Ann Rosenbaum, a teacher at Post Falls High School in Idaho, is pushing back against computers running her classroom.
It was back in January that The New York Times featured a page one report about Ann Rosenbaum, a teacher at Post Falls High School in Idaho, who was pictured in one of the world’s most read newspaper engaging students with questions; while shunning the use of technology. Rosenbaum said she was using “the Socratic method” – that requires teachers to actually question students in oral exams about their studies – instead of relying on today’s technology that’s more or less allowing computers to be used as teaching devices for many of America’s youth. In turn, an April 24 report in USA Today titled: “Computer scoring of essays shows promise,” alerted Coos Bay, Oregon, retired teacher Dennis Gardner “how far technology has come to replace teachers who traditionally read student essays." The USA Today report explained how a recent study of “automated computer essay-scoring software” finds that a handful of programs are “capable of producing scores similar to human scores on thousands of sample essays.” Also, the USA Today story asserted how “the stakes are high,” since “under the new Common Core English standards that nearly all states have adopted, school kids will soon produce millions of new essays in most subjects. The standards take effect in 2012, and schools must figure out how to grade all that writing soon.”
Technology taking over in the classroom
Retired Coos Bay English teacher Dennis Gardner said he’s concerned for his colleagues who are still teaching and “trying to compete with computers."
"Yea, the parents love it when you showcase the new ‘computer lab,’ thinking that will help their kids gets good grades but, you know, teachers have value too," Gardner told Huliq during a recent April 24 interview in one of Coos Bay's few remaining book stories.
"Take a look around," added Gardner, "because soon we'll have this paperless society where everything will be digital; even our teachers!"
Computer scoring of essays shows promise
Recent news that computers can now score essays "really changes the playing field for teachers," said Gardner of the recent April 24 USA Today report that claims "computers can now grade our kids' writing."
The new findings, unveiled last week at the National Council of Measurement in Education meeting in Vancouver, Canada, “analyzed 17,500 essays that had already been graded by humans.”
In turn, USA Today reported how “computer-scoring advocates, many of whom are also educators, say critics misunderstand the basic undertaking.”
For instance, Mark Shermis, dean of education at the University of Akron, told USA Today that he agrees that “timely, individualized grading by a human reader would be great, but given the scale of writing that schools envision, it’s unlikely.”
Shermis explained, for example, that “if every kid in the country had that kind of individualized attention, we might not be having this conversation.”
In addition, USA Today reported how “The National Council of Teachers of English opposes ‘machine scored’ assessments, putting its support behind direct assessment by human readers.”
President praises "human" teachers of the year
While one day, it seems, computer technology will have an even greater role in the classroom, for now there’s still those “human teachers” who are still viewed as having value.
For instance, President Obama honored Rebecca Mieliwocki as the 2012 National Teacher of the Year April 24, saying she is “the definition of above and beyond.”
“When kids finish a year in Rebecca’s class, they’re better readers and writers than when they started. But even more than that, they know how important they are, and they understand how bright their futures can be, and they know that if they work at it, there’s no limit to what they can achieve,” the president said at a White House ceremony that was aired on ABC TV News.
During the ABC News TV report April 24, President Obama said this seventh grade English teacher from Burbank, Calif., has “high expectations” for her students and for herself, but that she also “knows that school can be fun.”
The president also highlighted Mieliwocki’s enthusiasm and her efforts to engage parents, including hosting family nights. In turn, the president did not credit the school’s computer technology when crediting this human teacher with success in her classroom.
“Rebecca is the definition of above and beyond,” President Obama said. “She throws herself into her work for a simple reason: She knows that her students depend on her.”
Standing before winners of state teachers of the year awards, Mieliwocki stressed “I am not the best teacher in America. There isn’t one. All across this nation there are millions of teachers who do the work that I do, and many do it better.”
Also, Mieliwocki did not praise or even mention computer technology as aiding her in the classroom.
Teachers vs. computers in the classroom
It’s becoming a sort of “high noon” type scenario with old school teachers such as retired Coos Bay teacher Dennis Gardner thinking “computers are simply classroom tools,” and “teachers will always be needed;” while many younger teachers in both Coos Bay and nearby Eugene say they prefer to employ computer technology in the classroom because it both enhances and “really suits today’s modern teaching methods.”
In turn, Gardner notes how many “busy” parents today “don’t usually attend parent-teacher meetings, but when they do “there’s always questions about the school using the latest technology that they interpret “as a good thing for their Jimmy or Suzie because these naïve parents like to think more computers means more learning when that’s simply not the case.”
For example, Gardner notes that the “real elephant in the room during parent teacher conferences is just how much time does their kid devote to computers over listening to teachers and other students.” Also, this retired English teacher thinks “parents would be horrified to actually spend any time at all in the classroom because they would see that their children are not literate in the sense that many of them can’t present themselves by standing up and explaining an assignment without the aid of a computer.”
Idaho teacher pushes back against computers
At the same time, a January 9 report that made the front page of The New York Times noted how an Idaho’s teachers’ resistance to a statewide plan for pushing yet more technology in the classroom comes at a time when many school districts are musing over the idea of replacing human teachers with technology that instructs students in their studies via “various tubes” in the classroom.
However, this plan did not figure in teachers such as Ann Rosenbaum - a former military police officer in the Marines – who told The New York Times “she does not shrink from a fight, having even survived a close encounter with a car bomb in Iraq. Her latest conflict is quite different: she is now a high school teacher, and she and many of her peers in Idaho are resisting a statewide plan that dictates how computers should be used in classrooms.”
In turn, the Times reported how “last year, the state legislature in Idaho overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard. To help pay for these programs, the state may have to shift tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators. And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.”
Tension growing between human and tech learning modes
The Times also reported how this change “is part of a broader shift that is creating tension — a tension that is especially visible in Idaho but is playing out across the country. Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved.”
“Teachers don’t object to the use of technology,” Sabrina Laine, vice president of the American Institutes for Research told The New York Times; while also stating how she has studied “the views of the nation’s teachers using grants from organizations like the Gates and Ford Foundations.”
She added: “They object to being given a resource with strings attached, and without the needed support to use it effectively to improve student learning.”
Also, the Times reported how in Idaho, “teachers have been in open revolt. They marched on the capital last spring, when the legislation was under consideration. They complain that lawmakers listened less to them than to heavy lobbying by technology companies, including Intel and Apple. Teacher and parent groups gathered 75,000 verified signatures, more than was needed, to put a referendum on the ballot next November that could overturn the law.”
Teachers are human and computers are not
“This technology is being thrown on us. It’s being thrown on parents and thrown on kids;” said Rosenbaum, 32, who the Times reported “has written letters to the governor and schools superintendent. In her letters she tells them she is a Republican and a Marine, because, she says, it has become fashionable around the country to dismiss complaining teachers as union-happy liberals.”
“I fought for my country,” Rosenbaum said. “Now I’m fighting for my kids.”
Also, the Times noted how “some teachers have also expressed concern that teaching positions could be eliminated and their raises reduced to help offset the cost of the technology.”
“The role of the teacher definitely does change in the 21st century. There’s no doubt,” added another teacher explaining this dilemma to the Times. “The teacher does become the guide and the coach and the educator in the room helping students to move at their own pace.”
Image source of a possible new classroom teacher of the future based on the “Hal 9000” character in Arthur C. Clarke’s famed book “2001: A Space Odyssey.” HAL (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer) is an artificial intelligence that – possibly in the future, say tech fans – could interact with students in the classroom, thus eliminating the need for human teachers and thus saving school districts plenty of money. Photo courtesy Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HAL_9000