Teachers are Dinosaurs

Source: nsf.gov

Source: nsf.gov

This seems to be the sentence that stuck from my presentation at the last ETCon. Teachers are Dinosaurs old and ponderous in mind and hence doomed to extinct.

Of course I chose this title because it is kind of edgy and fits all the cut and dried opinions people have about education in general and teachers in particular. And as I think this is a very interesting topic I would like to elaborate my thoughts on this a bit more in detail than I did during my presentation.

The basis for my presentation was this quote from the National Science Foundation:

The dinosaurs died gradually from climate change caused by a series of severe volcanic eruptions […]

The article is about the newest theory that not an impact of an asteroid had taken out the dinosaurs but a series of volcanic eruptions in India.

I think we can take this sentence and with a slight change you get what I see as the future of teachers

The teachers died gradually from social change caused by a series of severe technologic eruptions.

I can remember that back in school the doctrine still was that dinosaurs were extinct because they were not able to adapt to new situations or their time on earth was over. But that’s not true, dinosaurs did great. They did not say one day: “Wow, we are so old, let’s die out and make room for new species.” Without the climate change caused by the volcanic eruptions they might be there up to today. Hence dinosaurs had no influence on their extinction and I think the same is true for teachers.

And if I am talking about teachers, I mean teachers as we know them today. If we are precise, dinosaurs are still living amongst us. Birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs, they are just not looking and behaving like their ancestors anymore.

So what are those severe eruptions that cause the “climate” change for teachers today? Well, first of all the internet. But I would not see the internet as a gigantic explosion, I would compare it to the magma chamber that is causing all the eruptions. You don’t see it on the surface for a long time. Maybe some cracks, a rumbling and from time to time some sulfur smoke but nothing really to worry about. Until the day there is enough pressure in the chamber and the eruption starts.

So what are the eruptions that will change the climate for teachers today? There are many and the list is getting longer every week so I will only mention a couple of them in this post today.

VoIP & Webconferencing
One of the germ cells of online education is for sure Voice over IP. VoIP changed the way we communicate with each other. With Skype and all the other services which followed suit people from around the world can talk for free in a quality that gets better and better. Additional features like video calls and screen sharing make this technology to one of the main driving forces of change in education.
The more elaborate version of VoIP, webconferencing adds even more interactive tools to it. With whiteboards, co-browsing, file sharing and other features online classes get more and more interactive and closer to the classic brick and mortar classroom.

The video revolution makes it possible for everyone to become a producer and therefore content creator. All you need is a webcam and a microphone, hardware that is included in most devices today and off you go. Jon Bischke wrote a great post about the video tsunami that is about to hit education.

Google & Wikipedia
Knowledge is universal and everywhere. Instead of remembering every detail we are drifting towards a world where we basically just “need to know where it is written down”. The internet becomes an “external hard drive for our brains” as the information we need can be found so easily.

The Cloud
This is the next stage of knowledge anytime, everywhere. The internet gets more and more accessible not only via WiFi in Cafés and other public spots but also via the use of smartphones. Geo location and augmented reality are only two aspects of this.

Web 2.0 / Social Media
This is the biggest social shift since the book print. I suggest watching the presentation of Clay Shirky on How social media can make history, sums it up nicely. What does this mean for teachers? Well, on the one hand students are now able to connect and therefore help each other. I see a trend towards more and more asynchronous learning with addition of synchronous parts in personal learning networks / study groups. There are many advantages to learn this way reaching from setting your own pace to saving tons of money.
This means teachers will face less and less entry level students on the internet with the result that most teachers have to adjust their teaching style as grammar and vocabulary drills will be done by the students on their own. So no “fillers” anymore in the actual teaching session.

So, what does this all mean in the end? Will teachers totally disappear or only a few will survive in micro niches? To me it is quite obvious that there has to be an evolution of the teacher as we know him today. As dinosaurs did not extinct but slowly transformed into birds, teachers will transform what some of us already call guides. There will still be parts of today’s teacher in the DNA of those guides but they will adapt to the new climate in education.
Of course some teachers will just die out and there will also be “living fossils” around who simply survive any drastic change. Like classic victorian house teachers, there will always be a niche for them.

There is a lot more to write about this shift, of course and I will concentrate my posts in 2010 towards the different trends. I think during the next year we will actually see the first big impacts on education starting with the roadmap of the Department of Education that is scheduled for early 2010.

Will be an exciting year (another one)!

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  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    oh nose! I have a half-written article very similar to this one, though you're a lot nicer than me, I think (good choice).

    Remind me to link to this post when I put mine up, otherwise it'll look like I'm copying.

    That's what we futuristic teachers get for implanting hard drives and cloud sharing in our brains. Damn you creative commons!

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Great minds think alike, Koichi :) I have some very interesting videos from the last ETCon, need to edit them still. One of them will change your world 😉

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  • chinamike


    I am surprised that you left off what I consider to be the biggest, albeit slowly developing trend..the truly momentous educational change agent of the near future..the digitization of learning resources (and learning paths) which will ultimately let us personalize every student's learning experience (in concert with machine based intelligence). This will let every student who wishes to do so, follow the path of mastery as quickly or slowly as he or she wishes.

