McDonald’s kiosks and teaching
Posted September 24, 2016on:
Today’s reflection starts as a contrast to yesterday’s Apple sales chat experience. But I bring it back to a critique of teaching and schooling as we still know today.
Over the last year or so, several McDonald’s fast food restaurants here saw the introduction of self-order kiosks.
The demand for these kiosks might stem from efficiency studies or a reduction in manpower.
After collecting data or conducting a study, McDonald’s might have concluded that letting people order and pay for their food without the help of a cashier was more efficient. Without access to data, that is my best guess.
Removing a few human cashiers might also address the problem of a smaller worker population or allow better deployment of existing staff.
Both are often part of the rationale of replacing people with machines. Though this example (machines replacing people) starts differently from yesterday’s example (people replacing machines), the theme is the same: Let people do what people might do best; let machines do what machines do better.
Computers, machines, robots, and other forms of automation replacing people is not new. We did this since we became sapient and found that tools were more efficient or effective than blunt mass force.
Initially people might feel sore about being replaced because they are robbed of their livelihoods. However, we eventually get over it because we realise how much better things can be.
For example, if all cabs and buses become self-driving, there would likely be a riot from drivers at first. But when people realise that the drivers can provide speciality services or do something else, and the roads are much safer and public transport more reliable, a new normal will set in.
What does the kiosks replacing people have to do with teaching? Sometimes the change is a good thing, but most times teachers struggle with the transition until they take ownership of the change. Still other times the change does not happen because teachers hang on to old practices.
The emerging self-help culture among some of today’s students and a small proportion of teachers means that both groups do not need traditional schooling and professional development as much as before. This is a good thing as this is more efficient and effective; it is a bad thing for schools and vendors.
The people who do not like the McDonald’s kiosks might complain that using the devices is slower than joining a normal queue. After all, the kiosks create two queues instead of one. Before the kiosks, you joined one queue to order, pay, and collect your food. Now you join one queue to order and pay, and another queue to collect your food.
Teachers, like the anti-kiosk patrons, need to take ownership of the do-it-yourself or help yourself movement. This is a trend now, but it might become a culture later. How soon this happens depends on when both parties embrace technology.
What prevents anti-kiosk patrons and teachers from doing this is McDonald’s and school authorities maintaining old systems alongside new ones. McDonald’s still has the old queue system just in case; schools still operate with industrial age machinery in an information age. There is little incentive to jump from the old ship because it is kept afloat.
Yesterday I concluded that we should not get in the way of either people or technology unless one enables the other to do and be better. The introduction of McDonald’s kiosks is a change that does not appear help us do better. Likewise the changes in curricular, assessment, and educational technology policies may threaten a shakeup. But teachers can comfortably ignore those policies if they do not appear to be effective. They would rather go to McDonald’s to enjoy some fries with that shake.