be replaced by a community.    

12 Comments

  1. Yes, Jeff, you’ve nailed it once again. This individual (without meaning any disrespect, simply echoing the voice of all too many teacher in our industrial model of education) sounds like a teacher running scared for the security of their job, not one who is truly invested in the learning of both themselves and their students. Community, that is were learning has always really happened and will continue to blossom.

    We’re more worried that students learn what we (whoever that is) want them to, than merely that they learn…

    • Rocketrob and Jeff,

      I was one of the teachers at the same skype meeting. Its a shame that intelligent discussion between professionals can be misrepresented and judged so quickly in this way. These debates should be approached with an open mind. We are, after all, on the same side, are we not?

      Representing a snippet of a discussion as narrow-minded dissent worthy of a ‘smile and a pause’ is patronising. Each person at this discussion has been part of online learning communities and were there because they felt the need to hear new persepctives. The beauty of learning in this way IS that we bring our different experiences and contexts to it.

      Come now, gentlemen – let’s not divide ourselves into techno-snobs vs people who welcome variations of opinion.

      • Hi Tanya,

        But I like being a Techno Snob! :)

        I have no problem with Ian’s comment…I thought it was well thought out and written. This is why I blog….I need this push back to further my one learning. Responding to Ian’s comment today was the best PD and the deepest I’ve had to think about my own beliefs all week…so I appreciate it.

  2. Jeff: Good points. The new idiom is “any teacher who can be replaced by a machine should be.” We need to develop self-directed learners. If people realize that they are responsible for their own learning, we will go far. We also need to do better when it comes to learning from each other and creating our own learning networks. For my part, I produce book summaries and a Twitter service for educators who don’t have as much time to read as I do. I get about 1,000 hits a day. Check it out at DrDougGreen.Com. Keep up the good work.

  3. Hey Jeff,

    Thanks for talking the time to speak with us. I’ve also re-ignited my blog thanks to your willingness to be a part of our community. I felt I needed to share the experience.

    link to cishsprincipal.blogspot.com

    Cheers,
    Ted

  4. Hello All,

    Well, I AM the teacher that actually made that comment to which Jeff was referring, and after being directed here by the CIS web-pool, allow me to clarify the meaning behind my original comments so that I am not taken out of context (funny how important that word is, isn’t it?)

    First of all, I am in complete agreement with Jeff when he says that many educational institutions, and for that matter, entire governments, are not properly embracing new technology and web communities as instruments to be harnessed for learning. The French government, for example, is using assessment models that haven’t been updated in decades. When Jeff says that schools, by and large, are not properly addressing the needs of students in the 21st century, he is absolutely right.

    Secondly, I am by no means “running scared” in a desperate attempt to secure my job. This is, quite frankly, a speculative and careless comment made by an individual who appears all too ready to jump to conclusions and place himself firmly on a bandwagon without considering the wider argument.

    Let me set the record straight. I am under 35. I have no fear of new tech at all, and, in fact, am quite put-off by the comment I hear all too often from older teachers unwilling to change their approaches to teaching who protest that we “needn’t re-invent the wheel.” When rubber was discovered, it was put to use. Get with the times. And if I am to be replaced by a machine, so be it – I welcome it. While I love being part of my profession, I will gladly do something else.

    My basic point was this – online communities are only as good as the evaluative skills they have and their understanding of contexts. True, content is all too plentiful nowadays. Schools shouldn’t be putting the bulk of their focus on content. I agree. It can be easily gotten from most places on the web. But is all content good content? How do students develop the skills with which they can evaluate it? How do students develop the understanding of how different communities contextualize content? I believe schools are still valid in the skills they give in this regard, and will continue to be.

    Let me address for a moment what Jeff said above about video game communities: I think the model he discusses is an excellent one, and works very well in a community of older learners (18 and over). The idea of individuals learning from each other and the interchangeability of roles is indeed well-taken. To be honest, this occurred even before web-based communities existed. Some of the psychology classes I attended in university, for example, were of this nature – the professor posed a question or problem and we all worked together as an equal unit to solve it. He often learned as much from us as we did from him.

