Comment: Artificial intelligence turns brain activity into speech

People who have lost the ability to speak after a stroke or disease can use their eyes or make other small movements to control a cursor or select on-screen letters. (Cosmologist Stephen Hawking tensed his cheek to trigger a switch mounted on his glasses.) But if a brain-computer interface could re-create their speech directly, they might regain much more: control over tone and inflection, for example, or the ability to interject in a fast-moving conversation.

Servick, K. (2019). Artificial intelligence turns brain activity into speech. Science.

To be clear, this research doesn’t describe the artificial recreation of imagined speech i.e. the internal speech that each of us hears as part of the personal monologue of our own subjective experiences. Rather, it maps the electrical activity in the areas of the brain that are responsible for the articulation of speech as the participant reads or listens to sounds being played back to them. Nonetheless, it’s an important step for patients who have suffered damage to those areas of the brain responsible for speaking.

I also couldn’t help but get excited about the following; when electrical signals from the brain are converted into digital information (as they would have to be here, in order to do the analysis and speech synthesis) then why not also transmit that digital information over wifi? If it’s possible for me to understand you “thinking about saying words”, instead of using your muscles of articulation to actually say them, how long will it be before you can send those words to me over a wireless connection?

Response to an email on the use of technology in the classroom

I just received an email from someone who read my article in The Conversation, “Technology is no longer a luxury for universities – it’s a necessity“. They asked two questions and I thought I’d post my response here. The questions were:

  1. Do you think teachers have to show students how to use the software which is relevant to their major?
  2. Do you have any other reasons to explain why technology is important in class?

Here are my responses:

I do believe that teachers need to be able to show students how to use technology as part of their courses. If the technology is being used pedagogically, then it is closely tied to the way the course is taught, which means that it’s probably not going to work for the IT department to show students. When my students use technology in my courses, it’s because I want them to do it in a very specific way, because the use is tied to the objectives I want them to achieve. I also want to be able to explain why we’re using the technology. It has an advantage over other approaches and I want to be able to discuss that.

I think that using technology is important because it does 2 main things:

It enhances communication: By including technology into our channels of communication (note that I’m not suggesting that it replace other channels) we add the ability to enhance communication in ways that are difficult to do without technology. For example, adding rich media like animations, audio and video files, and images helps to convey complex ideas in addition to text or lectures.

It accelerates: adding technology simply allows us to do things faster. Instead of having to search for something on a library shelf, I can search inside books online. Instead of having to flip through pages of course notes, students can search for keywords. Instead of having to write by hand, students can type faster. Technology helps us to do things, find things, learn things, etc. more quickly than the analogue equivalent.

What do you think? Would you have answered these questions differently?

I enjoyed reading (July)

Artificial Intelligence Is Now Telling Doctors How to Treat You (Daniela Hernandez)

Artificial intelligence is still in the very early stages of development–in so many ways, it can’t match our own intelligence–and computers certainly can’t replace doctors at the bedside. But today’s machines are capable of crunching vast amounts of data and identifying patterns that humans can’t. Artificial intelligence–essentially the complex algorithms that analyze this data–can be a tool to take full advantage of electronic medical records, transforming them from mere e-filing cabinets into full-fledged doctors’ aides that can deliver clinically relevant, high-quality data in real time.

Carl Sagan on Science and Spirituality (Maria Popova)

Plainly there is no way back. Like it or not, we are stuck with science. We had better make the best of it. When we finally come to terms with it and fully recognize its beauty and its power, we will find, in spiritual as well as in practical matters, that we have made a bargain strongly in our favor.

But superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way, distracting us, providing easy answers, dodging skeptical scrutiny, casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience, making us routine and comfortable practitioners as well as victims of credulity.

Is it OK to be a luddite?

Perhaps, there is some middle-ground, not skepticism or luddism, but what Sean calls digital agnosticism. So often in our discussions of online education and teaching with technology, we jump to a discussion of how or when to use technology without pausing to think about whether or why. While we wouldn’t advocate for a new era of luddism in higher education, we do think it’s important for us to at least ask ourselves these questions.

We use technology. It seduces us and students with its graphic interfaces, haptic touch-screens, and attention-diverting multimodality. But what are the drawbacks and political ramifications of educational technologies? Are there situations where tech shouldn’t be used or where its use should be made as invisible as possible?

