Go with a smile!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Teachers should stop teaching

aka The real implications of Massive Online Learning courses.

There is the crisis in higher education. Student debt is ballooning. It is still worth the while for people to go through school and graduate in the States, but the danger is for those who drop out and don’t graduate. And the overall dropout rate of students in school is pretty high – 50%.

There is also the problem of underfunding of schools. The K-12 system is breaking down in the states. It is almost impossible to fire the bad teachers. At the same time, schools are funded according to the academic standards of their students, meaning that schools of the pupils who need education the most are being underfunded.

The costs of having a teacher is escalating. On one hand the costs of human labour is being pushed up, because of advances in technology which make much of white collar work obsolete. At the same time, the average teacher is being made to work harder and harder in order to justify his or her salary. This puts a lot of teachers in a very tight spot.

This is where I think that there needs to be a big re-alignment in strategy. You always hear about teachers complaining about how much admin work they have to do instead of teaching. What I’m thinking is – let them concentrate on the admin work, and leave the teaching to MOOCs. Yes, teachers will no longer be responsible for preparing lesson materials. Let the central administrators handle that. They’ll put on a video, and leave the classroom, popping by from time to time only to make sure that the students are not too rowdy. They will mark homework and invigilate tests. That’s it, no teaching. They will take charge of a short discussion of the video after it’s been aired.

Think about the roles that a teacher plays:
1. Role model for young and impressionable minds.
2. Communication of the curriculum and material: preparing and conducting lessons
3. Clarifying the above material in question and answer sessions.
4. Enforcing discipline
5. Administration of school.

Of the above, point 2 can be taken over by a machine. Even though when you think about the word “teacher”, it seems to imply that it is the central role of a teacher. But it’s the least essential role, from the point of actually needing a human to be present. The course material can also be distributed in written form, and this will also encourage independent study.

What a teacher can do best is to engage in one on one sessions to pick up the pieces. If a student is still confused about things, then the teacher steps in to help.

Just screen videos of people teaching to everyone. That way there will be some standardization across schools. All schools will have equally good teachers, and you make sure that the people who are making the videos are the best teachers. That way nobody will have to worry about whether the teacher is good or not. The worst thing is that preparing the curriculum is an extremely time-consuming and tedious job, and it’s pretty insane that for no good reason this is mindlessly replicated in every school, instead of being centralized in the school system.

What are the downsides to this? First, the lesson could be too rigid. Especially in classes like English, the teacher always tailors the class to suit the students. If there are a lot of students who have problems with a particular grammar rule, the teacher can home in on that rule. Well part of the answer to this is to either have different videos that can be shown in different situations, or to have the teacher conduct live sessions in response to perceived weaknesses of the students.

The other weakness is that when the “teacher” is no longer the one physically presenting the main syllabus, he loses a certain aura of authority that he may never get back. Instead, he becomes merely a caregiver or and administrator. And at worst, he becomes a secondary teacher. (As opposed to the primary teachers in the videos).

But there are other advantages. The chemistry of the classroom could benefit from there no longer being a central character. The students could step up and become real leaders in class, instead of being passive absorbers of information.

So this is one taboo that I think needs to be broken. Teachers should no longer teach. Teaching is a waste of time.

The other taboo that we should look at is how students have to be arranged in the same class and taught the same thing. I don’t have an answer to that. I wish it were as easy as giving students access to videos and tell them that by a certain time you should have watched all these videos A-Z, but I don’t think grade school students are that disciplined, without a teacher to sometimes have to cram all that shit down their throats.