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Should Robots Replace Teachers?: AI and the Future of Education

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Developments in AI, robotics and big data are changing the nature of education. Yet the implications of these technologies for the teaching profession are uncertain. While most educators remain convinced of the need for human teachers, outside the profession there is growing anticipation of a technological reinvention of the ways in which teaching and learning take place. T Developments in AI, robotics and big data are changing the nature of education. Yet the implications of these technologies for the teaching profession are uncertain. While most educators remain convinced of the need for human teachers, outside the profession there is growing anticipation of a technological reinvention of the ways in which teaching and learning take place. Through an examination of technological developments such as autonomous classroom robots, intelligent tutoring systems, learning analytics and automated decision-making, Neil Selwyn highlights the need for nuanced discussions around the capacity of AI to replicate the social, emotional and cognitive qualities of human teachers. He pushes conversations about AI and education into the realm of values, judgements and politics, ultimately arguing that the integration of any technology into society must be presented as a choice. Should Robots Replace Teachers? is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of education and work in our increasingly automated times.


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Developments in AI, robotics and big data are changing the nature of education. Yet the implications of these technologies for the teaching profession are uncertain. While most educators remain convinced of the need for human teachers, outside the profession there is growing anticipation of a technological reinvention of the ways in which teaching and learning take place. T Developments in AI, robotics and big data are changing the nature of education. Yet the implications of these technologies for the teaching profession are uncertain. While most educators remain convinced of the need for human teachers, outside the profession there is growing anticipation of a technological reinvention of the ways in which teaching and learning take place. Through an examination of technological developments such as autonomous classroom robots, intelligent tutoring systems, learning analytics and automated decision-making, Neil Selwyn highlights the need for nuanced discussions around the capacity of AI to replicate the social, emotional and cognitive qualities of human teachers. He pushes conversations about AI and education into the realm of values, judgements and politics, ultimately arguing that the integration of any technology into society must be presented as a choice. Should Robots Replace Teachers? is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of education and work in our increasingly automated times.

