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Are Teachers Headed For Obsolescence? 570

dstates writes "One Laptop Per Child reports encouraging results of a bold experiment to reach the millions of students worldwide who have no access to primary school. OLPC delivered tablets to two Ethiopian villages in unmarked boxes without instructions or instructors. Within minutes the kids were opening the boxes and figuring out how to use the Motorola Zoom tablets, within days they were playing alphabet songs and withing a few months how to hack the user interface to enable blocked camera functionality. With the Kahn Academy and others at the high school level and massive open online courses at the college level, are teachers going the way of the Dodo?"
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Are Teachers Headed For Obsolescence?

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  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:35AM (#41803327)

    Yeah, you try to implement something that threatens teacher jobs and just WATCH what happens, sparky. I was once part of an effort to design some online courses (just a few, mind you) for a local school district and learned the hard way to watch my step when treading anywhere near teachers. Unfortunately, my superiors made the STUPID mistake of pitching the program to the district as being a potential money-saver (since fewer teachers would be needed to oversee the online courses than traditional classroom courses). The teachers mobilized like a fucking Roman Legion.

    Now, for those of you dumb enough to think that teachers are sweet old schoomarms with low salaries and little power...well, you just keep thinking that. But I know that they broadsided us like the a school bus. Suddenly, those sweet schoolmarms were on every newscast, decrying the courses as a poor substitute for classroom education, something that "cheated the students," as Satan incarnate basically. Their union was all but threatening to break legs. School district elected officials were told in no uncertain terms that the sweet schoolmarms were ready to bend them over and do bad things to them with a slide rule at the next election. We learned the hard way what happens when you threaten the schoolmarms' jobs in ANY way.

    Needless to say, our online course plan was SIGNIFICANTLY modified. Most notably, provisions were added to make it clear that the online courses were to be treated exactly like classroom courses, with a teacher getting assigned to each one just as if he/she were in the classroom each day teaching it as a traditional course (even if they basically had to do nothing)--complete with the same class size limitations as a traditional course. Even though this all made no sense with online courses, it's what we had to do to get them implemented. Not a single teacher job was to be lost, nor salary reduced, nor workload increased (only significantly decreased).

    Teachers and their unions are masters at playing the emotion card. And they are PR masters too. We're talking teachers, some of whom were making north of $80k a year in this district (and this was in an area with a relatively low cost of living, mind you), who were able to convince everyone that they weren't getting paid enough and needed raises (4-6% annual raises, EVERY YEAR). You fuck with them at your own peril.

    • where are you that teachers make $80K? That does not jive with national salary rates.
      • where are you that teachers make $80K?

        Europe . . . ?

        • More like Hong Kong, I suppose. :-) Or Taiwan, if the teacher are extremely unlucky!
        • by sarysa ( 1089739 )
          Teachers in many California districts can make more than most engineers, and the majority of them get lifelong pensions. Talking about public school teachers, mind you. I agree with the thread starter. The teachers WILL take heavy casualties as the information age blossoms and is more offreely distributed, but it will take a long time because of said teachers union. I suspect the only way for it to happen is for self studiers of unaccredited online courses to enter the workforce without massive student debt
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by macbeth66 ( 204889 )

        Try New York City, for one. You do need to eat if for a few years and get your Masters degree, but the pay does become quite good.

        Particularly when you consider that it comes with a three month vacation. And before you start with how teachers are doing work during the summer, date a couple of teachers, especially the lower grades.

        • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:13AM (#41803797) Journal

          So... you consider 80k to pay for living in NYC quite good pay, when you got a Masters degree?

          You got to be fucking kidding me, that is low pay for a tech flunkie.

          And you contract yourself, how many teachers for lower grades got a Masters degree?

          My bet is your a republican by the ease by which you select among several made up statistics to combine in a non-existing entity which you claim to represent everything.

          Proof me wrong, become a teacher if the pay is so good and the vacations that long, you would have to be an idiot not to switch. So why haven't you? Because you know you are pulling stats out of your ass?

          • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:28AM (#41803979)

            And you contract yourself

            meet "The Incredible Shrinking... Contractionist!"

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Come on he has the ability to proof you wrong....

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:51AM (#41805211) Homepage Journal

            And you contract yourself... My bet is your a republican... Proof me wrong

            Well, your grade school teachers certainly were way overpaid.

          • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:52AM (#41805241)

            Yes, 80k with teachers' benefits is great pay for someone who is average at their job, even when living in New York City. With teachers' pensions, extra time off, and other benefits, that amounts to more like 120k-150k in the private sector (depending on how you value about 15 paid weeks off per year). That is plenty of money for New York City (not much for a single income family, but very few careers offer enough salary for that).

            I do agree that this salary doesn't match what a truly exceptional employee with a Masters degree could make, but that is the teacher unions' fault. I would love for the top 10% of teachers (not based on years of experience) to average $150k in salary, but that will not happen any time soon. Until the unions get out of the way, you can only pay teachers based on what an average teacher is worth.

            And forget about comparing salaries to people in other careers with a Masters degree. With only one exception, every person I know that got a Masters degree in teaching just found a diploma mill so they could easily bump their salary 12k per year. They didn't have to worry about the school's credentials or wonder if their degree would actually help further their career. Just pay $30k for a degree, and get back a guaranteed $350k in inflation adjusted lifetime earnings and an extra $10k on top of your pension. (the one exception I mentioned earlier was an SLP, and she was underpaid because her pay scale was tied to the same average teachers that went to diploma mills)

            Also, it is rediculous to tell people they should just be a teacher if they think the job is so great. For one, this is tax money paying for teachers' salaries. As long as the government forces people to pay taxes, people have a right voice grievances over how that money is spent. And secondly, being a teacher only really pays off if you start at the age of 22. Their pay is based on years of experience, not competence. I shaped up my career when I was 29, and doubled my salary in less than two years. Someone in their 30s cant just switch over to teaching and enjoy the same benefits as everyone else, as opposed to most other professions where after a few years of experience it doesn't really matter if you have 5 years or 20. Oh, and third, starting a career in education right now is really really tough. Even those who aren't just in it for an easy career can't find jobs because school districts are still paying the outrageous salaries of more tenured teachers.

            • Oh, and third, starting a career in education right now is really really tough. Even those who aren't just in it for an easy career can't find jobs because school districts are still paying the outrageous salaries of more tenured teachers.

              Keep on contradicting yourself. Either the pay is good or it is bad. Can't be both at the same time, well except in Romney land.

        • by fishthegeek ( 943099 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:49AM (#41805165) Journal
          A three month vacation? Pardon me but uhmmmmm no. What you get as a teacher is a three month layoff without pay. Yes they might receive paychecks but that is money withheld from their "in-session" checks. As for working during the summer, yes teachers do. Even if it's two weeks it's still two weeks without pay.
      • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:55AM (#41803559)

        They didn't all make that (I believe the average is $52k in my state). But quite a few of them did. You can imagine what 30 years of 4-6% yearly raises and bonuses for tons of other stuff (incl. a $9,000 a year bonus for becoming nationally certified) would get you to from an already generous starting salary. Teachers were actually some of the better paid people in the county I was in.

      • by craigminah ( 1885846 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:04AM (#41803701)
        Teachers in Chicago make nearly that yet their students' score poorly on standardized tests.
        • by jjohnson ( 62583 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @12:24PM (#41805867) Homepage

          More than 80% of students in Chicago public schools are poor enough to qualify for free lunches. Try improving the test scores of a group of kids living under the poverty line.

          My wife teaches at an inner city high school. She has kids who skip school to work fast food jobs because their parent is a junkie and they're the only one bringing money in; students who skip to watch siblings while their single parent works; students who can't sleep because they hear sirens all night; students whose parents didn't teach them to wash with soap; students whose parents get drunk and trash their textbooks because they're offended that their kid might try to be smarter than them; students who haven't eaten in days, or whose only meal is the free lunch.

          She had a student approach a speaker she brought in on bullying (afterwards), and tell him that he was being raped several times a week by a group of boys in the school.

          Every problem to do with poverty shows up in the public schools. Among the many idiocies of standardized tests is that poor kids require a ton of effort just to get them to focus on being in school. You can't even start educating them until you've mitigated the worst of their circumstances somehow. You can't even start on test scores until you've solved basic social issues with poverty that are far out of your scope as a teacher--and in Chicago's public school system, that's a majority of the kids.

      • where are you that teachers make $80K? That does not jive with national salary rates.

        In my school district (Santa Clara, California) elementary school teachers make an average of $78k. Many make more than $80k. If you live in California, you can use this site [] to see what teachers in your district are paid.

