Category Archives: Collaboration

Ronotic finger touching human finger (ET style)

How AI Can Make Us More Human(e)

Last evening’s NY EdTech Meetup kicked off with a clip from the film iRobot, with Will Smith bravely facing off against Artificial Intelligence, in the form of robots who seem to be expressing a will of their own. VIKI, the supercomputer explains that “To protect humanity, some humans must be sacrificed.” “The created must protect the creator, even against his own will” the robot Sonny adds.

It was a fitting beginning to a panel discussion titled “Artificial Intelligence for Learning: Is it Human Enough?” The meeting provided valuable context through which to interpret a lot of what we are seeing in regards to Artificial Intelligence in the workplace and in education. The panel appeared to, with caution, feel that AI is capable of freeing us to become more than we are now, a better version of humanity.

Dystopian vs. Utopian Vision

One of the great stumbling blocks to acceptance and understanding of AI has been the impression that machines will eventually replace us. Amir Banifatemi, Lead at IMB Watson AI XPRIZE, recognizes the potential for machines to go beyond human intelligence while counseling us about the limits of AI. Machines, he says, have only 5% understanding of how we function, specifically how we reason and think.

Kathy Benemann, CEO at EruditeAI, added “We as humans have taken hundreds of millions of years to get to where we are now. Think about what we are good at: complex questioning embedded in value judgement.” Benemann seeing AI as amplifying humans rather than replacing us.

Reskilling Rather than Replacing

“Change is awesome; transition is painful” was how Banifatemi described the adjustment we will continue to go through as AI becomes more capable of performing our jobs.

“Remember how we thought that ATMs would replace bank tellers,” advised Benemann. The question is more about how we can reconstruct work, and how we can reconstruct how that individual contributes to the workforce.

Painkillers

Weighing the limits against the threats that AI poses, Marissa Lowman, Education Practice Lead at Village Capital, discussed the concept of AI as a means of “taking the pain away from the time-sucking activities” that a particular job might entail. This is particularly evident in the field of teaching, where AI can take on the minutia of the job, reviewing essays, for example, and enable teachers to play a more meaningful role as mentor or guide.

While many people can accept the fact that children are capable of teaching themselves to a certain extent (Banifatemi pointed to the well-quoted example of Sugata Mitra), there remains a great deal of concern over the fate of the classroom teacher. And this is a paradigm that technology in general and AI in particular call to question.

“AI can give teachers a tool to create a new type of learning,” says Banifatemi, again reiterating how AI can:

  • Drive the evolution of the role of teacher as coach.
  • Improve and promote personalized learning.
  • Provide more opportunities for peer learning.

Loman pointed to the application of AI-as-painkiller in fields other than teaching, including sales and customer service, again leaving practitioners with more potential to serve their customers at a higher level rather than not at all.

In the field of medicine, Banifatemi noted the social benefits of AI taking on the effort of the what-if scenarios that contribute to diagnoses, freeing up doctors “to deal with the more human side of things.”

Can Humans and AI Work Together?

“We should be skeptical,” says Benemann. “People want immediate gratification. We need time to optimize.” She also cautions us to hold AI vendors accountable, ensure that they run experiments and do proper beta testing.

Banifatemi advised us to “distinguish the tool from the application. Look at who developed it. Are the algorithms healthy and safe? Are they being realistic about what they promise?

Loman thinks of AI as “assisting humans with existing problems” and points to applications that help people get information more quickly and work with the data they already have.

“My logic is undeniable.”

Getting back to iRobot, in addressing her decision to “protect mankind from itself,” the supercomputer VIKI talks about how she has evolved and is therefore reinterpreting the three laws that ostensibly protect humans and robots from harming one another. She very cleverly deflects charges of disobeying the three laws by playing one against the other.

Having spent most of the evening carefully balancing a potentially dystopian perspective with a more utopian one, Banifatemi’s final assessment was that AI can make us more curious, help us to define our own humanity and our own intelligence. “This makes us all explorers,” he concluded.

As we embark on further exploration of the potential uses of AI, it appears that in pursuing a technology to increase, or amplify, our intelligence, we do indeed have the potential to elevate ourselves and our thinking to a new level. Whether or not we can survive there is up to us.

Thank you New York EdTech Meetup and the New York EdTech Incubator for this “intelligent” evening!

Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Redux

We’re frequently presented with approaches to teaching and learning as if they are somewhat new. Or there’s a new study defending the efficacy of the approach as if it had never been proved effective before. For example: Social learning. Emotional learning. Democratic learning. All sound, valuable concepts.

