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.

happy-teacher

 

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.

artificial-intelligence-job-killer-or-your-next-boss

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.

An iPad shared is an iPad enjoyed

Slide1A little while ago I spoke to Emma Cook from the Guardian about children using iPads. I note that her report in today’s Family section draws a connection to the case of the 4 year old who was reported to be receiving treatment for screen addiction. It is certainly worth taking a moment to reflect on how we use family technology and in particular the increasingly ubiquitous iPad/phone. I have no doubt that the most important thing about this technology within a family is that children and parents can share the activities being completed in a way that was just too cumbersome with previous desktops and laptops. Wonderful learning experiences are possible through the conversations that happen around the activities children are iPadding. This is in stark contrast to the image of the individual child seemingly mesmerized by their technology and ignoring what is happening around them. As ever with technology, it is how we use it that matters most.

In a recent report we noted some of the striking issues about iPads, learning and education.

When it comes to Teaching and Learning students are generally reported to be positive about the iPads, seeing them as essential for 21st century education. Within this report there are examples of iPads being used to support learners beyond simple drill and practice games, to support collaborative learning, to provide personalised learning experiences, iPads to augment and enhance deep learning, as ubiquitous, distributed and connected learning tools. We also discuss the ways in which iPads can contribute to Digitally-Enhanced Monitoring and Assessment.

  • iPads can support seamless learning, allowing learners to easily switch learning contexts – from formal to informal or personal to social – and to take control of their own learning. For example, to supplement what they are learning in class in real-time through additional web-based inquiry, or by making digital notes.
  • The finger-driven iPad interface can motivate and engage students, keeping them interested in content for longer, and allowing groups to interact with the device at the same time and with the same object. This enhances and stimulates simultaneous opportunities for face-to-face social interaction in ways that desktop, laptop and even netbook computing with their mouse-driven screen, ‘individual’ peripherals, fixed location, weight and overall design do not.
  • Research suggests that the adoption and use of iPads in and beyond the classroom allows students to augment and enhance their learning in ways that were previously not possible or not so easy to do.
  • Teachers, students and parents report that the multiple communication features, routine availability and easy accessibility of iPads in the classroom and in students’ homes make communication between teachers and students, and school and home easier and more routine.
  • A key potential benefit of iPad-like devices involves their working in combination with other technologies. In combination with efficient network connectivity and cloud storage they offer ever-increasing capacity for the collection and collation of data about learning activity wherever learners are. The analysis and representation of this data about learning is vital to formative evaluation, assessment, self-assessment and reflection.

The evidence from parents is positive in the main. They identify benefits such as: increased engagement and interest in learning, gains in knowledge and technology skills, more time spent on homework and more opportunity to make learning relevant and authentic. Parents state that home-school communication is improved with the introduction of 1:1 tablet devices and that not having heavy school bags to carry around is a major benefit. Parents do also express some anxiety about breakage, theft, loss or misuse of the devices by children, and express concern about costs and inconsistencies in what parents are expected to contribute.

For learners iPads are easy to use and attractive. The research on iPad use and adoption overwhelmingly reports that tablet devices have a positive impact on students’ engagement with learning. Findings report increased motivation, enthusiasm, interest, engagement, independence and self-regulation, creativity and improved productivity.

For teachers, there is evidence that iPads enhanced the learning experience and transformed teaching practice. Mobility, portability and general ease of use as well as rapid one-touch access to tools (compared with time consuming logins and resource-booking requirements for networked computers) enabled a wider range of learning activities to routinely occur in the classroom. The availability of a wide range of apps and connectivity to cloud computing as well as the immediacy of communication (via email, facetime, etc.) with students afforded by the omni-present iPads enabled teachers to explore alternative activities (3D, interactive, multimodal, virtual tours, etc.) and forms of assessment. In addition, teachers felt that the devices enabled them, as teachers, to promote independent learning, to differentiate learning more easily for different student needs and to easily share resources both with students and with each other. There are however some implications for training and development and we identify that there are recognisable phases in teacher familiarisation with these devices and their integration into classroom activity. The identification of these phases can inform CPD.

For decision makers, such as school leaders, there is pressure to enhance learning and iPads offer potential to help. Many schools have adopted the iPad or similar ‘Post-PC’ tablet devices, whilst many others are looking to do so in the near future. We can learn from their experiences. Our research revealed multiple drivers and implementation models for iPads in schools and classrooms. The majority of 1:1 implementation models were driven by government bodies and school leadersSmall-scale approaches, such as class sets, and shared group iPads, tended to originate from other groups: industry pilots, researcher-supported studies, individual teachers or digital champions and individual schools. Primary schools were more likely to go for shared devices and class sets, whereas secondary schools tended to aim for 1:1 devices. Early adopters tended to fund devices whereas more recent adopters are more likely to seek funding through parental contributions or to arrange leasing options for students.

Our review suggests that schools wishing to use tablets should have a clear rationale for adopting this technology. Successful implementation of tablet technologies in schools requires careful, long-term planning before, during and after the event. Such planning involves consideration of existing technical networks, ownership models, the technology lifecycle, broad stakeholder preparation and on-going engagement (parents, teachers, learners, technical managers, etc.) as well as plans for capturing progress and evaluation.

In the current UK climate, funding in schools is very tight and many feel that the high cost of rolling out 1:1 tablet initiatives requires strong justification. The potential impact of initial and follow-on costs on what is an already limited funding stream is a particularly controversial issue for some, especially in those instances where parents are being asked to ‘take up the slack’. A variety of ownership models were identified. It is important to recognise that the range and variety of ownership models do, however, have implications for organising students’ learning, continuity of access to students’ work and learning data, as well as to management, maintenance and security of the devices.

There are also significant implications for other user groups. The technical support implications are significant. The apparent ease of transition that many of the UK schools that have successfully implemented an iPad initiative exhibited was masked due to the fact that they had recently moved to new, well-equipped school buildings. Beyond the provision of the network, the integration process can be made worse if new devices like tablets are not provided by the school or college and belong to learners, are of different makes and types and use different operating systems. The consistency of the iPad operating system and interface and the availability of apps, as well as issues of security, backup, restore and lifecycle support was identified as an important benefit of iPads over other devices. However, other device manufacturers have upped their game and can now compete in this important area. In this respect, the rapid pace of development in the area of tablet computing is a key issue for schools as they plan for future technology needs and one that requires a process of continuous evaluation.

No technology has an impact on learning in its own right; rather, its impact depends upon how it is used. iPads are no exception to this and in this report we identify ways in which iPads can be used to support teaching and learning. There is evidence that they can help teachers, learners and parents in multiple ways to be more effective. To leverage these learning benefits, the iPad should play the supporting role to the learning activity. The question that should be asked is not  ‘Can iPads support learning?”, but rather “how can iPads be used to support collaborative learning, or exploratory learning”, or whatever. The iPad it is one of a range of tools that can help learning, and when used wisely it can be effective. For schools, teachers and parents thinking of investing in iPads, there is much to be learnt from those who have already taken this path, and an increasing array of devices and ownership options to choose from. As with all technology, this is not a ‘one-off’ decision and the on-going costs, and the need for on-going evaluation and monitoring should not be underestimated.

 

 

Education Hack: Don’t ask if technology can change teaching and learning, ask how teachers and learners can change technology

You can now see the presentations that the Education Hack students made at the London Festival of Education here. Each team explain their idea in a brief 2 minute presentation. These short and sweet briefings illustrate exactly how out of date we are when we ask if or how technology has or will change teaching and learning. The power is now in the hands of our teachers and learners to turn the technology into what they want it to be – our students and teachers have the power and they used it well at the Hack event