It’s an educator’s worst nightmare: technology.
I’m not talking about the common, everyday kinds of technology that our students carry in their pockets, or we use to read our emails.
I’m talking about the kind of technology that is replacing teachers.
In Virginia Tech’s largest classroom teachers are not required. Students who enroll in the Math Emporium class simply log on and follow the self-directed, faculty-designed lessons to pass introductory math courses. The only ‘face time’ required is to take multiple-choice exams, which must be done on campus under the supervision of one of four math instructors.
Following this model, Virginia Tech has been able to transform underutilized space in a shopping mall to accommodate 8,000 students a year. With four teachers.
The Math Emporium model has been adopted by 100 schools in the US , enabling more students to pass introductory math courses than ever before, saving money for cash-strapped colleges. .
Are you wondering the same questions as I? How do these students succeed without an instructor? What is the quality of the education they are receiving? How is it measured? What does this bode for the teaching profession?
Students report mixed results. Some say they enjoy not having to physically go to class. Others say they can’t learn just by looking, and miss having an instructor offer other methods of explanation.
As with many online tutorial programs, when students incorrectly answer they receive ‘hints’, and are directed to links offering further information. But does the computer sense frustration level? Learning styles? Disabilities? How does a computerized test measure analytical thinking in a multiple choice test? Do we want to encourage this model, settling for correct answers without application? Any good test taker knows that multiple choice tests are easily passed. It’s the thinking part that is hard to measure.
It all comes down to the human interaction. As a middle school teacher, that’s 99% of what I do. If I can’t engage the learner, see the look in their eye when they are confused or frustrated, I don’t feel successful. I’m not so sure that our society really needs to replace humanity with machinery. I know I wouldn’t be happy if my child believed that all their answers were just a click away. I want him to collaborate, converse, and come up with the answer himself.
Jennifer Wolfe is a middle school teacher in California. She has degrees in elementary and secondary education, and has taught for 21 years.