Like many, our family received one of those newfangled wifi camera doorbells this holiday season. Now, I can ask my listening device to start my robot vacuum while grasping a minicomputer that holds access to all of my personal information AND can see who is at my door at the same time. I have to admit, I feel a bit like Jane Jetson.
Automation for efficiency’s sake is creeping into every aspect of our lives, including our classrooms. From canned curriculums to Teachers Pay Teachers to 21st-century behavior tracking to auto-grading writing programs, the modern classroom wouldn’t be able to exist without some element of automation.
The major benefit of all of this automation? The one thing every one of us has a finite supply of but always needs more: time. I don’t have to spend time vacuuming my house to make sure my army-crawling baby doesn’t encounter anything he shouldn’t and, instead, can spend the time on a walk outside with my family.
Dictionary.com defines automation as “the technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices, reducing human intervention to a minimum.” There’s a lot to unpack in that definition, but what sticks out to me the most is the element of ‘reducing human intervention.’ Most of us got into teaching, as humans, to positively intervene in the lives of others. So it is interesting we as teachers seek to automate our classrooms as much as we do in the interest of time.
In my seventh grade classroom, I switched my fill in the blank vocab tests from paper/pencil to online multiple choice so it could be auto-graded, saving me time. Last week, I ran into a former student, let’s call him Mark, now a Junior, who proudly came up to me:
“Mrs. Hudson? Did you know that we were cheating on the vocab tests?”
I held tried to keep my face and eyes soft, “What do you mean?” I replied.
“Oh yah, me and John used foot taps for the letter we were choosing,” he said with a smirk.
He hadn’t been my student for half a decade, but what did he choose to remember and bring up to me in that moment? Cheating on tests that I chose to automate to save me some grading time. I was internally angry and disappointed. Mostly at myself (but a little at him, too, if we’re being honest).
Herein lies the danger in automation for the sake of efficiency. The danger of passable. That floor of mine looks clean, but I don’t watch the vacuum to make sure it covers where it needed to. I never check the work of my vacuum; I assume the job was done well enough. It’s passable and I feel like I did my due diligence as a mother. That vocab test still assessed knowledge, but what concessions did I make? Was the time saving worth it?
Some other questions to consider when determining whether to automate for the sake of efficiency:
- What do I gain by using this automation? What do I lose?
- What do students and parents gain by using this time saver? What do they lose?
- How is my voice present in this automation? How important is it that my voice is present in this resource? What voices are silenced using this automation?
In Mark’s seventh grade ELA class, we read Jurassic Park. Our guiding question for our novel: Just because you can, should you? And really, this is what it all comes down to.
For the record, my robotic vaccuum’s name is Rosie. I’m still waiting on that flying car, though.