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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Trump U; I was there; students should get to complain if they were mistreated, but they should get to do that at every school

The attacks on Trump University are starting to bother me. I was the chief learning officer of Trump University from its inception until 2007. At that point, Mr. Trump decided to stop building the online learn by doing courses that I was hired to do and do real estate seminars instead. He didn’t need me for that.

Here is my problem. I don’t know if those seminars were shady or not. I wasn’t there and I wasn’t consulted. However, some of the attacks and discussions and lawsuits are about whether this was a state sanctioned university. We all make the assumption that the government should determine if you can call yourself a university, and if you can grant degrees.

A colleague (a faculty member at a top university) wrote to me today and commented:

it will set a bad precedent that students can sue private universities for tuition claiming bad education!”

Will it?  Universities sanctioned by the state and lauded by official rankings grant degrees to students who simply amass sufficient credits which they do by attending lectures and passing multiple choice tests. Are these students getting a reasonable education?  MY colleague s right to worry about lawsuits from unhappy students, but possibly we should all be unhappy about the current state of university education.

At the launch of Trump U, I was quoted as saying:

 "The problem with school is that school is a little academic, a little theoretical, not necessarily practical," Schank said. "It doesn't necessarily serve the general public, who may just want to know how to do something."

Some members of the press printed only the first phrase of that and made fun of me saying that “school is a little academic.”  The defenders of the system never concern themselves with the idea that everyone must go to college simply assumes that colleges know what they are doing and that what they are doing is meant to benefit students in a way they might care about, like preparing them for employment. Bart Giamatti (at the time he was my boss and the President of Yale) once said to me “we don’t do training Roger.” Maybe it is time to re-think that idea.

I don’t know if Trump U was fraudulent in some way but I can tell you that people keep calling me to discuss this. The press asks me about the “unofficial” courses and I respond asking what is so good about the official courses. (Yale Computer Science students recently protested that their education wasn’t practical enough and that Google wouldn’t hire them. They were right to complain. It wouldn’t have happened on my watch.)

The important issue to me (apart from Trump himself which of course is the real issue) is why it is not possible to simply launch a different kind of school, (maybe one that does not teach algebra or one that concentrates on job skills) without the government telling you what you  are doing is ok.

The government is hardly the expert on education, and neither I think are faculty members whose interests are typically research.  Students should be able to complain if the Yale education they got disppointed them in some way.  As a professor at Yale for 15 years I can tell you that Yale often disappointed its students. Many of them found their way into my office eventually to complain about what they were being taught.  For example, why are psychology students learning to run experiments when they have no intention of being researchers and simply want to know what is wrong with them or their family?

Trump U was trying to do something different (at least at the beginning while I was there.) If it did something wrong after I was told to stop building online learn by doing courses, then people have a right to criticize it. But the state should stay out of the business of sanctioning courses and schools.   All the state does is
reinforce old ideas and make change impossible.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Massive delivery of "just in time" videos; a way to change education and build useful AI

Today there was this quote from Mark Zuckerberg in Fast Company:

"Most of the content 10 years ago was text, and then photos, and now it’s quickly becoming videos," Zuckerberg said, justifying Facebook's aggressive push into the area. "I just think that we’re going to be in a world a few years from now where the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video.”

I suspect he is right about this, but he has not mentioned what may well be the most important use of those videos. Before I explain what I mean here I would like to mention that a man whom I respect a great deal, Donald Clark, made a speech recently about the history of education, called 2500 years of learning theory.

In his presentation he talks about 101 people. I agree with him about nearly everything he says about each of them (especially since he says nice things about me.) But he says this about MOOCs:

“We have waited 20 or 30 years for people to deliver massive online education and all we want to do is kill it.”

Now let me put Zuckerberg and Clark together and make some points about video and education. In order for me to do that, I need to reiterate a point I have made before in this space. When you are trying to do something, and you need help or advice, what is your first course of action? Google it or read a book about it are possible answers to this question of course. But honestly, the first thing anyone does is ask someone who might know, assuming they are available to them.