        • Okay, but cherry picking the highest standard of living places (major cities, California, New York) doesn't mean "all teachers are making too much". Garbage men in NYC get $60K/yr, IIRC.
      • by dywolf ( 2673597 )


      • by wiggles ( 30088 )

        Chicago []

      • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

        where are you that teachers make $80K? That does not jive with national salary rates.

        Senior teachers. Average teacher pay is no where near 80k, and starting teacher pay is less than half of that. But if you can get a job in teaching and stay in the profession for 25 or 30 years you can get up to 70 or 80 in big cities.

        One of my highshool buddies is about 65k, and that's after 10 years. His cost of living makes that not really a great salary for the area, but it's not bad.

      • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:17AM (#41803849)

        That does not jive with national salary rates

        That don't jibe neither, honky! ;)

      • Rochester, NY.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Don't forget, the teacher's union got teachers awesome perks.

        Retirement, bonuses for continuing education, health benefits, etc ... all paid for by the school system.

        - Mother was an accountant for a school system.

        It's like the cops who complain at the crappy pay they get, but what you don't hear publicly, is all the perks and shift differentials, holiday pay, and also an awesome retirement. If a cop works a Sunday night that is also Christmas, he'll make a weeks pay in one night - and all he has to do is

        • by gutnor ( 872759 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:51AM (#41805215)

          awesome perks

          You mean standard perks a generation or 2 ago ? Actually people spent the last 20 years explaining how better everyone would be by getting the union and pesky government off the workplace. So following that theory, without the unions the teachers would make a lot more than 80K and have much better perks, no wonder they complain and it is so hard to find good ones.

        • by jjohnson ( 62583 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @12:27PM (#41805921) Homepage

          When did the U.S. become a nation that hates people who get paid well for doing a job that takes skill and training? When did a job that paid well and offered good benefits and the possibility of a good retirement, become something that you should be ashamed of having, rather than being a core part of the engine of the economy, the middle class?

          • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )

            When did the U.S. become a nation that hates people who get paid well for doing a job that takes skill and training?

            I ask the same, it's like some conspiracy to drive people's salaries to poverty wages and a real shame teachers are taking a huge hit on this. Reality check: A 4-year college degree is a minimum to become a teacher, there's more to it than that. Then once hired as a teacher the pay is low when compared to other degreed professions but higher than minimum wage. Then there is large amounts of work to prepare for the next day, many spend a lot of time at home preparing lesson plans. Some do well but probably i

      • by jjohnson ( 62583 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @12:12PM (#41805663) Homepage

        It's easy to find teachers in North America making $80k. Sometimes that's just handling cost of living in an area like New York, but frequently it comes from a trick education "reformers" have pushed over the last few decades to gut the unions.

        1. Offer teachers per student overage fees to handle larger than normal classes. Teachers agree because, hey, the district is going to screw us on class size anyway, might as well get paid for it.
        2. Lay off/make redundant/fire every second teacher, dumping those students on the first teacher, who now makes not-double their salary, but quite a lot more. Bitching and moaning ensue, district makes noise about saving taxpayers money, parents who voted in Republicans say "at least our taxes didn't go up..."
        3. Wait a couple years.
        4. Run for office on a platform of cutting teacher's salaries and point to the gym teacher making $90k/year because he's got a class of 60 students. Cue outraged parents exclaiming "why does my kid's teacher make more than me! I'm a manager!"
        5. Salaries are frozen, or experienced/high paid teachers are laid off, and inexperienced teachers hired in their stead who don't get the overage fee originally negotiated.

        Unions are the front lines of the class size debate. Every administrator wants to increase class size to economize on the number of teachers. Teachers want to keep class sizes sane so they can actually teach as opposed to doing crowd control. The union negotiates class size limits. This is how districts con the union into breaking class size limits, and it's a trap.

    • by Wonko the Sane ( 25252 ) * on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:41AM (#41803399) Journal

      I was basically going to post this very thing but you beat me to it.

      Unionized government employees do not simply step aside gracefully and change jobs or learn new skills. They fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo, with increasing ferocity the more obsolete they become.

