Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Is this the right way to use machine learning in education?

September 2nd, 2019 by Graham Attwell

An article ‘Predicting Employment through Machine Learning‘ by Linsey S. Hugo on the National Association of Colleges and Employers web site,confirms some of my worries about the use of machine learning in education.

The article presents a scenario which it is said “illustrates the role that machine learning, a form of predictive analytics, can play in supporting student career outcomes.” It is based on a recent study at Ohio University (OHIO) which  leveraged machine learning to forecast successful job offers before graduation with 87 percent accuracy. “The study used data from first-destination surveys and registrar reports for undergraduate business school graduates from the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years. The study included data from 846 students for which outcomes were known; these data were then used in predicting outcomes for 212 students.”

A key step in the project was “identifying employability signals” based on the idea that “it is well-recognized that employers desire particular skills from undergraduate students, such as a strong work ethic, critical thinking, adept communication, and teamwork.” These signals were adapted as proxies for the “well recognised”skills.

The data were used to develop numerous machine learning models, from commonly recognized methodologies, such as logistic regression, to advanced, non-linear models, such as a support-vector machine. Following the development of the models, new student data points were added to determine if the model could predict those students’ employment status at graduation. It correctly predicted that 107 students would be employed at graduation and 78 students would not be employed at graduation—185 correct predictions out of 212 student records, an 87 percent accuracy rate.

Additionally, this research assessed sensitivity, identifying which input variables were most predictive. In this study, internships were the most predictive variable, followed by specific majors and then co-curricular activities.

As in many learning analytics applications the data could then be used as a basis for intervention to support students employability on gradation. If they has not already undertaken a summer internship then they could be supported in this and so on.

Now on the one hand this is an impressive development of learning analytics to support over worked careers advisers and to improve the chances of graduates finding a job. Also the detailed testing of different machine learning and AI approaches is both exemplary and unusually well documented.

However I still find myself uneasy with the project. Firstly it reduces the purpose of degree level education to employment. Secondly it accepts that employers call the shots through proxies based on unquestioned and unchallenged “well recognised skills” demanded by employers. It may be “well recognised” that employers are biased against certain social groups or have a preference for upper class students. Should this be incorporated in the algorithm. Thirdly it places responsibility for employability on the individual students, rather than looking more closely at societal factors in employment. It is also noted that participation in unpaid interneships is also an increasing factor in employment in the UK: fairly obviously the financial ability to undertake such unpaid work is the preserve of the more wealthy. And suppose that all students are assisted in achieving the “predictive input variable”. Does that mean they would all achieve employment on graduation? Graduate unemployment is not only predicated on individual student achievement (whatever variables are taken into account) but also on the availability of graduate jobs. In teh UK  many graduates are employed in what are classified as non graduate jobs (the classification system is something I will return to in another blog). But is this because they fail to develop their employability signals or simply because there simply are not enough jobs?

Having said all this, I remain optimistic about the role of learning analytics and AI in education and in careers guidance. But there are many issues to be discussed and pitfalls to overcome.

 

Reading on screen and on paper

September 1st, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Do you read books and papers on screen or do you prefer paper. I am conflicted. I used to have an old Kindle but gave it up because I am no fan of Amazon. And I used to read books on firstly an ipad and latterly an Tesco Huddle tablet – both now sadly deceased.

Like many (at least if the sales figures are to be believed) I have returned to reading books on paper, although I read a lot of papers and such like on my computer, only occasionally being bothered to print them out. But is preferring to physical books a cultural feel good factor or does it really make a difference to comprehension and learning?

An article in the Hechinger Report reports on research by Virginia Clinton, an Assistant Professor at the University of North Dakota who “compiled results from 33 high-quality studies that tested students’ comprehension after they were randomly assigned to read on a screen or on paper and found that her students might be right.”

The studies showed that students of all ages, from elementary school to college, tend to absorb more when they’re reading on paper than on screens, particularly when it comes to nonfiction material.

However the benefit was small – a little more than  a fifth of a standard deviation and there is an important caveat in that the studies that Clinton included in her analysis didn’t allow students to use the add on tools that digital texts can potentially offer.

