Could Alexa ever take the place of a teacher?

Robot teachers are a long way off - for one thing, human connections are a crucial part of teaching, says Louise Jones

Louise Jones

AI: Could Alexa ever take the place of a teacher?

I was recently asked to go on the radio to discuss the future of education with advancing technology, and whether Alexa – or other virtual assistants like it – could replace a teacher.

This was in response to the headlines after a mum in Ayr caught her son asking Alexa the answers to his times-tables homework.  Mum wasn’t that bothered – she thought it was quite funny – but, of course, the headlines raged after she posted the clip on social media.

This did prompt a lot of anxious discussion, though, about tech replacing teachers and the nature of the homework task. I pointed out to the programme researcher, though, that the son could have used a calculator instead and no one would have batted an eyelid.

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The probable cause for the alarmist media headlines was that it was a human-like voice that repeated the boy's question and spoke the answer back to him. But he could also have used a phone, a browser or an app with speech enabled. Maybe that wouldn’t have made the headlines.

So, what does this all mean for the future of education and technology?

AI: Will robots replace teachers? 

What's really interesting is that power of voice, literacy, language and knowing what to (and how to) ask questions are still – and will always be – important skills for the future, and even more so when information is as readily available as it is now.

Knowing how to assess whether an answer is accurate is important, too: a Google search to a less specific question might return thousands of results, whereas Alexa might only read you the top one. 

So, no to robot teachers and driverless classrooms, but yes to innovative uses of technologies in learning and teaching – and yes to skills, literacy and language (including coding) and human connections.

Robot teachers have a long way to go before they can match all of that.

Louise Jones is an independent learning consultant and strategist, based in Scotland. She tweets @scotlandlouise

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