Malala Yousafzai’s A level results are brilliant, we need more successes like this

Who could be anything but delighted to see this headline? A-level results: Malala Yousafzai gets a place at Oxford, this is excellent news and a great boost for those campaigning for equal education. In fact, the publication yesterday of A level results in the UK has spurred me to take a slight diversion from worrying about who is moving my brain or my cheese. I certainly would not want to detract from the hard work that any students have put into their A level studies or to take the shine off their success. It is wonderful to see the smiling faces of successful students across the newspapers.

However, success does not come to all and even on a celebration day, or perhaps I should write especially on a celebration day, I think we need to consider alternatives to the stressful stop and test regime that pervades most education systems. I wrote about this in Nature Human Behaviour earlier this year under the heading: ‘Towards artificial intelligence-based assessment systems’ and it looks like it has been read a few times because it is ranked 5,746th of the 237,966 tracked articles of a similar age in all nature journals which puts it in the 97th percentile. This does not seem bad given that it was only a ‘comment’ piece and not a full paper. On a less positive note in an internal REF assessment exercise it was only ranked as 2*, which is not great and probably reflects the difficulty for academics in publishing more popular style articles. However, the modest success of the article in terms of the altometrics that Nature run encourages me to believe that there is some interest in exploring the possibilities that the intelligent design and application of AI could afford for National assessment systems. I therefore draw attention to this possibility here and hope to encourage further debate. The key point I wanted to convey in the Nature Human Behaviour article was that there are alternatives to exams, that are less stressful, less expensive and that allow teachers and learners to spend more time on teaching and learning (shouldn’t this be the point of education?).

This message may not be what others have selected to focus on, but for me, the most important thing is that we have an assessment system that is holistic, fair and that let’s all students evidence their knowledge, skills and capabilities.

 

Who moved my brAIn? Is this the next self help best seller to get us ready for our AI future?

I’m pleased to report that my ankle is progressing well and I am now once again able to achieve my ‘misfit‘ challenge of 1000 activity points per day: clearly it is a good job I was only mildly curious. However, I want to be more than mildly curious when it come to my intellect, and I want to do this without injury. I had therefore better take care, both of my own intellect and of the intellect of those I am trying to encourage to be appropriately curious. I therefore return to my thoughts about what a useful self-help book to prepare people for their AI augmented futures, might be like. To this end, I also return to ‘The AI Race‘ and specifically to the man behind the survey that was used to calculate how much of different people’s jobs are likely to be automated.

AustralianAutomationData

Andrew Charlton is his name and he is economist and director of AlphaBeta, an economics and strategy consulting firm. He did not beat about the bush! AI will impact on ALL jobs and he encouraged the TV audience to embrace AI. His ‘top tip’ was that we must carefully manage the transition from now to the situation when widespread AI augmentation will be common place.

He was clear that we must take advantage of what AI has to offer by increasing the diversity of our own skills sets. He saw AI as an “Iron Man Suit” for humans. This suit would transform us mere humans into super humans. This is a great analogy, who would not want to be super human? BUT embracing AI augmented working is not as simple as putting on a new outfit – especially an iron outfit. And increasing the diversity of our skill sets requires educators and trainers who are themselves skilled and trained in developing these new diverse skill sets. BUT where are these educators and trainers to be found? Who is helping the educators and trainers to gain the skills and expertise they will need to train their students in?

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Andrew has little comfort to offer here.  His next comment about education is that 60% of the curriculum that students are studying at school is developing them for jobs that will no longer exist in 30 years-time. We need to re-design the curriculum he advises. So educators need to re-skill themselves as well as their students, and they need to revise the curriculum. Clearly educators will be busy! And clearly there will also be a significant job to be done in (re-)motivating all those students who discover that they have been learning stuff that nobody will want them to know by the time they are looking for a job.

