…for decades the room has been the same: four walls, a podium, and a projector. PowerPoints today mimic the effect of a centuries-old continuous-slide lantern. Even when time is occasionally left for questions at the end of lectures, it’s still a distinctly one-way flow of information. Scientific posters are similarly archaic.
Anyone who’s gone to an academic conference and reflected on it for more than a moment usually arrives at the conclusion that the experience is distinctly underwhelming. I’m not going to go into the details of why since Ben and I discussed it at length in our reflection on WCPT and the Unposter on the podcast, but the general idea is that most conferences suck because of the format.
And this is why you really need to think about coming to the second In Beta unconference on physiotherapy education at HAN in the Netherlands on the 14th and 15th of September 2020. The unconference will take place soon after the ENPHE/ER-WCPT conference, so if you’re attending that meeting then it’s a no-brainer to stay on for a few days and come to Nijmegen for something quite different. Click on the image below for more information.
In this anxious era of bullying, teen depression, and school shootings, tech companies are selling software to schools and parents that make big promises about keeping kids secure by monitoring what they say and write online. But these apps demand disturbing trade-offs in the name of safety.
This is a great episode of the Rework podcast looking at the dangers of using increasingly sophisticated technology in schools as part of programmes to “protect” children. What they really amount to are very superficial surveillance systems that can do a lot less than what the venture-backed companies say they can. If you’re a teacher or if you have kids at a school using these systems, this is a topic worth learning more about.
The show notes include a ton of links to excellent resources and also a complete transcript of the episode.
Schools are about learning, but it’s mostly learning how to play the game. At some level, even though we like to talk about schools as though they are about learning in some pure, liberal-arts sense, on a pragmatic level we know that what we’re really teaching students is to get done the things that they are asked to do, to get them done on time, and to get them done with as few mistakes as possible.
I think the danger comes from believing that those who by chance, genetics, temperament, family support, or cultural background find the game easier to play are actually somehow inherently betteror have more human value than the other students.
The students who aren’t succeeding usually don’t have any idea that school is a game. Since we tell them it’s about learning, when they fail they then internalize the belief that they themselves are actual failures–that they are not good learners. And we tell ourselves some things to feel OK about this taking place: that some kids are smart and some are not, that the top students will always rise to the top, that their behavior is not the result of the system but that is their own fault.
Hargadon, S. (2019). The game of school. Steve Hargadon blog: The learning revoluation has begun.
I thought that this was an interesting post with a few ideas that helped me to think more carefully about my own teaching. I’ve pulled out a few of the sentences from the post that really resonated with me but there are plenty more. Once you accept the idea that school (and university) is a game, it all makes a lot more sense; ranking students in leaderboards, passing and failing (as in quests or missions), levelling up, etc.
The author also then goes on to present 4 hierarchical “levels” of learning that really describe frameworks or paradigms rather than any real description of learning (i.e. the categores and names of the levels in the hierarchy are to some extent, arbitrary; it’s the descriptions in each level that count).
If I think about our own physiotherapy programme, we use all 4 “levels” interchangeably and have varying degrees of each of them scattered throughout the curriculum. However, I’d say that the bulk of our approach happens at the lowest level of Schooling, some at Training, a little at Education, and almost none at Self-regulated learning. While we pay lip service to the fact that we “offer opportunities for self-regulated learning”, what it really boils down to is that we give students reading to do outside of class time.
The Elements of AI is a series of free online courses created by Reaktor and the University of Helsinki. We want to encourage as broad a group of people as possible to learn what AI is, what can (and can’t) be done with AI, and how to start creating AI methods. The courses combine theory with practical exercises and can be completed at your own pace.
Finland created a course on AI for it’s citizens because the government believes that the technology is going to fundamentally change society.
They made the course free and available to anyone in the world who wanted to take it.
They’re in the process of translating the course into every EU language because they want to ensure that at least 1% of EU citizens have a basic understanding of AI. You can sign up here to be notified when the course is available in your home (EU) language.
Firstly, it’s amazing that Finland is doing this.