    VOip changes the equation of place, the social web modestly changes the equation of who, but the digital, intelligent web, with its potential to personalize education will shift the power completely to the student. Ultimately this will let the student demand that every educational provider mold the learning experience to fit the student's needs, abilities, time frame and interest.

    These other things are epiphenomenon in comparison to what will happen once machine intelligence can gradually take on the role of instructor/teacher. Until then, the teacher-dinosaur will merely shift its grazing ground. These “changes” you mentioned above are merely the tremors signaling the big change which will rearrange education like your super explosion rearranged the earth.

    If I have any problem with your thinking it is that you are not thinking in big enough terms. Teachers will be able to adapt to and co-opt the tools you cited above. Not all teachers, but most. They will find it very difficult however to adapt to a world where machine based intelligence reduces the need for anything that now resembles a “sage on the stage”.

    To be successful in the future teachers will need to learn how to become guides on the side as our tools become more powerful, precise and attentive to our needs.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Oh, don't worry. I am with you but it is easier to explain the shift on the signs everybody can see today. They are big enough for most ;). Cannot shock everybody in my first post.

      As I said, in 2010 I will write up a lot more about it. It is a slow climate change with some bigger eruptions in between. I think in twentyten we will see a lot happening on the tech market that will also have big effects on education. Especially mobile apps and the launch of the Apple tablet will drive a lot of innovation.

  • http://www.vikramadhiman.com/ Vikrama Dhiman

    Try and travel in Mumbai to realize how important going online is :(

    I have been even asking my doctor to take consultation online :)

  • http://www.language-bridge.com bridge2english

    Dear Kirsten,

    Your courage has no limits!
    When I heard and read your slide on ETCon 03 presentation: “Teachers as we know them today will gradually disappear. Teachers have no influence on this change.” – I was scared that teachers and linguists will denounce you as a traitor of your own profession.

    Instead I heard a complete silence and no reaction whatsoever – as if this concept was not brought to life.

    Now you elaborate on the essence of your discovery and declare that it will become the theme for your further research in 2010.

    This idea is in the air (some people call it – the information field).
    The following excerpt was published on my hubpage 3 months ago: http://hubpages.com/hub/ESL-educators-unite.

    This description of blended learning gives in details the new functions of ESL/EFL teachers in the future. But I didn’t dare to make a parallel with dinosaurs.

    “To become the central portal for all ESL/EFL needs, it is necessary to drastically decrease the price of services by increasing the number of students in the online public classes, using blended learning and implementing self-training software.

    Blending self-study with private and public lessons online will have a great synergistic impact on the whole process of learning. The ratio between self-study and online lessons varies from 10% to 90% and depends on students’ motivation, financial state and preferences.

    The self-study software allows printing of all the text and transferring mp3 audio files to any mp3 device or cell phone. The option of working offline is also a possibility for those who want to spend additional time and effort to facilitate progress in acquiring ESL/EFL. Online teachers may add new lessons to the existing software according to the students’ needs and objectives.

    Thus all accumulated teaching materials could be recycled by teachers and added to the Language Bridge software. This software also contains an extensive dictionary in the native language and a testing module. The latter is unique in that it tests the skill of speaking fluently and automatically and not the knowledge of grammar and rules of English.

    The new learning environment would be phenomenally adaptable allowing online or offline use along with self-training, face-to-face, group study or combinations of the above. It could be supplemented with a concise version of the program on any PDA, Smartphone or MP3 player. So by adding reading, writing, illustrations, listening and acting, one is incorporating all the senses that will improve
    the quality and depth of the learning experience.

    The current versions of the Language Bridge software are localized in 3 major languages: Chinese, Spanish and Russian. Members of the Association are welcome to undertake localization into their own native language.”

    • http://www.languagesoutthere.com jasonoutthere

      Hey, bridge2, why not write an ad? I love the obsession with software. Best software, still, is pen and paper for self-study (and a dictionary). No, I'm not a dinosaur, think about it :-)

      • http://rainbowhill.blogspot.com rainbowhill

        I always thought a pen and paper was 'hardware', but then again I'm no expert.

        • http://www.languagesoutthere.com jasonoutthere

          Ah, yer know what I meant! Tools :-) Flexibility and practicality. We all have to learn to use so many types of software and lots of files formats don't like working with some platforms and organisations/websites peg their efforts to one system of another.

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  • http://rainbowhill.blogspot.com rainbowhill

    I just read (re-read for the nth time) in Nicholas Negroponte's “Being Digital” that in a survey of teachers conducted in the mid 90's by the U.S. Dept of Ed 84% of teachers considered only one piece of information technology 'absolutely essential': A photocopier with an adequate supply of paper.

    I'm not sure how much things have changed since then but it seems clear that education is set for some major upheaval in the next 5 to 10 years. Just look at other industries where traditional gatekeepers to knowledge have held positions of privilege: journalists, travel agents, and now teachers will all feel the disruptive force of dis-intermediation.

    I've just finished reading Wikinomics and I thought it interesting how the comparison was made between our modern appetite for information and that of the Alexandrians, who amassed great libraries that would rival today's. We are all responsible for our own learning, and how we negotiate meaning in our own lives.

