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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: ‘Technology Will Never Replace a Great Teacher’

By Larry Ferlazzo — January 14, 2019 11 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What will ed tech look like 25 years from now?

The last 25 years has seen a big change in the use of tech in the classroom—computers and devices are ubiquitous, the use of virtual and augmented reality is growing, and one of my personal favorites—the document camera—has generally replaced the overhead projector, (Yay! No more transparencies!)

What will the next 25 years bring?

Mark Estrada, Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin, Sarah Thomas, and Tom Daccord share their answers today. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Jenny, Mark, and Sarah on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Personally, my crystal ball tells me that the use of virtual reality might be the primary ed-tech difference. I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes as widespread in a quarter century as computers are now.

You might also be interested in past posts here on Using Tech in the Classroom.

Response From Mark Estrada

Mark Estrada is the Superintendent of Lockhart ISD in Texas. He has experience as a middle school social studies teacher, middle school instructional administrator, and elementary principal. Estrada is a class of 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader and doctoral fellow at the University of Texas-Austin Cooperative Superintendency Program (CSP). Follow Mark on Twitter @22southpaw:

As technology continues to quickly evolve, it is difficult to imagine what the world might look like 25 years from now. Think about how much the world has changed in the past 15 years—the leap from MP3 players and desktop computers to mobile devices that serve as phones, computers, cameras, video cameras, and broadcast devices all in one.

Changes happen quickly, and with technology, advancements become possibilities previously unimagined. In time, we will see technology not as something that is used without any real change in learning to something that is used to create new tasks that were before inconceivable. Innovation is the key—not just doing the same things differently, but doing completely new things to push learning into new frontiers for our students. We are literally preparing our students for jobs that do not even exist with technology yet to be created. So what will educational technology look like in 25 years?

While I believe technology will never replace a great teacher, there will certainly be advancements in how we use educational technology to assess learning, communicate/report learning, learn content, learn skills, and improve the capacity of our brains to learn.

Technology to enhance assessment: Technology promises not only efficiency of assessing formative and summative learning but, in time, will be able to accurately measure discrete learning that pinpoints data for teachers to use to scaffold classroom instruction. Important to note is that although many programs claim to already have this ability, far too many teachers are not able to utilize this type of data and/or disagree that the data is accurate. When technology is able to reliably measure learning and make it actionable for teachers, the promise of data-based decisionmaking will be realized.

Technology to communicate/report learning: As practitioners across the country begin to personalize learning, the need to shift how we report learning to parents is coming to a crossroads. Technology has the potential to accelerate this paradigm shift. As technology improves in its ability to assess learning, so too will it in its ability to communicate learning to parents in a comprehensible format. Personalized learning will force out old, antiquated methods of report cards that utilize points on the 0-100 scale.

Technology to enhance the learning of content and skills: Technology to enhance the learning of content and skills is the bedrock of educational technology and will only be improved in its ability to adapt to how each learner interacts with programs. Because of this, the brick and mortar model of education will continue to be challenged. I believe that schools will always be needed and in use. Even so, as technology improves, what kids come to school for will continue to change. Schools will focus more on teaching kids how to learn and how to best put their learning to work for them.

Technology to enhance how the brain learns and the capacity the brain has to learn: The most promising feature of educational technology in 25 years will be technology’s ability to wire the brain for learning or improve the functional capacity of the brain. As technology becomes better at assessing learning and using computer adaptation to help students learn content, it will push us all to go beyond teaching standards. Technology will shift our focus from teaching toward a minimum standard and redefine helping each child reach their potential. While we know that the common belief that we only use 10 percent of our brain is only a myth, most agree that kids have learning differences. I believe technology will help level the playing field for many kids who are talented but have neurological differences.

Response From Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin

Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin teaches the PostDoc Masterclass at the University of Cambridge but lives most of the year in California writing books for educators like How to Make Data Work and Sharing Your Education Expertise with the World. She has a Ph.D. in education and served as an award-winning teacher, school administrator, district administrator, and chief education & research officer. Dr. Rankin has been honored by the U.S. White House for her contributions to education:

In the future, ed-tech developers will do a better job examining and incorporating recommendations from researchers based on ed-tech study findings. This shift will improve ed-tech products’ usability and value in helping students (while simultaneously making educators’ jobs easier).

Right now, ed-tech developers often (and should) solicit feedback from a product’s users and from former educators on staff, but this is not enough information on its own. Users and former educators know what works for them but not necessarily what works for the full scope of users (such as power users’ less-techie counterparts), and some research-uncovered realities are counterintuitive to what people think works well. Educators and former educators offer valuable information, but it is a starting piece in the inquiry puzzle.

Some ed-tech companies go an extra step (as they should) and conduct research on their own products’ efficacy. Again, this offers valuable information, but it doesn’t uncover practices and possibilities the developers have not yet put into place and might not yet have considered.

Meanwhile, many researchers of education and/or technology are studying product best practices that support usability and support educator and student needs. Rather than days of old when scholars only published in journals read by folks who say things like “regression analysis” and “crosstabulated Chi-Square tests” every day, researchers are seizing ways to disseminate jargon-free summaries of their findings to educators and the public. It’s up to developers to investigate this research, and it’s up to educators to voice their expectation that researchers do this.

Ed-tech developers can:

  • Read books that summarize studies just for them (like my book on designing research-based ed-tech data systems).
  • Use public-friendly research databases like ERIC Institute of Education Sciences.
  • Conduct literature reviews (like Illuminate Education’s white paper series).
  • Forge partnerships with universities and labs conducting ed-tech-related research.

Educators can:

  • Include study-minded questions in their ed-tech requests for proposals (RFPs) (like “What are some of your white papers on ...?” “With whom do you partner to research and inform product developments?” and “What research-based industry standards do you follow?”).
  • Read books that summarize ed-tech study findings and show you how to advocate for best practices in your ed tech (like my book on advocating for improved data tools). Include these requirements in ed-tech RFPs, as well.
  • Discuss ed-tech research at countywide and regional meetings, so districts can learn from one another without having to read every study that’s released.

Researchers can:

  • In addition to the usual journals, publish in practitioner magazines (like ASCD’s Educational Leadership) and sites (like Education Week) using accessible, succinct language.
  • Even when presenting at research conferences, liven up your presentation and make your content easy for anyone attending to understand (tell stories, get the audience to participate, give a hands-on demo, incorporate more graphics and photos into your slides, etc.).
  • Speak where educators and the public will hear you: Give a TED Talk, get featured on NPR, get interviewed for a podcast, etc.

My latest book, Sharing Your Education Expertise with the World: Make Research Resonate and Widen Your Impact, covers ways to do the above and more.

Educators, ed-tech developers, and researchers should all share the expectation that ed-tech products reflect research-based recommendations. The improved communication and exchange of ed-tech-related research findings can only help students and educators (such as through improved product usability and value) if educators and developers are ready to read and apply these findings.

Response From Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas, Ph.D., is a regional technology coordinator in Prince George’s County public schools in Maryland. She is also a Google Certified Innovator, Google Education Trainer, and the founder of the EduMatch movement, a project that empowers educators to make global connections across common areas of interest. She is also a national adviser for the Future Ready Instructional Coaches Strand, and an affiliate professor at Loyola University in Baltimore:

I’ve noticed that, in the past 15 years or so, major innovations in education technology have involved devices, artificial intelligence, and social media, as well as any combination of the three. I’m excited to see what innovations new combinations will bring, as well as the rise of blockchain.

Response From Tom Daccord

Tom Daccord is an educational technology speaker, instructor, and author, as well as the director and co-founder of EdTechTeacher. Daccord works with schools, districts, colleges, and educational organizations all over the world. His book iPads in the Classroom: From Consumption and Curation to Creation explores education technology and shares real-world skills our students need for success:

Businesses are pouring billions of dollars into AI (Artificial Intelligence), and “machine learning” is expected to bring about tremendous changes to the workforce and society. AI will also likely result in drastic changes to the nature of the student-teacher relationship. The fundamental issue for schools is whether machines will replace teachers or whether machines will serve as subordinates.

For years, I’ve said that teachers will not be replaced by technology. Parents and teachers strongly agree that the student-teacher relationship is a fundamental aspect of a child’s education and personal development. Hence, it’s hard to imagine parents being enthusiastic about their children being taught by robots.

But I wonder if parents will have the same attitude in 25 years. There’s growing evidence that we are becoming accustomed to interacting with nonhumans. We’re already speaking and listening to computers regularly to conduct various transactions. Moreover, machines are becoming increasingly lifelike. Have you seen the video interview of the lifelike Sophia?

It’s not inconceivable that in the future we will become comfortable with machines leading classroom learning.

Many parents believe that the student-teacher relationship is less important as a student ages. The socialization goals of a nurturing elementary classroom may not be as important as the academic goals in a secondary classroom. In other words, it might be more important to both parents and students to get a great score on a standardized test than to further intangible skills. Thus, it’s not unthinkable to envision parents and students willing to accept nonhuman teachers if it’s a surer path to academic “achievement.” A scary thought, indeed, but one we have to consider.

Thanks to Jenny, Mark, Sarah, and Tom for their contributions.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder;you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first seven years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. The list doesn’t include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the “answers” category found in the sidebar.

This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Race & Gender Challenges

Classroom Management Advice

Best Ways to Begin The School Year

Best Ways to End The School Year

Implementing the Common Core

Student Motivation & Social-Emotional Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Using Tech in the Classroom

Parent Engagement in Schools

Teaching English-Language Learners

Reading Instruction

Writing Instruction

Education Policy Issues

Student Assessment

Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

Science Instruction

Advice for New Teachers

Author Interviews

Entering the Teaching Profession

The Inclusive Classroom

Learning & the Brain

Administrator Leadership

Teacher Leadership

Relationships in Schools

Professional Development

Instructional Strategies

Best of Classroom Q&A

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.