    • by ctrlshift ( 2616337 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:51AM (#41803511) Homepage
      I'm stunned that this is the first place this conversation went. The article is about the ability of a digital device to do the job of a teacher and the first thing people can think of to say is that they're overpaid and too politically entrenched to remove. It really is election season isn't it...
      • by rhsanborn ( 773855 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:46AM (#41804193)
        The bigger problem is that people don't recognize that these devices AREN'T replacing the teacher. They can make the teacher way more effective. Think of the classroom like an assembly line for a moment. Traditional teaching has one person working (the teacher) during lecture and the other 30 are relatively inactive. Now, we can let the kids consume the lecture on their own, at their own pace, and they can come to school and do examples, and problems, and there are 30 students in the classroom actively working. They can ask each other questions, and can escalate questions to the teacher. Right now, we let them be inactive, and then send them home where, often, there isn't a person they can ask questions of, to do their homework. If they are completely lost, they wasted a full day, and have to wait until the next day to ask questions, which often means they are behind for the new day's lecture as well.
    • TFA is about an OLPC deployment in Africa. So maybe teachers in Africa and other developing nations are more replaceable than their unionized counterparts in the US and other industrialized, or should that be de-industrializing, countries? I see the Orwellian possibilities of replacing skilled or moderately skilled teachers with government minders whose only job would be to ensure that the kids are using the tablets in the prescribed manner. Obviously there would be holes in the most locked-down product, bu

    • > (4-6% annual raises, EVERY YEAR)

      Am I the only one who thinks a 4% annual raise -- that's ~1.5% annually above inflation -- is a perfectly normal rate of increase? I would hope that a year of experience would be worth a 2% raise. That's going from $50k salary to $51k salary, with inflation adjustment. Not exactly Goldman Sachs.

    • by Rivalz ( 1431453 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:24AM (#41803931)

      Here is what I anticipate something along these lines in the next 10+ years.

      1) Students are required to learn via computer.
      2) Reduce the number of Course hours by 2 and extend Art, Music, Sports, Ect time by two hours.
      3) Students who progress test poorly via computer are forced to have extended after school tutoring with 4 kids per teacher for two hours extra of school per day of your grades slip below a B or you TEST anything below a C.
      4) The hours that students report to tutoring is in blocks. Teacher has 8 blocks allowing for 32 dumb students.
      5) Kids that get an F require 2 Hours of EXTRA tutoring 1 student per teacher.

      Kids are motivated to stay in C+ range because they don't want to be required stay after school later and miss out on sports or whatever they do at home.
      Teachers are still on staff for tutoring basis but not as many and hopefully only the ones that work well with students who have learning issues.
      If a student wishes to OPT for Tutoring they can do so.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:38AM (#41803351)


  • Two Things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:38AM (#41803355) Journal
    The idea that pieces of software and one way communication videos can compete with responsive human beings and solely provide first world education is laughable.

    The idea that a third world nation can spend little and utilizes said technologies is critical to their economic success and transitioning to second and first world status.

    Yes, these things will successfully replace teachers where there were no teachers in the first place. Everywhere else they are important as augmenting tools on the path of education but the place where they will make the most progress for us is where they need teachers but have none.
    • Re:Two Things (Score:5, Insightful)

      by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:57AM (#41803611)

      good teachers will be replaced the day that someone creates software which can teach a student something, have them explain it back, understand their explanation and the subtle ways in which they are wrong and correct them.

      bad teachers on the other hand will be replaced the day that someone videos a teacher scribbling half legible stuff on the board while students try to copy it down.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        bad teachers on the other hand will be replaced the day that someone videos a teacher scribbling half legible stuff on the board while students try to copy it down.

        Nonsense. Public school teachers are not replaced for something as trivial as being unable to teach. At my daughter's school (Chaboya Middle School in San Jose, California), her science teacher received so many complaints about her unintelligible accent, that she assigned each student a chapter to present, and the kids taught themselves. She is still employed.

    • The idea that pieces of software and one way communication videos can compete with responsive human beings and solely provide first world education is laughable.

      If you actually visited a classroom that uses these methods you might stop laughing. My son attends a public school in San Jose, California. They spend an hour a day using Khan Academy [] and IXL []. Each day the teacher has a parent come in and supervise the class. On Fridays, that is me.

      The kids work at their own pace. They start with basic third grade math, but can quickly move on to other subjects once they master that. Most of the kids have already mastered long division, graphing, etc., some are learn

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:38AM (#41803359)

    Slashdot's obsession with the disaster that is OLPC is laughable, as is the conclusion that it could replace teachers.

