Book chapter published: Shaping our algorithms before they shape us

I’ve just had a chapter published in an edited collection entitled: Artificial Intelligence and Inclusive Education: Speculative Futures and Emerging Practices. The book is edited by Jeremy Knox, Yuchen Wang and Michael Gallagher and is available here.

Here’s the citation: Rowe M. (2019) Shaping Our Algorithms Before They Shape Us. In: Knox J., Wang Y., Gallagher M. (eds) Artificial Intelligence and Inclusive Education. Perspectives on Rethinking and Reforming Education. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8161-4_9.

And here’s my abstract:

A common refrain among teachers is that they cannot be replaced by intelligent machines because of the essential human element that lies at the centre of teaching and learning. While it is true that there are some aspects of the teacher-student relationship that may ultimately present insurmountable obstacles to the complete automation of teaching, there are important gaps in practice where artificial intelligence (AI) will inevitably find room to move. Machine learning is the branch of AI research that uses algorithms to find statistical correlations between variables that may or may not be known to the researchers. The implications of this are profound and are leading to significant progress being made in natural language processing, computer vision, navigation and planning. But machine learning is not all-powerful, and there are important technical limitations that will constrain the extent of its use and promotion in education, provided that teachers are aware of these limitations and are included in the process of shepherding the technology into practice. This has always been important but when a technology has the potential of AI we would do well to ensure that teachers are intentionally included in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of AI-based systems in education.

Is that it? More, better apps?

It seems that much of the literature on the use of technology in education focuses on apps (Instagram, WhatsApp), services and platforms (Google Docs, Facebook) and hardware (tablets, laptops and phones). This is fine, of course. We need to understand how students and teachers use these things in the classroom. But is this really what we mean when we talk about innovation in the classroom?

Consider the changes wrought in society and industry between 1900 and 1970 as a result of the invention and implementation of technologies related to the electrification of cities, national road and railway networks, sanitation, pharmaceuticals, the internal combustion engine, and mass communication (Gordon, 2017). These were the kinds of innovations that changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people in truly significant ways because they changed the physical structures around us. They changed the configuration of space, which determines the kinds of activities that are available in that space. But what counts as innovation today? More, better apps. I came across this quote attributed to Elon Musk (although I can’t find a good source to confirm): “Cellphones distract us from the fact that the subways are old”.

When we look at infrastructure we start to get a sense of what innovation really looks like, as well as the amount of effort it would take to change it in innovative ways. For example, deciding that cities and towns should have green spaces set aside for its citizens is by no means intuitive or inevitable. Town planners could just as easily have decided that that real estate could better serve commercial interests. And how would you go about changing those green spaces, maybe by installing safer playground equipment or rerouting a running track? The point is that infrastructure is old and because it’s old it naturally forms the baseline upon which other things are built. No parks in the city means no green space to enjoy being outdoors and if you want green space you’re going to have to do an enormous amount of work to get it. You can’t just build a new app.

We’re spending a lot of time looking at technology that may improve some superficial aspects of pedagogical work but we spend very little time on anything that would fundamentally change the underlying infrastructure. Maybe this is because we don’t even see the infrastructure anymore? It’s easier to focus on the superficial stuff that everyone can see. For example, there are 4650 studies looking at the use of Snapchat in the classroom at the time of writing but relatively few that question why we’re still in a classroom. With the desks screwed to the floor. Changing infrastructure is the hard work that no-one wants to do but it’s also the important work because that’s what everyone else builds on. We’ve been distracted into thinking that we’re innovating when we’re really just painting over the cracks in the walls.

Would we even recognise innovation in higher education, or would we disreguard it because it doesn’t fit the mental model of what we think it should look like? Maybe we could use this idea as an indicator of innovative work: If we recognise it, it’s probably not innovative. That’s not to say that we should break everything and innovate for it’s own sake. But let’s be clear about what innovation really means. It’s not the consumption of content in new formats. It’s not the use of laptops and tablets instead of books. It’s not the use of Twitter to share resources. These may be good, useful iterations of our practice but they’re not going to change the infrastructure of learning.

In five years time Snapchat will be gone and there’ll be a new #educationapp trending on Twitter, but the desks will still be screwed to the floor.