    However, unlike the average student entering high school, we already had a wealth of background knowledge, skills and experience to draw from, which we learned from conventional schooling. Furthermore, many of us were directed towards the subjects we chose in university only after having the possibilities exposed to us from conventional learning environments.

    When I said that teaching was the oldest profession behind prostitution, I meant that the need for individuals to be mentored and to learn from others with more developed knowledge and skills in a structured setting will never go away. If I want to understand how my car engine works, I don’t go online with a bunch of other people who know next to nothing about it and chat for answers. I ask a mechanic.

    The teaching profession, like medicine and law, trains individuals in how to be good mentors, and satisfy this need. Medical doctors train in the use of new technology all the time, and develop specializations in it, as in the case of anesthesiologists. The teaching profession, as in the case of special education, learning support and literacy specialists, as well as ESL learning, does much the same. These specializations did not exist in the teaching profession a few decades ago.

    To suggest that teachers can suddenly be “replaced” by web-based learning communities made up entirely of students is ridiculous. Even gaming forums call upon video game “experts,” some of whom have formal training in programming. Without a leader to guide a community in their learning, what value does it really have?

    While I find Jeff’s arguments about the nature of the current generation of “hyper-connected” students quite compelling, I worry that his transfer of this idea to its effect on the teaching profession actually recycles a very old view held mainly in North America of the teaching profession in general – that teachers are not truly “professionals” in the same way a doctor or lawyer or mechanic is, and that “anyone” can do a teacher’s job – which is why we can be so easily replaced by online communities or machines. I would hope that Jeff, being an educator himself, is not implying this, although I would suggest that he may be influenced by this attitude, albeit on a subconscious level.

    Trained academics do research which can be quantitatively verified. Without those individuals trained in the so-called “industrial” model of education, Wikipedia couldn’t exist. Who would write and verify the articles for it? If you believe that web-based communities can replace teachers, then you must also believe that bloggers can replace qualified reporters. Reporters, unlike bloggers, are held to a standard (as flawed as you may believe that standard to be, it’s still a standard). Does assertion triumph over truth? I think not.

    I have no doubt I will hear responses to this that will be patronizing in nature – “Oh, that poor soul – he just doesn’t get it.” Well, if I am wrong, then I suppose time will tell – it will tell all of us. But I honestly doubt it. Schools as we know them will continue for a long time to come. Teaching may well evolve to include web-based communities of learners, but I believe those communities will always need teachers. Without them, whether you like it or not, learning will be lost.

    • Hi Ian! Thanks for stopped by and adding to the conversation. This is way I blog, why I like putting this stuff out there. If helps to push me to think deeper about education.

      What I love about all this is we’re talking the future here and in the future we’re all right….and we’re all wrong. Being a futurist is the best job in the world, because it’s just your thoughts and opinions and who really knows what will happen. Thanks for adding to the discussion…here are some things I’m thinking about after your comment.

      “First of all, I am in complete agreement with Jeff when he says that many educational institutions, and for that matter, entire governments, are not properly embracing new technology and web communities as instruments to be harnessed for learning. The French government, for example, is using assessment models that haven’t been updated in decades. When Jeff says that schools, by and large, are not properly addressing the needs of students in the 21st century, he is absolutely right.”

      I agree…and I do believe there is a history componient here. Schools/Countries that have a long tradition of education are the slowest to move, my school here in Bangkok is a perfect example. We’re old (the oldest international school in Bangkok actually) and we have a lot of history that drags us down. As we look to change we are always looking backwards to what was, where we came from. New schools, and new emerging countries are doing it different, thinking different because they are allowed to by not having a history.

      “Secondly, I am by no means “running scared” in a desperate attempt to secure my job. This is, quite frankly, a speculative and careless comment made by an individual who appears all too ready to jump to conclusions and place himself firmly on a bandwagon without considering the wider argument.”

      I appologize if I offended you please know that was not my intention….