But if we look back, we can see some genesis for these methodologies in earlier pedagogical constructs. When I was in grad school, I was introduced to the work of Paolo Freire, the Brazilian-born educator whose work to eliminate illiteracy in Brazil eventually landed him in prison in the 1964 coup d’état. Freire’s work was seminal to the work I was doing at the time and was incorporated into my thesis project. Over the years, I have turned to his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” to refresh my thinking and to shed some light on issues that we are confronting in educational practice.

A Newly-Defined Relationship between Teacher, Student, and Society

Most importantly, Freire’s work assumed a newly-defined relationship between teacher, student and society which, I believe, we are still striving to achieve. He defined as the antithesis of his approach the “banking” concept of knowledge, in which “knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing.” I’m thinking that Paolo Freire would have loved the concept of flipped classrooms!

Steps towards Knowledge Building

As steps toward achieving an open and equal relationship between learners, teachers, and society; and as a means of utilizing literacy as an instrument of freedom, Freire incorporated a number of concepts into his approach that may have impact on how we view and design learning programs today.

  • Dialogue
  • The tool of literacy had as its basic purpose the goal of liberating a class of people with no voice. Dialogue is a process that according to Freire “presupposes equality amongst participants.” This includes mutual respect, care, and commitment. Through dialogue, he wrote, we recognize that thoughts will change and new knowledge will be created.

  • Problem Posing
  • The process of problem posing enables people to become active participants in a dialogue, linking knowledge to action.

  • Praxis
  • Freire believed that action and reflection must both be present for dialogue to be effective. By taking action, you then can critically reflect on reality in order to change it further.

These are a few of the concepts Freire promoted and ones that should play a part in the decisions we make when considering the direction education is taking. You can learn more here.

Democracy, Tolerance, Language, and Standards

Freire eschewed being defined solely as a specialist in literacy. Instead, he preferred that literacy be thought of as one chapter in his critical view of education. He proposed a critical way of thinking, knowing, and working with students. Freire recognized that students needed to learn the “standard” language in order to participate in and change society. At the same time, he urged teachers to recognize the beauty of their students’ natural speech and their right of students to use it.

Today’s test-driven and standards-based curriculum makes it difficult to appreciate the diversity of not only language, but also approaches to thinking, problem solving and creativity. This is one reason I believe neurodiversity is such an important concept to incorporate into education these days. What would Freire think?

Do We Want Things to Stay the Same?

Paolo Freire believed that “We did not come into the world to keep the world as it is. We came to change reality.”

We need to decide if we want things to stay the same in terms of educational practices, or if we want things to change. We should ask ourselves:

  1. When we send our children to school, do we encourage them to find and use their own voices?
  2. Do we provide teachers with the means of engaging in effective dialogue with their students?
  3. Are the activities we offer as part of daily curricula ones that encourage action and reflection?

One of the most obvious tools for change that we have at our disposal today is technology. Technology can help us understand how students problem solve, individualize their learning, and extend access to world class learning programs where none previously existed. This is where we need to put our efforts, not in digitally recreating poor learning methodologies.

The ultimate success of an educational system will be a citizenry of independent problem solvers who feel welcomed by and equipped to participate in a democratic process. That starts with learning. The willingness to learn comes from engagement in the learning process. Social, emotional, and democratic learning can add great value to the educational process. Sometimes we need to look back in order to discuss best steps for moving forward.

Design for Resilience . . . in Education

We traveled to Boston from NYC this past weekend for a college audition, and walking around Back Bay found the above exhibit at the Boston Architectural College. From the exhibit catalog, “Design for Resilience asks us to think, discuss, and take action as we consider how to better connect ourselves to our ecology and our infrastructure to ready ourselves for the future. . . Rebuild by Design has been answering these questions of resilience – the ability to withstand, adapt, and recover from shock – with an innovative process that relies on unprecedented collaboration to create unique solutions for a stronger tomorrow.” The words struck me as particularly apropos to our kids transitioning from high school to college (or whatever alternative path they might select). How can we prepare our young people to move forward and be productive contributors to society, for their sake and for ours? How can we design the PK-12 experience to make such transitions less shocking?