This will revolutionise education

Great video on the problems with making predictions about how certain technologies are poised to revolutionise education. There’s nothing particularly new in the video, but the presentation makes it really clear why comparison-type studies of technology in education are problematic. It also does well to make the point that learning is about what happens inside the student’s head and is a process that, while influenced by teachers, is not dependent on them.

Posted to Diigo 08/12/2011

    • “Assessment is only really beneficial for the kids if it’s immediate.”
    • All applications are free or have free versions available for use.
    • EverNote: An application that clips Web pages, and stores images, audio, video, and screen shots. Files and indexes media for easy searchability.

      Google Apps: A series of services provided by Google that can store information such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Google sites.

      VoiceThread: Allows users to create multimedia slideshows using images, documents, and videos. Other users can then comment using text, audio, or video.

      Weebly: A platform to create free websites or blogs using a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface.

      WordPress: An open-source blogging tool and publishing platform.

      Yola: A website-building platform.

      Mahara: An open-source e-portfolio system created by New Zealand’s Tertiary Education Commission’s e-learning Collaborative Development Fund.

      Elgg: An open-source social-networking engine that provides a framework for building social networks.

    • Part of the challenge of digital portfolios is the time it takes to maintain them
    • Another challenge in implementing digital portfolios is providing enough access to technology to make them a workable option