    Bring back the philosophical plaza, and open air universities I say! Un-tether me from the requirement to be physically present in the lecture theatre!

    • http://www.languagesoutthere.com jasonoutthere

      I agree whole-heartedly. In some ways the classroom has been used as both a crutch and a means of control. Confining learning experiences to the classroom limits our potential.

    • devils advocate

      I like the extinction metaphor but am concerned about the idea that the 'cloud of data' that is the internet is sufficiently organised to provide a clear learning path for language study. Try it for yourself – choose a language you don't know (complicate it if you wish by choosing one with a different alphabet or coding system) and see how effective the internet is in helping you learn. I am sure that 'courses' will be offered (and already are) that promise 'perfik Engrish at 30 dayes' and we all know how much use they are too. But with universities such as MIT offering a plethora of online courses someone somewhere has to produce the material. Teachers may well become materials producers and updaters and the lucky ones may get to do research on what is happening 'out there' in cyberspace. Currently the drop out rate from online courses is 80% (check the facts with names like Prensky, Quinn) and so there is something that teachers need to learn to do fast if they want to stay in the game. I think there will always be a market for a 'sage on the stage' – human nature seems to dictate that we need authority figures, live, human encouragement and cajoling to make us make the effort to succeed. And someone out there setting the goals, the qualifications and all the paraphenalia that goes with 'achievement'. Few of us are sufficiently self-motivated enough to study online (including children) let alone take their education completely from this 'revolution'. Whatever dis-intermediation is, I don't think it will reduce educational institutions to rubble – there is too much at stake to let that happen. As an EFL techer I am already required to be adept at using some pretty high-tech equipment to teach with which 30 years ago would have only been a dream. More importantly, I can teach 200 children under a baobab tree by drawing with a stick in the sand…I will tell you that these children learnt faster and more accurately than the high-tech supported students. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

      • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

        How can the children in the back see what you are drawing in the sand? In a virtual classroom everyone is sitting in the front row 😉

        I think the great thing is that you can actually teach 10 children under the Baobab tree in the future. I agree that people need somekind of leadership, someone you can turn to with specific questions, e.g. someone who still knows more than you do but I don't think that you need to be a sage on the stage for it, more the wise man on the mountain.

        The thing is that the shift will actually help educators to concentrate more on their core competences and to specialize themselves more than they can do now. Also if the students are already well prepared when they join your teaching you can skip all the boring stuff you need to “waste time” on in the class today and go staright forward to the creative part.

        That of course will mean that educators / tutors / teachers / guides, whatever you want to call them, need totally different skill sets than today. Being open minded, multi interested and accessible are only three factors that already sort out a lot of today's educators, right?

        About the 80% drop out, yes, that is a problem today but there might be various reasons for this. I don't think that this will last when students get more used to the fact that a big part of their life, studies and later on work will be online.

        We are just at the beginning but try to explain someone who joined the internet this year how it “used to be” in 2008 without everyone being on Twitter or Facebook. What did we do “back then”?

        And about children studying online. Take a look at http://www.mingoville.com the problem they might have lies in the other direction, how to get them off the internet and stop learning English ;).

        The old days are gone, never to return.

      • chinamike

        When it comes to teaching I agree, today's tools really don't really improve on what a teacher can do in a classroom in whatever role (I really think the Guide on the Side is far superior to the Sage on the Stage beginning at the high beginner level).

        Where digital tools really show their merit however is when students leave the classroom and study on their own. MP3s let students listen to native speakers anywhere, Spaced Repetition Programs (SRS) help aid and support memories making supercharged memories possible, DVDs let us watch the natives in the wild, and the Internet lets us read news in the language our choice. We can do ALL OF THIS away from the teacher. We are no longer need be tethered to a teacher under a baobao tree and we are no longer be limited by the speed the other 199 students are moving through the material with us under the shade of that tree.

        Digital tools create autonomy and teachers who understand that and leverage that will succeed in teaching students far faster than what is possible under your tree. As teachers we need to understand– these tools are to make teaching easier they are to make learning better.

  • Brenda

    Hi Kirsten,
    I'm trying to find it on your blog…what is your teaching experience?
    I like your big ideas, but it would be great for you to share the practical side about your own experience teaching online with your own students.
    What grade are they? How are you integrating the good stuff from f2f teaching with your online classes?

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Hi Brenda,
      my teaching experience is scattered in different blog posts :). I made an “About” page for this blog when I started it in January but that does not cover everything.

      To give you a short overview: I started as a classic teacher and taught languages to teenagers, group and 1o1. After I moved to France I specialized on adults again teaching groups and 1o1. All this was classic offline f2f. All in all I am teaching for about 8 years now.

      In late 2007 early 2008 I started to teach more and more online and today over 90% of my clients are online across the globe. Their levels reach from total beginner to advanced.

      In 2010 I will launch some new projects, outsourcing content from this blog into new ones. And a big part of 2010 will be dedicated to the shift and how we can adjust our teaching to it.

      So I hope I will be able to answer those questions soon. Thanks for stopping by!

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