Now we hit the nub of the matter, education and educators must prepare students for the new AI order of things. Educators lives are going to change in significant ways NOT because their roles are likely to be automated away BUT because they will need to teach a different curriculum and probably teach in a different way. To make matters worst: there is no clear consensus from the experts about exactly which jobs educators will need to educate people for. I think educators may be the most in need of a good self-help book to help them cope with the inevitable changes to their lives.

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The self-help book I need to write might therefore be the updated version of the motivational best seller Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. I suggested this might become ‘Who moved my brAIn? An Amazing Way to Deal with ChAnge in Your Work and in Your Life’

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The original book called ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ was a story featuring 4 characters: two mice, called “Sniff” and “Scurry,” and two little people, called: “Hem” and “Haw.” These 4 characters all live together in a maze through which they all search for cheese (for cheese think – happiness and success). Their search bears fruit when all of them find cheese in “Cheese Station C.” “Hem” and “Haw” are content with this state of affairs and work out a schedule for how much cheese they can eat each day, they enjoy their cheese and relax.

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“Sniff” and Scurry” meanwhile remain vigilant and do not relax, but keep their wits about them. When horror of horrors there is no cheese at Cheese Station C  one day, “Sniff” and Scurry” are not surprised: they had seen this coming as the cheese supply had diminished and they had prepared themselves for the inevitable arduous cheese hunt through the maze and they get started with the search together straightaway. In contrast “Hem” and “Haw” are angry and annoyed when they find the cheese gone and “Hem” asks: “Who moved my cheese?” “Hem” and “Haw” get angrier and feel that the situation they find themselves in is unfair. “Hem” is unwilling to search for more cheese and would rather wallow in feeling victimized, “Haw” would be willing to search, but is persuaded not to by “Haw”.

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While “Hem” and “Haw” get annoyed, “Sniff” and “Scurry” find a new cheese supply at “Cheese Station N,” and enjoy a good feast. “Hem” and “Haw” start to blame each other for their lack of cheese. Once again “Haw” suggests they go and look for more cheese, but grumpy “Hem” is frightened about the unknown and wants to stick with what he knows, he refuses to search. However, one day “Hem” confronts his fears and decides it is time to move on. Before he leaves “Cheese Station C” he scribbles on the wall: “If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct” and “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?” He starts his trek and whilst he is still worried, he finds some bits of cheese that that keep him going as he searches. He finds some more empty cheese stations, but also some more crumbs and is able to keep hunting. “Haw” has realized that the cheese did not simply vanish, it was eaten. He is able to move beyond his fears and he feels ok. He decides that he should go back to find “Hem” equipped with the morsels of cheese he has found. Sadly, “Hem” is still grumpy and refuses the cheese morsels. Undeterred, though somewhat disappointed, “Haw” heads back into the maze and a life of cheese hunting. He continues to write messages on the wall as a way of externalizing his thinking and in the hope that “Hem” might one day move on and be guided by these messages. One day “Hem” finds Cheese Station N with all its lovely cheese, he reflects on his experience, but decides not to go back to “Hem”, but rather to let “Hem” find his own way. He uses the largest wall in the maze to write the following (original to the left, my re-interpretation to the right):

Who move my cheese? Who moved my brAIn?
Change Happens: They Keep Moving The Cheese Computers keep getting smarter and intelligent tasks are moving from human to machine
Anticipate Change: Get Ready For The Cheese To Move Prepare for some of your intellectual activity to be taken on by AI
Monitor Change: Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old Keep checking in on your own intelligence and make sure you are really using it and keeping it fresh
Adapt To Change Quickly: The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese Adapt to change thoughtfully (quickly is not necessarily right here), make sure you offload intellectual activity carefully so that you maintain your human intellectual integrity
Change: Move With The Cheese Move with the intelligence (both human/natural and machine/artificial)
Enjoy Change!: Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese! Enjoy intelligence and the experience of your developing greater intelligence – being smart ‘tastes good’!
Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again: They Keep Moving The Cheese Never feel you are intelligent enough and keep striving for intellectual growth

“Haw” is never complacent and continually monitors his cheese store and searches through the maze and hopes that one day his old friend “Hem” will find his way through and that they will meet again.

