Archive for the ‘teaching and learning’ Category

Digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence and Vocational Occupations and Skills

July 27th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
web, network, programming

geralt (CC0), Pixabay

The Taccle AI project on Artificial Intelligence and Vocational Education and Training, has published a preprint  version of a paper which has been submitted of publication to the VET network of the European Research Association.

The paper, entitled  Digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence and Vocational Occupations and Skills: What are the needs for training Teachers and Trainers, seeks to explore the impact AI and automation have on vocational occupations and skills and to examine what that means for teachers and trainers in VET. It looks at how AI can be used to shape learning and teaching processes, through for example, digital assistants which support teachers. It also focuses on the transformative power of AI that promises profound changes in employment and work tasks. The paper is based on research being undertaken through the EU Erasmus+ Taccle AI project. It presents the results of an extensive literature review and of interviews with VET managers, teachers and AI experts in five countries. It asks whether machines will complement or replace humans in the workplace before going to look at developments in using AI for teaching and learning in VET. Finally, it proposes extensions to the EU DigiCompEdu Framework for training teachers and trainers in using technology.

The paper can be downloaded here.

July 22nd, 2020 by Graham Attwell

As part  of the Taccle AI project, around the impact of AI on vocational education and training in Europe, we have undertaken interviews with managers, teachers, trainers and developers in five European countries (the report of the interviews, and of an accompanying literature review, will be published next week).  One of the interviews I made was with Aftab Hussein, the ILT manager at Bolton College in the north west  of Engand. Aftab describes himself on Twitter (@Aftab_Hussein) as “exploring the use of campus digital assistants and the computer assisted assessment of open-ended question.”

Ada, Bolton College’s campus digital assistant has been supporting student enquiries about college services and their studies since April 2017.In September 2020, the college is launching a new crowdsourcing project which seeks to teach Ada about subject topics. They are seeking the support of teachers to teach Ada about their subjects.

According to Aftab “Teachers will be able to set up questions that students typically ask about subject topics and they will have the opportunity to compose answers against each of these questions. No coding experience is required to set up questions and answers.Students of all ages will have access to a website where they will be able to select a subject chatbot and ask it questions. Ada will respond with answers that incorporate the use of text, images, links to resources and embedded videos.

The service will be free to use by teachers and students.”

If you are interested in supporting the project complete the online Google form.

News from 1994

July 9th, 2020 by Graham Attwell

This is from a Tweet. In 1994 Stephen Heppell wrote in something called SCET” “Teachers are fundamental to this. They are professionals of considerable calibre. They are skilled at observing their students’ capability and progressing it. They are creative and imaginative but the curriculum must give them space and opportunity to explore the new potential for learning that technology offers.” Nothing changes!

Learning about surveillance

July 3rd, 2020 by Graham Attwell
eye, surveillance, privacy

GDJ (CC0), Pixabay

I found this on the Social Media Collective website. The Social Media Collective is a network of social science and humanistic researchers, part of the Microsoft Research labs in New England and New York.

Yesterday the Wayne County Prosecutor publicly apologized to the first American known to be wrongfully arrested by a facial recognition algorithm: a black man arrested earlier this year by the Detroit Police. The statement cited the unreliability of software, especially as applied to people of color.

With this context in mind, some university and high school instructors teaching about technology may be interested in engaging with the Black Lives Matter protests by teaching about computing, race, and surveillance.

I’m delighted that thanks to the generosity of Tawana Petty and others, ESC can share a module on this topic developed for an online course. You are free to make use of it in your own teaching, or you might just find the materials interesting (or shocking).

The lesson consists of a case study of Detroit’s Project Green Light, a new city-wide police surveillance system that involves automated facial recognition, real-time police monitoring, very-high-resolution imagery, cameras indoors on private property, a paid priority response system, a public/private partnership, and other distinctive features. The system has allegedly been deployed to target peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters.

Here is the lesson:

Race, Policing, and Detroit’s Project Green Light

Artificial Intelligence for and in Vocational Education and Training

June 30th, 2020 by Graham Attwell

Last week the Taccle AI project organised a workshop at the European Distance Education Network (EDEN) Annual Conference. The conference, which had been scheduled to be held in Romania, was moved online due to the Covid 19 pandemic.There were four short presentations followed by an online discussion.

