Is there a role for the teacher in the world of Artificial Intelligence?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Some reflections on the Reimagine Education Conference, San Francisco, 29-30 November 2018  

Does artificial intelligence mean teachers will be redundant in the classrooms of the future? Not according to discussions at Reimagine Education.

I have just returned from the Reimagine Education conference and awards. The event gathered some of the foremost global thinkers in education to share the latest concepts and ideas. The conference and awards are run annually to celebrate and share the best technological advances in education; to reimagine and shape its future. It also brings Edtech investors and entrepreneurs together. PG Online was delighted to accept the award for the best solution for “Presence Learning” i.e. improving learning outcomes in traditional learning environments, rather than by distance learning. We were also in the top 10 of the 1186 awards entries for 2018 from 39 nations. This meant that we were in the running for the top prize of $25,000 for the best in show.

We missed out on the top prize; which went to a brilliantly conceived student crowdsourced exam question platform. Peerwise was conceived and created by a passionate academic at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. We did receive praise from all quarters for identifying the huge wastage from lesson resource duplication as the problem to solve. Our peers from across the world recognised the issue and the elegance of how we were helping teachers reclaim their time to focus on the individual needs of their students.

The role of the teacher, at all levels in education, will likely be redefined by the forces of time and technology. It is now broadly accepted that active learning is the most effective way to educate. Very much at one with our philosophy of “never telling what you could ask”. As I have long suspected, one-directional lectures are now demonstrated to be an ineffective way of engaging students. Learners need to be involved in the subject matter, to consider problems and take risks in attempting to solve them. Knowledge is no longer the most important measure of learning.

Jaime Casap, Education Evangelist at Google, pointed out that students in 8th grade today will consider the latest iPhone as the most basic technology they will experience in their lives - very sobering. It will be this generation that will have the power of IBM Watson and other forms of AI, at their fingertips. So, knowledge of facts will be redundant and surpassed by the abilities of Artificial Intelligence, where any question can be answered in an instant.

Does this mean that teachers will be redundant in the classrooms of the future replaced by these all-powerful forms of intelligence? The consensus from the conference was that in fact teachers will be more necessary than ever. The personal relationship with students will be crucial to the establishment of their curiosity and problem-solving abilities; so vital to fulfil roles in the volatile and uncertain society of the future. Instead of simply passing on subject knowledge, teachers will be required to use this knowledge to ask pertinent questions of their students, to get them to use the vast knowledge at their fingertips. It will redefine the whole teacher to student relationship. Teachers will drive their students deeper into the subject, to establish a real understanding of the basis of the concepts and ideas, not a superficial level of knowledge.

In this way teachers will challenge and push students, encouraging them to be brave and take risks. This confidence can then be applied in whatever role they choose to perform. Therefore, rather than merely being coached to pass examinations, with all the stresses that this involves, students will take a knowledge of how to embrace and flourish in the process of learning. This is also reflected in a recent article by the forecasters Nesta, where they predict the demise of exams.

So instead of the future looking bleak for teachers, where classrooms are taken over by roboteach, they will be liberated by these powerful tools and work on an individual level to bring out the creativity and curiosity of the student. Their students will then go out into the world equipped and able to apply all the knowledge at their fingertips. They will not merely have a bunch of qualifications, but a desire and an ability to solve problems.

Dan Vivian, Commercial Director, December 2018