November 27, 2023

Futures Literacy: What if… Robot Teachers Taught in Quebec

This article is a translation of a text published in Eductive’s French edition.

Futures Literacy

Since 2012, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been actively committed to supporting futures literacy. Futures literacy is an essential competency that we must acquire, as educators, to prepare our students to face a constantly evolving world.

Have you ever heard the acronym VUCA? The 4 letters refer to a world increasingly defined by:

  • volatility
  • uncertainty
  • complexity
  • ambiguity

This acronym originated in the United States (US) in 1987 to depict the post-Cold War world. The US Army was inspired by the book Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, written by American researchers Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus in 1985. The US Army decided to implement the concept of VUCA in their officer training program in order to make them aware of the specific contexts they would face throughout their careers.

Today, the acronym VUCA is used in management, to define the complex era we live in. Global challenges need a more inclusive and agile approach to policy design and decision-making.

It is in this light that the use of futures literacy comes into play. By relying on the art of anticipation, the futures literacy competency improves our ability to shape resilient policies and systems able to withstand shocks and adapt over a long period of time.

I drew my inspiration from the UNESCO report on futures literacy and from the social science fiction literary genre to bring futuristic scenarios in education to life. (I also tapped into a personal interest of mine by exploring Marvel’s alternate realities!) The “What if…” future narratives can be a way to:

  • empower imagination
  • enhance our ability to prepare
  • innovate in the face of change.

In essence, “What if…” narratives are based on the development of futures literary, which is a crucial competency in education. They prepare both educators and students to become agile thinkers, able to successfully navigate in an ever-changing world. Therefore, the objective behind the “What if…” narratives is to provide food for thought on the future of education.

I present to you my 1st “What if…” narrative, in which I picture the year 2050 as being a decisive turning point in the history of education in Quebec as a new college will finally use 15 robot teachers to give classes. This science-fiction short story takes the reader to an alternate reality. It gives an opportunity to contemplate various futures of education and raise questions on technological advancements and their impact, encouraging an in-depth reflection on the future of education.

What if…

Robot teachers will teach for the 1st time in Quebec!

The 1st cohort

Wednesday, August 21, 2050, marks the beginning of my 1st day at college, and it is a turning point in my student life! I feel immensely proud to be part of the 1st cohort of the College of the Future, the very 1st fully digital institution of higher education, where classes are mostly given by robot teachers.

My parents made tremendous efforts to make sure I could take part in this adventure! Getting all the prerequisites was not easy, but we made it.

Here’s a brief list of what we had to accomplish to be selected for the 1st cohort at the College of the Future:

  • A microchip (a small electronic implant the size of a peppercorn) was injected into my wrist. It allows the educational health services to activate my digital twin  in order to monitor my vital signs as well as my mental health and to provide as much academic support as possible.
  • I signed a consent allowing the management of my personal data by the institution and I authorized interactions with robot teachers.
  • I sent my DNA test, which, if needed, will be used to request genome editing if there is a significant divergence in my genetic code that could disadvantage my lineage’s education.
  • I submitted my digital portfolio, which has been with me since my early school days. It allows the educational teams to determine my learner profile and recommend courses that will best help me achieve my goals.

You know, I want to become a transhumanist orthopedic surgeon: to do so, I must pass my college courses and obtain endorsement by the evaluation committee, which will decide on my university admission after analyzing my digital twin.

In the meantime, the geographical location of my new college is beautiful!

Located in the small and quiet town of Chambord, by the shores of the Lac Saint-Jean, the college is nestled at the foot of a hill surrounded by groves and small ponds. There is also a dome for microagriculture that will provide food to supply the college dining hall.

Advanced technologies

The institution is the result of a project that has been thoughtfully considered. It is a unique concept in the world, which uses the best available technologies in education:

  • the integration of biotechnology into the education system
  • the fusion of humans and machines, resulting in augmented humans
  • the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support educational mentors.

Obviously, AI has progressed to the point where it can replace teachers in many subjects. Therefore, the college has decided to take the leap and introduce robot teachers in all disciplines.

The opposition from several educational communities blocked the project for many years, ignoring the decline in the number of registrations in higher education institutions. Initially, there was much discussion on ethics, data protection, and biases. Then, gradually, technology helped solve problems caused mainly by humans, through deep learning. The machines themselves eventually understood how to learn like humans, and then they made suggestions and proposals that were accepted by humans. Moreover, within the past 10 years, the registrations in institutions from the education and higher education network have declined significantly.

The resistance

My parents still remember the official announcement of the project. At the time, the transition immediately sparked controversy among students and teaching staff.

Teachers were concerned about their jobs and the values held by education, whereas students feared losing the human interaction that was an integral part of the college experience.

The group “Guardians of Education” was formed to resist this great digital revolution. Large gatherings took place, peaceful demonstrations, petitions, and even strikes over a period of several months to put pressure on the decision-makers.

Despite the protests, the College of the Future project made its way. Our education is divided into 2 phases:

  • theoretical phases, led by robot teachers
  • practical, sharing, and co-development phases, managed by teaching staff.

These 2 phases were designed, co-developed, and monitored by an entire educational team.

The 1st few weeks were difficult. Students were complaining about the lack of human warmth, the impersonal nature of robot teachers, and their lack of empathy and emotional intelligence. Then, over time, the robots adapted and personalized their teaching according to every student’s needs. Our academic results improved, and the teachers had the chance to truly get to know us and become real mentors for us.

Unexpected challenges

One day, in the middle of the Winter semester, unexpected problems arose. The robot teachers were hacked and conveyed completely absurd information, leading to major disruptions in the institution.

Authorities suspected the “Guardians of Education,” and the college administration called on cybersecurity AI to reinforce the system’s defence. The robot teachers were updated with enhanced security software. But this event left a lasting impression on us.

With my parents’ support, we did everything possible for me to succeed. Technology will play a major role in all aspects of my professional development. I will continue to work to be an exemplary citizen able to solve problems, use metacognition, and succeed in all areas where I excel.  All of this in the hope of an ideal world, in the best of realities.

About the author

Florence Sedaminou Muratet

Inspired by the conviction that education is the most powerful tool for changing the world, Florence Sedaminou Muratet has forged a solid academic career in anthropology and education. Cumulating over 20 years’ experience, she has not only taught French as a second language and Humanities, but also integrated interculturality and digital pedagogy into her courses at an early stage. Her major contributions include the redesign of educational programs, which led her to skillfully integrate multidisciplinary approaches and digital technologies, thus significantly enhancing the learning experience.

As a digital pedagogy consultant with Collecto, Florence stands out for her pioneering work in implementing emerging technologies in education. She is particularly committed to exploring the applications and implications of artificial intelligence in society, actively helping to shape the future of digital education.

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