Lawrence H. Summers, former President of Harvard University, wrote an interesting essay in the New York Times Education Life section about the future of education. One of his arguments was that we might choose to replace many teachers, professors, and lecturers with videos of the “clearest teachers and most lucid analysts” of particular subjects, so that if students are learning about American history, rather than having their history teachers describe this, they could watch a video of leading experts describing the Revolutionary War.
Many of these lectures and presentations are already available to us, most of them for free, on iTunes U and many other web-based formats. If one wants to learn about the Galapagos Islands, listen to a lecture about Moby Dick, or know more about Albert Einstein, all one needs to do is go to iTunes and download a video. Similarly, Khan Academy offers great resources for learning about math, science, art history, and other subjects.
All of these great web resources do not have to mean the end for teachers, however. First of all, perhaps the most important value of the American way of life is our right to hear a variety of opinions, many of which we may not agree with. Take a look at our current political system for further evidence of the need for multiple viewpoints.
Secondly, one of the things we have finally figured out is that we must look at children as individual learners; that differentiated instruction tailored to individual children is a key to reaching those Alternative Learners who struggle in the traditional classroom. Individualized, differentiated instruction is best implemented by individual teachers, although video and web-based supplements may be incredible assets to these students.
Another key to the 21st century skills that constitute the new values of education is that of collaboration. Because so much of work in the digital world will be collective in nature, the knowledge of how to work together requires the guidance of experienced teachers who can help students find their personal strengths and capacities for contributing to broader collaborative tasks.
Teachers are here to stay, but at the same time, the best teachers are going to be using digital tools such as iTunes; Khan Academy; and the myriad educational apps, websites, and software that can enrich their students. We absolutely need teachers, but we need to re educate them to more effectively use the digital tools that are vital to the success of 21st century students.