My feeling is that this is a case of horses for courses. Work undertaken by Pontydysgu suggested that ebooks had an important motivational aspect for slow to learn readers in primary school. Not only could they look up the meaning fo different words but when they had read for a certain amount of time they were allowed to listen to the rest of teh story on the audio transcription. And there is little doubt that e-books offer a cost effective way of providing access to books for learners.

But it would be nice to see some further well designed research in this area.

 

AI and education

February 6th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Fear you are going to be seeing this headline quite a bit in coming months. And like everyone else I am getting excited and worried about the possibilities of AI for learning – and less so for AI in education management.

Anyway here is the promise from an EU Horizon 2020 project looking mainly at ethics in AI. As an aside, while lots of people seem to be looking at ethics, which f course is very welcome, I see less research into the potentials and possibilities of AI (more to follow).

The SHERPA consortium – a group consisting of 11 members from six European countries – whose mission is to understand how the combination of artificial intelligence and big data analytics will impact ethics and human rights issues today, and in the future.

One of F-Secure’s (a partner in the project) first tasks will be to study security issues, dangers, and implications of the use of data analytics and artificial intelligence, including applications in the cyber security domain. This research project will examine:

  • ways in which machine learning systems are commonly mis-implemented (and recommendations on how to prevent this from happening)
  • ways in which machine learning models and algorithms can be adversarially attacked (and mitigations against such attacks)
  • how artificial intelligence and data analysis methodologies might be used for malicious purposes

What is an algorithm?

September 3rd, 2018 by Graham Attwell

There was an excellent article by Andrew Smith in the Guardian newspaper last week. ‘Franken-algorithms: the deadly consequences of unpredictable code’, examines issues with our “our new algorithmic reality and the “growing conjecture that current programming methods are no longer fit for purpose given the size, complexity and interdependency of the algorithmic systems we increasingly rely on.” “Between the “dumb” fixed algorithms and true AI lies the problematic halfway house we’ve already entered with scarcely a thought and almost no debate, much less agreement as to aims, ethics, safety, best practice”, Smith says.

I was particularly interested in the changing understandings of what an algorithm is.

In the original understanding of an algorithm, says Andrew Smith, “an algorithm is a small, simple thing; a rule used to automate the treatment of a piece of data. If a happens, then do b; if not, then do c. This is the “if/then/else” logic of classical computing. If a user claims to be 18, allow them into the website; if not, print “Sorry, you must be 18 to enter”. At core, computer programs are bundles of such algorithms.” However, “Recent years have seen a more portentous and ambiguous meaning emerge, with the word “algorithm” taken to mean any large, complex decision-making software system; any means of taking an array of input – of data – and assessing it quickly, according to a given set of criteria (or “rules”).”

And this, of course is a problem, especially where algorithms, even if published, are not in the least transparent and with machine learning, constantly evolving.

NameCoach: software which doesn’t suck

August 14th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

It is remarkable how may software applications are released which seem a) over complicated and / or b) tp have little if any pupose. So this morning while idly browsing WONKHE while trying to wake myself up, I was mauch taken to stumble on an article singing the praises of NameCoach. Paul Geatrix, registar of the University of Nottingham says:

As anyone who has been involved in graduations knows though name reading is one of the more challenging elements of the ceremony and can cause some distress for graduates and their families if it goes horribly wrong (as it occasionally does). But now, for heads of school, deans, pro-vice-chancellors and other name readers, who have to work so hard to prepare for graduation (and to whom I remain eternally grateful) an end to pronunciation misery is at hand. ‘NameCoach’, which was developed by Stanford University graduates, provides a means of collecting correct pronunciations for name readers so they are sure to get it right first time.

When I went to university it was considered naff to collect your degree in person. But as I understand (from bitter experience of sitting through several of these things) it is now a central part of the student experience. True the software doesn’t do a lot.  But what it does fulfils a useful function for some people who can’t avoid academic ceremonies. And you can’t say that for many applications.

Robots to help learning

August 6th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

The TES reports on a project that uses robots to help children in hospital take part in lessons and return to school has received funding from the UK Department for Education.

TES says “The robot-based project will be led by medical AP provider Hospital and Outreach Education, backed by £544,143 of government money.

Under the scheme, 90 “tele-visual” robots will be placed in schools and AP providers around the country to allow virtual lessons.

