The Teacherless Classroom

I just published this post on Curriki’s blog, would be curious to hear thoughts from Literacy is Priceless readers…

Empty Classroom

In his recent New York Times article, “Virtual Classrooms Could Create a Marketplace for Knowledge,” author Anad Girdharadas writes:

In the autumn of 1963, the American magazine Popular Mechanics heralded an innovation that seemed bound to change the world: the ‘teacherless classroom’ … Fate and technology have pummeled many professions since 1963, from bookseller to travel agent to auto worker. But teachers have resisted the powerful forces reorganizing industry. The dream of the teacherless classroom has remained just that … Today the dream has returned.

Citing examples such at the Open Courseware Consortium, to iTunes U to Curriki, Girdharadas points out that education is no longer a seller’s market, where deans decide what you know, at what cost and where. With an increasing number of university professors and subject-specific enthusiasts putting their course materials and expertise online in multimedia formats, students (poor, rich, young and old) have a significant number of options when it comes to where to get (or rather how to build) an education. Furthermore, with this abundance of free or almost free courses and education resources online, universities and other certificate granting institutions have to compete on quality, price and convenience more than ever before.

Taking all of this into account, what do the aforementioned changes and market pressures mean for teachers and professors in terms of their role within the classroom and education marketplace? Or, as Independent Thinking founder Ian Gilbert writes in his forthcoming book, “Why do I need a Teacher when I’ve got Google?

Scott McNealy, Founder of Sun Microsystems and Curriki, states that educators will have to re-envision themselves as coaches. Their focus should move increasingly towards motivating learners and customizing materials to individual students, often including the work and expertise of others in the process. Or, as this Edutopia article points out, “It is better to coach than cajole”.

What do readers think? With the recent digital education explosion, how will (or rather how should) the role of the teacher and professor change? Where will educators teach/coach? How can we better prepare educators for their new roles and responsibilities in education?

Anna

Founder, Bon Education

Twitter @bon_education

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4 Responses to “The Teacherless Classroom”


  1. 1 dcwendland December 5, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    To answer Gilbert’s question, I would say that teachers bring passion and interest to subjects that Google never can. Perhaps we can look up any fact we ever would want to know with Google, but Google can’t teach you the importance that fact has on YOUR life, why it matters to the student. If facts fail to have personal importance or connection, they fail to matter at all. It’s great that we have all these other tools to increase the classroom experience, but teachers never can, and never should be replaced. Teachers can inspire you for a lifetime, long after they are gone and out of your life. Why would we want to replace that?

  2. 2 readinggal December 7, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I think your comment, “I would say that teachers bring passion and interest to subjects that Google never can” is exactly on point. I just hope that as teachers aim to inspire that they include digital tools as a strategy within their inspiration tool belt! Thanks for reading and responding!

  3. 3 econjournal January 18, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    A classroom is still important – a lot of what we learn is from the people who sit beside us in school. They might not directly help us, but in a lot of indirect ways (classroom discussions, bringing competition to motivate, collaborating on course notes, getting social comfort) to seek to improve what we learn.

    I also second the comment above that teachers bring passion. When I look back to my school and college days, I could see strong, passionate teachers who influenced the course choice I would go on to make. A teacher with both a passion for gaining knowledge and disseminating it, is a virtually irreplacable.

    However, in virtual world we can recreate some of those aspects. Well designed video lectures can still motivate you, and when added with a real online mentor it could come very close to having a good teacher. Virtual classrooms can be as engaging, just like forums & blogs can sometimes give a sense of bonding between the posters.

    What the virtualification does is bring real competition for the first time in education. Teachers were generally shielded from competition, due to geography. A student in say Kent, Michigan would have to put up with local teachers and cannot easily learn from those from China or New York or South Africa. While, you can go shopping for best of goods and services from the markets from around the world, you were denied the same in education and had to physically move. Its like you have to go to Korea to enjoy a new LCD TV. Now, this levels the playing field. You don’t have to be in Boston or SFO to get the best education. You could as well stay in Kinhasa or Bangalore.

  4. 4 Felicia L July 22, 2010 at 1:21 am

    I agree that teachers bring in their own world experiences and knowledge on topics that just could not be learned without teachers. We are beginning to see a generation of people that do not know how to interact one-on-one with each other as a result of too much interaction on the computer. I believe the students of today and other generations need to learn how to interact with other humans and learn the art of etiquette and manners.


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