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Whilst the book “Who moved my cheese” was extremely popular, it was also the subject of considerable criticism. For example, that it was too positive about change, that it was patronizing and compared people inappropriately to ‘rats in a maze’. BUT can I learn anything from this as I try to encourage people to want to understand themselves and their changing intellectual capabilities?

I think there is still value in “Haw’s” writing on the wall and I have tried to clarify this nee value for AI in the right hand column of the table above. I also think perhaps that my original revised title of: “Who moved my brAIn?” is not quite correct. The more important question is “Who moved my intelligence?”.

More to come on this in the next blog post…

 

We have the technology to eradicate exams, tests and stress forever, so why aren’t we using it?

The recent leaking of SAT papers and the growing body of evidence on the stress and anxiety experienced by students who have to sit a battery of tests and exams highlight an area of serious concern. It is all particularly frustrating because it does not have to be like this.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) could wipe out all this pain and change schools forever: it could do away with the need for exams.

This is not to suggest that we should do away with Assessment. It is essential that we know how students are progressing in their knowledge, understanding and skills, and how teaching practices and educational systems are or are not successful. However, assessment does not have to mean tests and exams.

exam_stressArtificial Intelligence is difficult to define because it is constantly shifting and interdisciplinary. However,  AI systems can be described as computer systems that have been designed to interact with the world through capabilities (for example, visual perception and speech recognition) and intelligent behaviours (for example, assessing the available information and then taking the most sensible action to achieve a stated goal) that we would think of as essentially human.[1]

AI has been in the news recently with the AlphaGo programme beating a human champion Go player for the first time and the prospect that Google’s driverless car will soon be available for us to try (). On the negative side there are concerns about the impact of increasingly sophisticated AI on our economy and in particular the jobs market.

 

However, the sort of AI I am talking about here is specific to education and has the catchy acronym AIEd. It has been the subject of academic research for more than 30 years and promotes the development of adaptive learning environments and other tools that are flexible, inclusive, personalised, engaging, and effective. At the heart of AIEd is the scientific goal to “make computationally precise and explicit forms of educational, psychological and social knowledge which are often left implicit.”[2] In other words, in addition to being the engine behind much “smart” EdTech, AIEd is also a powerful tool to open up what is sometimes called the ‘black box of learning,’ giving us deeper and more fine-grained understandings of how learning actually happens.

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Artificial Intelligence tools and techniques could do away with the need for stop and test assessments and all the stress and anxiety that goes with them. There would be no more need for marking and re-marking, no appeals about results, none of the machinery of exam sitting that dominates the summer term in secondary schools with its “Silence, exam in progress” signs and the commandeering of sports facilities for use as exam halls. There would be more time for teaching, more time for sport and more time for curriculum enrichment.

 

AIEd provides the technology to conduct fine-grained analysis of learners’ skills and capabilities as they learn so that their developmimages-1ent can be tracked continuously and appropriate support provided. Instead of traditional assessments that rely upon evaluating small samples of what a student has been taught, AIEd-driven assessments could be built into meaningful learning activities, perhaps a game or a collaborative project, and will assess all of the learning (and teaching) that takes place, as it happens[3]. AIEd also offer the capability to track the 21st Century Skills that the modern workplace requires and that traditional assessment miss. Skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and initiative.

There is of course a considerable commercial ecosystem surrounding the current assessment system and this may cause some hesitation about adopting the AIEd continuous assessment and support approach. There are also significant ethical issues that need to be considered, such as who has access to the data-stream about student performance and can it be edited or commented on by parents, teachers or the student. The adoption of an AI driven assessment system would be a huge cultural change and not everyone would understand it or feel comfortable with it. Many innovations do not meet with immediate popularity: electric vehicles for example, but over time they are accepted, their benefits are appreciated and their popularity grows.