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation (Doug Belshaw):

Those of us who have grown up with the web sort-of, kind-of know the mechanics behind it (although we could use a refresher). For the next generation, will they know the difference between the Internet and Google or Facebook? Will they, to put it bluntly, know the difference between a public good and a private company?

7 things good communicators must not do (Garr Reynolds): Reynolds creates a short list of items taken from this TED Talk by Julian Treasure. If you can’t watch the video, here are the things to avoid:

1. Gossip
2. Judgement
3. Negativity
4. Complaining
5. Excuses
6. Exaggeration (lying)
7. Dogmatism
Reynolds added another item to the list; 8. Self-absorption

Personal Learning Networks, CoPs Connectivism: Creatively Explained (Jackie Gerstein): Really interesting post demonstrating student examples of non-linguistical knowledge representation.

The intent of this module is to assist you in developing a personalized and deep understanding of the concepts of this unit – the concepts that are core to using social networking as a learning venue. Communities of Practice, Connectivism, Personal Learning Networks, create one or a combination of the following to demonstrate your understanding of these concepts: a slide show or Glog of images, an audio cast of sounds, a video of sights, a series of hand drawn and scanned pictures, a mindmap of images, a mathematical formula, a periodic chart of concepts, or another form of nonlinguistic symbols. Your product should contain the major elements discussed in this module: CoPs, Connectivism, and Personal Learning Networks. These are connected yet different concepts. As such they should be portrayed as separate, yet connected elements.

The open education infrastructure, and why we must build it (Davis Wiley)

Open Credentials
Open Assessments
Open Educational Resources
Open Competencies

This interconnected set of components provides a foundation which will greatly decrease the time, cost, and complexity of the search for innovative and effective new models of education.

Posted to Diigo 05/22/2012

    • Mark Elliott writes about stigmergic collaboration and the evolution of group work
    • Pierre-Paul Grasse first coined the term stigmergy in the 1950s in conjunction with his research on termites. Grasse showed that a particular configuration of a termite’s environment (as in the case of building and maintaining a nest) triggered a response in a termite to modify its environment, with the resulting modification in turn stimulating the response of the original or a second worker to further transform its environment. Thus the regulation and coordination of the building and maintaining of a nest was dependent upon stimulation provided by the nest, as opposed to an inherent knowledge of nest building on the individual termite’s part. A highly complex nest simply self-organises due to the collective input of large numbers of individual termites performing extraordinarily simple actions in response to their local environment.
    • So, we are talking about actors in a social environment (termites, in this case) configuring their environment in response to their environment, collectively building a nest not due to any inherent knowledge of how to build the thing, but rather from a modification to their environment at a granular, personalized level
      • Collaboration is dependent upon communication, and communication is a network phenomenon.
      • Collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components, without either of which collaboration cannot take place: social negotiation and creative output.
      • Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.
      • Collaboration in large groups (roughly 25-n) is enabled by stigmergy.
    • As stigmergy is a method of communication in which individuals communicate with one another by modifying their local environment, it is a logical extension to apply the term to many types (if not all) of Web-based communication, especially media such as the wiki.
    • The concept of stigmergy therefore provides an intuitive and easy-to-grasp theory for helping understand how disparate, distributed, ad hoc contributions could lead to the emergence of the largest collaborative enterprises the world has seen.

Using the Community of Inquiry in online learning environments

I’m in the process of putting together a workshop for the  facilitators of one of our modules that we’re restructuring in order to use a blended learning approach. Here are the notes that I’ve been putting together on the Community of Inquiry (CoI) for the workshop. Bear in mind that these notes are my attempt to get a better understanding of the CoI, and so lack academic rigor (i.e. there are no references). Finally, I apologise in advance for any errors or misinterpretation of the model, especially where I’ve given my own examples for our participants. Feedback, as always, is welcome.

