Posted by: crudbasher | April 9, 2013

What Parts Of A Teacher’s Job Can You Automate?

The way disruptive technology usually works is it finds a part of another process and takes it over. It starts though by nibbling around the edges. After a while the new technology absorbs the old processes and takes over more and more. Eventually it makes the old process not economical any more and it goes away. (It’s like the Borg lol)

Any system can be broken out into component parts. What I have come to realize is an individual’s job can also be thought of as a collection of skills and information. My primary interest in this line of thinking is for what this means for teachers. I found a recent article in Campus Technology magazine where the author lays out different tasks or skills a teacher has to do. His point is no teacher is good at all of them but my point is can automation partially or fully replace these tasks?

Here’s what he listed. (I’ve trimmed each down a bit)

  • Connect with students. Enable students to feel more fully a part of the institution or community.
  • Organize information. Organize subject matter within an academic discipline so that learners new to the field or topic can rapidly encounter and understand important issues, and identify with the most important knowledge, skills, and information.
  • Use media. Use different media to create and offer effective speech, written materials, graphics, animations, laboratory experiences.
  • Create a “safe” environment. Convey and engender confidence in students’ abilities.
  • Serve as a role model—personally or professionally—by demonstrating depth of mastery, wisdom, knowledge, skill, character, and enthusiasm for the subject and profession.
  • Work with different-sized groups. Work effectively with students in small, informal groups or one-to-one.
  • Develop self-study materials. Create self-study materials that enable learners to progress at their own pace.
  • Select cost-effective teaching combinations. Understand enough about teaching, learning, and technology to decide when and how to use the following techniques most cost-effectively: face-to-face time; synchronous interaction at a distance; synchronous interaction at a distance; and independent learning options.

I think also that list is biased a bit towards on campus face to face instruction. Fair enough. Still, I can see some of these can be supplemented and eventually replaced with machine generated content and tools. For example, developing self-study materials could be generated on the fly by machine learning system like I have been talking about in the last week. Or else it might be possible to have a computer suggest media resources to match a lesson plan.

Keep in mind one important fact. Teachers have to have one thing, just one thing which can’t be replaced by a computer. That makes them safe. What is a teacher’s value add to the learning equation? Most teachers I think (especially college professors) are certain that they will never be replaced with computers. At first they won’t be but I think we will rapidly develop automated tools for students which augment the job a teacher does. Technology doesn’t sit still. Will we then raise a generation of students who prefer to learn from a machine than from a teacher? I don’t think it’s impossible. Time will tell.



  1. sir! you´ve said it all, in a nutshell. may i have your permission to translate this post into portuguese and make it a “guest blog” on the blog space i have on the pages of one of brazil´s leading newspapers (the “Estado de São Paulo”), with all due attribution. if you so permit, i guarantee ample dissemination in the portuguese-language world.
    do continue with your commendable work!!
    fredric m. litto
    emeritus professor of communication, university of são paulo
    and president, brazilian association of distance education []

  2. As long as you provide attribution, sure!

  3. […] The way disruptive technology usually works is it finds a part of another process and takes it over. It starts though by nibbling around the edges. After a while the new technology absorbs the old …  […]

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