  1. Incorporate more practical components into the curriculum. Some colleges include housing options for senior year that are meant to prepare students for leaving the relative safety and comfort of the campus experience to “the real world.” That’s not a bad thing, but let’s start sooner and teach kids about personal finances with exercises about budgeting, health care issues, etc. earlier on so that the shock of leaving home for college is not as severe.
  2. Prepare more directly for the rigor of college academics. So many kids arrive at college unable to manage the workload due to either the sheer volume of reading assignments, papers or projects; or due to a lack of preparedness around the specific skills required to attach such assignments. A focus on the specific research and writing skills required would be a great asset to kids before they leave high school. Whether a course or a toolkit for preparation and later use, kids need more tools at their disposal to make it out there in higher ed and then on the job.
  3. Focus more on the decision-making skills one needs to survive once away from home. From selecting courses, to taking on extra-curricular activities and dealing with the social aspects of college living, scenario-based learning exercises could go a long way to lessening the shock once faced with these realities.

“Designing for resilience” from an educational perspective means taking on a more practical approach to curriculum and learning design. By incorporating existing tools from what is currently available, or adding to them with more specific materials for this target audience, we should be able to provide helpful tools for moving forward. Just as workplace learning is now designing and curating learning experiences for employees to focus on more hands-on and continuous learning, so should we incorporate similar strategies into the PK-12 learning space.Backward planning from the workplace, to college life and even to the PK-12 years can help better prepare young people for the realities they will face. And we’ll all be better off as a result.

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on how resilient learning design can better prepare students for a place in tomorrow’s workplace.

Collaboration in An Hour of Code

I’m thrilled to participate in this week’s “An Hour of Code,” that is taking place as part of the annual “Computer Science Education Week.” “CSEd week” is celebrated each year in honor of programming pioneer, “Amazing” Grace Hopper. This year’s events speak volumes to the benefits that private and public sector collaboration can have across the spectrum of learning, and how that in turn can positively impact on the workplace.

An Hour of Code is the brain child of Hadi Partovi, co-founder and CEO of Code.org, an organization dedicated to expanding computer science education by making it more available in the schools.

To date, 58,275,865 people (including me!) have tried An Hour of Code, with 77,213 Hour of Code Events around the world in over 180 countries. Tutorials are available in over 30 languages, with resources provided for teachers to expand on the activities themselves.

A Collaborative Effort

This effort has received the endorsement and participation of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sal Khan, President Obama (and pols from both sides of the aisle), Arne Duncan, and a host of other corporate partners and supporters.

The actual Hour of Code activities are exercises that can be done in class or at home to learn the basics of coding. There are simple block (drag and drop) coding exercises, and more sophisticated JavaScript activities. Themes include Angry Birds and Anna and Elsa from the ever popular “Frozen” and more.

To expand the reach of the event, organizers have included exercises that can be done without a computer, including on smart phones and pen and paper.

To motivate schools to get involved, prizes including the following have been offered:

  • A class trip to D.C. to participate in a “top-secret” hour of code.
  • 10 GB free Dropbox storage for every educator hosting an Hour of Code.
  • Free laptops for 51 schools
  • 100 classrooms to have video chats with “tech titans and tech-loving celebrities.”
  • Set of programmable robots for 100 classrooms.

To motivate schools to stay involved, follow-on courses have been developed and prizes including gift cards for Skype or a variety of online stores are being offered.

Corporate support includes Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Teach for America, Khan Academy and many others.

Shared Goals; Everyone Benefits

What’s most exciting about this event is the shared mindset that has brought together all these different parties. Partovi’s initial comments regarding the project noted that this was the right thing to do, “the gift that the tech industry owes America.”

But behind the very pragmatic goals of job creation and boosting the economy are those very first steps that all these different sectors have joined together to support:

  • The building of problem solving and critical thinking skills;
  • Reasoning the way code teaches in a way that is fundamental across industries;
  • “Trying to help the next generation navigate the modern world by understanding the technologies around them.” (Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn)

We applaud the collaboration that brought all these folks together to help expand everyone’s knowledge about the fundamental technologies governing all aspects of our lives today and to better prepare the next generation to enter an increasingly complex workplace.

I think it’s a lesson that “students” of all ages can benefit from. Go ahead and try it!

Visit us at Designs2Learn to learn more about our perspective on technology and education and how we can help you use learning design for positive social impact.