43 review for Should Robots Replace Teachers?: AI and the Future of Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    I’d sort of remembered the title of this one as ‘Can Robots Replace Teachers’? To which the answer is ‘oh yeah… I guess… they’d probably also make better students too.’ And this is, in part, the authors answer. Maybe you could design a robot that would be more ‘efficient’ at teaching students, but learning is such a fundamentally human exchange/interchange, that there are things that you are likely to lose along the way that are likely to be not all that efficient – in that they are likely to be I’d sort of remembered the title of this one as ‘Can Robots Replace Teachers’? To which the answer is ‘oh yeah… I guess… they’d probably also make better students too.’ And this is, in part, the authors answer. Maybe you could design a robot that would be more ‘efficient’ at teaching students, but learning is such a fundamentally human exchange/interchange, that there are things that you are likely to lose along the way that are likely to be not all that efficient – in that they are likely to be so damn hard to measure you might not even list them. But just because you can’t measure something doesn’t necessarily mean it has no value. Much of this book isn’t really about robots in classrooms – our technology isn’t exactly up to that just yet, most of the book is about other platforms, applications and digital technologies that impact how teaching and learning occurs in classrooms. Like so much of the current literature on how technology will replace humans, the lesson is not that we will end up with no teachers at all, just as we won’t end up with no lawyers at all, but that technology might replace so many of the ho-hum aspects of teaching that what will be left will be the innovative and interesting work of differentiating instruction towards the needs of our students. That said, one of the first chapters here does look at the use of literal robots in classrooms. This is mostly in Japan, a nation particularly interested in robot technology since it has a fast ageing population, but is also not keen to address the issues this presents by introducing lots of non-Japanese workers into the country. As such, robots are seen as a potential way to address a shrinking workforce, especially in an expanding service sector, and in the care industries. He mentions a teaching robot that even has six basic facial emotions: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust and anger. Young students in particular find this all a bit too human and will even cry when told off by one of these robots, I guess when it is using its angry face – however, the sort of creepy latex skin and the other no less creepy things about these robots mean that slightly older children find ways to attack and damage it. This isn’t the cute AI (you will be my mommy forever) type robot, but something almost human enough to feel wrong and not quite human enough to feel right. There is, of course, no reason why these won’t improve with time and perhaps we will end up not being able to tell the difference between a robot and a real person – the question again is why we would want to do this. I’ve been reading some Lewis Mumford recently and he would say that isn’t the question at all. He would say that we humans generally don’t give a stuff about the consequences of new technologies, we have lived with nuclear weapons for long enough to prove we are deeply stupid as creatures – the question isn’t ‘will the technology make things better?’ but rather merely ‘can we do it?’ – and if we can, then the answer is always ‘well, let’s get on with it then’. Much more interesting are the parts of the book that look at how AI can be used as pedagogical agents, that is, as a way to literally teach us in ways that other humans are not as able to do. And this is where the decided lack of boredom and infinite patience of computers comes to the fore. This is particularly true when doing something like learning languages, for instance, where many of us feel so self-conscious talking to humans in a language we barely speak, that we are much more likely to chat away to a machine as long as we then don’t believe it is judging us. ‘Thank you for speaking with me, Trevor, you have been awarded 3 out of 10 for comprehension, 4.5 out of 10 for….’ Although, perhaps that is only true if someone ‘real’ is going to see the results. Hard to tell. Many of the problems of instruction depend on what is being taught. And a lot of this comes back to our understanding of what learning ‘means’. For many things in life, we believe that learning is essentially breaking things down into their component parts and building up from there. This is particularly reinforced in us by how subjects have been taught to us across most of our lives at school. I guess there are basically two ways that schools work – either by teaching within subject disciplines (mathematics, languages, art and so on) or in ways that teach across a general theme (say, climate change or poverty reduction) and then we teach the disciplines from within that theme (mathematics for understanding how fast ocean levels are rising, English for writing nasty emails to politicians, art for designing placards for demonstrations…). The system generally favours discipline-based teaching. This is because teachers have mostly spent a lifetime becoming discipline specialists – he’s a maths teacher, she’s an English teacher, he’s an art teacher, she would even do history in her spare time. As such, their identities (not just as teachers, but as people) are tied up with teaching their subject areas. So, getting teachers to teach across the curriculum, outside of their discipline areas, even towards areas of inquiry they are passionate about, can be really hard work. Teachers who have spent their lives helping students to accrete knowledge in annual growth rings, not unlike trees, find teaching in inquiry modes challenging, not only because it is ‘different’ but also because it can feel like it is undermining their very identity. The author mentions having an AI ‘learning companion for life’. Not necessarily to replace a teacher, but to be like the person you end up sitting beside in classrooms as you go through school, not just because they are your friend, but because you learn along the way that when you don’t get something the teacher said, they might and vice versa. Being able to have such a ‘friend’ who understands how you learn and who can then prod you towards understanding would be insanely useful. But as the author also says, having a virtual Socrates hovering around all of the time might quickly become something of a pain in the bum. When I started becoming a teacher we were asked to read an essay by Noel Pearson, an Aboriginal from remote Northern Queensland, who was very concerned that white teachers were coming up to his community and teaching the children there, but doing so in ways that were anything but consistent, and then only to leave after their one or two year stints to be replaced by yet another inconsistent teacher. Pearson became a strong supporter of direct instruction models of teaching and learning – not least since these are basically ‘teacher proof’. There is a script – the teacher follows the script – if the kids aren’t getting any better at something it is because the teacher isn’t following the script properly. This is basically the Weight Watchers school of pedagogy – follow these easy to follow assembly instructions and you’ll lose 2kgs a week. Few middle class parents would ever endorse such learning for their own kids, of course, this is pedagogy for the great unwashed. In a world that provides deeply inequitable educational experiences for children based on their social background, perhaps being taught in modular ways is the best that those on the bottom of the social hierarchy can expect – in the sense that at least there is some hope a robot won’t necessarily stereotype you in the way a real middle class teacher is likely to. But if that is the case, if the best we can hope for is pre-programmed instruction for the poor, we do need to rethink the ‘purpose of education’ and perhaps admit that the path we are taking, technology or no technology, is based more on sustaining our current caste system, than it is in preparing children for the uncurtain futures they are likely to face. The book ends with a nice look at what it is that human teachers actually do – including the embodied nature of teaching in particular, and a reflection on John Dewey’s ideas on the potential for education to develop inquiring minds – the kinds of minds needed for people learning to engage in democratic processes and to face a changing world. However, that certainly doesn’t mean that we need to ‘do a Socrates’ and reject all new technology out of hand – in the way Socrates did with that crazy new technology of his day, writing. The point is to not fall into the trap Mumford says we inevitably do fall into – that of jumping onboard with a new technology just because it is there and new and can be done. The ‘it can be done, so it must be done’ school of technology. There are no truly bad technologies – there are just lots of really bad applications of them, particularly in Education. We would be much better off thinking about the ways that we can help students understand what we are wanting to teach, or even better, seeking to understand what it is that our students want to learn, than in trying to work out how to use the latest wiz-bang technology in our classrooms because it is there.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    Kind of a step back from Selwyn’s previous rhetorical question-entitled book, taunting us further for expecting an answer to a question we were told might come up somewhere inside the book. So yeah, judging books by their cover, I get it, but despite the author’s ambivalence towards answering tough questions that need to be asked, he actually has some sage advice that should be heeded. On the one hand digital tools will continue to get smarter, and it is on behalf of someone (or something) that Kind of a step back from Selwyn’s previous rhetorical question-entitled book, taunting us further for expecting an answer to a question we were told might come up somewhere inside the book. So yeah, judging books by their cover, I get it, but despite the author’s ambivalence towards answering tough questions that need to be asked, he actually has some sage advice that should be heeded. On the one hand digital tools will continue to get smarter, and it is on behalf of someone (or something) that educational institutes big and small buy into this technological determinism. On the other hand, teaching continues to be a complex and human (hopefully humane) form of social interaction that runs the risk of being roboticized by taking precious wetware, young and old minds alike, and trying to program them for only computational thinking. On both hands, something meaningful needs to happen, just don’t ask Selwyn what this meaningful something is, or he’ll simply publish another book with an important sounding question on its cover!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Reyer

