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Robots Cannot Replace Live Student-Teacher Relationships

Robots Cannot Replace Live Student-Teacher Relationships


By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

“Despite advances in artificial intelligence, humans will always have the edge over machines when it comes to teaching,” said Regent’s University London Vice Chancellor Aldwyn Cooper in 2017. His argument was that machines do not learn as humans do as individuals; that is, a robot is not an individual. It is just a machine like all other robots in a group.

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However, a group of humans is a group of individuals. In 2018, a University of Plymouth study concluded that robots “will never fully replace teachers.”

Why Robots Will Not Replace Teachers

There are five reasons why robots will not replace human teachers:

  1. Human teachers help students prepare for the future by helping them develop thinking skills.
  2. Human teachers understand how the brain changes from a young age to adulthood and the challenges that students face at every age from K-12 into college and beyond.
  3. Human teachers push students to be curious about new subjects and ideas that they had never been exposed to.
  4. Human teachers teach students how to balance fake news with real news and why both exist.
  5. Human teachers in K-12 help children to grow and thrive in their ever-changing world view.

Thinking Comes from Humans, Not Robots and Not AI

While robots, artificial intelligence (AI), and smart software help humans do their work, the thinking still comes from humans, not robots, not AI. Since the 1960s, computer-based learning has been steadily pushing the improvement of computer-human or human-machine interfaces. “All these systems failed to note the social aspects of learning and the ways in which learner isolation creates a breakdown of social norms and values,” noted Cooper.

Today, the learning platform of online awareness has evolved through communication technologies. Millennials are learning more from isolation with their computers, iPhones, Twitter, Facebook, emails and virtual reality devices.

The Three Laws of Robotics were formulated by famed futurist Isaac Asimov: “A robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow one to come to harm; a robot must obey orders given to it by humans except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”

The use of robots or AI technology to provide all content instruction to students in an online, asynchronous, classroom environment is of dubious success in helping those human students accumulate new knowledge. A teacher bot system can only provide valuable data and information in written form as well as in audio and video format. Personal interaction between student and instructor is missing.

Instructional films and videos can help students learn to perform specific tasks. If you want to know how to transplant roses, there are videos that can show this process with a simple search on the Internet. Cooper contends that online learning with robots “fails to take into account the most important factor – how we learn as individuals.” As a teacher, experience shows that each student learns in different timeframes and adjusts to teaching methods differently.

Being in a classroom of 20 or more students where a few in the back row were sleeping or not listening to the lesson is something a robot teacher will not notice. A robot will not react the same as a human teacher calling on a student to explain a problem or solution or being ignored.

Some students need to be told what to do in the classroom or repeatedly explained the lesson; others assimilate knowledge the first time it is explained. Can a teacher bot know when its online students are not listening, not paying attention to the lesson, or not reading the instructions for a weekly paper or discussion forum?

How Do We Humans Learn as Students?

Teaching online with humans and teaching online with teacher bots have a basic difference – or failure to assume – how students learn in a classroom face-to-face and online. For instance, do you assume that all students learn the same way? Do you assume that they learn or retain the same knowledge that is presented to them? Do you assume that they can understand the language being spoken to convey that knowledge? Such assumptions do not apply to teacher bots.

Human teachers provide students encouragement when they are under pressure or too stressed to continue the course. This is the social-emotional skill that human teachers have but robots do not.

Human learning is also based on human behaviors that are developed from birth to death: communication, knowledge, social interactions, learning to work in teams and the effects of different cultures.

Humans Are Needed to Teach Students How to Perform Critical Thinking Problem-Solving

Humans are needed to teach how to perform critical thinking problem-solving as well as how to construct knowledge and make it useful. For example, when we teach how to write a paper on removing a dead tree or selecting the top risk item on a list of 10 in transporting goods through a hurricane, each person may arrive at a different answer.

What we teachers encourage are those different and correct methods to problem-solving. As students explain their unique and – maybe odd-sounding – solutions, they advance the learning process as students create a new dialogue for learning with their human teacher.

About the Author

Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.



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