Why is that? Because we learn, and have always learned, through conversation. When we ask our resident expert and they answer, what do we do next? We ask another question. We discuss. We engage. This is how we learn. This is how humans have always learned.  

Clark is wrong about MOOCs because the very concept of massive education is oxymoronic. Education is only massive because we have created a world of schools that include classrooms and not enough teachers to do one on one education. MOOCs are an extension of a vary bad educational idea called lecturing. We have come to accept lecturing because it is everywhere and we all had to endure it. But no one gives lectures to their children who have assembled together in a room. We deal with children as individuals when we “teach” them as children. What is wrong with MOOCs is the “massive” part. Education cannot be both massive and actual education. Learning starts with a goal followed by questions when you have trouble reaching your goal. We each have our own questions and our own goals.

Back to Zuckerberg. If people have answers to questions, or good stories to tell, or helpful hints, or specific advice, we should be delivering them through video.  Rather than consult my friend and ask him a question I would prefer to ask that question of many experts (maybe massive numbers of them) and hear and see their responses. The “massive" part is on the opposite end. It is the teachers who must be massive, not the students. Zuckerberg is right about videos being the medium of delivery, but short and to the point ones, not hour long ones.

To make this work right for learning, these videos need to be delivered just in time. That means, that they appear when we have a question but it also means that they appear when we are confused and don’t even know what question to ask. People give advice when you don’t ask for it as well. They know what you are thinking (or talking) about and offer their point of view. But we are limited to answers from people we know.

I envision a new computer world, a world that works on Artificial Intelligence principles that are sound and not the AI flavor of the month, that delivers just in time video to anyone who is trying to do anything because the computer is smart enough to know what you need to hear when, just like a good teacher would do or a good parent would do.

Can we build this? Yes, we can. Or to put this another way, Zuckerberg could afford to build it. Then, instead of MOOCs and friends posting videos randomly, we could have actively listening AI systems that are helpful anytime you need help. To accomplish this we need to record the best stories, advice, and answers, from the best and brightest in the world. We need to index those videos in order to link them to activities people are engaging in. Can this be done? Yes. But it would be a massive undertaking.

It would however change education and learning forever.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Now it is Facebook's turn to be stupid about AI

 It is another week, and yet another big company has profoundly misunderstood AI. Today Facebook. IBM has been around a long time and was always actively hostile to AI so it is understandable that they would know nothing about AI. Facebook, founded by a guy who went to Harvard where AI was never taken seriously as a subject is another case of “let’s just make up stuff about AI and assume we are making sense.” Today’s announcement:

Facebook releases 1.6GB of children’s stories for training its AI

I guess what they are saying is that children learn about the world by reading children’s stories so their program will learn that way as well.

To see that this is simply stupid, let’s consider three well known children’s stories: Goldilocks, Rumplestilskin, and Little Red Riding Hood.

I just chose these at random. I remember them, and to be honest, never really understood what they were about. But surely Facebook’s AI will understand them better than I ever did. Many people have written about these stories and tried to explain them. Here are three answers I found on the web about the moral of Goldilocks:

What is the moral of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"?

  1. The moral of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is that individual actions can hurt others, especially when one person uses or destroys another person’s property. In addition, the popular fable stresses the importance of self control and respecting others. 
  2. In the original story, the moral was that you should respect the privacy and property of others. 
  3. Goldilocks is a cute, misguided child that makes mistake after mistake. However, you never quite know if she learned a lesson from them in the end. Instead the reader (hopefully) learns the lesson for her. 

How about Rumplestilskin? I found a site that listed ten lessons. Here are three:

Lesson 1 – Always have a fall guy; if you get away with a lie, you have around 24 hours to get to Mexico.

Lesson 2 – Prenuptial agreements; find a good lawyer, one who won’t overlook any previous deals made with Rumpelstiltskin.

Lesson 3 – Don’t judge a book by its cover; Just because a man enslaves and threatens you, doesn’t mean he isn’t good ‘marriage material’.

