Teaching, AI, Automation

[537 words]

This is just a brief comment on probable conditions and possibilities as teachers deal with increasingly automated digital tools and environments animated by AI agents. In all honesty, for the short and middle terms, it is unlikely that teachers will be “replaced” or have their status greatly undermined by these technological developments. However, online teachers will definitely need to adapt and learn to work with automated and AI-informed tools.

Why am I so confident that teachers are not likely to be replaced by AI? There are three primary reasons.

First, learning is a core human trait. Machine learning and AI are not nearly complex and adaptive enough to mimic or overtake human accomplishments in learning or teaching. A teacher’s attunement to learners’ emotional lives, intellectual development, and social well-being is an extremely complex set of skills. Being able to use that awareness to guide learning effectively adds a layer of complexity and complication to that skill set. However impressive sci-fi visions of AI may be, they do not match the realities of today or even of tomorrow. I truly do not believe that any AI process will outstrip human social skill and emotional attunement any time soon. Not in formal education. Not in informal learning.

Secondly, many humans resist learning from machines. They see teaching and learning as human activities that require social connection and relationship-building. For them, learning may not be reduced to mere cognitive accomplishment. Even those who enjoy MOOCs and other kinds of highly automated learning environments often desire some degree of contact with real human beings, with identifiably human artifacts, images and behaviors. Machines do not have the same charisma, passion or charm as humans and they are unable to produce credible counterfeit versions of human interactions. (Mr. Turing’s test has not yet been passed.) Effective teachers — even those who work remotely online — know how to reach the learners that they are working with. They know how to stimulate their enthusiasm and model intellectual performance and critical inquiry for learners. Machines will have a hard time learning to mimic those comportments in authentic and convincing ways, although they certainly can lead learners mechanically through certain processes, thereby teaching some skills.

Third, machine learning and human learning are too different to mesh easily or well, especially since machine learning is relative primitive and simple, even as it develops complexity with great rapidity.

In contrast to all of the foregoing, I would also warn that teachers would be well advised to pay attention to intelligent digital tools, automated apps and AI agents that can help support human learning. It is the way of the future, based on extrapolation from the ways in which companies, educational institutions and individual learners treat use AI apps and agents now. The future of this kind of cooperative arrangement, this human-machine assemblage, will require both skill and desire on the part of humans if the distinct elements are to mesh well. It would behoove us to learn to interact and cooperate with machines flexiily and skillfully for more effective, targeted and efficient learning. In truth, despite their shortcomings in imitating or supplanting humans, many automated tools are superbly helpful. So…

Teachers, please, do not fear AI. At the same time, be sure that you avoid ignoring it. Doing so could be a grave error.