A place to log ideas and thoughts

George Veletsianos, PhD

Category: E-learning Page 1 of 2

AI is coming for your instructional and learning design jobs, apparently

For the most part, the early morning is my favorite time of the day. I like having a cup of coffee or tea, running, reading, writing, and just pretty much doing anything at 6am, than at 10am. This is not a productivity tip. You do what works for you.

What would have worked better for my productivity this morning was to have waited until later in the day to read Donald Clark’s predictions of AI radically transforming instructional design* jobs and replacing instructional designers (“adapt or die” he says). I don’t disagree with everything that he writes. We agree that in a largely interdisciplinary and complex endeavor as online learning designers need to make sense of AI/machine learning/etc, and developers need to make sense of how learning works. We also agree that most of online learning offerings could be amazing, but are often unexciting. And I really like some of his writing, such as his critique of the hole in the wall experiments.

 

That’s not where the problem lies. The problem is within this snippet:

 

AI is here. Few argue that is will change the very nature of employment and therefore it will change what you learn, how you learn and even why you learn. We are, at last, emerging from a 30 year paradigm of media production and multiple choice questions, in largely flat and unintelligent learning experiences, towards smart, intelligent online learning, that behaves more like a good teacher, where you are taught as an individual with a personalised experience, challenged and, rather than endlessly choosing from lists, engage in effortful learning, using dialogue, even voice. As a Learning designer, Interactive designer, project Manager, Producer, whatever, this is the most exciting thing to have happened in the last 30 years of learning. Make the leap!

The talk about AI “behav[ing] more like a good teacher” offering “typical cost reductions of 85-90%” is incompatible with the claims that AI isn’t aiming to replace teachers or designers (a claim that Clark also makes in 2016 here, even though he later notes that the time may not be 2018, but soon). If you develop software to do the job that a designer does, you are, to a degree, working toward substituting people with software. There may very well be good reasons to do that, but don’t call upon designers to “adapt or die.” The message sounds more like this: We have developed software to change the functions of your job and we want you to develop a different skill set. If you don’t, we’ll replace you.

We haven’t yet reached the point where an independent AI decided to take on the job of the instructional designer.

I work with instructional designers, and train them. Are there parts of their job that would be better automated? Yes. But here’s the issue: That sort of work is not really instructional design work. That sort of work rarely involves the conceptualization and design of empowering, equitable, engaging, and rich learning environments. If Clark’s notion of the work that the instructional designer does envisions a person who enters text into pre-determined templates, and does similar work, then we aren’t talking about the same professional

Finally, I agree with Clark that it’s prime time for instructional design to undergo a process of transformation. Not for the reason Clark sees (AI), but because instructional designers are now, more than ever, necessary to support the design and development of rich and equitable learning environments. To do so, they need to be empowered more, not relayed to conduct the work that machines could do more efficiently. The preparation of instructional designers needs re-envisioning to support this goal, and that requires not only an understanding of technical phenomena (similar to what Clark calls for), but also a truly critical engagement with what ID is and what it should do. To that end, I am increasingly turning to feminist practices, which is a topic that probably deserves it’s own post.

Now, I’m going to go back to enjoying my coffee.

* Clark calls it learning design, I call it instructional design. The nomenclature varies between the UK (where he is) and North America (where I am), even if there are more similarities than differences between what learning and instructional designers to. For the purposes of this post, the differences are insignificant.

Video, tapes, histories of educational technology, and growing up in Cyprus

One of the courses I teach examines the foundations and histories of the field. Writings about the histories of educational/instructional technology/design predominantly identify and examine particular technologies that were in vogue at particular periods of time.  For instance, Martin Weller discusses the use of streaming video in his 25 years of edtech series. One might do the same with radio, overhead projectors, mySpace, and so on. Here, I want to share with you a personal story, a story about a particular VHS cassette.

VHS tape – By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain

My Twitter bio identifies my location as Canada and Cyprus. Cyprus is where I grew up, and where I tell people I am from when they ask me the seemingly innocuous but loaded question “Where are you from?,” as if people can be from just one place. Growing up in a divided country like Cyprus, I was constantly reminded of conflict, war, occupation, fleeing, and loss. I grew up with textbooks emblazoned with the slogan Δέν Ξεχνώ, a nod to a national policy aiming to convince GreekCypriot children to “never forget” the occupied areas of Cyprus. It wasn’t just the not-so-hidden national curriculum. I know of many people who were and are refugees and people who were directly or indirectly impacted. Friends. Friends’ parents. Uncles and aunts. My parents. My maternal grandparents.