The Community of Inquiry is a framework developed by Garrison and Archer (2001) as a way of describing favourable conditions to stimulate learning in online environments. Since a lot of the Applied Physiotherapy module will be conducted online, the CoI is a useful framework to guide our understanding of interactions in the social network we’ll be using. The CoI suggests that in order for meaningful learning to take place in online spaces, there needs to be evidence of 3 types of “presence”:

  • Social presence
  • Cognitive presence
  • Teaching presence

Social presence is about encouraging purposeful communication in a trusted setting, and developing interpersonal relationships by projecting personality. There are 3 categories of social presence;

  • Affective response: humour, emotional expression (e.g. emoticons, “lol”)
  • Open communication: recognition, interaction, reflection
  • Group cohesion: use names, greet students, use inclusive pronouns (e.g. “Hi Sue. This is a good question that we can all learn from”)
Social presence is an essential component in online learning, in that students who perceive that it is lacking (i.e. they don’t feel welcome and safe) demonstrate low levels of cognitive presence. Some of the ways in which social presence can be enhanced is by communicating in ways that are perceived by students to be “warm” (think; a caring attitude). Participate regularly, respond quickly, use chat when possible. In other words, create a sense of “being there”.

Cognitive presence refers to an ability to construct meaning through sustained communication. There are 4 practical components to developing a sense of cognitive presence, which are similar to Kolb’s cycle of experiential learning:

  1. Provide a triggering event or problem that is indicated by a sense of puzzlement. The idea is to create a conflict between a students perceived understanding of reality (“This is how I believe the world to be”) and a realisation that the evidence doesn’t support their perception (“The world is not how I believed it to be”).
  2. Opportunities for exploration of the problem. This is achieved by creating an opportunity for students to understand the nature of the problem (“How or why isn’t the world the same as my mental construct of it?”), find relevant information (“What evidence can I find that will help me to understand this problem better?”), propose explanations (“If this is true, then it means that…”), and exchange information (“Hey guys, here’s some information that will help us understand this better”). You can see from these examples that this is similar to the process we want to stimulate in our cases.
  3. Students must try to integrate the new information through a focused construction of new meaning based on the new evidence. They do this by connecting new ideas and concepts to old knowledge that they already have. An understanding of the Zone of Proximal Development would be useful here.
  4. There must be a final resolution of the problem i.e. it must be solved.

There are 6 practical suggestions for how cognitive presence can be facilitated in online spaces. I’ve tried to explain each of these suggestions in terms of how we might implement them because it turns out the when facilitators model the behaviour we want to see in students e.g. critical discourse with each other and constructive critique, students tend to do similar things. The idea is that if we succeed in doing things like what is outlined below, we create the favourable conditions for cognitive presence in the online space:

  1. Discourse. We should aim to be active guides by posing questions that are relevant to emerging topics of discussion. Be aware of entering a discussion and “breaking it” by being an authority figure and / or using “academic” language that students may not be familiar with. There’s little point in students’ continuing a discussion when one of us comes in and provides a definitive resolution (i.e. an “answer”) to whatever problem they’re discussing, or when we say things that they don’t understand. Remember that we want to stimulate a conversation for them, not end one they’re already having.
  2. Collaboration. Groupwork should aim to involve generating, sharing, critiquing and prioritising solutions. There are 2 key elements; availability of the facilitator and the intellectual engagement of the student with the content.
  3. Management. Students begin to take increasing control of the learning activities e.g. suggesting and developing their own projects, with feedback from the larger group guiding their implementation.
  4. Reflection. Students tend to spend more time deliberating on their reflections when they know that what they write will be read and commented on by others. This is why we will use “public” reflections online and students will be expected to read and comment on each others’ reflections. Reflection, simply, is forming relationships between your abstract view of the world (i.e. how you believe the world to be) and how the world actually is (i.e. the congruence between your belief and what actually happens in the world). Try to use language to help students make connections between the cases and personal experiences.
  5. Monitoring (self-assessment). Rubrics can be used to help students grade their own progress and understanding. They take responsibility for making judgements about their work, which is what self-directed learning is. In the professional world, it is rare that we have someone else telling us what we don’t know. It’s up to us as professionals to evaluate our skillset and make decisions about where we’re lacking and what we need to do to fill gaps in our knowledge and skills. We need to enable students to make judgements about what they know and don’t know. Peer- and self-assessment is one way of doing this.
  6. Knowledge construction. Students must make personal meaning (i.e. “sense”) of the information they gather. They must identify the problem (“The patient can’t weightbear on the ankle”), collect data related to the problem (ROM, history of the incident, functional ability, etc.), create an hypothesis (“I believe that the lateral ankle ligament has a grade 2 sprain”), test the hypothesis (send patient for stress test under X-ray), confirm hypothesis or collect more data if necessary, make a conclusion. This process is more effective in terms of “deep learning” than memorising the signs and symptoms of a sprained ankle.