Graham Attwell introduced the workshop and explained the aims of the Taccle AI project. In the next years, he said “AI will change learning, teaching, and education. The speed of technological change will be very fast, and it will create high pressure to transform educational practices, institutions, and policies.” He was followed by Vidmantas Tulys who focused on AI and human work. He put forward five scenarios for the future of work in the light of AI and the fourth industrial revolution. Ludger Deitmer looked at the changes in the mechatronics occupation due to the impact of AI. He examine dhow training was being redesigned to meet new curriculum and occupational needs and how AI was being introduced in the curriculum. Finally, Sofia Roppertz focused on AI for VET, exploring how AI can support access to education, collaborative environments and intelligent tutoring systems to support teachers and trainers.

A focus on both discrete skills and broader human skills

June 17th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
laptop, woman, education

JESHOOTS-com (CC0), Pixabay

There is an interesting article by Allison Dulin Salisbury in the Forbes magazine this morning. The article says that the Covid 19 pandemic is speeding the digital transformation of business, driven by AI and automation and quotes MIT Economist David Autor calling it an “automation forcing event.”

The combined forces of automation and dramatically altered demand are giving rise to a labor market “riptide” in which some sectors of the economy are seeing mass layoffs while others, like healthcare and tech, are still desperate for talent. Against that backdrop, education and training systems are underfunded and ill equipped to meet the demands of a more complex labor market and the shifting demographics of students.

And from the evidence of the last recession, it appears likely that it will be lower paid and lower skilled workers with jobs most at risk.

However, if the analysis of the problem is correct the answers proposed leave room for doubt. The article says: “The past few years have seen a flourishing of high-quality, low-cost training and education programs, many of them online. They are laser-focused on the needs of working learners.” Maybe so in the USA, but in Europe I am yet to see the emergence of flourishing laser focused online learning programmes. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest that online programmes such as MOOcs have more often been focused on the needs of skilled and higher paid workers.

Neither is the appeal to stakeholder capitalism and for the involvement of employers in the provision of training likely to result in big change. More interesting is the call for “investment in practices that help workers identify what career they want before they start an education program,” and to “align training to the competencies required to land a good first job.” This, the article says “means a focus on both discrete skills and broader “human skills,” like communication and problem-solving, that actually become more marketable amid automation.”

Despite reservations, the argument is moving in the right direction. Put simply the Corona virus has on its own caused massive unemployment, with the effect likely to be magnified by a speed up in automation and the use of AI. This requires the development of large scale training programmes, both for unemployed young people and lower skilled workers whose jobs are threatened. Fairly obviously, the use of technology can help in providing such programmes. Nesta in the UK is already looking at developments in this direction. It will be interesting to see what national governments and the European Union will do now to boost training as a response to the crisis.

Stray thoughts on teaching and learning in the COVID 19 lockdowns

June 10th, 2020 by Graham Attwell
covid, covid-2019, covid-19

artpolka (CC0), Pixabay 

 

I must be one of the few ed tech bloggers who has not published anything on the move to online during the COVID 19 lockdowns. Not that I haven’t thought about it (and I even started several posts). However it is difficult to gauge an overall impression of what has happened and what is happening (although I am sure there will be many, many research papers and reports in the future) and from talking with people in perhaps six or seven countries in the past few weeks, there seem to be contradictory messages.

So, instead of trying to write anything coherent here are a few stray and necessarily impressionistic thoughts (in no particular order) which I will update in the future.

Firstly, many teachers seem to have coped remarkably well in the great move to online. Perhaps we have over stressed the lack of training for teachers. Some I talked too were stressed but all seemed to cope in one way or another.

However digital exclusion has reared its ugly head in a big way. Lack of bandwidth and lack of computers have prevented many from participating in online learning. Surely it is time now that internet connectivity is recognized as a key public infrastructure (as the UK labour Party proposed in their 2019 manifesto). And it also needs recognising that access to a computer should be a key provision of schools and education services. Access to space in which to learn is another issue – and not so easy to solve in a lockdown. But after restrictions are lifted in needs remembering that libraries can play an important role for those whose liv9ng space is not conducive to learning.

One think that has become very clear is the economic and social role schools play in providing childcare. Hence the pressure from the UK government to open primary schools despite it being blatantly obvious that such a move was ill prepared and premature. I am not sure that the provision of childcare should not be a wider service than one of education. And maybe it has become such a big issue in the UK because children start in school at a very young age (compared to other countries in Europe) and also have a relatively long school day.