What about Little Red Riding Hood? Here are there I found:

1. In the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” the view behind  the fairytale is as a warning to young girls to be careful of their virginity.

2. In Little Red Riding Hood, your children can learn the importance of being careful whom to trust, as well as to think critically. Although the young girl featured in this tale was initially fooled by the wolf, she was eventually able to deduce that her “grandmother” was not at all who she appeared to be at first.

3. I guess it's probably 'don't talk to strangers', and also 'be careful about who you trust'. It could also be 'don't walk through creepy woods by yourself' though

What could Facebook be thinking here? We read stories to our children for many reasons. These are read because they have been around a long time, which is not a great reason. The reason to read frightening stories to children has never ben clear to me. The only value I saw in doing this sort of thing as a parent was to begin a discussion with the child about the story which might lead somewhere interesting. Now my particular children had been living in the real world at the time so they had some way to relate to the story because of their own fears, or because of experiences they might have had.

Facebook’s AI will be able to relate to these stories by matching words it has seen before. Oh good. It will not learn anything from the stories because it cannot learn anything from any story. Learning from stories means mapping your experiences (your own stories) to the new story and finding some commonalities and some differences. It also entails discussing those commonalties and differences with someone who is willing to have that conversation with you. In order to do that you have to be able to construct sentences on your own and be able to interpret your own experiences through conversations with your friends and family.

Facebook’s “AI” will not be doing this because it can’t. It has had no experiences. Apparently its experience is loading lots of text and counting patterns. Too bad there isn’t a children’s story about that.

Facebook hasn’t a clue about AI, but it will continue to spend money and accomplish nothing until AI is declared to have failed again,

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Everyone should learn to code Mr Obama says; really? say it ain't so

Mr Obama thinks everyone should learn to code. As a computer scientist, I have to say that coding is a good thing to learn. But everyone? What is it with people who decide what everyone should do? Why is school so awful? Because people make statements like that and then enforce them. How would Mr Obama know what everyone should learn to do?

So, for fun, I typed “everyone should learn” into Google. Here are the things (besides coding which is there 100 times at least), that everyone should learn, according to the people who post to the internet.

Why Everyone Should Learn a Little Bit of Photography

Reasons why everyone should learn at least one foreign …

Ten wonderful Catalan expressions everybody should learn …

Why Everyone Should Learn How to Sail - Queensland …

Why Everyone Should Learn CPR - First Aid

5 Reasons Why you Should Learn a New Language

20 Simple Truths Everybody Should Learn about God, Life …

5 lessons from Google that everyone should learn …

5 Reasons Why Everyone Should Learn to Sew

A Skill Everyone Should Learn: Sketching | Big Think

4 Reasons Everyone Should Learn Basic Accounting

Why Everyone Should Learn How to Shoot a Gun - ESP …

Why Everyone Should Learn Martial Arts - - Karate USA

Everyone Should Learn Design Thinking | PBL CONSULTING

Why Everyone Should Learn How to Edit Video

Why Everyone Can (and Should!)… Learn to Draw …

Master Bathroom Designs Everybody Should Learn And Apply

Everyone should learn to swim | nataliekyoung

Everybody should learn how to treat asthma - AllDayChemist

Everyone Should Learn Statistics | Ten Miles Square | The …

Everyone should learn to drive in a simulator | The Verge

5 Reasons Everybody Should Learn to Dance by Lisa …

Why everyone should learn how to sell - Sales Distilled

Everybody should learn how to Ballroom Dance by Scott …

Aitor Molina: Everyone should learn English

Everyone should learn Backgammon | BoardGameGeek | BoardG

I propose the that we eliminate the silly everyone should learn history, algebra, chemistry, etc curriculum that we now have by the what the masses think.

So I have picked my new high school curriculum based on this list.

I think we should make every one learn to…

ballroom dance
play backgammon
design bathrooms
do basic accounting

This should be the first year of high school. Makes as much sense as “everyone should learn to code.”