Edtech’s COVID intrusion a taste of the future

The extraordinary surge in the use of edtech in home schooling during the COVID pandemic should be seen as the future in the making” where, at its worst, teachers are classroom managers” in a system led by artificial intelligence (AI), Federation’s Annual Conference was told today.

Guest speaker, researcher Anna Hogan, pointed to the almost quadrupling of Google Classroom users to 150 million worldwide during the pandemic, as one sign of a pivot” in the encroachment of commercial interests into the classroom.

In a more sinister light, her presentation touched on the notion that edtech could be seen as a ready-made solution to teacher shortages.

A senior lecturer in the Faculty of Creative Industries, Education and Justice at Queensland University of Technology, Dr Hogan said teachers were already required to co-ordinate with edtech and introduce automation to their work, for example, by using a plagiarism detection app.

This AI add-on is therefore performing automated labour on behalf of the teacher and, based on this partly automated process, teachers can assemble remedial plans for students from a range of available third-party apps,” Dr Hogan said.

The problem here is … that the increasing digitalisation of schooling is contained within a ‘black box’ for most practitioners, where we have very little understanding of which automated decisions are made and why.

There’s a rising call for commercial platforms to stop working through teachers to influence schooling, but rather work with them.”

Dr Hogan said it was time teachers were consulted and acknowledged a need to start to break apart the black box of edtech and understand the algorithms and decision-making processes of AI-assisted learning”.

I think it’s safe to say that we absolutely have to push back on corporate strategies that seek to totally disrupt the teaching profession,” she told delegates.

Our good friends, Pearson, argue that teachers cannot be trusted. This is despite their university education, their professional registration and accreditation, their continuous professional learning and professional standards of practice, they need to be overthrown as the imparters of knowledge and replaced with an increasing reliance on sophisticated online instruction.

The idea here is that teaching will be transformed by an AI-enhanced learning platform where teaching will complement personalised learning by providing guidance, coaching, motivation and management of students.

In an era of teacher shortages, of workload intensification, of being undervalued and underpaid, the danger here is that AI-assisted learning offers a solution to a really big problem.

Imagine not having to recruit, train or pay teachers. Instead, in the digital transformation of schooling, we only need classroom managers.”

Dr Hogan said that, ultimately, while edtech is useful and necessary to public schooling today it needs to be understood as a product and be made subject to regulation, especially in the areas of data sharing and student privacy.

Federation has a fundamental responsibility to hold the government to account and to help members understand the benefits and dangers of edtech. It will take long-term, sustained activism to ensure edtech is a tool for, not provider of, public schooling,” she said.