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-07-04

  • U.N. Report Declares Internet Access a Human Right | Threat Level | Wired.com http://bit.ly/ivNke2 #
  • #saahe2011 officially over. It was a wonderful conference made possible by the participation of health educators from all over the country #
  • Papert http://bit.ly/mggi6R. Being a revolutionary means seeing far enough ahead to know that there is going to be a fundamental change #
  • Papert http://bit.ly/le70h7. The impact of paper in education has led to the exclusion of those who don’t think in certain ways #
  • @dkeats When people are “experts” in a domain they can be blinded to great ideas in other fields and so miss opportunities to drive change #
  • @dkeats Agreed. I’ve had to work really hard to convince people in my dept that I’m not the “computer guy”, I’m the “education guy” #
  • Innovation is about linking concepts from different fields to solve problems, its not about doing the same thing with more efficiency #
  • “How do you learn enough of the words to make sense of the discipline?” #saahe2011 #
  • Presentation by David Taylor on the use of adult learning theories #saahe2011 #
  • Jack Boulet speaking about the challenges and opportunities in simulation-based assessment #saahe2011 #
  • Mendeley Desktop 1.0 Development Preview Released http://ow.ly/1ueXSs #
  • Social media is inherently a system of peer evaluation and is changing the way scholars disseminate their research http://ow.ly/1ueXMA #
  • @dkeats Wonder if the problem has to do with the fact that much “ed tech” is designed by Comp Scientists, rather than Social Sci? #
  • @dkeats Also, people have the idea that LMSs have something to do with T&L, & then struggle when it can’t do what they need it to #
  • @dkeats To qualify, the problem isn’t resistance, its misunderstanding. The conversation always ends up being about technology #
  • There’s a huge difference between “learning” & “studying”, not in terms of the process but ito motivation & objectives #
  • @thesiswhisperer conf is for health educators, mostly clinicians, many of whom are amazing teachers but for whom tech is misunderstood #
  • In a workshop with David Taylor, looking at using adult learning theories #saahe2011 #
  • Blackboard is a course management system, it has little to do with learning. Use it for what its designed for #saahe2011 #
  • Trying to change perception that technology-mediated teaching & learning isn’t about technology. Not going well #saahe2011 #
  • Just gave my presentation on the use of social networks to facilitate clinical & ethical reasoning in practice contexts #saahe2011 #
  • Deborah Murdoch Eaton talks about the role of entrepreneurship to innovate in health education #saahe2011 #
  • Social accountability is relevant for all health professions (healthsocialaccountability.org) #saahe2011 #
  • Charles Boelen talks about social accountability at #saahe2011 keynote, discusses its role in meeting society’s health needs #
  • First day of #saahe2011 over. Lots of interesting discussion and some good research being done in health science education #
  • Concept mapping workshop turned out OK. Got a CD with loads of useful information…a first for any workshop I’ve attended #saahe2011 #
  • Many people still miss the point when it comes to technology-mediated teaching & learning. Your notes on an LMS is not teaching or learning #
  • At a workshop on concept mapping, lots of content being delivered to me, not much practical yet #saahe2011 #
  • Noticed a trend of decreasing satisfaction from 1-4 year, even though overall scores were +. Implications for teaching? #saahe2011 #
  • Banjamin van Nugteren: do medical students’ perceptions of their educational environment predict academic performance? #saahe2011 #
  • Selective assignment as an applied education & research tool -> gain research exp, improve knowledge & groupwork #saahe2011 #
  • Reflective journaling: “as we write conscious thoughts, useful associations & new ideas begin to emerge” #saahe2011 #
  • Change paradigm from “just-in-case” learning to “just-in-time” learning #saahe2011 #
  • Benefits of EBP are enhanced when principles are modelled by clinicians #saahe2011 #
  • EBP less effective when taught as a discrete module. Integration with clinical practice shows improvements across all components #saahe2011 #
  • Students have difficulty conducting appraisals of online sources <- an enormous challenge when much content is accessed online #saahe2011 #
  • Looking around venue at #saahe2011 10 open laptops, 2 visible iPads (lying on desk, not being used), about 350 participants…disappointing #
  • EBP isn’t a recipe (or a religion), although that is a common misconception #saahe2011 #
  • Prof. Robin Watts discusses EBP and facilitating student learning. EBP isn’t synonymous with research #saahe2011 #
  • “A lecture without a story is like an operation without an anaesthetic” Athol Kent, #saahe2001 #
  • Kent drawing heavily on Freni et al, 2010, Health professionals for a new century, Lancet. #
  • #saahe2001 has begun. Prof. Athol Kent: the future of health science education #
  • Portfolios and Competency http://bit.ly/jfFpfU. Really interesting comments section. Poorly implemented portfolios aren’t worth much #
  • @amcunningham I think that portfolios can demonstrate competence and be assessed but it needs a change in mindset to evaluate them #
  • @amcunningham will comment on the post when I’m off the road #
  • @amcunningham Can’t b objective as I haven’t used NHS eportfolio. Also, its hard 2 structure what should be personally meaningful experience #
  • @amcunningham Portfolios must include reflection, not just documentation. Reflection = relating past experience to future performance #
  • @amcunningham Your delusion question in the link: practitioners / students not shown how to develop a portfolio with objectives #
  • @amcunningham Also spoke a lot about competency-based education and strengths / limitations compared to apprentice-based model #
  • @amcunningham Very much. Just finished a 4 day workshop that included the use of portfolios as reflective tools in developing competence #
  • Final day of #safri 2011 finished. Busy with a few evaluations now. Spent some time developing the next phase of my project. Tired… #
  • Last day of #safri today, short session this morning, then leaving for #saahe2011 conference in Potchefstroom. It’s been an intense 5 days #
  • Papert: Calling yourself some1 who uses computers in education will be as ridiculous as calling yourself some1 who uses pencils in education #
  • Daily Papert http://bit.ly/jKlVmn. 10 years ago, Papert warned against the “computers in education” specialist. How have we responded? #
  • Daily Papert http://bit.ly/m7rfYY. Defining yourself as someone who uses computers in education, is to subordinate yourself #
  • YouTube – Augmented Reality Brain http://bit.ly/kcZWXy. When this is common in health education, things are going to get crazy #
  • @rochellesa Everyone needs some downtime, especially at 10 at night when you’re out with your wife 🙂 Seems like a nice guy, very quiet #
  • @rochellesa The large policeman he’s with isn’t keen tho. Mr Nzimande has asked 2 not b disturbed. Understandable when u want to chill out #
  • I’m sitting in a hotel in Jo’burg & Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande walks in and sits down next to me. Any1 have any questions? #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-06-20

Posted to Diigo 06/15/2010

    • Just as two pieces of music can not be enjoyed at the same time, one can not comprehend or appreciate the beauty of the moment without a clear focal point or “central motive
    • Abundance of vacant space allows for the clear existence of a focal point and the participation of the viewer to complete that which has been left incomplete or that which is only suggested
    • there is no place for clutter and the superfluous as these harm clarity and introduce confusion
    • The key idea here is simplicity, of course, but also the idea of embracing change
    • The idea of emptiness itself, then, also hints of the potential for growth and improvement and possibilities
    • Our ideas and our presentation — whatever kind of presentation we’re talking about — also must change to fit the time, place, and occasion
    • “Uniformity of design was considered fatal to the freshness of imagination,”
    • Designs which are asymmetrical are more dynamic, active, and invite the viewer in to participate. An asymmetrical design will lead the eye more and stimulates the viewer to explore and interpret the content
    • Asymmetrical designs may evoke a sense of flow or movement
    • This kind of active engagement on the part of the viewer may lead to better recall of the content
    • It’s important to remember that harmony is key and can be achieved in an asymmetrical design when care is given to achieving balance among the elements
    • I wonder if there’s really a need for “educational” technology anymore?

