Seminar recording available: 'Reconceptualising the teacher function through automation'

11 Dec 2020
Decorative of powerpoint slide showing seminar title and speaker information

Reconceptualising the teacher function through automation 

Dr Michael Gallagher, Centre for Research in Digital Education

Dr Markus Breines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 

Myles Blaney, Information Services Group, University of Edinburgh 

This seminar took place on 9th December 2020.  Access the event recording via our Media Hopper channel. 


From chatbots, personal assistants and simple IFTTT (if this then that) routing logic to the promises and pitfalls of machine learning, automation is becoming increasingly common in higher education. Much of this automation is positioned around perceived gains (efficiency, time, cost), scale, and learning personalisation (personal assistants as a means of providing support). Yet there has been little work in exploring how the assemblage of human and student agency, code, algorithms, and more might be reconfigured through automation to envision a broader ‘teacher function.’ 

The seminar will discuss a recent research project at the University of Edinburgh that speculatively explored the potential for automation in teaching, which generated insights into current and future pedagogical practice among both teachers and students. Echoing its predecessor project, Teacherbot, this work needn’t be about solving ‘any productivity deficits in teachers, or to replace teachers, but rather to explore how an assemblage of teacher-student-code might be pedagogically generative’  (Bayne 2015: 465). 

We will draw on data that emerged from qualitative work conducted with students, faculty, and staff across the three colleges at the University of Edinburgh. Through this participatory student and teacher-led research and development, several findings emerged about the potential of automation in teaching First, several institutional narratives of teaching practice surfaced along with a series of emergent pedagogical positions: the pedagogical potential of visibility and invisibility online, transparency, and interrogating the hidden curricula of both higher education and educational technology itself (Gallagher, Breines, Blaney, 2020). Second, there were insights as to what mobilities are being engendered as a result of this reconfigured teacher function (Gallagher and Breines 2020). Third, thes research also identified several use cases for bots, what institutional values these use cases were evaluated against and might ultimately realise, and how they would supplement the teacher function (Breines and Gallagher, 2020). In this seminar, we present key findings and discuss the future of automation in teaching at the University of Edinburgh. 


Bayne, S. (2015). Teacherbot: interventions in automated teaching. Teaching in Higher Education20(4), 455-467. 

Gallagher, M., & Breines, M. (2020). Surfacing knowledge mobilities in higher education: reconfiguring the teacher function through automation. Learning, Media and Technology, 1-13.

Breines, M. R., & Gallagher, M. (2020). A return to Teacherbot: rethinking the development of educational technology at the University of Edinburgh. Teaching in Higher Education, 1-15.

Gallagher, M.; Breines, M. & Blaney, M. (2020 In Press). Transparency, (in)visibility, and hidden curricula: surfacing critical pedagogy through contentious edtech. Postdigital Science and Education.