In the 1980’s my grandparents were given a tape. Someone – an acquaintance of an acquaintance of a family member – visited the occupied areas and drove for hours, recording what they could from their car. I don’t remember the details. I do remember that the video was grainy and mostly uninteresting to a pre-teen. But, it brought us together to discuss issues more important than the roads, farmlands, and abandoned villages depicted in the tape: war, coup d’état, peace, borders, the “other.”

My aunt and uncle owned a video store in the 80’s. I spent many days in the summers there and watched my fair share of tapes. But that tape, that grainy tape, is forged in my memory. The impact of video on education reveals a worthwhile pedagogical story because it often culminates in how video replaces other media and rarely causes pedagogical change. Particular artifacts though, in particular situations, at particular times, with particular participants, do. That may not be the norm in formal educational environments, but I can at least point to one instance where a tape had impact.

Do you have any similar stories?

On Teacherbot rights

Pause for a few more minutes and imagine that future in which technologies teach humans. Call them robots, bots, chatbots, algorithms, teaching machines, tutoring software, agents, or something else. Regardless, consider them technologies that teach. Now consider their rights.

Assuming that teaching bots can exhibit (algorithmic) intelligence, can behave with some sort of (algorithmic) morality, can learn, can plan their interactions with students and make choices about them, and overall behave somewhat independently… what rights do they have, or should they have, as non-human entities, as teachers?

Consider this scenario: A teaching bot teaches independently in an online course. It (S/he?) develops a novel pedagogical approach wherein student test scores are maximized for some, but not all, students. University administrators, in collaboration with an edtech company, learn of this and would like to intervene to ensure that every student is served in an equitable manner. They are considering refining the underlying code that runs the bot. If unsuccessful, they are considering replacing the bot with a new one.

What are the bot’s rights? Does it have the right to protest this change? Does it have the right to its life? Does it have the rights that all other workers have?

 

Followup: Some background reading on ethical principles for robots.

AERA statement and #edtech research

What appears below is a copy of the AERA Statement on the Hateful Acts in Charlottesville. I am posting it here because there’s a tendency in our field to focus on instruction and learning that is effective, efficient, and engaging without considering that we need to evaluate instruction/learning in the context of larger societal needs. What’s the value of an effective programming course if it leaves behind traditionally disenfranchised groups? This reminds me of Tom Reeves and his efforts to encourage us all to engage in socially responsible research that addresses the urgent problems of our time.

AERA statement

The American Educational Research Association condemns racism in all its forms and joins others throughout our nation in the fight to eradicate hate, injustice, and racial violence. The recent events in Charlottesville not only make visible how White supremacy, racism, antisemitism, religious persecution, homophobia, and xenophobia continue to permeate our society, but also remind us of the critical importance of studying, analyzing, and broadly communicating about these patterns and structures. Our social responsibility as a community of education researchers is to engage in producing knowledge and to share that knowledge with clarity and integrity.

 

A wide range of scholarship can and must be used to inform and engage current and future generations in the multiple stories of our pasts, the realities of our presents, and the critical demands of our futures. We need to uncover and analyze how our educational system is connected to our past and present legacies of racism in all of its forms—how our institutions and practices persistently reproduce inequities. We must also develop the knowledge and evidence that can lead to practices and policies that address hate, support understanding and respect of others, and disrupt the divisive patterns of disparity and denigration. Researchers, together with educators across all levels of education, must confront the racism, xenophobia, power and privilege, and injustice that permeate the ordinary life of our nation and world and interrogate and teach the histories of our past. No one should leave our educational institutions thinking that the expressions of hate that were on display in Charlottesville are just legitimate “points of view” or acceptable acts of “free speech.” No one should leave our classrooms or campuses believing that the symbols of oppression and killing are mere logos.

 

Education is fundamentally about our futures as a nation and a world, for education can empower the next generation of human beings who can promote and protect human rights, build institutions, make laws, create knowledge and art, and imagine and make possible a just world. AERA is committed to providing the knowledge base and working with other scientific organizations to support educators and others in our communities to be able to confront hate and to teach all people to know the histories of slavery, racism, genocide, inhumanity, oppression, colonialism, and White supremacy, as well as to know and learn from the stories of those who have fought and devoted their lives to justice. We strive to make known and foster the use of research on institutional and individual factors that engender prejudice and acts of violence against groups. As researchers, we must be prepared to support educators with tools, knowledge, and expertise to notice, name, deal with, and confront these issues as they arise in our contemporary world, our communities, and in our institutions and classrooms.