Teaching presence is about directing the social and cognitive processes (see above) to develop personally meaningful and worthwhile outcomes. There are 3 categories of teaching presence:

  • Design and organisation i.e. developing and structuring the learning experience and activities
  • Facilitating discourse by maintaining student and facilitator interest, motivation and engagement
  • Direct instruction through “injecting knowledge”, dealing with issues around content and summarising discussions
There is a significant relationship between teaching presence and perceived learning / satisfaction with online courses. In the absence of synchronous, moment by moment negotiation of meaning available in the classroom, high levels of teaching presence in the online space is even more important, as it has a greater relative impact on cognitive presence when compared to students in a physical interaction.

Socialcognitive and teaching presence all interact / are dependent on each other. Studies have found that “teaching and social presence play a major role in predicting online students’ ratings of cognitive presence, and that teaching presence is strongly correlated with students’ satisfaction with the online learning experience and their sense of community. Furthermore, comfort in online discussion was the most significant factor in students’ perceptions of cognitive presence i.e. in order to develop higher order critical thinking, students need to feel comfortable with online discussion. It may be useful to ask students to reflect on their levels of comfort with online discussion. If they report low levels of comfort, further reflection on their part might identify why they feel this way and what might be done to improve their comfort levels, allowing facilitators to modify their approaches and / or the environment.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-02-07

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-22

  • To err is human: building a safer health system. Free book for download http://tinyurl.com/yzedbwk #
  • RT @amcunningham: A Culture of Fear and Intimidation: Reforming Medical Education http://bit.ly/cngjbU #meded #professionalism #
  • @Czernie Thanks Laura, there’s some good stuff there, will definitely use some of it #
  • @cristinacost responded to your comment and removed 1 of your duplicates 🙂 #
  • @cristinacost I figure that communication is about moving ideas between people, and you did it so well, regardless of typos 🙂 #
  • @cristinacost just reading your comment now, thank you so much for sharing 🙂 #
  • @Czernie Book looks great, saw Martin Oliver present at HESS in 2008, was brilliant. Would love to read anything else you have #
  • @ralphmercer I’m playing around with WordPress MU with the Buddypress plugin. Elgg is also supposed to be quite good. Both are PHP apps #
  • Gardner Writes: Assessment in a web 2.0 environment. Thoughtful post about the deep complexity of designing assessment http://bit.ly/9iqnTU #
  • RT @amcunningham: Post on #Conceptmap with #VUE from @neil_mehta http://bit.ly/9gNSMg #
  • @pgsimoes: “End of publishing as we know it” is interesting. See also “Lost generation” for original idea http://ow.ly/1nxvW #
  • @cristinacost Nice, brings back some good memories 🙂 #
  • @Czernie Thanks for the ppt, it’s great. Are you going to publish? Where did you get your sample ie. what departments? #
  • Collection of PLE diagrams http://ow.ly/1kV6v #
  • Jeff Jarvis’ presentation transcript from TEDxNYED. What’s wrong with education and some insights from media / journalism http://ow.ly/1kUSl #

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Twitter in undergraduate physiotherapy research

I’ve spent the past few weeks experimenting with Twitter, a micro-blogging service that allows users to post short “tweets” of up to 140 characters.  I’ve been following it’s development for a year or so but never really got it.  I finally saw it’s potential in education when I realised that it’s only a small leap from spreading news quickly, to spreading ideas quickly.  Combined with a URL shortening service like bit.ly, it makes a great channel for concise communication.

I’ve been using it for a few weeks with two of my undergraduate physiotherapy research groups to post links to articles and guidelines I think they may find useful.  So far, it’s worked quite well.  I can quickly post a link to something I come across without the hassle of opening an email client (I post mainly from a Firefox sidebar plugin called Twitbin), and they get immediate notification (if they’re online) of my post.  They can then reply immediately (they don’t, but they can).  I’m going to evaluate it’s use as an alternative channel for communication in the physiotherapy department.  If it works well I’d like to try an open source, self-hosted alternative to Twitter, called Laconica.

You can see some of my tweets (posts from Twitter) in the sidebar of this blog, or at http://www.twitter.com/michael_rowe.

Here are some links from this post:
Twitter
Wikipedia article on Twitter
Twitbin (Firefox sidebar plugin)
bit.ly (URL shortening service)
Laconica (open source micro-blogging platform)