In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink argues that just as last century, machines replaced the human back, this century machines will replace the human brain. But not the whole brain, just the left half – the side that deals with routines and right answers; things that can be reduced to a formula or a sequence of steps. He argues that whilst schools are obsessed with routines and right answers, the skills that will make a person successful in the 21st century are right-brain skills such as empathy, artistry, big-picture thinking, and story-telling.
Certain types of jobs are going to disappear according to Pink. Certain types of accounting will disappear; certain types of law will disappear; certain types of medicine will disappear. Any career that is based on following a decision tree that brackets to yes-no answers or any career that is predicated on factual knowledge will disappear early this century because it can be done cheaper, faster and more consistently by a computer.
So as teachers, if we think our value lies in the subject knowledge we possess, then we soon will be, if we are not already, redundant.
So what is the solution? I think it’s to embrace Pink’s prediction about the future and run toward it, deliberately automating our left-brain teaching processes and thereby freeing ourselves to better do the right-brain parts of our job that can’t be automated.
Today I enjoyed working with our ceramics teacher, Narelle Baker, who has seen that potential. She’s beginning the process of vodcasting the skills that she teaches in ceramics. Today she was vodcasting basic pottery-wheel skills. She used a flip cam on a tripod to record herself demonstrating the skill she normally demonstrates (over and over and over again). This video will be uploaded to her SharePoint site where students can watch the demo at home, and more importantly it will be set to loop on a monitor located behind the pottery wheels. She is automating an aspect of her teaching that can be reduced to a series of steps.
Imagine walking into Narelle’s room in the future! Students will be working on the wheel…with a virtual Ms Baker explaining and demonstrating over and over (without losing patience!) how to perform a technique…. while the real Ms Baker is working with students elsewhere in the studio, discussing more right-brain topics like design and aesthetics – the sorts of things that require the genius of a ceramics teacher – things that can’t be automated. They have to do with emotions and maturity in the subject. Or she might be working with a misbehaving student. That’s empathy, which also can’t be automated. As a teacher, she will have more time to do the sort of work that can’t be automated, by automating the parts of her job that can.