      “My basic point was this – online communities are only as good as the evaluative skills they have and their understanding of contexts. True, content is all too plentiful nowadays. Schools shouldn’t be putting the bulk of their focus on content. I agree. It can be easily gotten from most places on the web. But is all content good content? How do students develop the skills with which they can evaluate it? How do students develop the understanding of how different communities contextualize content? I believe schools are still valid in the skills they give in this regard, and will continue to be.”

      And this is exactly what we should be doing in schools. I’d be interested in knowing how much of your own class time is spend on skills and context rather than content delivery? I know here at my school….very little. I did a session with 12th graders last week where we talked about searching the web for good quality verified content…..and it was the first lesson they had ever had in this area. I can promise you though it was not the first time they were told to look on the web for content. This is what I have been working on and wrote about here and here last week. I completely agree that teaches should be teaching skills and context of content…not content itself…so how do we change systems to make this the norm?

      “When I said that teaching was the oldest profession behind prostitution, I meant that the need for individuals to be mentored and to learn from others with more developed knowledge and skills in a structured setting will never go away. If I want to understand how my car engine works, I don’t go online with a bunch of other people who know next to nothing about it and chat for answers. I ask a mechanic.

      The teaching profession, like medicine and law, trains individuals in how to be good mentors, and satisfy this need. Medical doctors train in the use of new technology all the time, and develop specializations in it, as in the case of anesthesiologists. The teaching profession, as in the case of special education, learning support and literacy specialists, as well as ESL learning, does much the same. These specializations did not exist in the teaching profession a few decades ago.

      To suggest that teachers can suddenly be “replaced” by web-based learning communities made up entirely of students is ridiculous. Even gaming forums call upon video game “experts,” some of whom have formal training in programming. Without a leader to guide a community in their learning, what value does it really have?”

      I don’t think teachers will be replaced by web-based learning communities made up entirely of students….leaders/teachers always show up. However, I do believe that learning communities will replace stand and deliver educators/education. In these learning communities there are always teachers. Reading any forum on the web today you can quickly see which person is the “teacher’ and which is the “learner” for the particular question or issue. Let’s pretend that the mechanic in your town didn’t know what was wrong with your car what would you do then, where would you go for help? Would the web and a community of mechanics (teachers) be able to help you (student) with your issue?

      My wife and I are actually doing this now with our cats. One of our cats was very sick for a year. We went to the vets in Thailand who could not figure out what was wrong with him, so we turned online, joined some communities of cat lovers and did our own research, in some of these communities were vets with a passion for cats. Needless to say we found out the issue was he had a food allergy, we changed his diet and he’s a happy cat again. We knew nothing before we joined the communities and once we did were students among passionate people and teachers.

      When it comes to education, University of the People is using this method. We’ll see how it works.

      “While I find Jeff’s arguments about the nature of the current generation of “hyper-connected” students quite compelling, I worry that his transfer of this idea to its effect on the teaching profession actually recycles a very old view held mainly in North America of the teaching profession in general – that teachers are not truly “professionals” in the same way a doctor or lawyer or mechanic is, and that “anyone” can do a teacher’s job – which is why we can be so easily replaced by online communities or machines. I would hope that Jeff, being an educator himself, is not implying this, although I would suggest that he may be influenced by this attitude, albeit on a subconscious level.”

      hhhmmm…..not sure it’s so subconscious. We are all learners and we’re all teachers….I hope anyway. Can everyone teach? Yes….Doctors teach new doctors without having an education degree. The difference is passion. Traditional teachers have to teach students who might not have a passion for that particular subject while doctors, lawyers, and mechanics teach only the motivated. Where does passion play in this? And do we need to pay more attention to student’s passions? Anyone can teach not everyone can teach well….and I don’t think a teaching degree is a differentiating factor.

      “Trained academics do research which can be quantitatively verified. Without those individuals trained in the so-called “industrial” model of education, Wikipedia couldn’t exist. Who would write and verify the articles for it?”

      I believe we do…WE being the people of the web. We write it, we edit it, we verify it. Have you ever edited a Wikipedia article? If not I highly encourage it. Again Wikipedia works because of passion. There are passionate people who want to see the right information on a given topic. You might also be interested in my lastest blog post on how High School students here are writing Wiktionary.

