Designing technology for teacher development.

When we talk about “education technology”, we often miss the oldest and greatest education technology — teachers. With all the practice and promise of the digital revolution, it is too easy to get distracted by shiny new gadgets and highly sophisticated algorithms and not pay attention to the great champions of teaching that have brought us here. Whatever faults can be found in educational systems, teachers have always been the loyal purveyors of knowledge whose interaction with students made learning possible after all. They were there before classrooms and book and they will be here after VR and AI, though their role will likely transform.

Machines are not going to replace humans. Machines are going to be used by humans, guided by humans and collaborate with humans. The best chess is played by “centaur” teams — human and machine pairings, whereas translation services are finding success in statistical analysis of human texts and human-aided/computer-assisted methods, not set grammatical rules. Manufacturers are increasingly adopting “hybrid automation” models and “collaborative robotics” disciplines, whereas XPrize and other initiatives are looking to computer and human collaborations to solve major global issues. The World Economic Forum features Bernard Meyerson stating that “advances in robotics technology are making human-machine collaboration an everyday reality. Erik Brynjolfsson, one of the authors of “The Second Machine Age”, reminds us in a Harvard Business Review piece that “even though machines did more and more work and the population grew rapidly for almost 200 years, the value of human labor actually rose.” In a 2013 study, Gartner — the leading research company — encourage enterprises to “look beyond the narrow perspective that only sees a future in which machines and computers replace humans.” They point out trends in humans and machines working alongside each other, and augmenting humans with technology. The USA Defense Department took heed in their “Third Offset Strategy”, with Deputy Secretary Bob Work explaining their approach as “human-machine teaming.”. In PGi’s 2016’s Future of Business eBook,’s founder and CEO, Dennis R. Mortensen claims that our mundane tasks may become automated, freeing up an enormous amount of creative energy for humans. “But, that’s not to say that jobs will be lost due to increased AI in the workplace. In fact,” Mortensen argues “new AI in the workplace will create jobs such as interaction designers, who can improve the interaction between the AI agent and human user.”

Education seems to fall behind the progress that technological innovations introduce to other fields. Naturally, “our public institutions — especially our educational system — are not adequately prepared for the coming wave of technological change,” as agreed by technologists and analysts in a 2014 report by the Pew Research Center. For example, Bill Gates blames school district purchasing cycles that hold back adoption of personalized learning. But even private endeavours, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), are considered overhyped, with a confounding massive dropout rate of more than 90%. In a forward to the seminal review “Alive in the Swamp”, where the authors devise an analysis index for education technologies, Sir Michael Barber laments that “the transformation [of educational systems by technology] remains stubbornly five or ten years in the future but somehow never arrives.” Taking AIEd for example, in “Intelligence Unleashed” Rose Luckin Wayne Holmes express their impatience with the status quo, where “despite nearly three decades of work, the benefits and enormous potential of the field of AIEd remain mostly unrealised.”

Debra Sprague, in the “Journal of Technology and Teacher Education”, posits that “the educational technology field does appear to be talking to itself. We are talking too much to each other and not enough to teacher educators.” The “New Media Consortium” 2013 Horizon report lists 6 technology challenges facing education, the first of which is “the lack of adequate, ongoing professional development for teachers who are required to integrate new technologies into their classrooms yet who are unprepared or unable to understand new technologies.” “A mountain of evidence indicates that teachers have been painfully slow to transform the ways they teach, despite that massive influx of new technology into their classrooms,” shows Benjamin Herold in Education Week. He continues to conclude that “perhaps the most obvious — and overlooked — barrier to effective ed-tech use is that totally changing the way you do your job takes a ton of time and work.” As developers of education technology, we must make sure that it is “backward compatible” by realizing this is what education technology is doing — changing the role of teachers, who are the true practitioners of education. We would not have made a tool if the craftsperson cannot wield it (or chooses not to). We must not forsake teachers by demanding they adjust to technology. We must adjust technology to facilitate the transition to a new type of work, which is what the experts forecast for the future of employment in general, not just in education. For example, “Watson Education” implores us to “prioritize tools and processes that give educators back their time, so they can engage in more one-on-one exchanges with their students.” For another example, Nesta’s 2012 “Decoding Learning” expects that while “teachers have always been highly creative, creating a wide range of resources for learners… teachers will need to develop and share ways of using new technologies.”

Some initiative, such as “
Opportunity Culture” (“Extending the reach of excellent teachers”), “Education World” (“Encouraging Teacher Technology Use”) and “Teachers Pay Teachers” (“Responding to a Changing Classroom”), as well as private groups and grants for teachers, are striving to help teachers build and cross the bridge between the old and the new. While these efforts are commendable and definitely contribute to progress, we believe a more fundamental approach is required to keep up, and it includes more seriously adopting the shift in roles and redefining what it means to be a teacher. We want to join forces with teachers to better understand what this new definition is, and we want teachers to let us know what they need to assume this new role. We see ourselves specifically developing “teacher technology” — designed ergonomically for the teachers of the future.