Teachers May Be Ceding Too Much Control in Quest for Student-Centered Learning

By Ross Brenneman — August 12, 2015 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Listen: The machines can and will overthrow humanity some day. In the meantime, though, they’ll be tasked with doing jobs that humans once did.

I don’t like to imagine a world where a robot could do what I do (aggregating Internet content). A machine, linking to funny “Key & Peele” sketches on the Internet? I don’t think so, chief. But computers have already started moving in on reporting, medicine, and financial advice. So once Google gains sentience, we’re doomed.

Not that this was necessarily the takeaway from a recent interview that the OECD Education Today blog did with economist Tyler Cowen, but still:

'There are two things people need to learn how to do to be employable at a decent wage: first, learn some skills which complement the computer rather than compete against it. Some of these are technical skills, but a lot of them will be soft skills, like marketing, persuasion, and management that computers won't be able to do any time soon.'

Cowen, a professor at George Mason University, in Va., is more focused on higher education than K-12, but the teaching of soft skills has become a big factor in discussions of college and career readiness. As important as soft skills, though, Cowen said, is the ability of people to be able to learn new things, especially without the formal structure of school to support them:

'Twenty to thirty years from now, we'll all be doing different things. So people who are very good at teaching themselves, regardless of what their formal background is, will be the big winners.'

Many K-12 educators have been moving in such a direction for a long time. It’s wrapped up in those ubiquitous-but-kind-of-annoying terms like “student-centered learning” and “teacher as facilitator.” Some subject disciplines may lend themselves to these concepts more than others—the late Grant Wiggins chastised history teachers for doing too much lecturing, for instance—but the movement has traction.

However: As teachers look to such concepts as a form of effective and legitimate pedagogy, there may be long-term implications for their profession. Writing for The Atlantic in March, Calif. English teacher Michael Godsey contemplated whether the trend away from the teacher-focused classroom will bring with it a decline in professional stature, and whether teachers are asserting their place in the classroom as experts, or even as necessary:

There is a profound difference between a local expert teacher using the Internet and all its resources to supplement and improve his or her lessons, and a teacher facilitating the educational plans of massive organizations. Why isn't this line being publicly and sharply delineated? ... Those calling for teachers to 'transform their roles,' regardless of motive or intentionality, are quietly erasing this line—effectively deconstructing the role of the teacher as it's always been known.

What education will look like in the future is hard to predict, but one thing is likely: How classrooms manage the instructional space between teacher- and student-centered instruction will be interesting and important to watch.

Some opinions on student-centered learning, both supportive and critical:

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.