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Today's blog question comes from a topic I read about in LinkedIn ( - can computers replace teachers?

This is an interesting question, and something to think about as our technology becomes more and more advanced. Yesterday I was twittering as I sitting in my living room watching tv with my boyfriend. And as we were sitting there, him on the iPad, and me on the iPod, half watching an older movie/quoting lines from the movie together, and half sliding our fingers across the Twitter screens on our perspective iOS devices, we began to Tweet back and forth to each other. Mind you, we were only about 2-3 feet away from each other and could reach out and grab each other's hands if we wanted to. But there we were communicating to each other through Twitter.

This brought to mind another scene I've seen quite often in my own children, and at times, with my students, and that is texting to each other while standing next to each other. (Is texting the new talking?)

I bring these two scenarios up to show just how reliant we have become as a society on our digital devices. And, I'm sure Hollywood would like for us to believe that there is some possibility for computers to replace our teachers. After all, they've had a holographic program replace a doctor, a robot replace a boy, and an artificial intelligent man become a beloved member of a household, even to the point of becoming the great-granddaughter's husband.

This question also reminds me of a short story I wrote in one of my college English classes some years back about a day when technology failed in an elementary school and everyone had to revert back to battery powered lanterns to light the class, and books (actual hard covered paper books) to teach the class. This sounded very futuristic at the time that it was written, but with so many school districts moving forward in the next five years replacing textbooks with digital copies on tablets, some of those thoughts are not so far-fetched as they once were.

My thinking is that while we may be moving more towards a digital horizon where tablets replace textbooks, and biometrics built into OLED desktops take the place of old fashioned attendance records, students still need teachers. While it may seem like teachers are being replaced by computers with so many online classes are being offered, and students are able to work at their own pace rather than sitting in a physical classroom listening to a lecture by a flesh-and-blood instructor, teachers (certified teachers, at that) are still the ones responsible for planning the syllabus and course work offered in the online courses, and still may be providing the lectures, even if they are recorded.

Today's high schoolers, and some middle school students have the opportunity for acceleration (or remediation) through virtual schools, but the course work, curriculum road maps, tests, assessments, and even data collection, are still done, planned, and evaluated by certified teachers.

As a twenty-first century teacher, it is our duty to integrate technology into the classroom; however the integrated technology is by no means a replacement for our teaching, merely a tool or means of presentation. It is still our duty to evaluate and monitor student progress, measure the lessons according to benchmark standards, and differentiate instruction as we see fit to meet the needs of our students. Teachers make decisions everyday that affect their future lesson plans based on many aspects of his or her students' responses to an activity, some of which is read through body language, and the teacher's understanding of the student.

Sure computers are capable of evaluating and making decisions based on responses, but not to the level of complexity and humanity that a real, live, breathing teacher is capable of. A computer's decisions are based on a series of if-then clauses, zeroes and ones; opened and closed. No computer can evaluate the depth and richness of a student's artwork, or appreciate the complexity of creative dance move. If it could, my bet is that a teacher wrote the algorithm.

What's your take on this? Is it possible for computers to replace teachers? If yes, to what extent?

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Comment by Courtney Zobrist on July 14, 2011 at 6:32pm

I currently teach kindergarten and I don't know if a computer could ever replace a kindergarten teacher. I say this because this a student's true first beginning to school. Yes, they may have had pre-school, but for most kindergarteners they are now headed to the "big" school. The first six weeks are crucial in kindergarten and students are so young and can be so apprehensive. This time of year is very hectic and stressful as students are adjusting.


Students are learning the basics of school such as raising hands, treating others nicely, walking in a line, etc. Amongst, these things students are also building relationships with one another and with their teacher. How well can students build a relationship with a computer? 


While I do think technology is important, especially in the 21st century, I just don't think a computer could replace a teacher. 

Comment by Noelle Federico on July 11, 2011 at 1:18am
I'm currently a senior at Illinois State University and I'm enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program and from my perspective I definitely don't think computers can replace teachers. For younger children, they gain so much from the relationship with their teacher. For older children I think it's beneficial to have a teacher in front of them to learn life experiences from and to make a student teacher connection. Personally, I always learned better in a classroom with a teacher compared to an online class. I didn't like walking down the hall and not knowing who my teacher was. I like the connection I make with most teachers and I think personally knowing your teacher is something that a computer cannot replace, whether the teacher is sitting on the other side or not.
Comment by Pat Orange on July 8, 2011 at 10:05pm

Unfortunately, at the levels far above those of us who are using tools of presentation, monitoring, evaluating, differentiating, being the liaison between parent and student, diffusing normal teenage arguments, modeling how to be productive members of society, etc. etc. are individuals who are basing decisions on economic and 'theoretical' premises.


To many of them, the idea of replacing (for example) elective course teachers with what they consider 'online equivalents' will save money and still offer credits in these areas.  It seems cost effective to have 25 students in computer lab learning perhaps 6 different electives online.  Those of us who actually TEACH one-on-one in the classroom realize their folly in this thinking.


The kids of the current generations are already quite happy to function in their own electronic world of communication without having to 'live in the moment' of what is currently happening around them in the physical world.  Replacing teachers with online "equivalents" seems the next natural step.


To me, it seems like we are cultivating these students to identify TOO WELL with the growing number of autistic children/people . . . .those in their own little world, socially inept, inflexible, and extremely reluctant to deal with social situations.

Comment by Michelle Tona on July 7, 2011 at 10:13pm

Thanks for your comments, Ashley. Its interesting that you brought up low income students and how it brought a new perspective that they would not have otherwise seen. I've noticed many students, mostly from low income families, but not always, that have never been exposed to computers. (I know, hard to believe, for us geeks!) For some students, I see the idea of computers replacing teachers, or becoming their teachers similar to culture shock, like learning a whole new language. Also for some students, physical teachers in the classroom is the only real exposure they have in social interactions with adults. Some crave the hugs and the positive contact. I don't see computers or any technology being able to fulfill this need.


I, too, look forward to more responses.

Comment by Ashley West on July 7, 2011 at 4:38pm



This is such an interesting topic in education.  I am recently graduated from undergraduate studies and it seems that even in the past two years, there has been a huge push for technology in the classrooms.  At my previous district, the 8th graders took an econ class via web.  For low income students, it was engaging and brought a new perspectivce that they would not have seen otherwise.  However, I feel that technology is for exposure and experience.  Computers don't have compassion and they can not talk to children about their feelings.  We will see technology go only so far, but they have limits. 


I look forward to more responses!



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