Computers can-and-have successfully replaced teachersI read the beginnings of an article about California State University System which has started a pilot scheme for lower-division online courses...

Computers can-and-have successfully replaced teachers

I read the beginnings of an article about California State University System which has started a pilot scheme for lower-division online courses which will effectively reduce the need for face-to-face lecturers, campuses, etc and that online learning often produces better results anyway.

The article claims that, on a positive note, many students will be guided to more vocational courses, better suited to them academically and young entrepreneurs will find their way into the business world equipped with more readily-usable skills.

Some say that there is a danger of university becoming an elite system of academics but, at the same time, a higher standard of education for those within the university system is guaranteed under these conditions.  

Technology has opened so many doors in education. What do you think? Could it be counter-productive? 


Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Teachers may well be replaced by computers in some situations.  This does not mean that this is the best learning situation for all students.  Computer can present information; teachers cannot compete with the instant information provided by a computer.  On the other hand, a computer’s effectiveness will never replace the rapport between the student and the teacher.  If schools were only responsible for measuring the lowest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy which is knowledge and comprehension, then computers would be impactful in the child’s learning.  The other areas of school life which are more subjective need to be handled in an individualized way.

If the best situation for the student is important, then the combining of the data of the computer with the qualities of an excellent teacher is the most appropriate educational setting. Many students will not have the best learning environment with just the use of a computer. Individualization and personal learning environments can only be ascertained by a teacher.

Socialization, an important part of school life, can only be achieved by an actual human being.  Abuse, human interaction, parental involvement—these need actual human attention.  Removing the human component in school is not a positive situation.  Teachers need to be there to notice when the child is depressed, has no friends, is tired, and is lacking in social skills.  Sometimes, a child needs a hug or human interaction which cannot be provided by a computer.

The computer is a great tool for teaching.  The internet provides the needed research aspect of learning.  Every child should have exposure to the computer and how it works. One long time teacher noted:

More than 50% of my students do not have access to the Internet.  They might have computers in their homes, but Internet access is not a necessity for most of them, not when the bills have to be paid. For the life of me, I cannot see how computerized instruction can meet the needs of all students.  Will different programs be developed for each student?   

Unfortunately, like most situations in education, computer availability is not equal. There will be some schools that will have the funds and means to provide every child with a computer while at school. There will be other schools that do not have enough money to provide one computer per classroom. The huge amount of money needed to purchase computers could be better used for more traditional forms of education like books and also salaries for better teachers.

No current computer will ever replace the human qualities that are necessary to have the ideal setting for all students.  There are particular skills that are used in real research. These are lost when the information is provided for the student without really having to find specific data. Rarely do computers help people learn. A good teacher and books really make the difference.  Computers are tools not teachers






gojsawyer eNotes educator| Certified Educator
At minimum, two trends converge that drive the ideas of whether and how computers can replace teachers. First, higher education has become more business oriented over a minimum of the last decade. As such, universities will now more than ever before make business decisions that favor a bottom line, if not profit. If it is more profitable to teach masses of students with computers rather than human beings, then the business oriented trends of higher education will continue to support this choice. As such, there will probably need to be a very clear added value/ROI to human instruction. This will probably be up to debate for some time to come. Student preference will need to drive a reverse of the current trends. In other words, students, who now are recognized as “consumers,” will determine the value of human instruction. If masses of students reject computer-driven instruction and universities lose money, then human instruction will once again be in vogue, if not in demand. Second, following the first point, is that the tenure system is being overhauled, and has been for some time. Except for a few disciplines, many PhD’s languish for years as adjuncts. This is another way that universities can save money over time on labor costs. Universities at present have a clear choice of whether to invest long term in human capital or technology. Entry level scholars probably have the least value, at least initially, from the viewpoint of long-term gains. The university is taking a gamble, really, that a certain professor will be popular and productive(read: profitable)for the university. For now, computers are just a tech adjunct professor with the potential to both save money and turn profit for higher education as an institution. Enotes has quite a few discussions and other resources under “tenure.” Also, the Chronicle of Higher Education is a good resource, particularly for current trends and information on this topic. In fact, on the page one there is an article about course management systems crashing.
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All your comments are so relevant. As pointed out by 'Stolperia,' it is not to say that the title reflects the general consensus of opinion. 

Retaining interest is a very real issue. Computers can never replace the human element and , as mentioned by 'Litteacher8', guidance and direction are crucial for success with training via computer. And, as 'eMartin' says, it is the modes of thinking and not just the communicating of information that must be considered by those programming the computers.

'Carol-davis' and'Trophyhunter1' make the point about using a computer as a tool- well-said. And of course 'Lentzk' refers to the changing environment - we could not have envisioned computers' place in the modern world before so who's to say what's next! 

I think we all agree that technology has a real place in education but there must be a limit, as 'Pohnpei' indicates - we must know when to stop. Furthermore, technology can also isolate those who do not have access and we must be mindful of that and ensure that those students do not suffer unfairly. There is a large number, worldwide, who are far behind in the technology explosion.  

There is , as 'Mizzwillie' and 'Rrteacher'say, the problem of teachers' jobs. Hence, the need for some limits and recognition of the contribution of computers as a tool not a replacement.  

We all agree that vocational courses should be encouraged. It has taken a long time for society to recognize that adademic instruction is not always the best for some students who thrive in this less intense realm but whose contribution and success are equal in every way.

