Augmented reality and artificial intelligence are on the horizon. What do they mean for education and teachers? What kinds of teachers will be irreplaceable and what kinds of teachers will lose their jobs? Today, we seek to answer this question.
Welcome to Cafe Futura
You’re in a new town and, boy, you and your family are hungry! As you gaze along a row of five restaurants on the street, your AI/AR glasses spring into action. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) built into them asks, “Are you hungry?” No one else hears your AI’s voice which plays through the earpiece tucked behind your ear.
“Yes, I feel like something good, and we’ve got a coupla hours,” you say to the AI, which hears your voice through the microphone in your glasses.
Now your AI assistant knows that you’re ready for a meal. “I’ve found several open restaurants,” it tells you, engaging the Augmented Reality (AR) feature of your glasses. As you look at the row of restaurants, you see the star ratings appear above each door, along with wait times as you walk toward them. Of course, the star ratings aren’t there in the physical world, only in the AR glasses which operate a lot like the computer monitors that everyone used years ago.
“OK,” you say. “Four of us will eat at Cafe Futura.”
“I’ve got you a reservation there in fifteen minutes,” says your AI assistant. “They’ll be ready.”
As you walk into the darkened restaurant, you and your three family members all wearing AI/AR glasses, each sees a vision of the host welcoming you. The virtual host leads you to your table, handing you a virtual menu that also appears on your glasses. “Can I take an order for your drinks?” he asks.
This part of the hospitality industry has changed. Because restaurant hosts are as plentiful as the glasses or contact lenses that everyone is wearing, orders can now be placed virtually as the microphone and ear speakers interact with the virtual being showing up on each person’s glasses.
There’s no need to wait for someone to take your order, and many restaurants are contracting with celebrities whose virtual likenesses are now your waiters and waitresses and, in some ways, part of the decor and theme. One of your kids’ favorite restaurants back home had raptors from the new Jurassic Park 2030 movie taking orders as they jumped up onto tables to interact with guests.
As soon as everyone orders, an actual human being arrives to deliver your drinks and then returns to the kitchen, where she’ll wait for the actual cook to prepare your actual meal. Virtual ordering is now part of every modern restaurant — except for those “throwback” restaurants full of nostalgia for the time before 2025 when AI/AR truly transformed the world in which we live.
That was the point when humans with routine jobs (like showing someone where to sit or taking an order) were replaced with virtual beings made of the bits and bytes in the computer systems of businesses offering customer service, virtual beings that now interact with each person’s unique virtual assistant/ augmented reality display.
Rote Routines and Replacement
How does this vision of an AI/AR future apply to education?
In the Industrial Revolution, rote routine jobs were automated, replacing parts of the human labor force with machinery. In the Information Revolution, jobs requiring rote routine processing were either reassigned to computers or outsourced to places with less expensive but educated labor pools. In the AI revolution, those losing their jobs will be the people who pointed the way: hosts, museum guides, and others whose jobs were routine and repeatable.
And therein lies the prediction for the kinds of teachers who will remain relevant (and employed) in a world full of AR/AI.
In a successful techno-human ecosystem, technology does what it does best while humans do what they do best. In the case of education, building a relationship with students, noticing student strengths and weaknesses, helping students learn to collaborate and relate to others, and spurring on creativity through the creative leadership of passionate teacher-coaches — these are the kinds of irreplaceable teachers who will continue to be coveted in leading 21st-century schools well into the future, even after AR and AI transform school systems.
Sadly, however, those teachers who’ve been holding onto the same worksheets for the last 20 years and who “taught” by reading textbooks and showing the same video every year on the first of September — in other words, those teachers without creativity and whose methods are repeatable, recordable, and easily duplicable — their rote routines will make them replaceable by more engaging and exciting virtual teachers. Imagine a virtual Steve Spangler teaching science, or students getting a chance to talk face to face with a virtual Lincoln, Mandela, or Mother Teresa about their moments in history. Certainly, lecture will easily be transformed with exciting experiences.
A virtual librarian might give a library tour and a demonstration of how to use the resources might make sense if she could entertain as she does it. However, a librarian who helps kids create the perfect film shoot in their learning commons, who sparks interest and hosts students as they give a coffee shop performance, or who unveils a new makerspace where each child is creating and inventing something new — that would need to be a gifted human, most likely a 21st-century media specialist.
When change comes, there are two types of people: victims and victors. During the next few years in the education world, we’ll be seeing a clear division between those teachers who will hold onto their worksheet copies and wonder what’s happening around them and those teachers who will prosper and thrive because they’ve realized that we’re not making copies in schools — we’re making originals.
That Human Spark
Change and innovation, particularly in the most modern countries, should become part of our DNA as educators. We’re the lead learners. We should inspire creativity that will take our students far beyond filling in a worksheet or taking a multiple-choice test. We need to understand — and we need our students to understand — that the cure for cancer can’t be found on a multiple-choice test. The answer for building peace and cooperation between two political parties is not a fill-in-the-blank answer.
The future needs people who can collaborate, communicate, and cooperate with creative solutions that are built upon a foundation of a strong knowledge of how the world works. And to educate that type of future leader, we need teachers with these same skills.
Artificial intelligence and augmented reality are like any other technology before them. They will clear the way for some exciting innovations, and they will clear the workforce of certain types of jobs that were held by those who didn’t see the change coming. And the teachers who will thrive and survive in the AR/AI revolution will be intelligent but also human. There won’t be anything artificial about their creativity, passion for learning, and excitement about their topic. The reality of their future classroom will be improved and augmented by technology, but they will partner with the emerging technology to create powerful classrooms full of learning.
So, what will you be? Will you be the kind of teacher who anticipates change and works to learn and adjust? Or will you continue to insist on an Industrial Age model where you can easily be replaced by AI and AR?
I don’t want to scare teachers, many of whom are already tired and overwhelmed. Neither do I want those who don’t really understand the power of an incredible teacher to honestly think that teachers can easily be replaced with artificially intelligent beings who can neither coach, nor handle behavior, nor spark the kind of interactions that already exist in today’s most excellent classrooms.
There’s always a place for the creative teacherpreneurs among us who are committed to sparking greatness. However, we don’t see much of a spark or much greatness emerging from a test-factory mentality where multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank dominate the day.
So, I guess the answer to whether or not you’re replaceable truly depends upon the kind of teacher that you are and the kind of teaching that you’re doing. You see, when you talk about innovative, creative, project-based approaches to teaching and learning, there’s much more at stake in your classroom and school than just your career or mine. The future of our students is also at stake. Let’s end with a fill-in-the-blank that matters for your future career as an educator. Ask yourself this question:
“When AR and AI are available to my students, I will be ________________.”
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King, B. (2017). Frankenstein’s Legacy: Four Conversations about Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and the Modern World. Lulu. com.
Royakkers, L., Timmer, J., Kool, L., & van Est, R. (2018). Societal and ethical issues of digitization. Ethics and Information Technology, 20(2), 127-142.