From manufacturing to customer service to switchboards, there have been many industries which have lost jobs to automation. But through all the changes we’ve seen, few may have expected for teachers to show up on the chopping block.But if the results of a recent paper turn out to be true then they might.
Earlier this week a friend tweeted a link to a new paper which showed that students who spent the usual 3 to 4 hours a week in front of a teacher didn’t do any better than the ones who took a hybrid class (with machine-guided instruction accompanied by one hour of face-to-face instruction each week).
Here’s the summary of the results:
We find that learning outcomes are essentially the same—that students in the hybrid format “pay no price” for this mode of instruction in terms of pass rates, final exam scores, and performance on a standardized assessment of statistical literacy. These zero-difference coefficients are precisely estimated. We also conduct speculative cost simulations and find that adopting hybrid models of instruction in large introductory courses have the potential to significantly reduce instructor compensation costs in the long run.
I’m not going to comment on whether this experiment was a good idea, but I will point out that it isn’t as radical as it might appear. As interesting as this experiment is, the idea it explored is not all that new.
Khan Academy has been working in this direction for some time now. Their push to do basic instruction via online videos in order to save class time for homework doesn’t quite have the same purpose, but I can see how a school which employed the Khan model might decide they needed fewer teachers, just like some will conclude based on the report above.
What’s more, minimally supervised self-instruction has been around for decades. If you’ve ever taken a class taught entirely from instructional videos then you were barely half a step away from being part of the test group in this experiment. I myself took a math class close to a decade ago which worked on this model. I watched a lot of videos, did homework, and then took tests. My grades were decent but not exceptional.
Nonetheless, the students in the hybrid class did about as well as students taught under the traditional method, so I would bet that this will be taken as a sign that schools can do away with some of the teachers they employ. While I don’t think it can be applied in the real world, it seems likely that a lot of students will get hurt before we find that out.
And this is the world where universities have 300+ students in a single Freshman English class; I’m not sure the schools will care if this teaching method doesn’t work.