Thanks for chatting.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There’s no doubt that computers and online instruction, which is, I think, what we are talking about here more than computers per se, can be counterproductive in education.  However, I think that that is true of every educational technology or technique that ever was. 

I do think that online and computerized education could help in post-secondary education.  I teach for a community college and I know that there are plenty of university professors out there who could teach my classes better than I could, particularly those classes which are not in the field in which I got my Ph.D.  Online classes with a more knowledgeable professor would probably be beneficial.  I also like the idea of moving some people towards more of vocational education.

The problem with both is knowing where to stop.  Online education can be impersonal.  Vocational education can lead to an elitist system keeping poorer kids from progressing.  But it’s not as if our system today is so great that we should avoid innovation because we worry that it will have some bad effects.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This issue of technology including computers is one of the current hot topics in education. After years of teaching, many innovations made teachers learn new skills.  For me, this computer on-line issue is important as it is now taking teacher's jobs, but I believe this will change.  Any teacher who looks at the future will be figuring out how to use computers to enhance the class, not as the enemy to be fought.  A computer really cannot teach students to think, to look at a problem with many perspectives, to evaluate and judge the validity of an approach to a problem.  To simply convey knowledge, computers do well.  To create meaningful discussion, to challenge the students who hide their abilities, to support those students who would blossom with a little care, computers cannot be that teacher.  I, too, am in favor of making vocational training more visible in the choices available to students.  We simply must think of the future and reforming the current system with creative solutions.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Traditional lectures would seem to encourage and facilitate "real educational experience" according to some researchers, like the people at Freakonomics. 

Depending on the field of discourse in question, students often remember very little of the specific instruction received in a class/course. What they remember are the instructors. 

This makes sense in my experience as an English literature student. I remember some specific information, sure, plenty of it really, but there is an argument to be made that ways of thinking about a subject are at the core of college education. 

The question for me then about online instruction and how effective it can be will have to take this idea into consideration.

If online instructors are not strategizing ways to specifically convey modes of thinking about a subject, but instead focus on communicating information, a significant element of the educational experience could be lost (potentially).

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a soon to be Ph.D who's about to enter the academic job market, I'm watching stories like these without really knowing what to think. I question the relevance of the traditional lecture setting (as a long-time high school teacher, I'm appalled at the pedagogy I see practiced at the university level). So I don't think anything is being lost at the general education level by moving lower-level classes to online settings, though I'm not sure anything's really being gained from the instructional perspective. On the other, I fear for what effect this might have on universities, who are sloughing off jobs left and right as it is.

As for vocational courses, I am wholeheartedly in support of anything that makes more vocational training opportunities available. Ultimately, I think pohnpei summed it up best when he said that we can't let the potential drawbacks dissuade us from thinking of innovative ways to approach reforming higher education.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think we all agree that the title of this thread is not reflective of the real situation. Computerized instruction does not indicate that human teachers have been replaced; it does open up many new methods for delivering instruction and allowing teachers to interact with students or students to interact with each other.

As with any change in education or any other field, there is a learning curve involved as all involved parties explore possibilities and develop techniques to integrate new technology into the education process, discovering along the way areas in which the new methods are particularly applicable and areas in which they don't work so well. As a byproduct of different teaching styles, some educators are more comfortable and/or capable of integrating computers into their "bag of teaching tricks"; in the same way, some students have learning styles that are better served by this method of delivery than do others.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Computers are more cost-effective than human beings, but that does not make them more effective.  As you said, you read the beginning of an article.  I think this demonstrates a main point of computer-teachers.  Without direction, can students remain engaged?  There is something to be said for real human interaction.

As the enotes summary of the article notes, computers cannot do everything real people can.

Computers provide students with information, but only teachers can teach children to think critically, discriminate among sources of information, and be creative. (enotes)

The real value in education is in relationships.  I do not just teach my children, I learn from them too.  Every day we spend together, we learn how to interact with people.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are definitely some fields and subject matters that naturally work well within the parameters of online courses and 'electronic teaching,' but with that being said, I feel that there will always be a continued need for true educators and innovators in the classroom.  The student population has changed, and right now that population has worked really well with the online study environment, but that model of success may not still apply five, ten, or even fifteen years from now.  Successful education is about meeting students' needs, so if the digital classroom is being successful for students right now, that is great--but let's continue to build and innovate even better structures for student education in the future.

trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While it's true, if you are motivated, you can learn something from a computer application, there is no substitute for human contact between teacher and pupil. A computer cannot gauge the nuances in the language of an answer to get the entire meaning. A computer cannot replace the hands-on experience one gets from doing an activity with a teacher and students the same location interacting verbally, physically, visually, and auditorily, etc. A computer is only as good as the person who is programming it. Therefore, although computers are great tools for practice and review, they cannot substitute live instruction that occurs in a classroom.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Briefly, I'm all for it. I think teachers' jobs will merely move from in-the-room to over-the-videocam. I see worlds of good in the change to computer teaching (and the teacher is not removed, just relocated) from cost of education to dangerous and moral defeating school environments to unlimited opportunities: someone in California can study at MIT or Cambridge without moving! And the "professing" of professors is not inhibited at all by online education. The second most adamantly "professing" professor I had not long ago was one teaching (indoctrinating) a cultural literature class.