A place to log ideas and thoughts

George Veletsianos, PhD

Category: emerging technologies Page 1 of 8

The seduction of the digital

Josh Kim wrote a very kind post today over at Inside Higher Ed, highlighting what he sees as three indictments of the role of technology in higher education. There’s good food for thought there, and I’d like to focus on Josh’s third indictment which states that digital technologies distract.

The crux of the matter (for me) is here: “Nor are students the only people on campuses likely to use technologies in a way that inhibits, rather than promotes, learning.”

This point gets lost in the broader conversation around technology distracting from learning. The broader conversation focuses on learners being distracted by… all sorts of things… laptops, social media algorithmically perfected to demand never-ending attention, and so on.

Yet, we talk little about the seductive appeal of technology that positions it as an easy solution to all sort of problems. That seductive property is what is distracting faculty, administrators, instructional designers, and other higher education professionals, not the technology itself, not technology as an object. Problem-solving – dare I say innovation – can exist without the latest gizmo or platform, and I’ve said that so many times, and heard it so many times, that I feel like we should be past this point. We *need* to be past this point. But, in a practice characterized by historical amnesia as Martin Weller aptly reminds us, we need reminders.

Four years ago I gave a talk at the University of Edinburgh. It was a wonderful event, with many amazing people, but I’ll always remember one comment that Jen Ross made. I’m paraphrasing, but she essentially said: We can be frustrated that we have to remind people of the history of the field, of the role that technology plays in education, of its potential and shortcomings. Or, we can be excited that more and more people are joining the field, and more and more people need to learn that “technology” isn’t the one and easy solution.

She was, and is, right. The needle is slow to move, but, at this moment, I choose to be excited.

 

10 interesting papers in the proceedings of the Artificial Intelligence in Education 2018 conference #aied18

The 2018 Artificial Intelligence in Education conference starts today. Its full proceedings are freely available online until July 21st, and I scrolled through them to identify papers/posters/reports that seemed potentially relevant to my work. These are of interest to me because some use methods that seem worthwhile, others offer insightful results, and yet others seem to make unsubstantiated claims.  As an aside, I especially like the fact that AIED offers space for PhD students to discuss their proposed research.

Here’s the papers that I identified to read:

Leveraging Educational Technology to Improve the Quality of Civil Discourse

Towards Combined Network and Text Analytics of Student Discourse in Online Discussions

An Instructional Factors Analysis of an Online Logical Fallacy Tutoring System

Adapting Learning Activities Selection in an Intelligent Tutoring System to Affect

Preliminary Evaluations of a Dialogue-Based Digital Tutor

ITADS: A Real-World Intelligent Tutor to Train Troubleshooting Skills

Early Identification of At-Risk Students Using Iterative Logistic Regression

Smart Learning Partner: An Interactive Robot for Education

Do Preschoolers ‘Game the System’? A Case Study of Children’s Intelligent (Mis)Use of a Teachable Agent Based Play-&-Learn Game in Mathematics

A Data-Driven Method for Helping Teachers Improve Feedback in Computer Programming Automated Tutors

 

 

What do you do *in anticipation of* social media privacy concerns and scandals?

Responses to the news relating to the Cambridge Analytica + Facebook scandal have been swift with many vouching to #DeleteFacebook. An extensive collection of resources relating to this scandal are here. Lee Skallerup Bessette calls the fiasco the latest iteration of “guess how safe and secure your data is and how it might be used for nefarious purposes but it’s actually worse than that.”

An Angus Reid poll in Canada shows that 3 out of 4 respondents indicated that they plan on changing the ways they use the platform. How many will actually change their practices and behavior? Rehardless, I wonder what people do when their habits center around mistrusting contemporary digital platforms and their opaque use of our data. In other words, what do you do on an ongoing basis when you anticipate that benevolence isn’t the distinguishing characteristic of social media platforms?

For example, like others, I:

  • purge my historical tweets (because bad actors can easily take them out of context)
  • use authenticator apps
  • use browser extensions that block ads and trackers
  • delete unused online accounts and profiles (unless of course you really still need your ICQ account)
  • rarely connect distinct apps (e.g., google with dropbox)

I’m quite sure I take a number of other, likely unconscious, steps that I’ve picked up over time for privacy’s sake. For instance, after thinking about this for a couple of minutes I remembered that I installed an app on my website that aims to limit brute-force login attempts. And it strikes me that many of the conscious (and unconscious) steps that I take are rarely enabled by the platforms that are thirsty for data: There’s no bulk delete button on Twittter; there’s no “unfollow all the pages I currently follow” on Facebook; and so on.

What steps do you take to minimize the likelihood of your social media data being used in unanticipated ways?

Tri-council guidance on using online public data in research

I am often asked whether there are Canadian ethics guidelines on the use of online public data in research. The  relevant section from the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans is provided below. I believe that researchers should take further steps to protect privacy and confidentiality pertaining to public data, but with regards to accessing and using public online data, this is a start.

A sample project to which these guidelines may apply is the following:  The researcher will collect and analyze Twitter profiles and postings of higher education stakeholders (e.g., faculty, researchers, administrators) and institutional offices (e.g., institutional Twitter accounts). This research will use exclusively publicly available information. Private Twitter accounts (ie those that are not public and involve an expectation of privacy) will be excluded from the research. The purposes of the research is to gain a better understanding of Twitter metrics, practices, and use/participation.