 

Now is the time, as new school and academic years commence, to ensure that we do not ignore or forget the realities that underlie what we have just experienced nor resume a normalcy that belies the scholarship that we have. AERA is committed to continuing this conversation as we go from city to city. It is our priority in planning for the 2018 Annual Meeting in April in New York and speaks to the very heart of this year’s theme—“The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education.”

 

 

Deborah Loewenberg Ball, AERA President

Felice J. Levine, AERA Executive Director

On Noam Chomsky and technology’s neutrality

In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky commented on the relationship between technology and education and one of his thoughts was the following:

As far as technology itself and education is concerned, technology is basically neutral. It’s like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or whether on torture, using it to crush somebody’s skull, the hammer can do either.

Hammer – CC Photo by Birmingham Museum and Arts Gallery

I admire Noam Chomsky and his brilliance. I agree with this perspective, but this perspective does not paint the whole picture of what happens when we use technology in education. I’d like to unpack this just a little bit because there is a more accurate picture of technology use in education available to us. The broader picture I describe below helps us understand how technologies are used, why they succeed/fail, and how we can design better learning environments. From my observations of technology use in education, my research, my colleagues’ research, and my reading of the field’s research, here’s what I understand:

  • Technologies can be as neutral as described above. For example, Twitter can be used as a broadcasting medium, a conversational medium, or even a 1-1 support tool. YouTube can replace the VCR used in class. Or, it can bring together people from different locations to discuss topics of common interest. In this sense, technologies are neutral in that they can serve various needs and can be used in different ways.
  • Technologies themselves are rarely neutral. How can that be, you ask, when the bullet point above stated the opposite? Technology is not created in a vacuum. When technology is created, it is built with the developers’ worldviews, values, beliefs, and assumptions embedded into the technology and revealed through the activities supported and encouraged when individuals use the technology. For example, social networking sites (SNS) structure relationships in specific ways (e.g., followers, friends) and perceive privacy in different ways. Technologies hold particular views of the world, and in this way, they are not neutral. This is true for technologies that we repurpose for educational means (e.g., Twitter, YouTube, Ning, Elgg, Facebook, Flickr, and so on) as well as for technologies created specifically for educational purposes. For example, Learning Management Systems (LMS) espouse certain beliefs about the educational process and their default settings and suggestions may shape how they are used. Whn introduced in educational settings, said technologies tend to introduce tensions and conundrums (e.g., The way the LMS or SNS structured instructor-learner relationships vs. the way faculty envisioned instructor-learner relationships may be in conflict, leading to low uptake, rejection of the tool, etc).
  • Technologies can be put to different uses, but not all uses are productive or effective. A hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to “build a house… or crush somebody’s skull,” but it will do a poor job if you try to use it in lieu of a screwdriver. The problem arises when entrepreneurs, designers, instructors, etc treating the hammer as a tool that can help them address all needs. A recent example of this is Udacity treating its product as a solution in search of a problem.

The ways that technology is used on the ground are complex and negotiated. In preparing instructors to use technology in education and designers to envision ways that technology can support/enhance education, we need to expose them to skills and mindsets that allow them to use tools in creative and inspirational ways. We also need to help them understand the assumptions and beliefs that technologies espouse and remain cognizant of the pressures and tensions that these may introduce.

 

* References pertaining to technology being not-neutral:

Whitworth, A., & Benson, A. (2010). Learning, Design, and Emergence: Two case studies of Moodle in distance education. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 195-213). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.

Hall, R. (2011). Revealing the transformatory moment of learning technology: the place of critical social theory. Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), 273-284.

Lane, L. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching. First Monday, 14(10).

Crook, C. (2012). The “ digital native ” in context: tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting. Oxford Review of Education, 38(1), 63-80.

Videos on Teacher Roles and Memorable Teachers

Teachers, Parents, Principals, Professors, Students, Researchers, and all the shades in-between: We’d like to hear from you! My research/development team (Cesar Navaerrete, Greg Russell*, and Janice Rios) has been diligently working with me on a project in which we intend to study the diverse roles of teachers. The goal of our activity is to collect and share as many ideas and opinions as possible.

And, what a better way to learn about this, by asking all of you to share your thoughts with us in the form of a video! Some of you may have seen examples of crowdsourced video already. For instance, Alan Levine’s Amazing Stories of Openness serves as one of the models we are using for this project. And the Learning Technologies group at the University of Minnesota (Aaron, Charlie, & Cassie) is traveling around the globe to create a narrative around the question “what is education?

Our goal here is to build a collection of user-created videos on the topic of teacher’s roles and create a freely-available curriculum for anyone interested in exploring the topic. The more voices shared, the more open and diverse the discussion can be.  Thus, we hope that if you have a few spare minutes, you might contribute a video clip and add your own perspective.