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Unfortunately, there is a hesitation in the UK to exploit either the social and economic potential of AIEd or its commercial benefits. Funding is poorly targeted and as a consequence the UK is at risk of losing its internationally leading research base and its competitive edge. We need to move from the cottage industry of existing UK AIEd research, to a rich ecosystem of disciplined innovation. And we need to move from siloed and short term funding to a funding landscape that reflects AIEd’s enormous potential.

 

But, most importantly of all we need to engage teachers and learners, employers and workers, in the design of the AIEd systems that are developed to provide both the assessment and the learning benefits that this technology has to offer.

 

This blog post can also be found on the UCL IOE blog. It draws on the following publication, where readers can find out more about AIEd: https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/corporate/global/pearson-dot-com/files/innovation/Intelligence-Unleashed-Publication.pdf

 

[1] ODE: The Oxford Dictionary of English (Oxford Dictionaries online). Oxford University Press, Oxford (2005) AND Russell, S.J., Norvig, P., Davis, E.: Artificial intelligence: a modern approach. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River (1995).

[2] Self, J.: The defining characteristics of intelligent tutoring systems research: ITSs care, precisely. International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education (IJAIEd). 10, 350–364 (1999).

[3] Hill, P. and M. Barber (2014) Preparing for a Renaissance in Assessment, London: Pearson.; DiCerbo, K. (2014). Why an Assessment Renaissance Means Fewer Tests. http://researchnetwork.pearson.com/digital-data-analytics-and-adaptive-learning/assessment-renaissance-means-fewer-tests

Will Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) cope with ‘messy’ real world learning?

I was catching up with reading my weekend papers and came across the Observer Tech Monthly profile of Demis Hassabis, the founder of DeepMind. I have never met Demis, but the Observer piece echoes the descriptions I have been given by those who do know him. He is incredibly bright and also extremely modest: a nice ‘ordinary’ North London guy. I feel comforted that someone like this is at the forefront of our efforts to extend the boundaries of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the achievements of DeepMind are certainly impressive. However I am less convinced about the real potential of Artificial General Intelligence or AGI, especially when it comes to its application to education.

download2I can buy into the vision of a world where smart people work with smart machines to solve wicked problems, such as cancer. And I can see that there is indeed too much information for many of us humans to process, so some artificially intelligent help would be great. I like the idea that AGI will “automatically convert unstructured information into actionable knowledge…. to provide a meta-solution for any problem” But that’s where it falls down for me, I can’t believe that the structured knowledge will be applicable to any problem.

IMG_8934The reason I hold this view is twofold. Firstly, much of the knowledge that helps us negotiate our way through the world is highly contextualized. There is significant evidence that a learner’s context impacts significantly upon their learning process and that in essence each individual person has his or her own individualized learning context. Secondly, teaching and learning in the real world provides extremely messy data. It’s this very messiness in teaching and learning settings that is crucially important. Partly because one never knows if what appears to be mess is actually important for learning. For example, a disagreement between two children will probably upset at least one of them and that in turn will impact on their learning. I would need to see some clear examples of contextualized AGI (is that a contradiction in terms?) and its propensity for messy real world learning settings to be convinced that AGI for education is a way forward.

hero-learning-pathsIt’s not just DeepMind whose remarkable systems are not to my mind suitable to take over education. I was on a panel with Jose Ferreira CEO of Knewton last month and it became clear that Jose believes that Knewton is smart enough to play the role of a teacher. It certainly is impressive technology. However, Knewton relies upon ‘clean’ data and that is not what classrooms are like. To my mind the most likely outcome for AI within Education is not for AGI, but for AI components to provide teachers with a selection of smart tools that teachers can use with learners as and when they think it appropriate. It really is the smart combination of Human and Machine intelligence that will win the day.

