One of the more frustrating ideas in the debate over how learning technologies should be advanced in modern classrooms is that they are somehow going to replace teachers. This recent piece in the Huffington Post touches on precisely that issue:
“Teachers are not, and cannot be automatons handing out information to students. They are leaders, guides, facilitators, and mentors. They encourage students when they struggle, and inspire them to set and reach for their goals. They are role models, leading by example and giving direction when necessary. A computer can give information, but a teacher can lend a hand, or an ear, and discern what’s necessary for a student to succeed, and to want to succeed. So yes, technology is going to play a critical role in the future of education. But not as big a role as that of a teacher.”
This is not an inaccurate statement by any means; research indicates that no factor is more significant in a child’s success in the classroom than a high quality teacher (other than the student’s home environment, which is obviously not the responsibility of the public school system). The problem with articles like the story sourced is that they play on a conflict where there shouldn’t be one.
Learning technologies, especially those incorporated through blended learning models, are meant to support teachers, not to replace them. They’re also meant to give more students access to high quality instructors, either through distance education or through larger on-site classrooms supported by technology. What we’re talking about here are tools, not magical devices that will take education over entirely.
You would be hard pressed to find many successful industries that have been unwilling to adopt new technologies in the name of improving both their product, and efficiency in the production of that product. For its part, education has been almost painfully cautious in taking advantage of new tools to improve classroom outcomes, particularly given its history of enthusiasm for adopting new, unproven teaching methods (the open classrooms movement comes to mind). There are a number of reasons for that (over regulation, lack of buy in among educators), but one of them should not be a technology vs. teachers environment. There should be a dialogue of cooperation in this arena, not one of conflict.