AI education

Comment: Teachers, the Robots Are Coming. But That’s Not a Bad Thing.

…that’s exactly why educators should not be putting their heads in the sand and hoping they never get replaced by an AI-powered robot. They need to play a big role in the development of these technologies so that whatever is produced is ethical and unbiased, improves student learning, and helps teachers spend more time inspiring students, building strong relationships with them, and focusing on the priorities that matter most. If designed with educator input, these technologies could free up teachers to do what they do best: inspire students to learn and coach them along the way.

Bushweller, K. (2020). Teachers, the Robots Are Coming. But That’s Not a Bad Thing. Education Week.

There are a few points in the article that confuse rather than clarify (for example, the conflation of robots with software) but on the whole I think this provides a useful overview of some of the main concerns around the introduction of AI-based systems in education. Personally, I’m not at all worried about having humanoid (or animal-type) physical robots coming into the classroom to take over my job.

I think that AI will be introduced into educational settings more surreptitiously, for example via the institutional LMS in the form of grading assistance, risk identification, timetabling, etc. And we’ll welcome this because it frees us from the very labour intensive, repetitive work that we all complain about. Not only that but grading seems to be one of the most expensive aspects (in terms of time) of a teacher’s job and because of this we’re going to see a lot of interest in this area by governments. For example, see this project by Ofqual (the UK teaching standards regulator) to explore the use of AI to grade school exams.

In fact, I think that AI-based assessment is pretty much inevitable in educational contexts, given that it’ll probably be (a lot) cheaper, more reliable, fair, and valid than human graders.

Shameless self-promotion: I wrote a book chapter about how teachers could play a role in the development of AI-based systems in education, specifically in the areas of data collection, teaching practice, research, and policy development. Here is the full-text (preprint) and here are my slides from a seminar at the University of Cape Town where I presented an overview.


10 suggestions for health professions educators

Here are 10 suggestions for teachers in health professions education. These are not rules but rather a set of ideas that I think are powerful for enhancing students’ learning. There are others that are just as valuable but these are some that I like.

  1. Challenge students to do work at a higher level than they think they’re capable of. Students aren’t afraid of working hard; they just don’t want to be bored.
  2. Let go of power. Teaching is about developing independent thinkers who question authority. Let them learn by questioning yours.
  3. Teaching is about creating conditions that optimise for student learning. Everything that happens in the classroom should be informed by that singular idea.
  4. What students know should be subordinate to how they think. Assessment tasks should therefore focus on students’ thinking and not on what they know.
  5. Help students learn to negotiate uncertainty and develop a comfortable attitude towards ambiguity. They will need this in clinical practice.
  6. The next 50 years of physiotherapy practice will be vastly different to the last. Pay attention to the changes that are coming to our health systems and help students prepare for them.
  7. Feedback is about having a conversation with students where your objective is to help them to figure out how to do it better the next time. Design their learning tasks so that there is value in attending to your feedback.
  8. Learning happens in the mind of the student and only in the mind of the student, and they can’t be made to learn. But, you can create a space where they want to.
  9. Don’t confuse movement with progress. Giving students a lot of work is not the same as giving them an education.
  10. The Evidence will only get you so far. Creativity. Innovation. Relationship. Human connection. Empathy. Wonder and awe. Imagination. These are harder to cultivate but are more powerful for learning.

Principles of learning

World_Cyber_Games_2004_AuditoriumI’ve been cleaning up my office over the past few days and came across a handout that I probably received at a T&L workshop sometime during the past year, and thought I’d post a summary of it here. There is a link on the document to this online version, although the hard copy that I have has different content under the same headings. Developing learning activities that try to take into account the following principles is more likely to result in deeper learning. Note: I couldn’t help but think about how video games incorporate all of these principles, which says a lot about a) what the gaming and entertainment industries know about engagement, and b) how boring a lot of classroom activities must be for students.

  1. Prior knowledge can help or hinder learning. How we mis/understand information changes how we perceive new information. If our prior knowledge is incorrect or incomplete, it affects how we understand new things. Teachers must therefore ensure that students articulate prior knowledge, in order to correct or consolidate it.
  2. Motivation generates, directs, and sustains learning behaviour. Our interests, goals, expectations, beliefs and emotional responses directly influence how much time and effort we devote to learning.
  3. The way students organise knowledge determines how they use it. When representations of knowledge are accurately formed, we’re better able to store and retrieve new information. When knowledge is organised according to superficial features, or when the relationships are inaccurate, or when the representation is of disconnected and isolated facts, we are more likely to incorrectly organise new information.
  4. Meaningful engagement is necessary for deeper learning. Meaningful engagement leads to the formation of more connections between concepts. The more connections that exist between concepts, the more likely it is that we will be able to retrieve and use those concepts as tools, instead of having them exist as isolated facts. Examples of meaningful engagement include asking (and also answering) questions, making analogies, and using knowledge to solve problems, lead to longer lasting and stronger representations of knowledge.
  5. Mastery requires developing component skills and knowledge, synthesising, and applying them appropriately. Performance of complex tasks (e.g. writing) is composed of many interrelated but discrete component skills. In order to gain mastery of the complex task, we must first practice and gain proficiency in the component skills, and then organise and itnegrate them into a coherent whole. These new skills must also be practiced in different contexts, which enables us to transfer the skills from one place to another.
  6. Goal-directed practice and targeted feedback are critical to learning. Learning is enhanced when we work towards a specific level of performance and regularly evaluate our progress against a clearly defined goal. Feedback should explicitly relate performance to the goal criteria, should be timely, frequent and constructive, and there must be opportunities to use the feedback in future activities.
  7. Students must learn to monitor, evaluate and adjust their approaches to learning to become self-directed learners. We must learn to be conscious of our own thinking process (metacognition). We should help students monitor, evaluate and reflect on their own performance, and provide feedback on their progress. Teachers must also model their own thinking and reasoning strategies for their students.
  8. Because students develop holistically, their learning is affected by the social, emotional and intellectual climate of the classroom. We are all intellectual, social and emotional beings and any learning activity needs to take all of these dimensions into account. The social and emotional aspects of the environment will influence the learning process. For example, in trusted settings, we may be more likely to take creative risks, whereas if we fear ridicule we are more likely to disengage from the process completely.

