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Will technology and artificial intelligence replace teachers?

I invite you to read Smart Machines and Human Expertise: Challenges for Higher Education.

The author, Diana Oblinger, poses the following question. "If smart machines are having such impact on the economy and our professions, what will they mean to higher education?".

She provided examples from Georgia Tech who used a chatbox as a teaching assistant. Her examples of international uses of combined chatboxes, AI recognition, and predictive analysis to offer a layer of student services. So what happens when we shift the focus from teachers integrating techology in instruction versus institutions using technology to deliver instruction?

What are the implications for our field? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

To access the full article, select this link:

Kathy Tracey


Vinod Lobo's picture


 Fascinating topic. In my work with adult ed providers to deploy a smartphone learning app, I’ve seen the clearly the difference between integrating tech and using tech to deliver instruction, with many new models and combinations.

Three examples from San Diego illustrate the difference:

An adult school has enrolled over 1,000 learners into our app as part of ESL and GED classes. The instructors blend learner work at home on smartphones with their class work.  This is a supplement, meant to enhance classroom work. California does not fund the adult school for learner time spent on our app at home. To the “system” the app is similar to a textbook, not something that teaches. This can be thought of as “integrating technology”.

A refugee center that has no formal classes, no computer lab, and no government funding has deployed our app with over 100 refugees who are non-literate in any language.  Our smartphone app is the primary vehicle for instruction, containing the videos that teach, the practice activities, and voice/animation remediation. The staff’s role has been critical in the success: they onboard learners, show them how to use the app, track progress, and host certificate ceremonies to celebrate accomplishments.  Without this strong staff interaction with learners, the app would not be effective. This can be thought of as “using tech to deliver instruction

Another example is the public library, which has 2 to 3 month waits for a tutor.  Learners are now immediately onboarded into our app after assessment. Learners often complete many hours of instruction at home, even earning certificates, before being paired with a tutor.  A facilitator tracks progress and provides encouragement remotely. So during the waiting period for a tutor, the library is “using tech to deliver instruction”. Then, the tutor blends together their traditional tutoring with the smartphone work at home.  That starts to look more like “integrating technology”.

We are seeing so many shades of gray between classroom or tutor based integrating tech and using tech to deliver instruction across the country.  As we try to reach 36 million adults with effective literacy instruction, we will have to use every possible tool and model to make this work. The key, however, is the critical role of the instructors, teachers, and facilitators working with learners.

Vinod Lobo
Learning Upgrade
Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Hi Vinod, 
Thank you for your response. I agree there are so many ways to integrate technology with the need to expand our services, often beyond our capacity. The article intrigued me as I never considered education as being a field that can be replaced by using artificial intelligence to deliver the instruction, but as we are seeing more and more sophisticated technology, some universities are actually using AI as teaching assistants. 

Yet, as we look beyond the content, educators bring so much more to the experience - through role-modeling, counseling, and support. One of the key elements of student retention is the relationships built between educators and students. 

I'd love to hear what others think about this topic. 



Susan Finn Miller's picture
One hundred

Hi Kathy, Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think technology will ever replace teachers. Technology can certainly support instruction in many wonderful and even astonishing ways, but for me -- at least in our work with adult learners --as well as pre-k-12 teachers' work with children,-- the heart of teaching is the relationship between teacher and student.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP

Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

On January 13, 2018, 60 Minutes ran a segment on artificial intelligence. There overview was fascinating but they modeled how AI is teaching classrooms of students in rural China. From the transcript: 

  • Scott Pelley: Well let's look at what we are seeing here now. According to the computer, I'm confused, which is generally the case. But when I laughed I was happy. That's amazing.
  • Songfan Yang: Exactly.
  • The machine notices concentration or distraction to pick out for the teacher those students who are struggling or gifted.
  • Scott Pelley: It can tell when the child is excited about math?
  • Kai-Fu Lee: Yes.
  • Scott Pelley: Or the other child is excited about poetry?
  • Kai-Fu Lee: Yes.
  • Scott Pelley: Could these AI systems pick out geniuses from the countryside?
  • Kai-Fu Lee: That's possible in the future. It can also create a student profile and know where the student got stuck so the teacher can personalize the areas in which the student needs help.

The interesting concept is that AI is reading the emotions of the students faces and determining if the student is engaged, excited, or struggling. While we may be decades away from AI in the classroom, and I'm not sure it's ever going to be a good idea, I think we need to be aware of emerging possibilities.