There is a big debate going on in most countries about what universities will look like in the autumn. I think this raises wider questions about the whole purpose and role of universities in society. At least in theory, it should be possible for universities to continue with online learning. But teaching and learning is just one role for universities. With the move to mass higher education in many countries going to university has become a rite of passage. Thus in the UK the weight attached to the student satisfaction survey and the emphasis placed on social activities, sports and so on. And this is a great deal of what the students are paying for. Fees in UK universities are now £9000 a year. The feeling is that many prospective students will not pay that without the full face to face student experience (although I doubt many will miss the full face to face lectures). I also wonder how many younger people will start to realise how it is possible to get an extremely good on line education for free and one thing during the lock down has been the blossoming of online seminar, symposia, conferences and to a lesser extent workshops).

Which brings me to the vexed subject of pedagogy. Of course it is easy to say that with the full affordances of Zoom (and whoever would have predicted its popularity and use as an educational technology platform) all we have seen is lectures being delivered online. Online teaching not online learning. I am not sure this is a good dichotomy to make. Of course a sudden unplanned forced rush to online provision is probably not the greatest way to do things. But there seems plenty of anecdotal evidence that ed-tech support facilitated some excellent online provision (mention also needs to be made on the many resources for teachers made available over the internet). Of course we need to stop thinking about how we can reproduce traditional face to face approaches to teaching and earning online and start designing for creative online learning. But hopefully there is enough impetus now for this to happen.

More thoughts to follow in another post and hopefully I can get some coherent ideas out of all of this

Using AI in a German VET School

June 3rd, 2020 by Graham Attwell

This post by Sophia Roppertz and Ludger Deitmer is part of the TaccleAI project for “‘Improving the Skills and Competences of VET teachers and trainers in the age of Artificial Intelligence.” It describes what is clled a ‘Deep Reinforcement Learning Project” in a German Vocational Education and Training school.

The topic of the project was Deep Reinforcement Learning – preparation of the topic “artificial intelligence” and implementation of an agent in the game “Sonic the Hedgehog”. Sonic is a computer game series of the Japanese publisher Sega. The classic main parts of the series are characterized by fast 2D jump ‘n’ run passages. There you control the blue game character Sonic The Hedgehog through so-called “zones”, which are divided into individual “acts”. In all Sonic games, rings are collected, which the main character loses when touching an opponent. If he is hit without rings, you lose an extra life. In the classic main games, after using up all extra lives and continues, you have to start all over again after a game over.

The task of the student group was to implement an agent into the game and finally to give a project presentation about the project. To accomplish this overall goal, some intermediate goals had to be achieved:

1) Acquire an understanding of artificial intelligence and neural networks

2) Gain advanced knowledge of the Python programming language

3) The AI should master different levels independently

How is the project structured?

Trainees of the vocational school “information technology assistants” (German: “Informationstechnische*r Assistent*in”) took part in the AI project. The AI project took place in the second year of training within the framework of the learning field “Planning, implementing and evaluating projects” (practice). The total time required was 160 hours per school year. The project meetings usually took place on a full day of lessons. The students had the opportunity to work in the computer room or in the corresponding workshops of the school. During this time, a teacher was present to provide support but did not actively participate in the project.

As part of the KI project, the students were given a presentation on project management by the responsible teacher. With this knowledge team rules were established, field analyses were made, a target matrix was created, a schedule and work packages were created. The individual work packages were assigned performance specifications and outputs that had to be delivered. Responsibilities for the work packages were also defined. Furthermore, the students were assigned roles within the project group: e.g.

Team speaker: Moderates the group work and makes sure that everyone can get involved, that the topic is worked on consistently, and that the team rules are observed.

Timekeeper: Makes sure that the timetable is respected.

Foreign Minister: Communicates with people outside the team, maintains contact, and involves people.

What do the trainees learn in the project?

The trainees were able to acquire both technical and social skills in the course of this project. On the one hand, they learned project-oriented work in a group, they set themselves goals and divided and organised their work independently. On the other hand, they independently dealt with a programming language (Python) that was new to them and learned its basics to the extent that they were able to understand, modify, and create programs. In addition, the trainees have dealt with the basics of neural networks and the different terms of machine learning, so that they were able to present the basics to their fellow students and explain the terms. They acquired this knowledge mainly by watching videos. They used textbooks less because they mostly dealt with the AI topic in a very mathematical way and the mathematical knowledge of the students was not sufficient for this.

They have dealt with the topic “Deep Reinforcement Learning” and were able to program an agent to such an extent or to change existing programs in such a way that this “agent” learns to improve “his” game. In the end, they got so far into the programming of the “agent” that they were able to explain to their classmates which parameters they had to adjust/change so that their “agent” could improve his game.