    Is an OLPC better than nothing? Yes. Is it better than a proper teacher and resources? Heck no.

  • by Metabolife ( 961249 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:39AM (#41803365)
    Siri will replace all teachers in the future.
  • No they are not. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by santax ( 1541065 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:40AM (#41803379)
    A good teacher is more than a textbook-reader. It's someone who sees in a kid, where it has strong points, where there are weak points. What the kid really gives shiny eyes in terms of interests and hobbies. He know if the kid has parents who are in a divorce and will anticipate on it. He will ask a normally happy kid that all of sudden is all down, what's wrong. So no, you can not replace a good teacher. A good teacher is a source of inspiration and a safe haven.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hilltaker7 ( 2718495 )
      Many modern teachers aren't even decent textbook-readers. I have five kids. The only reason they left high school with reasonable math and science skills is that they had a geek for a father who refused to allow their futures to slip away because their teachers were more concerned with politics then their jobs. (Note: I said nothing about my grammar skills.) :) Those that can, do. Those that can't join unions so that no one will know they can't.
      • by cffrost ( 885375 )

        I have five kids. The only reason they left high school with reasonable math and science skills is that they had a geek for a father [...]

        How many of those five were in the control group?

    • by jon3k ( 691256 )
      I agree, unfortunately you're talking about a very small percentage of teachers. Most of them have no interest in teaching or stop caring long ago. In my entire time as a student I never had a teacher like the one you described, ever. What would be great is if we could keep those great teachers you describe, get rid of all the bad ones, and then make the good ones more effective through the use of technology.
  • The fun they had! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:40AM (#41803385) Homepage Journal

    Asimov wrote a short fictional story about this in 1951 []. It' about a kid who finds an old-fashioned paper book in the attic. In the story, there are no classrooms, kids all learn from computer terminals.

  • by rjejr ( 921275 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:43AM (#41803409)
    Home-schooling, especially in the mid-western states, is a greater threat to teachers than OLPC.
  • by l3v1 ( 787564 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:44AM (#41803427)
    are teachers going the way of the Dodo?

    1. See Betteridge's law of headlines.

    2. No. But the current methodologies of teaching are. Unfortunately, teaching methods do not adapt fast enough, and this in turn causes a lot of trouble, e.g. kids not having enough and up-to-date knowledge and information about certain fields so as they can properly choose their further study fields, which can even result in badly planned and chosen careers (yes, this is a bit on the extreme side, but true nonetheless).
  • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:45AM (#41803439) Homepage Journal
    Within minutes the kids were opening the boxes and figuring out how to use the Motorola Zoom tablets, within days they were playing alphabet songs and withing a few months how to hack the user interface to enable blocked camera functionality.
    Just imagine what they could do if they had electricity.
    • Just imagine what they could do if they had electricity.

      It sounds as though these kids would do a better job of replacing most outsourcing teams..

  • Very Simple: No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thyamine ( 531612 ) <> on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:46AM (#41803441) Homepage Journal
    Anyone who has had to learn outside of a classroom understands that sometimes it's necessary: training manuals, certifications, just learning for personal enjoyment. Sometimes time and money are a factor. However, if you've ever struggled with a concept, you understand how much simpler it is when another person is involved imparting their knowledge in a personalized way to help you learn.
  • Short answer: No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chalnoth ( 1334923 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:50AM (#41803497)
    Having spent a lot of time in traditional education, and a lot of time teaching myself new things on the Internet, no, just throwing computers at kids is not going replace classroom education. The main difference between the two is depth and breadth. With a classroom education, you are confronted with topics that you are unlikely to have ever considered on your own, sometimes out of lack of interest, sometimes because the Internet tends to focus on certain aspects of various topics while ignoring others. You just can't get anything approaching a comprehensive education in any field just by reading things online.

    Perhaps even more importantly, a good fraction of education lies in not just learning facts, but in doing: in learning how to research a topic so as to produce a compelling argument, in learning how to solve problems, in learning how to perform laboratory experiments. These experiences are irreplaceable.

    But perhaps most crucially: most people just aren't self-motivated enough to educate themselves. And even for those that are, it isn't easy to do it yourself.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:51AM (#41803509) Journal

    Hey Samzenpus, when you hit rock bottom, STOP DIGGING!

    Sure, I can see it now. 2000 kids in high-school, no teachers.

