When answering the question of ‘What is teaching?’, Noddings is only analyzing human teachers. This is made clear right before the mention of Scheffler’s three criteria that characterize teaching where Noddings observes that Scheffler ‘wanted to separate the work of human teachers from that of “teaching machines” and from that of technicians who merely follow scripts in the classroom.” (Noddings, 2016). The thoughtful analysis that follows is assuming that the teachers being referred to are humans. Based off Noddings’ analysis of what teaching is, is it possible for technology to replace human teachers? In 2019, there are many discussions about this because of the developments in research on Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Before tackling this question, let us review Noddings’ analysis of what teaching is. As mentioned before, Noddings guides his analysis through Scheffler’s three criteria that characterize teaching. The first is the intentionality criterion where the teacher intends for learning to take place (Noddings, 2016). The goal of this criterion is to promote awareness that leads to changes in thinking. The second is the reasonableness criterion where the teacher choses strategies that are not unreasonable to achieve the learning aimed at (Noddings, 2016). This is highly related to professional judgement, the ideal of which Noddings argues to be a teacher using reasonable strategies at all points during the timeline of a student’s learning (Noddings, 2016). The challenge and duty of a teacher is checking on the progress of the student and having plans to adjust strategies when needed. The third is the criterion of manner where the teacher stays within the restrictions of manner while they are teaching (Noddings, 2016). This criterion can also be referred to as the rationality criterion since it is concerned with acknowledging the student’s judgement during their learning and prevents teachers from limiting students to not ask questions. This acknowledgement separates teaching from indoctrination and instead connects it to the promotion of intelligence which is brought about through critiquing and questioning. This is manifested in a meaningful dialogue between teachers and students. When discussing the current analysis of teaching, Noddings further elaborates on the rationality criterion and how appropriate attention to emotional life must be given. Taking from Laird’s analysis, Noddings highlights the point that the consideration of human predicaments is not all that related to intellect and should not be peripheral to education, but instead should be seen as central to education (Noddings, 2016).
Alex Guilherme presents two ways that AI can be understood in the context of education. The first is what he calls a thin conception of AI where it is seen as a computer program that deals with certain aspects of knowledge in highly intelligent ways aiding humans to perform tasks (Guilherme, 2019). The second is called a thick conception of AI that successfully mimics human cognition (Guilherme, 2019). Guilherme argues that AI in the first case can present a vast amount of knowledge and ways of explanation but cannot produce a new innovative style of explanation that it is not explicitly programmed to produce. It is also unable to argue against or accept criticism for what it is presenting and cannot provide a rationale behind why it is presenting a specific explanation (Guilherme, 2019). In other words, AI in this case cannot engage in real dialogue with a student. A student using this type of AI will be confined to an I-It relation, where there is only the learning of a skill through the relation (Guilherme, 2019). An I-Thou relation cannot be fully achieved because such AI programs are unable to fully express ideas and engage in discussion (Guilherme, 2019). I think case represents the state of AI in 2019. If we think of AI programs like Alexa and Siri, they can answer many knowledge questions for us and engage in a shallow conversation, but cannot respond to questions that require expression and cannot respond to questions that they are not programmed to answer. This thin conception of AI can fulfill the first two criteria of teaching as it can promote awareness of knowledge and present reasonable strategies for learning, but lacks in the criterion of rationality as it cannot consider the rationality of the student and engage in a deep dialogue with them. Since all three criteria are not fulfilled, AI in this case cannot replace human teachers since humans are able to engage in deep dialogue. Fernando Alonso Gòmez Carrillo also agrees with this point, stating that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can answer many questions posed by a student, but cannot question and destabilize the thinking of a student in an effective way that a human teacher can (Carrillo, 2012).
The thick conception of AI involves a program mimicking human cognition effectively, which is closer to replacing humans as teachers than in the thin conception. Guilherme mentions that AI of this type have not been created successfully yet and are only depicted in films like I Robot (2004), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), and Ex Machina (2015) (Guilherme, 2019). For argument’s sake, let us imagine that AI developed to this level. If AI were modeled after the robot characters in these films, it would be able to teach skills very well, show many strategies of learning that are reasonable to a student, and have meaningful interactions and discussions. One would think that in this case AI would replace human teachers. I agree with Guilherme’s argument that AI will not be able to replace humans teachers, even in this case, because of their incapability of feeling emotion (Guilherme, 2019). One can recognize the main robot character in I Robot as intelligent, but not human because of its incapability of emotion (Guilherme, 2019). This means that AI will not be able to be empathetic to the events taking place in a student’s life. This type of AI will not be able to read the mood of a classroom and adjust the teaching style accordingly (Guilherme, 2019). The first two teaching criteria of intentionality and reasonableness in this thick conception of AI are fulfilled. The third criterion of manner or rationality is somewhat fulfilled. It is fulfilled in the regard that the judgement of students is responded to and engaged with through dialogue, meaning human cognition can be mimicked. However, it does not fulfill the aspect of the rationality criterion that requires attention to emotion, resulting in a failure to mimic human consciousness (Guilherme, 2019). I-Thou relations here may be achieved in a shallow way, more so in case of the thin conception of AI. However deep I-Thou relations will not be achieved as it requires acts of respect, inclusivity and acceptance, all of which are related to emotional attention (Guilherme, 2019).
Carillo, F. (2012). ¿Can Technology Replace the Teacher in the Pedagogical Relationship with the Student?. Procedia and Behavioral Science. Vol 46. pp. 5646-5655.
Noddings, N. (2016). Analytic Philosophy. Philosophy of Education. pp. 217-238. (4th edition). New York, NY: Routledge.
Guilherme, A. (2019). AI and education: the importance of teacher and student relations. AI & Society. 34(1). pp.47-54.