March 4, 2024

The rejection of writing by Socrates is well known, which Plato explains in Phaedrus: will devalue memory and give a mere appearance of wisdom. Those who see this as the first case of rejection of information and communication technology (writing) by an educator who has learned and practiced in another (spoken language) are quite right. We know of eighteen disciples of Socrates and it is probable that they were not more, or barely, in more than two decades of teaching ―the ratio that so many would like… and for a lifetime―. Fortunately, writing, printing, electronic audiovisual media and digitization, each wave in turn, revolutionized the recording and transmission of information and, with it, education: writing brought the schools that would feed the trades for two millennia. lawyers and the printing press made possible a massive, almost universal schooling; However, the audiovisuals, which would reach the last corner of the earth, failed to settle in the classrooms.

But Socrates explains something else: writing is like painting, it doesn’t respond, it doesn’t listen to you, it doesn’t dialogue; in today’s jargon, it’s not personalized, it’s not feedback, it’s not adaptive. Writing and printing promoted the school, yes, but they made learning and education more and more unilateral, transmissive and passive. Unlike speaking, writing requires an unnatural and laborious apprenticeship that has been disciplinary for centuries; the textbook articulated with its oral correlate, the lesson, the frontal, transmissive, unidirectional, serial teaching, industrial; cinema, radio and television, so attractive in other contexts, would bring unilateralism and rigidity in communication to a paroxysm, a fundamental reason why they could never fit into the already established routines of the school (digitized, they begin to be another stuff).

This lost interactivity is the holy grail that technology promises education for a century now, since the scheduled teaching from Thorndike to the smart tutoring of our days, going through the judging machine of Pressey, the to teach of Skinner and Crowder, the automated teaching in PLATO, computer assisted instruction (CAI), etc., but could never go beyond a limited modulation or differentiation of the curriculum.

Digital transformation changes everything. It’s not about logo, lego, sims either kahoots, even less of a mimetic office automation (word processors, spreadsheets and presentations), but of two overwhelming forces. One, already prevailing, is the powerful and versatile contraption digital, the trinity formed by the personal device (mobile, tablet, laptop), the included software that replicates (metamedia) and connects (hypermedia) all present and future media (infinitely more and better than the codex, previous support of the book and of nothing more) and the ubiquitous connectivity that, in addition, scales everything: this gadget already does or facilitates absolutely everything that previous school instruments, better and cheaper, and adds much of what was missing and what will come.

Perhaps the most important thing that was missing was dialogue, and that is exactly what the new emerging force, artificial intelligence (AI), already brings, even with all its limits and risks. ChatGPT, the sensation of the season, is the combination of a great language model (GPT4) capable of conversing at a very reasonable level about any subject (especially about school content) and a very simple and intuitive user interface (Chat ), within the reach of a child. It will not take us long to see adaptations to the school environment with a content filter, a more universal interface (verbal, graphic…), adaptation to the level, integration into virtual environments, agile and simple supervision by the teacher, etc. The AI ​​will not in any case replace the teacher in his employment, but it will do so in many of his tasks, and it will do better, as long as he continues in the command post.

Patrick Suppes, formerly a professor of philosophy at Stanford and one of the most successful promoters of computer-assisted instruction in the 1960s, promised a future in which there would be an Aristotle (tutor) for every Alexander (mentee), although his programs they did nothing more than select exercises for the user. ChatGPT is not Aristotle, nor will anything in his wake be, although his formalism would place him closer to him than to Socrates; on the other hand, his eagerness to answer even when he doesn’t know and his frequent hallucinations they would place him, rather, among the sophists or the tertullians. But most of what he says makes sense and he’s a great talker, or maybe I should say a great chatterbox. Quite a few teachers with a certain level of digital competence could already deploy it in their classrooms and perhaps they will, and for the rest, friendlier and more reliable versions will soon appear.

There is no doubt that many young people, adolescents and children, on their own and with the support of their families, will take advantage of this opportunity to sustain, expand and reinforce their learning outside of school, either for it or outside of it, just as many teachers will do it to ease their professional work in some cases and improve it in others. But, the more open and powerful a medium is, the more opportunities for growth and the more risks of inequality it will bring at the same time. For this reason, for many students, the school accompaniment in this will not be another support but the only one.

the most vulnerable

In any case, the expansion of AI outside the school is already unstoppable (as it is in the work of many teachers and students outside the classroom), with all its promises and all its risks, these especially for citizens and for employment. Depriving students of the necessary literacy to function in a world with AI would be like denying them the essential driver’s education to get around the city ―with the difference that every family knows how to offer road awareness, but not digital competence―. The school, and therefore the teaching staff, once again have a general responsibility, but above all with the most vulnerable, both in basic digital literacy for an autonomous and dignified life and in their preparation for a world of work that is already being witnessed. deeply affected. The institution, conceived before as a sanctuaryplayed to be a Faraday cage protected from the mass audiovisual media, but that is no longer an option.

All this radically alters the coordinates of teaching. In the first place, teachers and professors will have to rise to the level of the cyborgteaching, that is, willing to collaborate between people and algorithms, or machines, in different spaces and activities. Given the uneven digital competence of teachers, the breadth of the relevant competences and the rapid pace of change, they will also have to be available for co-teaching, that is, the collaboration of several teachers in shared spaces and activities, already desirable in itself but necessary, above all, to raise enough professional capital. Both dimensions of collaboration can be seen, together with the targeted technologies, as instruments for an increased intelligence of the profession. Finally, with the exponential rate that change is already reaching, there is no doubt about the intense need for learning and professional development of teachers throughout life. Whoever seeks a mission, a challenge or simply emotions in teaching will have them; but, if someone came looking for a soft life (euphemism: quality of life), you would do better to look for it elsewhere.

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