Reflection and Recommendations for other teachers

The supervising teacher reports in the interview that basic knowledge in the field of AI is becoming increasingly important for information technology assistants since, in the context of the digitalised working world, processes are increasingly influenced by algorithms and the use of computers. In addition, many of the students attend the technical secondary school (In Germany: Fachoberschule für Technik) after their vocational schooling in order to subsequently complete a corresponding course of study. Since the students have to deal with the topic of artificial intelligence at the latest then, it makes sense to deal with it already in the vocational school. In the project documentation, the students report that it was surprisingly easy to acquire basic knowledge about AI. However, they emphasize that the deeper immersion in the subject matter was an obstacle, as more complex mathematical knowledge would have been necessary. The students report that reading about this AI content sometimes led to lower motivation and productivity. Overall, however, the students report that the choice of project was a good decision and that they have gained an advanced understanding of AI and its practical implementation.

When asked about what needs to happen on the part of the school and the teachers so that such projects can be practiced regularly, the teacher interviewed reported that, on the one hand, appropriate further training for the teachers is necessary. Besides the transfer of knowledge about AI, the joint development of teaching concepts should be more important. In addition, existing teaching materials should be jointly reviewed and classified. Useful material could then be made available to interested colleagues as Open Educational Resources. The exchange with product developers is considered desirable in the area of teacher training. In such a framework, the social, political, and sociological aspects of AI should be discussed more critically.

The teacher recommends that the students have a say in choosing the appropriate topic. Students need motivation and perseverance to work in project groups, so it is an advantage if the project tasks are linked to the students’ interests. In addition, clear evaluation criteria should be established and communicated transparently.

Case study. The Ada chatbot: personalised, AI-driven assistant for each student.

March 31st, 2020 by Graham Attwell

As part of the AI and vocational education and training project funded through the EU Erasmus plus project we are producing a series of case studies of the use of AI in VET in five European countries. Here is my first case study – the Ada chatbot developed at Bolton College.

About Bolton College

Bolton College is one of the leading vocational education and training providers in the North West of England, specialising in delivering training – locally, regionally and nationally – to school leavers, adults and employers. The college employs over 550 staff members who teach over 14,500 full and part time students across a range of centres around Bolton. The college’s Learning Technology Team has a proven reputation for the use of learning analytics, machine learning and adaptive learning to support students as they progress with their studies.

The Ada Chatbot

The Learning Technology Team has developed a digital assistant called Ada which went live in April 2017. Ada, which uses the IBM Watson AI engine, can respond to a wide range of student inquiries across multiple domains. The college’s Learning Technology Lead, Aftab Hussain, says “It transforms the way students get information and insights that support them with their studies.” He explains: “It can be hard to find information on the campus. We have an information overload. We have lots of data but it is hard to manage. We don’t have the tools to manage it – this includes teachers, managers and students.” Ada was first developed to overcome the complexity of accessing information and data.

Student questions

Ada is able to respond to student questions including:

  1. General inquiries from students about the college (for example: semester dates, library opening hours, exam office locations, campus activities, deadline for applying for university and more);
  2. Specific questions from students about their studies (for example: What lessons do I have today/this afternoon/tomorrow? Who are my teachers? What’s my attendance like? When is my next exam? When and where is my work placement? What qualifications do I have? What courses am I enrolled in? etc.)
  3. Subject specific inquiries from students. Bolton College is teaching Ada to respond to questions relating to GCSE Maths, GCSE English and the employability curriculum.

Personalised and contextualised learning

Aftab Hussein explains: “We are connecting all campus data sets. Ada can reply to questions contextually. She recognises who you are and is personalised according to who you are and where you are in the student life cycle. The home page uses Natural Language Processing and the Watson AI engine. It can reply to 25000 questions around issues such as mental health or library opening times etc. It also includes subject specific enquiries including around English, Mathematics and business and employability. All teachers have been invited to submit the top 20 queries they receive. Machine learning can recognise the questions. The technical process is easy.” However, he acknowledges that inputting data into the system can be time consuming and they are looking at ways of automatically reading course documentation and presentations.

All the technical development has been undertaken in house. As well as being accessible through the web, Ada, has both IOS and Android apps and can also be queried though smart speakers.

The system also links to the college Moodle installation and can provide access to assignments, college information services and curriculum materials. The system is increasingly being used in online tutorials providing both questions for participants and access to learning materials for instance videos including for health and social care.