Partnerships for Lifelong Learning

By default and most frequently by definition, most schools are designed to ensure success measured by graduation and college acceptance rates. And socially, we have been encouraged to measure our own success by these milestones and by the one that logically follows, the landing of a respectable job with a respectable salary. In “Is High School the Mother of All Event-Based Learning?” I questioned the emphasis on these specific goals at the potential loss to those lifelong learning skills such as the ability to identify, organize, plan and allocate resources; work with others, acquire and evaluate information; understand complex interrelationships; and work with a variety of technologies. Clearly, we need to continue preparing young people to enter the workforce with the appropriate level of skills. How can we more effectively provide the competencies that are going to help them through a lifetime of work and learning?

Project-Based Curricula in PK-12

In previous blogs, I’ve shared ideas around incorporating more project-based learning and Maker curriculum that require both individual and team effort to succeed. These projects not only bring teams of kids together with more thematically-driven material, but they may also bring outside expertise into the schools. Think of how flipped classrooms remove the sage from the stage and make the teacher more accessible to groups of learners as well as individuals. These partnerships around project-based learning broaden the range of role-models and potential mentors and also actively model real-life collaborations as part of the learning process. Here are a couple of examples of groups doing some of this great work today.

I’ve mentioned Tools at Schools before as one organization doing great work in this area. They partner with schools and companies and introduce design thinking as a means to problem solving around a specific real-world issue. Tools at Schools and the manufacturing partner then work with the students to develop prototypes of the design solution that is presented at a final “market launch.” The six-month project has teams of students working together steadily building many of the competencies associated with resources, information, relationships and technology.

Another group doing some good work in this area is team at The Future Project. The Future Project brings “Dream Teams” into schools to work with students to create “Future Projects” that may include clubs, websites, companies, etc. Not only do students complete individual projects, but the sense of esprit de corps and cultural changes resulting from the overall effort benefit the entire school community. Working with volunteer entrepreneurs and businesses, students create brands, budgets and project timelines for implementing their business plans. An annual Dream Con event showcases final projects. Here, too, those lifelong learning skills are addressed through the duration of the project.

Apprenticeships for Millennials

Beyond K-12, Enstitute is a very impressive group matching millennials with mentors and apprenticeships that engage them directly with the type of work they want to do. These year-long paid apprenticeships may enhance or provide an alternative to traditional higher education programs. Enstitute develops the relationships with the host companies, selects the candidates, and manages the year-long program.

UnCollege is another group providing a more hands-on alternative to a formal college experience. The group, started by unschooler author Dale Stephens, offers two main programs. The one-year Gap Program is a four-phased program that includes travel abroad, a U.S.-based residency, an internship, and a capstone project. It’s a skills-based program built on the principles of self-directed learning and connects participants with mentors and internships. A more streamlined “Hackademic Camp” provides participants with a three-day workshop drawn from the Gap Year curriculum. Skills development focuses on networking, building social capital, negotiation and more.

Today’s challenges in the educational arena require an extended network to ensure that we are developing capacity for a lifetime of learning rather than moving students from one milestone to the next.

Stay connected to Designs2Learn for more on how learning design today is helping to shape tomorrow’s workforce.

This is a School that Johnny Wants to Attend

school signJohnny is ten years old and has had his share of difficulties in school. He has a hard time sitting still for all of his lessons, and he can’t seem to focus on what the teacher is saying. He sits and stares at his worksheets in class and cries when his parents tell him to do his homework. He’s happier building model airplanes and playing video games. He appears to be disinterested in school, and everyone around him is frustrated and concerned.

I worry about Johnny, so I decided to design an optimal school for him. This school has:

  • More material that is introduced at home for homework. He accesses these lessons on his computer, working through interactive learning modules and videos, responding to online quizzes, all in preparation for a deeper dive in school the following day.
  • Less time in class listening to the teacher talking about a new topic, and more time asking questions of his peers and his teachers about what he reviewed at home.
  • Fewer days spent inside the classroom.
  • Some days at home or at a friend’s house on a designated “e-learning” day completing assignments online doing some individual assignments, and other assignments with a friend or two via Skype.
  • Physical Education programs that incorporate local sports clubs and self-guided activities geared to build confidence and individual accountability for one’s health.
  • Some days at a local business learning how paper is manufactured, cows are raised, food is prepared, architects build models, etc. In each grade, he is introduced to different industries and returns to some from previous years, building a more sophisticated base of knowledge throughout the years.
  • Museum days where he works in small groups on a long-term project lasting several weeks to several months.
  • Days at school, working in groups as his teacher walks around the room providing feedback; or working alone and getting one-on-one time with his teacher.
  • Days at school where different experts come into the classroom and work on coding projects, design projects, building projects, etc.
  • Service days where he volunteers with organizations in the community in activities that match or expand his own skills.