Secondly, if you’re even vaguely interested in AI then you should consider completing the course. I went through it earlier this year and found it interesting/useful just to read the notes (I skipped the exercises). I’m thinking that I might do it again in the new year but this time make an effort to also complete the exercises now that I’m a bit more comfortable with the topic.
You can find out more about the course here and here, and sign up here.
The top 10 in demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.
It takes some work to find out that the claim is not true.
If you’ve spent any time in education there’s a good chance you’ve seen the Shift Happens video below (this is the original version that came out in 2009 or thereabouts…there are updated versions for 2018 and 2019). It’s very inspiring (the music helps) and for the longest time I’d recommend it to anyone who’d listen. If you haven’t seen the video then watch it now before we move on.
I’ve watched this video a lot, mainly in the first few years after starting as an academic because the narrative was perfectly aligned with the way I was thinking and the work I was doing. But as I’ve spent more time in education and research, I’ve become increasingly skeptical of the “sound bite” type solutions to pedagogical problems that are nuanced and complex. Having said that I’d say that, until earlier this year, I would still have been sympathetic to the main arguments in the video:
The rate of social and technical change is accelerating;
Because of the Internet and other emerging technologies;
Higher education is not adapting quickly enough;
But we need to future-proof our students;
So we’d better start changing soon.
In this More or less BBC podcast, Tim Harford asks what the staistical likelihood is that 65% of future jobs haven’t been invented yet and it seems fairly obvious straight away that it’s not a reasonable prediction. We might argue that the specific numbers are less important than the spirit of the claim, which is that the world is changing more quickly then ever before (probably true), and that this matters at a fundamental level (maybe true), and that how we respond in higher education has grave consequences for our students we train (little or no evidence that this is true). Consider the following quote from a presentation give in 1957:
We are too much inclined to think of careers and opportunities as if the oncoming generations were growing up to fill the jobs that are now held by their seniors. This is not true. Our young people will fill many jobs that do not now exist. They will invent products that will need new skills. Old-fashioned mercantilism and the nineteenth-century theory in which one man’s gain was another man’s loss, are being replaced by a dynamism in which the new ideas of a lot of people become the gains for many, many more.
Josephs, D. (1957). Oral presentation at the Conference on the American High School.
Notice 1) this statement is from a keynote given about 60 years ago, and 2) how closely the narrative mirrors the concerns raised about how contemporary education doesn’t prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist. While it may be fair to say that the narrative might still be true, just on a longer timescale, it’s almost certainly not a result of the Internet, mobile phones or any other technology that’s emerged in the past few decades.
This is why I was delighted to come across the article I opened with. It’s a reminder that it’s essential that we take critical positions on the things we care most about.
Lately I’ve been thinking about metrics and all the ways that they can be misleading. Don’t get me wrong; I think that measuring is important. Measuring is the reason that our buildings and bridges don’t collapse. Measurements help tell us when a drug is working. GPS would be impossible without precise measurements of time. My Fitbit tells me when I’m exercising close to my maximum heart rate. So I’m definitely a fan of measuring things.
The problem is when we try to use measurements for things that aren’t easy to measure. For example, it’s hard to know when an article we publish has had an impact, so we look at the number of times that other researchers have used our articles as proxy indicators for their influence on the thinking of others. But this ignores the number of times that the articles are used to change a programme or trigger a new line of thinking in someone who isn’t publishing themselves. Or we use the number of articles being published in a department as a measure of “how much” science that department is doing. But this prioritises quantity over quality and ignores the fact that what we really want is a better understanding of the world, not “more publications”.
It sometimes feels like academia is just a weird version of Klout where we’re all trying to get better at increasing our “engagement” scores and we’ve forgotten the purpose of the exercise. We’ve confused achieving better scores on the metric rather than workign to move the larger project forward. We publish articles because articles are evidence that we’re doing research, and we use article citations and journal impact factors as evidence that our work is influential. But when a metric becomes a target it fails to be a good metric.
