Robots are not teachers and teachers are not robots

Week 2 – H817, ‘Openness and innovation in e-learning’ – Some brief reflections on learning objects.

We have the tools to make learning objects but we should not objectify the teaching process. We are, after all, dealing with human subjects i.e. students, pupils, learners, and therefore need to get personal too.

In the planning of my two current advanced level English as a foreign language courses I have been influenced by my recent experience with MOOCs. This has convinced me that technology only works in the classroom when it consolidates what I actually teach. In other words the machines serve the humans rather than vice versa.

My groups are not large and these are not officially blended courses. Initially, I’m experimenting with basics by sending a weekly e-mail to all participants as a follow up to each lesson. This forces me to look critically at the objects for each lesson but, perhaps more importantly, it means I have to outline my own objectives. If these are not clear to me, how can I hope them to be clear to the learners.

As the courses progress, I want to select tasks from selected websites. It’s clear to me that although the learners are mostly digital natives, they are mostly sceptical about the value of online teaching.

In the first lesson, I asked why they still prefer traditional frontal lessons and one young woman answered “because the teacher can tell us immediately if we’re using the correct language”. You can get answers to practically any question on the net but the flesh and blood, face to face response is still the one a lot of students still have more faith in. Put another way, contact breeds community and subjects are still held in higher esteem than objects.

And while we’re on the topic, my greatest fear is that I’ll one day end up as a human robot like the economics teacher from  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: