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Sunday, March 29, 2020

The virus is a big opportunity for education actually

Could we stop pretending that kids will be harmed by having to learn from home during the virus and school shutdowns? This is actually a big opportunity
if we relax our rigidity about education. All a teacher has to do is suggest that a kid produce something  (anything) and help them when needed and then provide some assessment of the quality of what they produce . We need to stop demanding that kids learn what some government, or university committee, or ETS, or OECD, has decided that they must learn and let them learn what they want to learn. Teachers need to stop “teaching”  and start helping kids achieve what they actually want to achieve. Teachers can encourage kids who want to learn the same thing to work together in teams. Imagine if school was fun and allowed you to learn what you’d always wanted to learn. How many would decide to learn the quadratic formula, or how to balance a chemical equation, or memorize a physics formula?  Who would decide that they needed to read Silas Marner? Letting kids decide what to read and what to learn how to do happens all the time outside of school mentored by parents (and friends). Teachers need to stop being the ultimate authority and instead learn to mentor just in time (online)  and stop pushing test preparation. Instead of online learning becoming a disaster due the school snot really understanding education, the virus could become the savior of education. Let’s make this school shut down into a good thing.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

So you want to put your course on line

In these days of “sheltering in place,” there is a mad rush to move education at all levels online. Unfortunately, nearly all of these efforts are reminiscent of the early days of movies in which moviemakers filmed plays; it was not until they began to recognize the unique characteristics of the medium that movies began to achieve their full potential. The same is true for online courses; until we get beyond trying to replicate the classroom online, the potential of online education will not be realized. So given that, how do you rethink a course in light of what is possible in an online experience?

  1. think about the goals of your course

This is a hard question. Teachers rarely ask themselves about the goals of a course. They have the idea that they need to teach what they want you to know, and they will tell you about it. But learning and knowing are different things. We learn every day — through experience — but many of the things we “know,” are decontextualized facts that school said were important to memorize. I know that Lincoln was the 16th president. Why do I need to know this? Only because school said so. The same is true about the quadratic formula, the formula for salt, and the War of 1812. To turn your classroom course into an engaging, effective online course, you must ask about the utility of what you teach. You can’t really teach students things they don’t want to learn, and you can’t teach them by telling them because learning by telling doesn’t really work.

2  ask what people should be able to do after they have taken your course

When you teach someone to play the piano, hearing them play something well is the ultimate goal. When you teach a kid to play soccer, one goal is scoring a goal. What about mathematics, for example, solving simultaneous equations? No one needs to solve them. No kid will learn to do this in an online course unless you force them to the threats of with tests and grades. Insisting on kids learning something might work in a classroom because they are a captive audience and have no choice, but it won’t work online when they’re working from home; they’ll get bored and turn on the TV.

3. figure out who the experts are

School has only one expert  — the teacher. But in the real-world, there are many. Letting students ask questions and having true experts answer is possible in good online education. You don’t know how to do that? It’s hard to do on your own. In our experience with corporate training, a company has experts who can be interviewed on video, telling stories from firsthand experience. The same thing can work for school, but you may have trouble finding and interviewing experts on your own. However, groups of people who want to teach the same things may be able to work together to find experts, interview them, and record their answers. These video answers can then be incorporated into a course where they can pop up in places where the corresponding questions are likely to arise.
4. ask what this course is really for

Is it to fulfill some sort of requirement imposed on students, or is it to learn something they are really interested in? Asking this question is not something teachers typically do. What do you think most students would say if you asked them if they want to learn geometry, or history, or creative writing? A good course should make it clear to students that they are going to learn something they really want to be able to do, and it should deliver on that promise by helping them to do it. The key words here are “want” and “help.” Forcing students to do something to fulfill a requirement which doesn’t interest them is unlikely to work online. Instead, a good course will make it clear to students that they will learn something they want to do and that they will receive the help they need to succeed. Such a course will “teach students to swim by throwing them into the water,” while making it clear that a mentor will always be there to stop them from “drowning.” For example, in our cybersecurity program we present students with compelling, realistic problems and ask them to solve them; they are provided with extensive learning resources keyed specifically to the things students are asked to do and knowledgeable mentors who are always available to provide help, advice, and feedback help them to succeed. These things — compelling, realistic problems, immediately relevant learning resources, and knowledgeable mentors — are key attributes of an effective, engaging, online course. 

In summary, to build an effective online course, you must rethink what you have been doing in the classroom, paying more attention to what the student’s real goals are and giving them the support they will need to succeed.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

What is love? A challenge for AI (and for all of us)

Do you love me?

It is a common enough question and we all know what it means. Or do we?

According to the media, AI is coming any day now, and machines will soon rule us. But will those machines understand when someone asks this question of them? To see why this is difficult, ask yourself what it means to love someone. If you asked ten people this question you would get ten different answers.

I asked Google: “what is love?”  Here are some of its answers:

a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.

attraction that includes sexual desire: the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship.

a person you love in a romantic way.

Google shows many other questions you can ask and that it will answer. For example:

What are the signs of true love in a relationship?

Give and take in love. ...
Pure happiness. ...
Pain and anger. ...
You make sacrifices for their happiness or wellbeing even if they may not realize it.

The right effort. ...
You can't hurt them. ...
You keep your promises. ...
When you truly love your partner, you see them as part of your life and your future.

Below are a few ways you can identify true love.

You forgive your person: Although your person's actions upset you, you always find it in your heart to forgive them. ...
You understand your person. ...
You accept your person. ...
You tell your person when they are wrong. ...
You want to see your person happy.

My career was in Natural Language Processing which is only one part of AI. I spent my life trying to figure out ways that computers could understand sentences and interact with people in English. Asking people what words meant didn't help us. People can come up with answers easily enough but they are just words. 

What is love? It is a feeling. It is hard to define but people don’t need to define it. We know what we are feeling most of the time. If we don’t feel anything we will not understand the simplest or words, like hunger, anger, or ambition. Unless we are trying to get a computer to be smart we don’t have to define words. But, real AI  (which these days is referred to as “AGI” so the people who do AI can pretend they are doing AI) depends on explanations of what words mean (which are based on experiences has had.)

We are very far from being able to do that. Perhaps it is time to stop making everyone afraid of AI or having endless  meetings about the ethics of AI.

There is no AI and there won’t be any any time soon. Counting words or choosing between moves in GO or spitting out sentences that a person wrote, does not count. 

Here is Google again. 

Below are a few ways you can identify true love.

You forgive your person: Although your person's actions upset you, you always find it in your heart to forgive them. ...
You understand your person. ...
You accept your person. ...
You tell your person when they are wrong. …
You want to see your person happy.

Let me know when a computer can do any of that.