    After the break, can monkeys be employed as caretakers for banana plantations. Next week an in-depth look at the results of giving the lunatics the keys to the asylum, test case: slashdot.

    For those who are terminally stupid/libertarians, most people need oversight at least part of the time. Give kids a tablet and they will indeed use it, just as easily as my generation used a dictionary. To look up dirty words and hitting other kids with.

    Yes some kids will indulge in self-study without encouragement, these kids need teachers most of all, to stop the other kids from beating them up.

    A tablet is not anymore a teacher then a TV is a baby sitter.

    • by jon3k ( 691256 )
      Why do you assume no teachers means no oversight? How about no classrooms and students learn at home on their own time, take their tests via the internet and then the scores are reported to the parents on a regular basis?

      I hate to be the one to tell you this, but teachers don't make kids study. Parents make kids study.

      For what it's worth, I don't think we'll ever get rid of teachers entirely. But I do think their role will just change dramatically.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A computer might be able to teach anyone how to program, math, English, etc. if they have the desire to learn, but it's the teachers job to give them that desire, and to assist, control and monitor the children.
    If a child has a problem, then a teacher can easily help, especially if the child needs another way to look at the issue.
    It's the teachers job to control the classroom and to make sure they don't start to beat up each other; another hard job at 2pm on a Friday.
    It is the teachers job to monitor the ch

  • by poity ( 465672 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:53AM (#41803539)

    But others do. A kid who has someone who can understand his thought processes and teach accordingly will come out better than if left alone (talking about the average kid here, not Mr G&T who'll be a physicist no matter what). So, I guess good teachers will always be needed, bad teachers have always been obsolete.

  • With video we can have great lecturers present the topics and even have streams where things are presented different ways so that individuals can select the stream that present things the way the learn. These can be covered at whatever rates the indiduals like.

    Teachers then can provide more individual help with problem solving.

  • by eepok ( 545733 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:57AM (#41803607) Homepage

    I know Slashdot loves to pull up these kinds of articles every time they're available. TED is susceptible similar lectures as well, so we who have actually worked in education have to keep our eyes open before the "computers will solve all our complex problems" crowd runs away with an invaluable source of social evolution.

    Before the average Slashdotter writes off brick-and-mortar schools in favor of online learning with justifications like, "I was always bored in class", "I was smarter than my teacher", and "Just be open to change!" consider this: Is your average Slashdotter ANYTHING like your average American student?

    The answer is that they simply are not. Slashdotters likely grew up in smaller than average social groups with access to technology. We adapt to new technology with little issue. We understand the underlying concepts of nested menus and function taxonomy. We are nerds and geeks who thrive on learning.

    The rest of America's children do not thrive on learning and providing online education will not change that.

    Having worked in middle schools, high schools, with community college transfer students, and then the resulting university undergrads, I have to say: If the general population doesn't HAVE to learn something or if there isn't something someone sufficiently passionate to help them learn something new regardless, they won't bother. Humanity is curious about the universe in that we consistently have some extremely smart people come to global acclaim for their works, but most people just want to live easy, have sex, and do so as long as possible.

    It's the role of the educator to affect everyone, regardless of station or passion, and get them the minimum (plus) standard of knowledge and analytical capability so that they can learn more things and more complex concepts at the next level. This is something a computer with programed or limited responses cannot do.

    Yes, OLPC can get kids excited about new things. Those children will NOT be starting hospitals in their villages with simple access to online education. They will not become cultural philosophers through online education. They will not begin building Motorola Zoom tablets with they learned via online learning. The concepts required to do any of those complex actions cannot be taught in a single plug-and-play manner. It requires a talented individual and as social an environment as possible to adjust the content to the user, to adjust the lesson plan to the person that day.

    The only way teachers will ever go obsolete is if we are ignorant to assume that computers will ever substitute for the adaptive human mind.

  • I'm a teacher . . . (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:58AM (#41803619)

    The thought that children will be able to learn anything by watching a video is just laughable...
    I teach middle school math, and the level of apathy and carelessness in work is very high. There is no substitute for students being in a classroom, actually doing work.
    However, if all you want to do is compare a LECTURE to a VIDEO, then sure, "teachers" can be replaced. However, "Teacher" in that context really is just "Lecturer".

    There's a lot more to teaching than being on a stage and talking at people. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant, selling something, or both.

