Monday, March 07, 2005

A Computer for a Professor Anyone?

How long until administators don't need to hire adjunts or people to teach general education courses? Not long according to this Chronicle of Education article.

Right now an enterprising computer programmer somewhere is probably designing instructional software that could completely eliminate professors as we know them, says John C. Miller, director of the Algebra Courseware Project at the City College, part of the City University of New York.

Mr. Miller delivered that threat -- or promise, if you're an administrator rather than an instructor -- on Sunday at Innovations 2005, the annual conference of the League for Innovation in the Community College, which is being held here through Wednesday.

His best guess is that the programmer is probably in India, home to what Mr. Miller said are the world's best computer programmers and the world's best technical university, the Indian Institute of Technology.

The worldwide cost of "secondary" mathematics instruction -- pre-algebra through elementary calculus -- is somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-billion annually, and most of it goes to instructors' salaries, he said. The enterprising programmer would find a ready market for instructional software among cost-conscious college and school administrators."

The technology is ready," Mr. Miller said. "It's a question of when, not if."

Community colleges have in recent years adopted instructional software widely, mostly in developmental English, reading, and math courses, but the software now available commercially is supplemental. In most cases, an instructor still guides students through the course and answers questions that software cannot.

If they can do it for math and English, they can eventually do it for history. If computers take over teaching most of the content and you use multiple choice exames, you could probably get away with hiring on Ph.D. to "teach" and answer questions from 200-500 students a semester, maybe more.