      Does the artificial classification of hardware, software, web applications and the rest as “instructional” (with the inevitable conclusion that rest of the stuff is not) just get in the way of the basic idea that almost any technology could be used for learning?

    • We say we want students to be able to communicate and collaborate, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, and to become creative and innovative in their work.

      Do we really need special “edtech” to make that happen?

      Or just a better understanding of how people in the real world are using all kinds of technology to improve their personal skills in all those areas and how to help our students learn to do the same.

    • Maybe, just like our tech standards that linger from the previous century, the whole concept of “educational technology” is outdated and obsolete.
    • what to do with those students who resist participating in groups
    • They’re those independent learners who participate in group activities reluctantly and almost always prefer to do it alone. Should we excuse them from group work when they want to go it alone?
    • If they don’t learn well in social contexts, then why should we place them in situations that compromise what they’re going to learn?
    • Aren’t we doing students a disservice if we don’t help them develop the skills they’ll need to function effectively in groups?
    • when we have students working individually, we aren’t in the same quandry about those learners who really do better when they are working with others
    • What if one of them should approach us with a request to work on the project with others? Would the request take us by surprise?
    • In reality students need to be able to learn individually and in groups, as both situations will confront them in their professional and personal lives
    • They may prefer one learning context over the other, but as I used to tell my group-reluctant students, “You don’t have to like group work, but by golly you need a repertoire of skills that enables you to learn and work constructively in groups.”
    • learning is social, or communal in nature.

      See, my contention is that learning is communication, and that communication requires language, and that language is socially negotiated. By that, what I mean is that words are just sounds. Sounds that convey meaning. And they are arbitrary. We call cups “cups” not because they possess any inherent cupness, but because, over time, and due to popular usage, the word “cups” came to be linked with the concept of a particular kind of container that you put things, usually liquid, but sometimes cakes and other things, into. Words gain their meaning through social processes. Specifically, when people, enough people, use them to mean certain things, then they have that meaning. Without that social negotiation of their meaning, they mean, well, nothing.

Zotero

I first mentioned Zotero a while ago but didn’t go into very much detail in that post.  Since then, I’ve been experimenting with it a bit and am really starting to enjoy it.  It’s a Firefox extension that facilitates the research process by streamlining the collection of information accessed through the browser.  With more and more academic content becoming available online through open access journals, it’s an innovative method of aggregating and managing content for research.

Zotero has a decent set of content management features that really do a good job of making it easy to work with the information you save.  I won’t go into the specifics here because the quick start guide makes it really clear.  As well as the content management features, it’s also very good at recognising semantic content on the web and giving you options to import that content into it’s database.  For example, if you’re browsing PubMed, Zotero is able to import citation information and then to export it in many different formatting styles, including APA.

I actually don’t use Zotero for any academic content at the moment.  What I find it really useful for is annotating and working through ideas I come across in blogs.  I find that I can clarify my own thoughts around educational technology, using Zotero as a scrapbook to develop those ideas.  Which brings me to my only problem with Zotero.  I only use it for blogs right now because it’s only really useful for content you access through the browser, which is a major limitation for me.  While it’s true that most of my literature is accessed through the browser initially, I still keep local copies that I prefer to work with.

Although I think the application is great in it’s current form, I’m really hoping that the developers expand it’s scope.  Maybe make it a standalone tool that I can use to manage all my articles, no matter if they’re on- or offline and no matter what format they’re in.  I also need more space within the app because sometimes it can feel crowded (especially the right hand panel), and making it standalone will free up a lot of real estate by taking it out of the browser.  Note: you can run Zotero in a full tab, but I like to be able to read the blog while making notes.

Those things aside, this is a great browser extension that I’d definitely recommend checking out.

Screenshot of Zotero
Screenshot of Zotero