An intriguing story made the news recently: A robot vacuum cleaner “attacked” a South Korean woman sleeping on the floor, attempting to suck up her hair. Thankfully, the woman was OK after being rescued by local firefighters.
In a related story, Connecticut’s state university professors recently withdrew their support for Board of Regents President Gregory Gray when his organization promoted “blended learning.” The plan involves online courses that would be “developed by outside for-profit companies, rather than by faculty.”
The professors would have none of it.
“Quality education cannot be achieved by replacing faculty with technological gadgets and prepackaged content,” they wrote. “Affordability should not be achieved by diminishing the quality of the university experience.”
In other words, the professors still want to plan and teach their own courses.
How is this story related to a rogue robot in South Korea? In a word, automation.
As a veteran high school English teacher, I remember when Connecticut first instituted CAPT – the standardized test for all 10th-graders. After more than a few years of systematically preparing students for that exam, I wryly told my colleagues, “I’ve become the robot teacher they want me to be.”
Ironically, those were “the good old days.” This spring, Connecticut schools will administer the first official version of a computer-adaptive standardized exam aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
“Man. I have put this off for a long time because I knew it would give me a rage headache, and I was not wrong,” writes Greene. “How anybody can claim that the results from a test like this would give us a clear, nuanced picture of student reading skills is beyond my comprehension.”
“Unnecessarily complicated, heavily favoring students who have prior background knowledge, and absolutely demanding that test prep be done with students,” he adds, “this is everything one could want in an inauthentic assessment that provides those of us in the classroom with little or no actual useful data about our students.”
Greene is not alone in his criticism.
“More than 500 education researchers around the country have signed an open letter to Congress and the Obama administration about how the No Child Left Behind law should be rewritten, saying that they ‘strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities,’” according to the Washington Post.
Unfortunately, teachers don’t have the luxury of waiting for Congress to de-emphasize standardized testing. We must robotically prepare our students to robotically complete the forthcoming SBAC test.
This robot mentality is not unique to teachers.
The name of Nicholas Carr’s latest book “The Glass Cage,” is derived from the so-called “glass cockpits” within Airbus Industrie’s A320 passenger jet. “Six glowing glass screens” present pilots with “the latest data and readings from the plane’s network of onboard computers.”
“What really set the A320 apart,” writes Carr, “was its digital fly-by-wire system” that essentially “severed the tactile link between pilot and plane. It inserted digital command between human command and machine response.”
Finally! Human error is eliminated. Or is it?
“When people tackle a task with the aid of computers, they often fall victim to a pair of cognitive ailments, ‘automation complacency’ and ‘automation bias,’” writes Carr.
Automation complacency occurs when we “become so confident that the machine will work flawlessly” that “we allow our attention to drift.” Automation bias “creeps in when people give undue weight to the information coming through their monitors. Even when the information is wrong or misleading, they believe it.”
Consequently, 95 percent of pilots surveyed in 2012 by the European Aviation Safety Agency said that automation tended to erode “basic manual and cognitive flying skills.”
As education’s focus on standardized tests and online courses increases, I’m wondering if the same thing will happen to my teaching skills.
That robot might be sucking more than just the hair from my head.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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