It is personalised for individuals and contextualised according to what they are doing or want to find out. Aftab says: “We are looking at the transactional distance – the system provides immediate feedback reducing the transactional distance. “

Digital assessment

Work is also being undertaken in developing the use of the bot for assessment. This is initially being used for the evaluation of work experience, where students need to provide short examples of how they are meeting objectives – for example in collaboration or problem solving. Answers can uploaded, evaluated by the AI and feedback returned instantly.

Nudging

Since March 2019, the Ada service has provided nudges to students with timely and contextualised information, advice and guidance (IAG) to support their studies. The service nudges students about forthcoming exams, their work placement feedback and more. In the following example, a student receives feedback regarding his work placement from his career coach and employer.

The College is currently implementing ProMonitor, a service which will offer teachers and tutors with a scalable solution for managing and supporting the progress made by their students. Once ProMonitor is in place, Ada will be in a position to nudge students about forthcoming assignments and the grades awarded for those assignments. She will also offer students advice and guidance about staying on track with their studies. Likewise, Ada will nudge teachers and student support teams to inform them about student progress; allowing for timely support to be put in place for students across the College.

A personal lifelong learning companion

For Aftab Hussein the persona of the digital agent is important.

For Aftab Hussein the persona of the digital agent is important. He  thinks that in the future that chatbot will morph into a personal cognitive assistant that supports students throughout their entire educational life, from nursery school to university and beyond.

“The personal assistant will learn from each student throughout their life and adapt according to what they like, while guiding them through studies. It could remind when homework is due, book appointments with tutors, and point towards services and events that might support studies, for example.”

 

 

 

Does AI mean we no longer need subject knowledge?

January 15th, 2020 by Graham Attwell

I am a little bemused by the approach of many of those writing about Artificial Intelligence in education to knowledge. The recently released Open University Innovation Report, Innovating Pedagogy, is typical in that respect.

“Helping students learn how to live effectively in a world increasingly impacted by AI also requires a pedagogy”, they say, “that, rather than focusing on what computers are good at (e.g. knowledge acquisition), puts more emphasis on the skills that make humans uniquely human (e.g. critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity) – skills in which computers remain weak.”

I have nothing against critical thinking, collaboration or creativity, although I think these are hard subjects to teach. But I find it curious that knowledge is being downplayed on the grounds that computers are good at it. Books have become very good at knowledge over the years but it doesn’t mean that humans have abandoned it to the books. What is striking though is the failure to distinguish between abstracted and applied knowledge. Computers are very good at producing (and using) information and data. But they are not nearly as good at applying that knowledge in real world interactions. Computers (in the form of robots) will struggle to open a door. Computers may know all about the latest hair styles but I very much doubt that we will be trusting them to cut our hair in the near future. But of course, the skills I am talking about here are vocational skills – not the skills that universities are used to teaching.

As opposed to the emergent Anglo Saxon discourse around “the skills that make humans uniquely human” in Germany the focus on Industry 4.0 is leading to an alternative idea. They are seeing AI and automation as requiring new and higher levels of vocational knowledge and skills in areas like, for example, the preventative maintenance of automated production machinery. This seems to me to be a far more promising area of development. The problem I suspect for education researchers in the UK is that they have to start thinking about education outside the sometimes rarified world of the university.

Equally I do not agree with the reports assertion that most AI applications for education are student-facing and are designed to replace some existing teacher tasks. “If this continues”, they say “while in the short run it might relieve some teacher burdens, it will inevitably lead to teachers becoming side-lined or deprofessionalised. In this possible AI-driven future, teachers will only be in classrooms to facilitate the AI to do the ‘actual’ teaching.”

The reality is that there are an increasing number of AI applications which assist tecahers rather than replace them – and that allow teachers to get on with their real job of teaching and supporting learning, rather than undertaking an onerous workload of admin. There is no evidence of the inevitability of teachers being either sidelined or deprofessionaised. And those experiments from Silicon Valley trying to ‘disrupy’ education by a move to purely online and algorithm driven learning have generally been a big failure.

 

 

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    News from 1994

    This is from a Tweet. In 1994 Stephen Heppell wrote in something called SCET” “Teachers are fundamental to this. They are professionals of considerable calibre. They are skilled at observing their students’ capability and progressing it. They are creative and imaginative but the curriculum must give them space and opportunity to explore the new potential for learning that technology offers.” Nothing changes!


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