March 2013

Computers and Teachers: Will Teachers become Technologically Unemployed

Today I happened to stumble upon a quote by Elbert Hubbard (1854-1915), who more than 100 years ago commented on the industrialization of the American society. Hubbard said: “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary Man.” This resonated with what I  saw in the documentary about Woody Allen yesterday, when he commented about his father:

“The upshot of the story is, that day I called my parents, my father was fired. He was technologically unemployed. My father had worked for the same firm for twelve years. They fired him. They replaced him with a tiny gadget, this big, that does everything my father does, only it does it much better. The depressing thing is, my mother ran out and bought one.”

Will this be the fate of teachers? Will we become technologically unemployed, as Woody Allen’s father and replaced by gadgets, as more and more valuable lessons, materials, computer simulations and apps will be created and posted online for everybody’s perusal? I do not think, we should be afraid of that. I think we should embrace technology for what it can give us and realize that it has important limitations. We do need teachers, mentors, people who can help us guide our students and help them find themselves. This will be the focus on my summer graduate courses: ETEC533A and EDCP585B.

Having two children who took online courses at different times of their lives, I could see the limitations of this engagement. While part of the problem stemmed from the teachers being unwilling or unprepared to teach online, the other part is how the students engaged with online learning – versus a face-to-face community. Online education should not mean that technology replaced teachers and it should not mean that there is no learning community and every student learn by him or herself. To me a good online course means that a teacher helps to foster interactions differently as compared to the face-to-face class and the students get to know each other as well as if not better than in a face-to-face classroom. Yes, my kids were able to learn the material faster (I am not sure if it was better or not and I am not sure if this was caused by our active involvement in the courses – as parents), but they definitely lacked a teacher who would have been their mentor. If you even asked them what were their teachers’ names, they would not have remembered?

As I keep thinking of computers and their roles in teaching and learning, I took the liberty to paraphrase Elbert Hubbard’s quote I started this comment with: “One computer can do the work of fifty ordinary teachers. No computer can do the work of one extraordinary Teacher”. And being a mother and a teacher-educator, I can attest that today, more than ever, we need to educate more Teachers. Our kids need them.

Magnolia tree is ready to bloom – UBC campus – Spring 2013.



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