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World Economic Forum Report: New Vision for Education, the case of the missing learner.

On 25th September the What the Research Says event at the London Knowledge Lab discussed the World Economic Forum report – New Vision for Education: unlocking the potential of technology.  The presentations from the event can be found on the Resources page of this blog.

imgresThe report stimulated a lively discussion and the meeting benefitted greatly from the presence on-line of Elizabeth Kaufman and Jessica Boccardo from Boston Consulting group who had co-authored on the report. Those present came from a wide range of backgrounds, both within and outwith academia, including commercial developers, think tanks, publishers and educators. All believe in the importance of evidence-based models of innovation and development.

 

The emphasis upon 21st Century skills was seen as positive and timely. However, there was much discussion about the nature of foundational skills and in particular, whether these are the same now as they were a decade ago, for example is the numeracy now the same numeracy as it was in the millennium? In fact should we be asking: are there new kinds of knowledge that need to be added to the agenda? Foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities are not necessarily mutually exclusive and should not be addressed in isolation. Not all skills are measurable, for example, creativity. In addition, measurement alone is insufficient, what is required is the creation of circumstances in which skills are developed and supported. The group also wondered why the European Commission lifelong learning indicators were not referenced.

Developing comparable indicators to measure progress globally is a huge challenge given the diversity of contexts, likewise, consensus on definitions and globally uniform standards. Context needs to be attributed beyond the country level only – there can be variations at regional, district, school and teacher levels.

child Head.Children Learn to think

child Head.Children Learn to think

There was much agreement that technology can support the development of 21st Century skills and that the potential extended beyond the examples within the report. For example,

  • Adaptive technologies for learning powered by Artificial Intelligence can support foundational skills, but they can also support curiosity, structure personalised feedback, support self-regulation, metacognition and communication;
  • Open data can be used to model good practices and can support skills development specifically: critical skills, analytic skills, research skills, teamwork skills & citizenship skills;
  • There are tensions with the adoption of games that need to be addressed for progress to be made. The reasons for this include: Educational game designers ignoring the importance of the social interactions around games and the fact that games do not fit easily within educational structures.
  • Big data and learning analytics are important technologies missing from the report.

 

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The closed loop model is appealingly straightforward. However the discussion identified concerns with this approach that included: A lack of openness for teachers and learners to engage with the process at every stage, for example to negotiate and con-construct learning objectives. Instruction is only one form of educational approach and that severely limits the application of the closed loop model. Despite an emphasis upon context within the report, there appears to be no accounting for learner context in the closed loop model. A spiral model has been tried and tested and shown to be effective, might that be more appropriate?

The report’s reference to ‘Abundant high-quality content’ was challenged and the group noted that in the Bridge example, teachers had spent considerable time developing lesson content.

The groups experience questioned how many teachers actually use online CPD?

There was much agreement that more evidence is required and that there is a wealth of evidence available within academic institutions. Could this be capitalised upon?

There was also much agreement that a multi-stakeholder approach is essential and suggest the addition of researchers and learners.

OECD Report – Students, Computers and Learning: 3 ways we can do so much better

The 200 page report published yesterday by the OECD is packed with tables and figures that tell a story about the state of 15-year-olds’ educational attainment in maths, reading, science and digital skills in 2012 across the participating countries.

CO7Qte2WUAI_FpkThe negative message from this report has received considerable publicity: countries that have invested heavily in ICT for education do not show improved student achievements in reading, mathematics and science. Less use of the internet is linked to better reading performance and frequent use of technology in school is linked to lower performance. The UK did not participate in this study, but findings being presented to the British Educational Research Association today (Thursday) appear to back it up.

All this sounds very depressing, but it is not the key message we should take away from the report. Instead we should be asking why technology use is not linked to improved attainment and what we should be doing about it.