      “If you believe that web-based communities can replace teachers, then you must also believe that bloggers can replace qualified reporters. Reporters, unlike bloggers, are held to a standard (as flawed as you may believe that standard to be, it’s still a standard). Does assertion triumph over truth? I think not.”

      That is you are assuming bloggers are not reporters. What if they are? I’m not talking the little blogs, I’m talking the blogs that Reporters are linking to and quoting more and more in their own reports. And hasn’t the continue decline of the newspaper and prime time news shown that we has a society that is willing to call bloggers reporters? Or in the case of the recent protests here in Bangkok. Those on Twitter were considered reporters.

      “I have no doubt I will hear responses to this that will be patronizing in nature – “Oh, that poor soul – he just doesn’t get it.” Well, if I am wrong, then I suppose time will tell – it will tell all of us. But I honestly doubt it. Schools as we know them will continue for a long time to come. Teaching may well evolve to include web-based communities of learners, but I believe those communities will always need teachers. Without them, whether you like it or not, learning will be lost.”

      I don’t think anyone will patronize you…that’s now what blogging and commenting is about. It’s about discussions like this. In the end we agree that there will always be teachers. Where we disagree….I think….is that I believe everyone will be a teacher not just the person you get stuck with in period 3. :)

      Thanks for the conversation…I really appreciate you taking the time to put your thoughts out here and let your voice be heard!

      • Hi Again Jeff,

        Thanks for your comments and very well-thought out reply. I must also apologize if I came off a bit heavy-handed in my original post. I tend to get my back up when generalizations are made that I consider unfair. I’m happy to participate in this debate. This, however, will likely be my last posting for a long while as I have a ton of work I must get to!

        You make a lot of very good points – some of which I agree with and others I don’t. The point that you and I agreed upon is an important one, I think – schools and educational systems are often slow to change and history can “drag them down,” as you put it. If we are resistant to incorporating new technology and ideas into learning, even if they change the nature of that learning in a profound way, we risk leaving our kids and ourselves behind. But let us remember that something’s age doesn’t immediately indicate its obsolescence. While there are many changes that the current educational model needs to undergo, we must recognize what does still work and is still valid in the model as it exists now.

        Our other agreed-upon point, that courses don’t focus nearly enough on skills, is also well-stated. While my English language courses focus almost solely on skills, in other courses I am often hamstrung by curricular requirements or resources available, as well as the rigours of my timetable – and these are challenges that teachers everywhere face on a daily basis. In this regard then, in our criticism of what is happening in schools, let us not put all the blame on teachers’ shoulders (not saying that’s what you were saying – merely stating that we shouldn’t do this). I think that if teachers were given the tools and the training to build their courses around skills, and the time to adapt their courses accordingly, we wouldn’t be having such a vociferous debate about this.

        Your point that web-based communities will replace teachers is the point I still don’t agree with, and not that I think web-based communities aren’t important, or that I simply don’t want teachers to be replaced in this way. Your example of finding a proper diagnosis for your sick cat is a wonderful example of how web-based communities can supplement knowledge and content. But there’s the key word – supplement. There is still the need for the “expert” as we know them (and to be fair, that’s who you went to first). Without the expert, who is formally trained, Wikipedia and others cease to be valuable.

        And I also take issue with your view that we can all be teachers. I agree that many of us teach, and many people who aren’t trained teachers engage in teaching. I do think a teaching degree can be a differentiating factor. Not the only thing that makes a teacher a professional, to be sure, but a crucial starting point. Your point about doctors teaching new doctors is well-taken, but that new doctor had a formal education before arriving at that point. Trained and experienced professional teachers have skills and talents others don’t. I’m always amazed that we don’t look at other professions with the same “anyone can do what they do” attitude which teachers seem to confront.