We see similar things happening all around us in higher education. We use percentages and scores to measure learning, even though we know that these numbers in themselves are subjective and sometimes arbitrary. We set targets in departments that ostensibly help us know when we’ve achieved an objective but we’re only mildly confident that the behaviours we’re measuring will help achieve the objective. For example, you have to be in the office for a certain number of hours each week so that we know that you’re working. But I don’t really care how often you’re in your office; I only really care about the quality of the work you do. But it’s hard to measure the quality of the work you do so I measure the thing that’s easy to measure.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to measure what we value, only that measurement is hard and that the metrics we choose will influence our behaviour. If I notice that people at work don’t seem to like each other very much I might start using some kind of likeability index that aims to score everyone. But then we’d see people trying to increase their scores on the index rather than simply being kinder to each other. What I care about is that we treat each other well, not how well we each score on a metric.
We’ve set up the system so that students – and teachers – care more about the score achieved on the assessment rather than learning or critical thinking or collaborating. We give students page limits for writing tasks because we don’t want them to write everything in the hope that some of what they write is what we’re looking for. But then they play around with different variables (margin and font sizes, line spacing, title pages, etc.) in order to hit the page limit. What we really care about are other things, for example the ability to answer a question clearly and concisely, from a novel perspective, and to support claims about the world with good arguments.
I don’t have any solutions to the problem of measurement in higher education and academia. It’s a ahrd problem. I’m just thinking out loud about the fact that our behaviours are driven by what we’ve chosen to measure, and I’m wondering if maybe it’s time to start using different metrics as a way to be more intentional about achieving what we say we care about. Maybe it doesn’t even matter what the metrics are. Maybe what matters is how the choice of metrics can change certain kinds of behaviours.
Tomorrow I’ll be presenting a short seminar at the University of Cape Town on a book chapter that was published earlier this year, called Shaping our algorithms before they shape us. Here are the slides I’ll be using, which I think are a useful summary of the chapter itself.
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.
In this wide-ranging conversation, Vanessa and I discuss her 25 years in health professions education and research. We look at the changes that have taken place in the domain over the past 5-10 years and how this has impacted the opportunities available for South African health professions educators in the early stages of their careers. We talk about developing the confidence to approach people you may want to work with, from the days when you had to be physically present at a conference workshop, to explore novel ways to connect with colleagues in a networked world. We discuss Vanessa’s role in establishing the Southern African FAIMER Regional Institute (SAFRI), as well as the African Journal of Health Professions Education (AJHPE) and what we might consider when presented with opportunities to drive change in the profession.
Vanessa has a National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award from the Council of Higher Education and the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa (HELTASA), and holds a Teaching at University (TAU) fellowship from the Council for Higher Education of South Africa. She is a Deputy Editor at the journal Medical Education, and Associate Editor of Advances in Health Sciences Education. Vanessa was Professor and Chair of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cape Town from 2008-2018in health and is currently Honorary Professor of Medicine at UCT. She works as an educational consultant to the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa.
It’s been about a year and a half since Ben and I started the In Beta community (see my first post in July 2017) and I wanted to reflect on what we’ve achieved in the past 18 months or so. Here are the major aspects of the project with some statistics and my thoughts on the process.
Website: We’re hosting our website on a server provided by the University of the Western Cape and use open source software (WordPress) to build the site, which means that the project costs Ben and I nothing except our time and energy. A few months ago I made a few big changes to the site, which hadn’t been updated since it launched, including a new theme and layout, new per-episode images, and an embedded media player for each episode. This is also going to be more important as the site becomes more central to our plans and needs to do more than simply distribute the audio for the podcasts.
We’ve had a fair amount of traffic since we launched the site in October 2017; far more than I expected. The numbers are obviously quite low relative to more popular sites, but consider that this is a project about physiotherapy education.
Most of our visitors came from the UK (where Ben lives) and the Netherlands (where Joost lives). I’m not sure if that’s a coincidence or if the two of them are just uncommonly popular. Incidentally, Joost has been a major supporter and promoter of the project through his connections with ENPHE and we hope that this collaboration continues to grow.