 

=== Begin relevant Tricouncil guidance ===

Retrieved on December 12 2014 from http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/tcps2-eptc2/chapter2-chapitre2/

REB review is also not required where research uses exclusively publicly available information that may contain identifiable information, and for which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, identifiable information may be disseminated in the public domain through print or electronic publications; film, audio or digital recordings; press accounts; official publications of private or public institutions; artistic installations, exhibitions or literary events freely open to the public; or publications accessible in public libraries. Research that is non-intrusive, and does not involve direct interaction between the researcher and individuals through the Internet, also does not require REB review. Cyber-material such as documents, records, performances, online archival materials or published third party interviews to which the public is given uncontrolled access on the Internet for which there is no expectation of privacy is considered to be publicly available information.

Exemption from REB review is based on the information being accessible in the public domain, and that the individuals to whom the information refers have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Information contained in publicly accessible material may, however, be subject to copyright and/or intellectual property rights protections or dissemination restrictions imposed by the legal entity controlling the information.

However, there are situations where REB review is required.

There are publicly accessible digital sites where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. When accessing identifiable information in publicly accessible digital sites, such as Internet chat rooms, and self-help groups with restricted membership, the privacy expectation of contributors of these sites is much higher. Researchers shall submit their proposal for REB review (see Article 10.3).

Where data linkage of different sources of publicly available information is involved, it could give rise to new forms of identifiable information that would raise issues of privacy and confidentiality when used in research, and would therefore require REB review (see Article 5.7).

When in doubt about the applicability of this article to their research, researchers should consult their REBs.

=== End relevant Tricouncil guidance ===

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.

Web browser extension that filters offensive content

“Nikola Draca, a third-year statistics student, and his colleague, Angus McLean, 23, an engineering student at McGill University, put their heads together to develop an extension called Soothe for the Google Chrome web browser that blurs out homophobic, racist, sexist, transphobic and other hateful language while browsing the web.” Source

I thought this was interesting, because:

  • It’s yet another example of how student work can contribute meaningfully to society
  • It attempts to take back (some) control from platforms, and enable individuals to refine the experiences they have online

Related initiatives include the following:

 

Imagine a future in which technologies teach humans

Pause for a few minutes and imagine a 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.

robo_teacher

Vector created by Freepik

How far into the future is that time?

What do these technologies look like? Are they anthropomorphous? Are they human-like? In what ways are they human-like? Do they have voice capabilities, and if so, do they understand natural language? Are they men or women?  Do they have a representation in the way that one would imagine a teacher – such as a pedagogical agent – or do they function behind the scenes in ways that seem rather innocuous – such as the Mechanical MOOC?

Do these technologies teach humans of all ages? Do they teach independently, support human teachers, or do human teachers assist them? Are they featured in articles in the New York Times, The Guardian, and The Economist as innovations in education? Or, are they as common as desks and chairs, and therefore of less interest to the likes of the New York Times? Are they common in all learning contexts? Who benefits from technologies that teach? Is being taught by these technologies better or worse than being taught be a human teacher? In what ways is it better or worse? Are they integrated in affluent universities and k-12 schools? Or, are they solely used in educational institutions serving students of low socioeconomic status? Who has access to the human teachers and who gets the machines? Are they mostly used in public or private schools?

How do learners feel about them? Do they like them? Do they trust them? Ho do learners think that these technologies feel about them? Do they feel cared for and respected? How do learners interact with them? How do human teachers feel about them? Would parents want their children to be taught be these technologies? Which parents have a choice and which parents don’t? How do politicians feel about them? How do educational technology and data mining companies view them?

Do teaching technologies treat everyone the same based on some predetermined algorithm? Or, are their actions and responses based on machine learning algorithms that are so complex that even the designers of these technologies cannot predict their behaviour with exact precision? Do they subscribe to pre-determined pedagogical models? Or, do they “learn” what works over time for certain people, in certain settings, for certain content areas, for certain times of the day? Do they work independently in their own classroom? Or, do colonies of robo-teachers gather, share, and analyze the minutiae of student life, with each robo-teacher carefully orchestrating his or her next evidence-based pedagogical move supported by Petabytes of data?

Final question for this complicated future, I promise: What aspects of this future are necessary and desirable, and why?

MOOCs and Open Education in the Developing World symposium

A thought-provoking pre-conference symposium is being organized and facilitated on October 17th by Curt Bonk, Sheila Jagannathan, Tom Reeves, and Tom Reynolds at this year’s E-learn conference. It’s focused on a variety of innovations pertaining to online learning in the context of the developing world. While some research demonstrates that  socioeconomic divides persist in the context of MOOCs used by US learners, the symposium organizers note that “minimal attention has been placed on how developing countries and regions of the world are taking advantage of these new forms of technology-enabled learning” and “this is exactly where exciting and impactful innovations are currently occurring.”

Beyond the impressive list of presenters, I appreciate

  • the diverse organizations represented here, which include universities, polytechnics, non-profits, NGOs, and financial institutions
  • the main questions behind the symposium, which is: How do innovations work in different contexts, for whom, why, and what can we learn from one another?

Plus: It’s in Vancouver, off the coast of Canada’s paradise, Victoria ;)

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