The robot, called AV1, acts as an avatar for children with long-term illnesses so they can take part in class and communicate with friends.

Controlling the robot remotely via an iPad, the child can see and hear their teacher and classmates, rotating the robot’s head to get a 360-degree view of the class.

It is hoped the scheme will help children in hospital to feel less isolated and return to school more smoothly.”

Living in an Algorithmic World

May 4th, 2018 by Graham Attwell

This video is from Danah Boyd’s opening keynote for the re:publica 18 conference. Although it is an hour long it is well worth watching. Danah says “Algorithmic technologies that rely on data don’t necessarily support a social world that many of us want to live in. We must grapple with the biases embedded in and manipulation of these systems, particularly when so many parts of society are dependent on sociotechnical systems.” That goes for education just as much as any other part of the social world.

What happens when the optic fibre cable breaks?

January 31st, 2018 by Graham Attwell

Two weeks ago, I bought a new television. The old one had served well for 15 years but pre-dated the internet integration that we all take for granted these days. I carefully untangled the cables joining the various boxes with their flashing lights and plugged them back in again.

The result – nothing worked.  Long telephone calls to Moviestar – the internet provider -basically elicited the advice to unplug cables and plug them in again – to no avail. After two days a technician finally arrived and quickly diagnosed the problem. The cable connecting the fibre optic cable to the internet router had broken. Five minutes and it was repaired and he left warning us that these cables were very fragile and we should be careful when doing the cleaning.

Having only the previous week congratulated myself on my lack of addiction to mobile devices and social networks, I found myself at a complete loss without the internet. No radio, no music, no television, no email (and my mobile would not pick up the emails as I had not registered for two factor authentication which required a computer with an internet connection!), no web. I ended up sitting in a local café to read the online newspapers and get my emails.

The major point for me is how dependent we are becoming on an internet connection. Thank goodness that I have not been tempted by the internet of things. OK many of these devices run over the mobile and so would still work. Nevertheless, I am not convinced that the lights, heating, fridge, door lock, air con, coffee machine and toaster connected to the internet is a good thing. When I bought a new toaster last year the sales person tried hard to convince me of the benefits of a machine with an internet connection (the internet of things is the way of the future, sir, he said). It might be, but what happens when the optic fibre cable breaks?

Industry 4.0 and identity transformation

September 19th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I gave this presentation last week at a panel discussion on Industry 4.0 at the Bundeswehr AusBildungs Kongress in Hamburg. Firstly – for those of you who do not live in Germany where the term is verywhere, what is Industry 4.0. According to Wikipedia:

“Industry 4.0 is a name for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.

Industry 4.0 creates what has been called a “smart factory”. Within the modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real time, and via the Internet of Services, both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and used by participants of the value chain.”

In other words – pretty much everything going on in technology today. But the particularly German take on it is how such developments will effect manufacturing and services and what it implies for education and training.

I was a bit concerned with how the presentation would work -given that it is based on research and development in the Public Employment Services. But it seemed to work extremely well.  It is not so much the threat to jobs coming from new technologies and AI, but the impact this is having on the organisation of work and the skills and competences required in the workplace. Professional identity, is a key factor in developing resilience in a world characterised by uncertainty. It empowers individuals, and determines motivation and openness to new developments – and overcomes obstructionism and frustration often associated with change processes. Identity transformation describes the processes through which people can change their professional identity to deal with new work demands. Even more it describes how individuals and groups of people can themselves use their competence and skills to shape the processes and results of introducing new technologies.

The first half of the presentation looks at the research behind identity transformation, the second half at different activities and intervention we have undertaken in the Employ-ID project to support identity transformation for staff in Public Employment services in Europe.

Learning about technology

September 12th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

According to the University Technical Colleges web site, new research released of 11 to 17-year-olds, commissioned by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity which promotes and supports University Technical Colleges (UTCs), reveals that over a third (36%) have no opportunity to learn about the latest technology in the classroom and over two thirds (67%) admit that they have not had the opportunity even to discuss a new tech or app idea with a teacher.

When asked about the tech skills they would like to learn the top five were:

Building apps (45%)
Creating Games (43%)
Virtual reality (38%)
Coding computer languages (34%)
Artificial intelligence (28%)