Podcasts: We’ve released 8 episodes including our first one in October 2017, so we publish about one episode every 1.5 months. We have another 3 episodes recorded but which we haven’t finished editing yet. The audio editing is, by far, the most time-consuming part of the process. We’re hoping to limit the hassle of this component by improving the quality of the initial recording, through 1) getting better at moderating the conversations and so having less to cut, and 2) making more of an effort to record better audio in the first place. Here are the 8 episodes we’ve published so far, along with the number of times each has been downloaded. These statistics exclude the first 50 or so downloads of the first episode, which was hosted on Soundcloud before we moved to our own distribution platform.
Here are the top 10 countries by number of downloads:
Projects: One of our original ideas was to use the website as a way to share examples of classroom exercises, assignments, and teaching practices that others would be able to use as a resource. The plan was to describe in a fair amount of detail the process for setting up a learning task that others could simply copy, maybe with a few minor tweaks. The project pages would include the specific learning outcomes that the lecturer hopes to achieve, comprehensive descriptions of the learning activities, links to freely available resources, and examples of student work. This aspect of In Beta hasn’t taken off as much as we would’ve liked but the potential is still there and will hopefully continue growing over time.
Google Docs: We started with Google Docs as a way to plan for our podcast recordings, using a templated outline that we’d invite guests to complete. The idea is that guests on the podcast will use the template to establish the context for the conversation, including the background, the problem they’re trying to address, and a reading list for interested participants. We then take some of that information and incorporate it into the show notes for the episode and leave the Google Doc online for further reading if anyone is interested. The process (and template) has remained more or less the same since we initially described it but I’m uncertain about whether or not we should include it going forward. It seems like a lot of PT to ask guests to complete and, without statistics for Docs, we can’t be sure if anyone is going there. On the other hand, it really does seem to be good preparation for us to have a deep dive into the topic.
Membership: We had about 100 people join the Google+ community but saw little engagement on the site. I think that this is understandable considering that most people have more than enough going on in their personal and professional lives to add yet another online destination to their lists. Most people are already on several social media platforms and it’s not reasonable to expect them to add Google+ just for this project. So we weren’t too upset to see that Google is planning to sunset the consumer version of Google+, so in some ways it’s a bit of a relief not to have to worry about managing the community in different places. We’re in the process of asking people to migrate to the project website and sign up for email notifications of announcements.
Conference collaborations: Ben and I worked with Joost to run two In Beta workshops at the IPSM (Portugal) and ENPHE conferences (Paris) in 2018. We based both sessions on the Unconference format and used them as experiments to think differently about how conference workshops could be useful for participants in the room, as well as those who were “outside” of it. While neither of the workshops went exactly how we planned, I think the fact that both of these sessions actually happened, in large part due to the work that Joost and Ben put in, was a success in itself. We’ve recorded our thoughts on this process and will publish that as an episode early in 2019. It’d be nice to have more of these sessions where we try to do something “in the world”.
Plans for 2019: Our rough ideas for the next 12 months include the following:
More frequent podcast episodes, which should be possible if we can reduce the amount of time it takes to edit each episode. It’d also be nice to get assistance with the audio editing, so if you’re interested in being involved and have an interest in that kind of thing, let us know.
Work on more collaborative projects with colleagues who are interested in alternative approaches to physiotherapy education. For example, it might be interesting to publish an edited “book” of short stories related to physiotherapy education. It could be written by students, educators and clinicians, and might cover a broad range of topics that explore physiotherapy education from a variety of perspectives.
Grow the community so that In Beta is more than a podcast. We started the project because we wanted to share interesting conversations in physiotherapy education and we think that there’s enormous scope for this idea to be developed. But we also know that we’re never going to have all the good ideas ourselves and so we need to involve more of the people doing the interesting work in classrooms and clinical spaces around the world.
Host a workshop for In Beta community members, possibly at a time when enough of us are gathered together in the same place. Maybe in Europe somewhere. Probably in May. Something like a seminar or colloquium on physiotherapy education. If this sounds like something you may like to be involved with, please let us know.
It’s easy to forget what you’ve achieved when you’re caught up in the process. I think that both Ben and I would probably like to have done a bit more on the project over the past 18 months but if I look at where we started (a conversation over coffee at a conference in 2016) then I’m pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished. And I’m excited for 2019.