Andreas Schleichler, OECD director for education and skills, says we must provide teachers with environments that support 21st Century teaching and learning and students with 21st century skills. He states that “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge” and that’s a very important message to take away.

This link between technology and 21st Century teaching and learning is also reflected in another report published earlier this year by the World Economic Forum (WEF): New Vision for Education, Unlocking the Potential of Technology. This report found that technology was an important factor in successful project-based, experiential and inquiry-based learning.

This finding is also reflected in the OECD data. For example, students reported that their teachers used computers to a greater extent in teaching for real-world problems, particularly related to maths and that these teachers were also more inclined and better prepared for student-oriented teaching practices, such as group work, individualised learning and project work and more likely to use digital resources.

There is strong evidence to support the effectiveness of these learning activities and of technology’s important role. For example WEF found that education technology was key to the successful teaching of 21st-century skills such as communication, creativity, persistence and collaboration. So why are the overall PISA findings still negative about technology and attainment?

Three things we can do

I suggest that at least part of the reason for the negative link between computer use and attainment can be found when we explore what students most commonly do with computers. Unsurprisingly it is not project-based, experiential learning. Students’ use of computers at school is dominated by browsing the internet, with 42% of students doing this once a week or more. The activity performed the least frequently was using simulations (11%). When students did schoolwork at home, once again browsing was the most popular activity. It’s good for students to do a certain amount of unguided browsing, but more importantly they need to be provided with principles and structures to help them perform more strategic searches.

  1. The first thing that we can do, therefore, is to raise the game for students and ensure that their time with technology is spent more productively.

It’s clear that what students do with computers makes a difference to their learning. But what students do is also related to their socio-economic background. In 2012 96% of 15-year-old students in OECD countries reported having a computer at home, so almost everyone has access to technology.

That’s not to say that the hardware divide has been completely eradicated; lower socio-economic groups are likely to have less sophisticated technology. However these older technologies are perfectly capable of supporting learning if the student knows how to use it effectively. The OECD report illustrates that what people do with media is more important than the technologies and connectivity available to them – and also more resistant to change. In their free time disadvantaged students tend to prefer online chat over e-mail, and playing video games rather than reading the news or obtaining practical information.

  1. The second thing that we can do is to focus attention on helping disadvantaged learners to use the technology available to them more effectively.

Finally, let me return to Andreas Schleichler, who states that countries need to “invest more effectively and ensure that teachers are at the forefront of designing and implementing this change.”

I would go one stage further. Researchers who work with educational technology, and for whom this blog post will hold no surprises, need to be better at communicating what their research can say both to the teachers who use the technology and the developers who build the technology. Unfortunately, (as I have observed before) research is typically conducted in isolation from technology developers. This makes little sense at a time when technology has become consumerised, even for the poorest families, and there is increasing evidence about how to make it effective as a learning tool.

  1. The third thing we can do is to create better communication channels between teachers, technology developers and researchers. Achieving this would be a ‘win win’: Improved learning, better teaching, better research.

PELARS

Come Hack with us

Once again we are working with a group of teenagers to help them to instantiate their ideas using technology. This time our theme is the Internet of Things and smart cities.

PELARS

 

The applications the students develop will be exploring the use and purpose of sensor-based applications.  The hardware and software we will be using to help with rapid prototyping and experimenting with the students’ ideas will be the arduino and sketches which are a C/C++ language (http://arduino.cc ).

 

The students have already been thinking about their ideas, which include

  • Connecting to being mobile:
    • From transport to life style stages e.g. waiting for the bus or walking home
  • Interacting with your environment
    • Helping the environment to be more intelligent e.g. when crossing the road – staying green for longer
  • Reading on the go:
    • Making everyday objects interactive screens
  • Smart furniture
    • Smart bicycle parks
    • Safe place detectors
    • Event alerts from water sprays, moving objects to sensing objects activities

These will be developed through the Hack event into prototype designs. The students will present their work on the main stage at the London Festival of Education.