    Neil Selwyn doet al decennia onderzoek naar onderwijs en technologie. Zijn werk interesseert me, omdat hij technologie niet categoraal afschrijft of toejuicht en zich niet laat verleiden tot blinde aannamen, maar op zoek gaat naar wat werkt voor het onderwijs. In Should robots replace teachers? AI and the future of education (2019) tracht Selwyn nadrukkelijk geen antwoord te vinden op de vraag of kunstmatige intelligentie leraren kan vervangen, dat acht hij aannemelijk zolang de samenleving dat t Neil Selwyn doet al decennia onderzoek naar onderwijs en technologie. Zijn werk interesseert me, omdat hij technologie niet categoraal afschrijft of toejuicht en zich niet laat verleiden tot blinde aannamen, maar op zoek gaat naar wat werkt voor het onderwijs. In Should robots replace teachers? AI and the future of education (2019) tracht Selwyn nadrukkelijk geen antwoord te vinden op de vraag of kunstmatige intelligentie leraren kan vervangen, dat acht hij aannemelijk zolang de samenleving dat toelaat, maar of dat ook zou moeten gebeuren. Technologie is immers niet slechts de uitkomst van techniek en wetenschap, maar ook van culturele, economische, politieke en sociale kwesties. Dat betekent dat het implementeren van ai om een ethische en politieke afweging vraagt. Dit boek steekt ertussen uit, omdat Selwyn zowel ingaat op technologische vernieuwing – m.n. deep learning - als op de betekenis en inhoud van het lerarenberoep. Technologie is niet vóór of tegen leraren, maar kan het karakter van het onderwijs wel veranderen. Bepaalde aspecten zullen onmiskenbaar beter te organiseren zijn met ai-systemen. Zo kan ai leraren helpen met het nemen van beslissingen die voorbijgaan aan giswerk of speculatie, en patronen herkennen die een leraar nooit zou kunnen vinden. Tegelijkertijd brengt het risico’s met zich om te makkelijk te veronderstellen dat ai leraren zal ondersteunen: het is evengoed mogelijk dat ai gaat bepalen hoe zij hun lessen moeten inrichten. Om die reden moeten de vragen wat het onderwijs nodig heeft en wat goed lesgeven eigenlijk is, voorafgaan aan de vraag wat we van ai mogen en moeten willen verwachten. Selwyn hekelt de manier waarop computerwetenschappers en technologiebedrijven het debat over onderwijs en ai domineren. Zij kijken anders naar het onderwijs dan onderwijskundigen en hebben vooral oog voor processen: in hun ogen zijn scholen – in vergelijking met bedrijven – een bron van inefficiëntie. Gepersonaliseerd leren is in die optiek de heilige graal van het onderwijs: ai kan leerlingen helpen op basis van hun unieke behoeften een optimaal leerpad te volgen. Selwyn merkt op dat dit perspectief past in een bredere trend van individualisme, data gedreven efficiëntie en verantwoording. Onderwijskundigen daarentegen zien waarde in collectief en geïnstitutionaliseerd leren, dat meer omvat dan alleen het overdragen van kennis en vaardigheden. Voor het maatschappelijk debat is het belangrijk te begrijpen dat ai-systemen niet magisch zijn, maar het resultaat van wiskunde, data en computerprogrammering: van mensenwerk dus. Uiteindelijk zijn ai-systemen zo goed als de algoritmen en data zijn. Selwyn sluit zijn betoog af met vier aanbevelingen om de implementatie van ai in het onderwijs goed te laten verlopen: 1. Ai is geen noodzaak waaraan het onderwijs zich moet aanpassen, maar stelt het onderwijs voor keuzen. 2. Niet alle aspecten van het onderwijs zijn te meten, voorspellen of modelleren met ai. 3. De mogelijkheden die ai biedt zijn te waardevol om ai als zodanig af te wijzen. Het is echter van wezenlijk belang dat leraren ai op hun eigen voorwaarden gebruiken om de kwaliteit en aard van het onderwijs daadwerkelijk te verbeteren en verbreden. 4. Het debat moet niet gaan over de vraag hoe we van ai leraren kunnen maken, maar over hoe we ai-systemen kunnen inzetten voor de doelen van het onderwijs.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julius