If you’d like to help out, we would greatly appreciate your response to one of the following:

  • What should the role(s) of a teacher be?
  • Tell us a story about your most memorable teacher.

Talk about your thoughts as they relate to your background, beliefs, or practices! There are no correct answers and we aren’t looking for one single answer. The definition of “teacher” is also fluid: it can be a k-12 teacher, a professor, or a family member who acted as a teacher, a coach, or someone/something else that you consider to be a teacher.

Your contribution should be a short (45-90 sec.) video clip of your ‘off-the-cuff’ response, recorded with a webcam or digital camera.   There is no need for editing, HD, or a great deal of planning.  Just keep it short and simple.  But, don’t let us constrain your creativity. When you are finished upload it to Youtube or Vimeo and either post a link on the comments, email us a link (veletsianos |AT| gmail.com), or send us a note on twitter at @veletsianos or @mrgsrussell

Another example of the videos we have so far is below:

We will be posting a portion of interviews onto our project’s website; therefore, you must be willing to have your video published online. A link to the site will be posted within the next two weeks

Thank you in advance for your time and help!

George, Greg, Cesar, Janice

* This entry has largely been written by Greg Russell, one of our first-year PhD students at UT Austin.

Restaurant Menus, Typography, and Design for Learning

I took the following two pictures in two recent trips of mine. Similarities and differences abound, but one difference (other than the language) stands out for me. And that difference reminds me of an unfortunate state of affairs in the learning technologies field.

Look at the photo below. It’s from a  menu that I came across in Dublin.

dublin

And the next one: It’s from a  menu that I came across in Stockholm.

stockholm

Other than the differences in the language, do you notice anything else? (Hint: Look at the typography.) Wouldn’t it be amazing if instructional/learning designers paid that much attention to the details as well? Yes, beauty and aesthetics are probably the least of our problems (so say the critics), but they count, and they count more and more in a world where beauty (constructed as it may be) surrounds us.

(High resolution images are available on my flickr page)

Enhancing the interactions between pedagogical agents and learners

One thing that I don’t usually post on this blog is information related to my research on pedagogical agents and virtual characters, which is one of the research strands that I’ve followed for the past 4 years. I am breaking away from that mold by posting this note : )

virtual character, pedagogical agent

Specifically, my colleagues (Aaron Doering and Charles Miller) and I developed a research and design framework to guide smooth, natural, and effective communication between learners and pedagogical agents. Our reasons for developing this framework were varied, but after four years of research and design in the field, I became convinced that to push the field forward, we needed guidance. I use the word “guidance” as opposed to the words “rules” or “laws” because we “anticipate that designers, researchers, and instructors will adapt and sculpt the guidelines of the EnALI framework into their unique instructional contexts, ultimately kindling future research and design that will expand the framework foundations.”

The framework (called Enhancing Agent Learner Interactions or EnALI) is grounded on three major theories: socio-cultural notions of learning, cooperative learning, and conflict theory. In this, we have tried to bring a humanist perspective and encourage designers and researchers to move beyond the use of pedagogical agents as dispassionate tools delivering pre-recorded lectures… but I’ll save that information for a different post. The paper is to appear in the Journal of Educational Computing Research as: Veletsianos, G., Miller, C., & Doering, A. (2009). EnALI: A Research and Design Framework for Virtual Characters and Pedagogical Agents. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 41(2), 171-194 [email me for a preprint].

The framework is posted below, but if you want a full explanation of the guidelines, please refer to the paper. As always questions, comments, and critique are appreciated:

1. Pedagogical Agents should be attentive and sensitive to the learner’s needs and wants by:

• Being responsive and reactive to requests for additional and/or expanded information.
• Being redundant.
• Asking for formative and summative feedback.
• Maintaining an appropriate balance between on- and off-task communications.

2. Pedagogical Agents should consider intricacies of the message they send to learners by:

• Making the message appropriate to the receiver’s abilities, experiences, and frame of reference.
• Using congruent verbal and nonverbal messages.
• Clearly owning the message.
• Making messages complete and specific.
• Using descriptive, non-evaluative comments.
• Describing feelings by name, action, or figure of speech.

3. Pedagogical Agents should display socially appropriate demeanor, posture, and representation by:

• Establishing credibility and trustworthiness
• Establishing role and relationship to user/task.
• Being polite and positive (e.g., encouraging, motivating)
• Being expressive (e.g. exhibiting verbal cues in speech).
• Using a visual representation appropriate to content.

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