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Over the last few months I have been reading, writing, speaking, teaching and presenting A LOT about AI tools and the way AI is impacting on education. One question that I constantly get asked is whether artificial intelligence can replace teachers. It’s an interesting question and one that I think about a lot, so I thought I’d put together a list of 10 great things about human teachers and 10 great things about AI teachers and share a few insights about what might change over the next few months or years. So let’s start with the human teachers.

Quote: "Teachers' biggest advantage over AI is that they are human. AI's biggest advantage over teachers is that it isn't human."

What’s great about human teachers (at their best)?

  • They are human.
  • The can genuinely empathise with you and what you are feeling.
  • They genuinely care about you and want you to do well.
  • They can motivate you through reward and discipline.
  • You can’t just switch them off or ignore them.
  • They care about you even when you don’t show up.
  • They have genuine experiences, anecdotes and funny stories to share with you.
  • They go through and experience the same highs and lows that you go through.
  • They are genuinely thrilled when you do well and can share and celebrate your triumphs
  • They are genuinely upset when you fail or struggle and can help you get back up and try again

What’s great about AI teachers (at their best)?

  • They aren’t human.
  • They don’t get tired, irritable or confused.
  • They always have time for you (24/7) and don’t ever need a break.
  • They have no favourites. They treat everyone the same and have no unconscious bias about you.
  • They don’t hold grudges or develop prejudices about your potential.
  • They will answer any question you ask them about any topic, however many times you ask.
  • They allow you to choose whatever you want to learn.
  • They always mark your homework on time.
  • They have an incredible depth of knowledge on almost any topic.
  • They are available anywhere there is an internet connection at any time of day or night.

Over the next few years, possibly months, there are likely to be some changes in this second list.

These are some of the things I see happening with AI teachers.

  • AI teachers are going to start to look and sound a lot more like human teachers, at least on the screen. They will have a face, a voice and a gender. It’s likely that you’ll be able to choose these things too. If you prefer your teacher to be female/male, young/old, plain, handsome or beautiful with whatever colour hair and eyes you want, then that’s what you’ll get, along with whatever accent you choose from anywhere in the world. Note: You may think that it won’t be possible to build an emotional engagement with something you know isn’t real, but all of these features are already available on apps that supply virtual boy/girlfriends and people have certainly developed an emotional attachment to them, regardless of how healthy/unhealthy that may be.
  • It’s likely that while you are interacting with these virtual teachers they will be able to monitor and ‘understand’ your facial and body language responses and respond with artificial empathy (AE?) that conveys a level of emotional intelligence through their voice, verbal responses and facial expressions.
  • It’s possible that they will be able to access and select or automatically generate a variety of types of multimedia and interactive activities for you to work through. This will be done in response to your immediate needs and based on their assessment of your level of understanding.
  • They will be able to shape-shift into any form of person, animal, object or even experiment that you will be able to engage and interact with in order to practice and further develop your skills and understanding.
  • They will be able to take you to anywhere. If you haven’t seen Apple’s Pro-Vision augmented reality headset, be sure to have a look. With this type of headset on, you can be immersed in a simulation, not only of any place in the universe, but also anywhere that has or can be imagined.

So these are just a few of the possibilities that are in the process of, or are already a reality. This may worry you, but there are still some important things to consider.

  • The title of this article is misleading. We aren’t facing a choice between human teachers or AI teachers. There is a third option and this is what I feel we need Genuinely intelligent teachers who have the knowledge and ability to work with artificially intelligent software to develop emotionally and intellectually intelligent students.
  • There are places where teachers can’t go, won’t go or are just overwhelmed – I’m thinking of some of the schools I’ve visited in rural areas of India that had one English teacher and more than 1500 students and of Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall Project‘ back in 1999. In the experiment, he embedded some computer screens into a wall in Delhi and observed as illiterate children from a nearby slum were able to teach themselves and each other various computer skills without any guidance whatsoever, just by trial and error and interacting with the computer. I wonder what children in those same circumstances would be able to do now if they were able to voice chat with ChatGPT, and how access to these kinds of tools in overcrowded schools all round the world could impact on the potential of those learners.
  • There are places where access to digital devices and internet connectivity is still very limited. How much bigger will the digital divide become when learners in those places have access to neither an AI teacher nor a human one?

Lastly, coming back to the original question. I think there is still one factor that human teachers will always have over AI ones. Having a real teacher who believes in you, even when others have given up on you, can have a profound and life changing impact on your life. I don’t really think that something that’s programmed to believe in you will ever be able to have the same impact.

I have a prompt from my ChatGPT in the Language Classroom course that turns ChatGPT into a supportive, motivational friend. Give it a try and see if you are persuaded.

Prompt: I want you to act as my friend. I will tell you what is happening in my life, and you will reply with something helpful, supportive and enthusiastic. Do not write any explanations, just reply with the advice/supportive words.

If you would like to become one of the “Genuinely intelligent teachers who have the knowledge and ability to work with artificially intelligent software to develop emotionally and intellectually intelligent students.” Then have a look at my course ChatGPT in the English Language Classroom.

ChatGPT in the Language Classroom course
ChatGPT in the Language Classroom