Note: I wrote a similar post earlier in the year, on the theoretical underpinnings of problem-based learning, which has some of the same ideas, as well as an even earlier post on the principles of authentic learning.

twitter feed

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-04-23


Posted to Diigo 02/25/2011

    • As scientists and other specialists learn more about how our brains work, for example, many of the traditional instructional methods used for the past 100 years (or more) seem to be out of kilter with how human beings really pay attention, engage, and actually learn something
    • utter incredulity concerning the continuation of the old one-way large lecture hall
    • The massive lecture rooms are not designed to produce an ideal learning situation but rather to get a great amount of people through the material on a large scale
    • “tiny professor somewhere down there” in front going through the material but without engagement or connection with the students
    • If one of the goals of education is to “have a lively exchange of ideas,” the depersonalized one-way lecture seems to be an outdated method for stimulating this exchange
    • Einstein said many years ago that “it is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry….”
    • We are obsessed with giving prizes to students who memorize the most facts and bits of information (and in the shortest amount of time). Why don’t we give prizes for the students who demonstrate their unabashed curiosity and demonstrable pursuit of discovery?
    • The curious can eventually overcome their ignorance, but the chronically incurious—and yet self-assured—are stuck with their ignorance for a lifetime.
    • The ineffective teachers are the ones who have lost their curiosity and sense of wonder for their subject or even for their job
    • The best teachers guide, coach, inspire, and feed that natural flame of curiosity that lives within every child
    • The courage to teach, then, is the courage to expose yourself as you demonstrate your curiosity and wonder for your subject
    • This kind of passion is infectious (and memorable).
    • School for a student is ephemeral and short, but learning, self-education, and inquiry last a life time so long as a student’s unabashed curiosity remains alive
    • The best teachers (or trainers, coaches, etc.) are those who light the sparks and inspire students to pursue a lifetime of exploration and discovery
    • When designing an online or blended course, then, the question might be, “Which of these skills and those closely related skills are core for your discipline and map to your learning goals and outcomes?

    • A useful design theme for thinking about new writing spaces is “cognitive surplus.”
    • Shirky describes cognitive surplus as “the shared, online work we do with our spare brain cycles.”
    • The motivation for doing shared work with those “spare brain cycles” is simple: We, as people, like to create and we like to share.
    • an emerging trend in online courses is for learners to create while learning
    • Some of this creation work focuses on current course topics, resulting in mini-conferences and expansion of course materials. Other creative course work flows forward to future learners, to the community, and to other groups
    • So what are the alternatives to the traditional research paper?
    • Why is the traditional paper so prevalent in assessment, and how can we move beyond it to alternative evidence of student learning?
    • Writing is a core competency and we are now writing more than ever
    • What kinds of writing do learners need to do in their chosen careers, lives, and professions? Much of the writing will rely even more on critical thinking and research skills
    • Papers are popular because writing requires skills such as:

Digital kids / Analogue schools

Recently I came across a collection of quotes on the website of Scott McLeod, an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University. It mostly consists of quotes by David Warlick but also has a few from other blogs.

Here are a few that I enjoyed:

  • “I’m getting tired of hearing people continue to ask for the evidence that technology helps students learn. It doesn’t matter. We know that good teachers help students learn. We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.”
  • “One of our problems has been that we have tried to shape the technology around outdated notions of what schooling is about, rather than reshaping our notions to reflect new world conditions…  In a rapidly changing world, it becomes much less valuable to be able to memorize the answer, and much more valuable to be able to find and even invent the answers…  We can’t keep up with making the technology the curriculum. All we can do is prepare our students to teach themselves. It’s the only way to keep up.”
  • “The kids who start school today will be retiring in the year 2065, and yet we know as little about what the world will look like then as we do five years from now. We can give them all the content we want, but in this age, in won’t make much difference if we don’t teach them how to learn first. And they do that not by spitting back at us what they “know.” They do it by being creative, by trying and failing, by succeeding and reflecting.” (

I think it’s great that people are challenging the traditional stereotypes of students, classrooms and the learning process and I agree that rote memorisation and the regurgitation of facts does nothing to prepare our students for the challenges of reasoning in a clinical environment.

Link to the original PDF: