While technology in the classroom can facilitate and complement learning very well, the computers available for students today have a major shortcoming — their inability to interact with humans. For all our advancements in tech, today’s computers are not able to teach children how to question ideas, consider varying perspectives, discern among sources of information, think about consequences, be creative, or to practice good judgment in different situations. The Guardian notes that humans are social animals, and there is something about human connection between teachers and students that computers simply can’t replace. With the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), perhaps one day we can expect that instead of an ordinary computer, an intelligent machine might be able to replace teachers in a classroom.
Before we step into the future, however, let’s look back and see how computer learning evolved. In the early 1960s, research conducted by Professor Donald Blitzer, an electrical engineer at the University of Illinois, aimed to create one of the world’s first teaching computers. By 1972, Blitzer’s software, called Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO), was being used nationwide on a network that allowed thousands of terminals to simultaneously connect. While the aim was to eventually replace teachers, his program mainly served to complement human interaction. More than 40 years after PLATO, interest in computer-assisted learning and instruction is surging, with companies providing “intelligent tutors” for what’s being called “adaptive instruction” or “personalized learning.”
These intelligent tutors and learning programs are flourishing in fields of exact sciences like mathematics and physics. Maryville University describes how with online physics learning, it has become convenient and fun for kids to learn how the entire universe works. Through different interactive pages, videos, and sources of information, complex concepts like motion, light, and gravity can be taught to children. In addition, The Fiscal Times reports that some types of software even aim to mimic real-life classroom experiences and situations, such as a school biology laboratory. In these learning situations, a computer could possibly replace a human teacher, as exact sciences, with very few exceptions, have constrained, structurally defined answers. In contrast, in domains where student performance is more nuanced and there are no exact answers, machines have not been able to replace humans. Computers are not yet able to properly read semantic meaning, although with advancement in technology that will soon change.
The concept of AI can be difficult to grasp for many, especially when trying to think how it can be applied to education. Would AI lead to the replacement of traditional classrooms and teachers? Even with the advancements in AI and machine learning, today’s technology is still far from being able to teach children about empathy, managing emotions, making responsible decisions, and maintaining positive relationships. Although not always explicitly placed in school curricula and syllabi, these are all important components of student-teacher relationships. For now, AI could be used to show students mastery of a subject, repeat lessons and design personalized learning plans for each student. They could also be used to provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant in the classroom, which can, in turn, free up a teacher’s time to allow for more personalized interactions with each student.
With classroom technology constantly evolving and students becoming more reliant on computers, there is also a need for stricter monitoring and diligence. Giving children full access to the internet and its abundance of information may not be in anyone’s best interests, especially when done before they’ve had the chance to develop self-control and responsibility. Moreover, while young students are extremely comfortable with technology, many teachers may not be so inclined and do not always share the same level of sophistication. Here at Educators of America we provide classroom technology training and development to allow education professionals and teachers to become immersed with new classroom technology to better protect their students as well as help them learn.
Article specially written for educatorsusa.org
Contributed by Amber Thompson