What's the relationship between Education Technology and Teachers?
The most common sense answer is that education technology is the new mode and the teachers are the old mode, linked somewhat in an asymmetric relationship like the one between the weavers and textile factories. The former is just an inefficient form of doing things which technology can do much better, or at least, be able to do much better when it becomes smarter eventually.
Others take a kinder view of teachers and teaching. They actually contend ed-tech will be good for teachers. The advent of ed-tech, in this view, is the panacea for the 'cost disease' of education, because, as the economist William Baumol has affirmed, education is one of those trades where the 'productivity' of the Professor does not go up much, though their salaries keep going up. This problem is at the heart of the runaway costs of education in the developed world, particularly in the US, where college fees beat inflation and all other increased costs by a handy margin.
And, yet, both of these views are perhaps mistaken. When we think ed-tech will replace the teachers, we treat education as transfer of some information and teachers or technologies as alternate mediums of doing so. But we all perhaps know that the act of teaching is not just about transfer of information, and two people can transfer an equal amount of information and still be good and bad teachers. All the other aspects of teaching, of inspiration, of empathy, of negotiation, of judgement, remains well beyond the domains of technology and will perhaps remain in the foreseeable future. This is why when two Oxford academics looked at all the 600-odd occupational categories that exist in a modern economy and tried to project which ones are likely to be automated within the next twenty years, no forms of teaching deemed to be at risk of becoming redundant (and if it consoles, accountants and coders are very likely to go).
The second view is also mistaken because the costs of college education has not risen above the inflation and everything else for the rise of teaching costs, but primarily because the business model of the universities have changed. From teaching communities, they have become managerial bureaucracies; from institutions deeply linked to localities or purposes, they have become multinational corporations in the quest of global dominance or prominence. The call to make universities more business-like to control costs is wrong because universities have raised the costs because they have become more business-like. With Ed-tech, as long as the conversation is about replacing the teaching communities (and its attendant spirit and values) with clever programmes and server farms, the costs are not going to go down.
However, there is a third possible relationship, which gets a lot less airtime. This view is ignored is primarily because those who talk about education technology, they are usually not educators and never want to be one. They miss the point about what educators really do, perhaps deliberately: Because if they did, they would have understood that what ed-tech does is done by textbooks or blackboards or PowerPoint presentations in a classroom, but not by the teacher. Smarter ed-tech may replace the medium currently used, but it may not replace the user, the teacher, who is in charge of 'sense-making'. Essentially, ed-tech and teaching are operating at two different plains.
If so, then we should be looking at an economic phenomenon called Jevons' Paradox (see the details here) named after the Economist William Stanley Jevons. Though his observations were mainly about energy use and still a big thing in energy economics, the central point he made, that technology-led efficiency may increase rather than decrease the requirement of a resource, may apply to technology-led transformation of education and teaching. At least the last great and lasting technological transformation of education, the use of textbooks by Jean Comenius, only increased the power and prestige of teaching, and even created, I shall argue, a professional teaching class.
The current lack of understanding of what teachers do partly stem from such professionalisation, where teachers tend to treat all conversations about technological change as unnecessary intrusions in their turf and to block all conversations. But the view that many ed-tech enthusiasts take, that teachers will be made redundant as they failed to move with technology, like the medieval guilds, is wrong, because technology is nowhere close to doing what teachers do. And, also, the resistance of a profession may be a good rather a bad thing, because it acts as a screening and validation mechanism for innovations. We need Doctors not just to treat us but also to make sure that the medicines we take are safe and appropriate, and while medical profession have had its own share of dogma, we have had more than enough evidence that the free market system of alternative therapies, bootleggers and counterfeiters may not be preferable as a replacement.
However, if we inform ourselves with the possibility of a Jevons' Paradox in case of Ed-tech and Teaching, that Ed-Tech won't replace teachers but may rather re-establish their prestige and hopefully a premium for what they do, this may start changing some of the key assumptions in the Ed-Tech community. True to the 'infotopia' that the technology entrepreneurs and their investors sign up to, the goal of ed-tech is often 'disintermediation', the cutting out of the middlemen such as teachers and going direct to the 'consumers', the learners themselves. But that may be less of a smart goal than it perhaps sounds: The learners who can learn themselves perhaps already learn themselves. The 'non-consumers' of learning, which these brilliant formula-driven creative minds are after, are often non-consumers because they need more mediation and not less of it. This understanding may shift the ed-tech's vision from learner as the consumer to the teachers as their users. And, if this sounds like a bad business plan, one should simply ask Google, Wikipedia or Apple.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.