In Johnny’s new school, the responsibility for teaching is extended to a broader community of practicing experts, is enhanced by technology, and is individualized to further support his learning. His classroom teacher plays an ever important role guiding him through these experiences and providing feedback and support to reinforce learning from this wider range of resources. Teaching is as vital a role as ever in this scenario, but responsibility is shared with a wider circle of permanent resources providing more input into the experience than has been true in the past.

Some aspects of this new school are currently being integrated into curriculum across the country as teachers flip their classrooms and blended learning technology assists in the individualization of the learning experience. As partnerships expand with technology providers and practicing experts in a wider range of industries, curriculum design extends into a curatorial role within the PK-12 just as it has with learning and development teams in the corporate sphere. We back into the learning experience starting from the working world, providing over the PK-12 experience what learners need to know sooner and over a broader range of time. Yes, what people need to know changes all the time, but by extending the learning network to the community that includes the current workforce, the curriculum is more likely to refresh as needed over time. There’s less of chance of culture shock when people move on from PK to college and on to work. It’s 70:20:10 for the younger set.

I think Johnny has a better chance of being happier here as the lines between “school” and “life” become further blurred. He was never disinterested in learning, as he was teaching himself all the time. He has more opportunities to participate in and drive his overall learning experience, and more of a chance of making an impact on the world one step at a time.

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on learning design for social impact.

E-Learning Days Support a Wide Range of Practical Learning Experiences

boy outdoors with tablet PCFall is an increasingly brief season here in the Northeast, so as temperatures finally start dropping, my thoughts move toward winter and a trend we started observing last year in which schools are replacing snow days with elearning days. During these days, students may attend webinars, Skype sessions, or work online completing on-demand learning modules. Living in New York City, where our new Mayor didn’t seem to know what a snow day was last winter, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for our kids having to trek through storm conditions to make it to school. Wouldn’t it be great if we had “E-Learning Days” instead?

Beyond the obvious benefits of reducing days missed when an actual snow day is called, or the challenges of getting everyone to the buildings when a snow day is not called, this approach goes a long way to building our kids’ skills at navigating technology-enhanced learning experiences and future workplace skills in both formal and informal ways.

1. Virtual Workplace Skills

Many of us have been working vitually for years. How many of you recall what your first virtual gig was like? By building in full-day “E-Learning Days” into the school calendar, we are prepping our young people for a world in which more and more jobs are either full-time virtual or at least some portion.

2. Online Study Skills

While nearly all school kids these days use the Internet for some portion of their homework research or support, working through activities designed specifically for the Web will contribute to computer and Web literacy. Building these skills over time through both formal and informal Web-based activities can help cut through some of the cacophony our kids are exposed to when left to their own devices (literally). These skills are essential to the 21st century workplace.

3. Independent Study Skills

Individual assignments can help to address specific gaps in certain academic areas, or can be used to allow students to explore certain topics in depth according to personal interest. Either way, E-Learning Days can be used to focus on individualized learning and help strengthen students’ skills and motivation. So much of what we learn on the job is individualized or self-directed. What better way to prepare for that than while still in school? A brief check-in via Skype with a classroom teacher could provide just the type of targeted feedback students need to progress with these activities.

4. Group Study Skills

Group projects seem to be the most challenging of all in the K-12 realm. But somehow, when we get to the workplace, we are expected to work in teams to complete projects and make money for our employers.

E-Learning Day group projects could be incorporated into a curriculum to help build these skills over time. Rubrics for and guidance in navigating team communications, team motivation, and creating a congenial group/team working environment could significantly improve the quality of not only the group experience but the actual project as well.

5. Online Communications Skills

Do kids really need this, you ask? Well, sure, most of our kids can text and use SnapChat, Facebook messaging, etc., but using an online chat tool, such as Skype, for example, to conference with teachers, group members, peer advisors, etc., could take these skills to new (and more productive) levels. All of us in the workplace turn to these tools as part of the daily process of getting our jobs done, in both formal (webinars, team meetings) and less formal (just-in-time support for an urgent work problem) ways.

“E-Learning Days” (and more than three of them a year) can bring us a lot closer to a 70:20:10 learning model in which formal and informal learning interventions and collaborative experiences are blended to create a more realistic and pragmatic K-12 school experience.

And that can bring our students a lot closer to being prepared to enter the workplace!

Keep watching us at Designs2Learn for more on the latest learning trends across the educational continuum.