    Cogí el libro con muchas ganas, me esperaba mucho más de él. La obra básicamente recoge ideas bastante básicas sobre qué posibilidades tiene la tecnología en las aulas, tanto con robots físicos como con programas informáticos. Sin embargo, lo he encontrado una descripción un tanto vaga, sin crítica, y sin episodios de cómo han funcionado colegios en EEUU o en países de Asia cuando han intentado modernizar la educación con tecnología. También me esperaba algo más de historia, evidencias científic Cogí el libro con muchas ganas, me esperaba mucho más de él. La obra básicamente recoge ideas bastante básicas sobre qué posibilidades tiene la tecnología en las aulas, tanto con robots físicos como con programas informáticos. Sin embargo, lo he encontrado una descripción un tanto vaga, sin crítica, y sin episodios de cómo han funcionado colegios en EEUU o en países de Asia cuando han intentado modernizar la educación con tecnología. También me esperaba algo más de historia, evidencias científicas y política prevista en este campo. Pero no me he encontrado nada de esto. Lo he leído muy rápido, y en diagonal.

  5. 5 out of 5

    ML O'Brien

    I enjoyed this very balanced questioning of AI's place in Education. I think Neil places the onus squarely back on the educators. He urges them to make the choices and asks "what do YOU want to happen?" The benefits that AI can offer educators around Adaptive Learning and the Personalisation of Learning is huge but as someone who has lived and breathed Ed Tech for the past 15 or so years I also want to see new ways of doing things, rather than just replicating existing processes. An easy read th I enjoyed this very balanced questioning of AI's place in Education. I think Neil places the onus squarely back on the educators. He urges them to make the choices and asks "what do YOU want to happen?" The benefits that AI can offer educators around Adaptive Learning and the Personalisation of Learning is huge but as someone who has lived and breathed Ed Tech for the past 15 or so years I also want to see new ways of doing things, rather than just replicating existing processes. An easy read that you can easily knock over in a day.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steven Kolber

    Short read, sweet and to the point. Doesn’t get bogged down in quickly abandoned technologies or brand names, but rather provides a peppy and non-academic insight into AI in education. It’s closer to the truth to call this a book of philosophy mixed with futurism. Many meals for thought, if you are a vaguely aware educator this would be the place I would begin. I await the right moment to hand this short book to someone who needs to read it!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Neil

    An insightful, non-academic read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Luis Andres

    Un libro introductorio en el que te amplia la mente, en temas sobre la IA, el uso de robots como asistentes pedagógicos.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sally Read

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joanna Norton

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alejandro

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Barbaro

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marco Guay

  14. 5 out of 5

    Izzy Clarke

  15. 5 out of 5

    Steven Kolber

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brit M

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anish

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marcos

  19. 4 out of 5

    MusTii Fa

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alan Johnson

  21. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Flores Bueno

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jean-Marc Buchert

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nụ Phùngg

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susanne Ahlstrand

  25. 4 out of 5

    Luis Albillos benito

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pekka Mertala

  28. 5 out of 5

    Philippe

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aimee Shackleton

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nitin Rughoonauth

  31. 4 out of 5

    Benji

  32. 5 out of 5

    Nixon Sucuc

  33. 4 out of 5

    yishi

  34. 5 out of 5

    Osama Mehmood

  35. 5 out of 5

    Sohaam Khan

  36. 4 out of 5

    soup_enthusiast

  37. 4 out of 5

    Nuria

  38. 4 out of 5

    Mithuna

  39. 4 out of 5

    eliftech

  40. 4 out of 5

    Santiago Lozano Díaz

  41. 5 out of 5

    Jack

  42. 4 out of 5

    همّام

  43. 4 out of 5

    Marcia Steeves

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