Are Virtual Teachers Better?

by johndarcy on April 10, 2011

Sorry for the perhaps overly-provocative subject line but, quicker than most of us thought likely or at times possible, Sal Kahn’s tools and those being developed by others, including the IBO’s online courses, are no longer theoretical. Web-based instructional tools are forcing future-focused K-16 school leaders to reconsider how students have been instructed since the 18th Century.  As we are in the process of writing our next strategic plan for educational technologies, one of the questions we are asking ourselves is, how does what we know to be true about web-based learning impact on our plan?

Whether we’re talking about public or private education there is a necessary economic reality.  Khan presents, in the videos embedded at the bottom of this post, an alternative to the traditional relationships between teacher & student. He does not suggest that his model is going to change how classrooms work, he describes how it has already changed how classrooms are working.  Khan demonstrates that the web-based model is not only a viable economic alternative, it’s also an effective instructional strategy.

The question teachers would be prudent to ask themselves is, can I be replaced by a web-based teacher? We should then be cautious about dismissing the question as ludicrous or even answering in the negative too quickly. The brave of heart might explore a little further the impact educational technologies are having on our profession by asking, what part of my job can be automated and how soon might that happen?

The classroom as we know it first appeared in the 18th century.  And, as we’ve heard and read a thousand times, in the past 200 years our classrooms haven’t really changed.  It may be relevant, as we chart our new path, to first reflect on why the classroom was invented. Has the original purpose changed? If not, is the original purpose still valid?  If not, what is the purpose of the classroom as it now exists. These are not questions about whether teaching and learning will remain a necessary human experience in the 21st Century.  Learning is fundamental and intrinsic to human beings. The questions posed here are about the best way to educate students and the structures that best support learning.

Are virtual teachers better? Listen to Sal Kahn’s TED Talk as he explains why web-based video instruction works.  Sal tells of classroom teachers who have students watch the web-based videos for homework and then come to class to work on learning activities – that which used to be homework.  My closing questions are, if Sal’s videos are teaching kids as effectively as we can (for free), are classroom teachers now becoming post-lesson tutors? What will the job description and contract look like for post-lesson tutors?

Salman Khan: School Day of the Future
http://www.vimeo.com/19192034

Salman Khan talk at TED 2011
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Remarkable Thomas

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