In First Person Education

Automation worries

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Will digitising certain learning processes diminish the quality of education?

Even before I entered high school, technology in the classroom was no stranger to me. Both teachers and students used PCs for their academic work whenever they could. But things really started to get interesting in my second year of secondary education. It started off normally, with homework being directly assigned in class from the teacher to the student. If you didn’t get the memo, you asked a friend. If you missed it outright, well, tough. Eventually, the teachers gradually began to introduce a new system, one known as School Loop.

Transition

In short, it was a way for teachers to post homework assignments and other announcements online without ever needing to mention it in class, something they soon began to refrain from entirely. The transition was rough. For teens with already crammed schedules, faithfully checking a school website was one more thing to add. Indeed, I missed more than one assignment on days I simply assumed I had little to no work and forgot to check online. Still, the new system had its uses. Although we had to be routine about checking up, making it a habit meant we would rarely miss assignments, at least not due to lack of attention. Ultimately, the technology was convenient, just as it was meant to be in the first place.

From then on, technology started becoming a bigger part of our lives. In my last college economics course alone, all of our homework was both revealed and completed online. It seemed like a sweet deal. For one, the professor did not have to worry about notifying us about assignments, and for another, grading too had been outsourced to the machine. Not only has the job of remembering assignments become simpler, but also the job of completing them — homework now being little more than typing in numbers and clicking on multiple-choice answers. What’s there to complain about?

Yet, I’ve always been a little sceptical of labour-saving innovations. In this instance, technology begins to remove the element of intimacy. The development of School Loop was nothing radical, but even just automating classwork partially and homework completely, in my humble opinion, has made assignment curricula a little shallow. If I were an economics professor, I would have my students write essays, hand-draw models and diagrams, and do other unique activities that would require much more involvement from both students and teachers alike, strengthening bonds and facilitating the development of knowledge and skills.

Of course, how much real effort is put into curricula, offline or online, depends on the instructor herself. The option to develop effective, interesting lessons and assignments has not been taken away. But with the advent of online classwork/homework, the temptation to leave as much of it to the machine as can be diminishes the wholeness of the education experience. It’s like this: automation has not actually forced human beings to stop exercising, but nevertheless has discouraged it. I can’t help but feel that taking away the need to work closely with students and the need to put hard work into developing curricula will be harmful to the overall quality of our youth’s education in the long run. What is the teacher’s influence in the overall development of students? And will future conversations among alumni include warm reminiscences like, “Ms. X was the best teacher ever”, or “I still remember what Y sir said while teaching trigonometry”?

The author is a student of St. Mary's College, California, USA.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 9:32:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/automation-worries/article19698175.ece

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