We’re swimming in a world of technologies that have huge implications for the future of schooling. Computers live in teachers and students’ pockets, the Internet makes information and media ubiquitous commodities, apps offer to aid with all our daily routines, and artificial intelligence unlocks new possibilities for differentiated instruction.

Yet even with these technologies flooding into schools and classrooms, computers won’t be replacing teachers any time soon, and that’s why now, more than ever, teachers should be given the critical support they’re asking for in the classroom. To illustrate this point, consider these three things educational technology can’t do.

1. Technology can’t … provide higher-order feedback

Software is great for generating immediate, automated feedback on students’ mastery of basic knowledge and skills. But higher-order feedback falls outside its purview.

Consider, for example, essay grading. For years, word processors have been able to point out corrections for spelling and grammar errors; and more recently, intelligent software now offers feedback on elements of structure and style—such as whether a student has a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph and whether each paragraph contains evidence related to the topic sentence and the essay’s thesis. But software cannot give feedback on many of the qualities that really define great writing—such as whether the students’ rhetoric and logic will resonate with her intended audience. It takes a human to give feedback on the more nuanced aspects of human communication.

3 things #edtech can’t do

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The same holds true in other academic domains. Software can’t tell students if their research questions for a science project are worthwhile and reasonably scoped; nor can it tell them which engineering and design challenges they should tackle to improve a simple machine. And software can’t coach soft skills—such as working effectively in teams, navigating interpersonal conflict, setting personal goals, and persevering through obstacles. In sum, the skills students will need to future-proof their careers against the rise of machines are also the skills they can’t learn from machines.

About the Author:

Thomas Arnett is a senior research fellow in education for the Clayton Christensen Institute. His work focuses on studying innovations that amplify educator capacity, documenting barriers to K-12 innovation, and identifying disruptive innovations in education. Arnett previously served as a trustee and board president for the Morgan Hill (CA) Unified School District, worked as an Education Pioneers fellow with the Achievement First Public Charter Schools, and taught middle school math as a Teach For America teacher in Kansas City Public Schools.


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