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @09:59AM (#41803631) Homepage

    Yes, as soon as the printing press was invented, teachers became fundamentally unnecessary and put on the road to extinction, decreasing in number every year.


    • by jon3k ( 691256 )
      Right, because books and computers are interchangeable. I'm actually posting this from a copy of War and Peace.
  • 'withing a few months' speaking a Saxon dialect. Maybe they would discover the spellchecker 'withing' a few years.

  • If the story conforms to reality, this is great news, not only by its entertainment value. It throws an optimistic eye upon what human beings can do, are willing to learn and can adapt to. No, teachers are not going to be pushed into obsolescence for a long time yet, the interesting part of this story, to me, is with these Ethiopian kiddos. Who would not, anyway and prolly, have been reached by any teacher for quite some time.
  • I am Becky Ofori, an Ethiopian. Happily I received this laptop to tell you about my special situation. I am contacting you in respect of a family treasure of Gold deposited in my name by my late father who was a gold and diamond merchant. As a well known business man, and a strong politician...
    On the contrary, if you are a potential buyer, then a fresh agreement would be reached in respect of this transaction. I am looking forward to hear from you in respect as soon as you receive this fax.
  • by Robert Frazier ( 17363 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:15AM (#41803831) Homepage

    I'm a teacher (university). I'm afraid that I often use a rather antique method in teaching: the Socratic method. Since I teach philosophy, most often one-to-one or one-to-two, perhaps it isn't such an inappropriate method.

    If you can get a machine to do the teaching nearly as well and as inexpensively (although it isn't an inexpensive method), have at it.

    Best wishes,

  • Online teaching is really just one step removed from tech support. That's not real teaching any more than a video game is real life.
  • I taught myself how to program in BASIC at the age of six. In 6th grade I switched from BASIC to the more structured way of programming in Turbo BASIC. Then a year or two later I taught myself C++ using Turbo C++. I even accidentally discovered how to do a recursive descent parser along the way.

    However, it wasn't until I went to university and began to learn formal algorithm theory (from teachers), programming language theory, and computational theory, compiler design, that I was really able to put it al

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:39AM (#41804093) Homepage

    Current issue of American Educator has an interesting article -- 10-year study in Philadelphia, comparing rich and poor sections of town, in libraries where a multimillion dollar grant allowed them to provide equivalent resources in books and computer learning software. The results seen by those researchers are that the rich kids were guided by their parents in using all of those things, while the poor kids without any assistance or background knowledge failed to use them successfully. End result: poor kids actually fell more behind the rich than when they started out.

    "Over the 10 years we spent in these two libraries, the gap in the amount of time adolescents spent reading increased substantially. Regardless of technology (books or computers), reading tends to predominate in Chestnut Hill but not in Lillian Marrero. After years of technology improvements, there is now a larger gap between these two communities in the amount of time spent reading than before. In fact, our rough estimates indicate that 10- to 12-year-olds at Chestnut Hill were reading more than twice as many words as their peers at Lillian Marrero." [p. 23] []

    These are dedicated researchers studying the issue for 10 years. This is not the head of OLPC pitching questionable and unverifiable extraordinary claims, in the quest for more funding (“If it gets funded, it would need to continue for another a year and a half to two years to come to a conclusion that the scientific community would accept,” Negroponte said, FTA).

  • by erp_consultant ( 2614861 ) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:31AM (#41804883)

    In the 3rd world this is the model for how education will be done in the future. How many Stanford professors would be willing to travel in person to the African continent to conduct lectures? Not many I'm willing to bet. But prerecorded lectures could be easily available on cheap tablet computers. The main problems with university education is logistics (you have to travel to the class) and cost (it's too expensive - even for 1st world students). Prerecorded lectures are not ideal but they are a heck of a lot better than what is available to them now. And they can be delivered 1000 times cheaper than in person lectures.

    Because of the unions, and the political implications of campaign contributions, this is going to be difficult tower to topple. Universities are already starting to provide distance learning, partly to keep up with places like University of Phoenix and partly because of the sheer economics of it. Recorded lectures are way, way cheaper to provide. Eventually it will be like the news broadcasts - you have attractive actors reading from scripts. Presentation will become more important than content and content will become a commodity. One day you might see professors working as independent contractors and selling lectures by the download.

    However, as someone that has worked in Higher Ed I can tell you that things change there very slowly. If they are not careful the new technology will simply leapfrog over them.

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