        I think your argument about passion is great – I would love to see more options available at schools so that students can learn more in tune with their passions. Web-based communities, and indeed, the web in general, is a wonderful opportunity to do this. But many students need to try a number of things before they know what those passions are, and many students also find that they look back at the end of a course that they weren’t passionate about at the time to discover, upon reflection, that what they learned was very valuable to them, and they are thankful for going through the experience. Excitement and passion are great things, but let’s not confuse them with a student’s desire to be entertained. Not everything that is valuable is entertaining.

        I think our basic difference is where we see the need for “conventional” education (not really the best term to describe it, I suppose) ending and the need for the “passion-driven,” web-community style of education you describe beginning. If I’m not mistaken, you seem to see that happening around the end of elementary school, and I would put it much later. I think it’s no coincidence that the educational institution which employs the style you’re talking about is a university. That seems about right to me. High School? Way too early, in my opinion – and perhaps that’s simply a matter of belief on both our parts. While I would love to see more web-based learning occuring in schools, I think high school is still too early to have that be the central part of the system. Besides, in my view, universities need to undergo a lot more changes than public schools do, and are far more resistant to change as well. If universities trained teachers better, we probably would not be in disagreement over a qualification being a differentiating factor – but that’s a whole new argument which I will leave to others to discuss!

        As I said, with regard to our impending replacement, time will tell. Perhaps all of us who take the current model of education for granted will have a rude awakening in the near future. I still don’t think so. And in the meantime, my beliefs will keep me pretty secure in the knowledge that I won’t have to start planning a new career path anytime soon.

  5. G’day Jeff,

    I just had lunch and want a nap. Yet this is too cool to snooze past.

    I was perhaps a repressed student. It took me 27 years to start taking back education. Schoolz are for rulez and perhaps not the place for curious mindz.

    I failed math the way it was taught at school. So I created my own system of mathematics from scratch based on intuition and dreams. Sure everything I’ve created has been proven by algebra, yet my number system works the way our brains want to work and not how the 19th C school assembly lines are meant to work.

    I’m releasing YOUR new number system under a Creative Commons license so will it take off? It may go viral amongst people with dyscalculia and home schoolers. Yet just as Hindu Arabic Numerals were banned in Florence to force people to keep keep using Roman Numerals, I wonder what will happen when Australian Numerals start to get known?

    Jeff I’d really be privileged if you’d have a look at my website one day. Maybe once it starts to go viral you might even write a post? LOL

    If the revolution is to start at Facebook, maybe I’m old-fashioned by posting this… link to youtube.com

    So will my Australian Numerals grass roots revolution sprout? I hope so coz right now, math is based on something 1400 years old that pre-dates the idea of negative numbers, the number line and even the symbols you use.

    Nothing in science has ever lasted that long without innovation. So the K-6 number revolution starts with this post Jeff!

  6. Jeff et al

    I love this post! This is an online community in action.

    Jeff, regarding your TedTalk about students taking back education, Ive got a real world example.

    I manage the school’s basketball teams which means I manage everything from finances, marketing, HR. Everything that we use in business we use in sports- sports is a HUGE business right!

    So Ive got some HS kids, not on the team as team co managers, COO, or CEO’s or PR Managers of the team to do the finances and marketing of the teams Of course I check it all at the end but talk about learners taking back responsibility of their own learning. To put this in prespective to those at big schools, we are a small school of 230 kids and I am the grade 1 teacher volunteering to assist. This is very much real world learning taking place.

    I think that real world applications like this are not recognised. An education revolution is coming and our kids will take charge of the direction education wil go.

  7. Hi,
    Great Blog post! I think you are right. Schools should look a lot more like learning communities. I really liked the analogy of computer games and I can testify that they do work. I see it all the time in my 12 yrs old nephew, who has learnt a lot of the great skills he has from such communities as we see on Xbox environments, etc…
    If schools had that level of integrated connectivity and willingness to share and “let go” of their learners, so that they can explore and get enthusiastic about their learning, we would become dream makers and help our students really become the person they dream to be in their youth!
    Alessio.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Communities of Teachers who are Learners and Learners who are Teachers : John Connell: The Blog - [...] Jeff Utecht, paraphrasing his own words while in conversation with a Singaporean teacher who wondered if teachers would ever …

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>