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Donald Clark Plan B

What is Plan B? Not Plan A!

Updated: 2016-09-26T16:24:26.893+00:00


Education – Blair’s poisonous legacy


Can you name the Shadow Secretary for Education? No? Not a single person I’ve asked can and some of those are teachers, some even staunch Labour supporters. How has it come to this?The answer is to be found in Tom Bower’s excellent book on Tony Blair - Broken Vows. It’s brilliant. Forget Chilcot – this book reveals so much more about Blair and why Labour Party commentators feel as though they’re watching a slow-motion implosion. Prior to this, Polly Toynbee wrote a critique of the Blair years, The Verdict, its successes and failures. It was good book, a balanced summary. What it also revealed was that most of the failures were either Blair’s own idiosyncratic beliefs or his undoubted ability to persuade, pick and promote people who reflected those personal beliefs. Much of the rest was actually quite good.This was certainly true of his now obviously flawed forays into Iraq but it is even more obvious in his legacy in education – basically a neo-liberal policy that opened the door for diversification of schools, faith schools, obsession with testing, their separation from state control, doomed pilots and projects (truancy, literacy, numeracy), ILAs, the introduction of fees in Higher education and the continued destruction of vocational learning. For these wondrously wrong-headed moves, we have Blair, and Blair only, to thank.Remember the painfully shy Estelle Morris, who at least had the good grace to resign when she could no longer take Blair’s diktats? Remember Charles Clark with his white heat of technology initiative – eh… whiteboards? Remember Ruth Kelly and ILAs (Individual Learning Accounts)  – which collapsed under the weight of massive fraud? Brown hated the idea and it became a Blair project that existed only to stymie his rival. Remember David Bell who warned Blair about the divisive and odd idea that faith schools reflected diversity, when all they did was divide? Truancy projects that failed miserably. Literacy and numeracy initiatives where huge sums were spent with little or no impact. The mantra was ‘choice’. If only we gave everyone more choice, which simply opened up a market for education where the sharp elbows of the middle classes went to work, as they always do, with a ferocious elbowing aside of the people who needed help the most. This has, in the end, led to from free schools to academies and now t the resurrection of the Grammar School nonsense. None of this would have happened without Blair.More recently we had Tristram Hunt, a hapless a shadow Education Secretary, who simply reflected what Blair had initiated and went along with what Gove had completed. Ignoring the working class needs on vocational education, despite the fact that the majority of kids do not go to University, he was clueless. Two elections lost and a working class vote that has been betrayed by ignoring their plight.How did we come to a position where a Conservative government has had more progressive policies on vocational learning than Labour, namely, the apprenticeship levy? Labour stood by while progressive policies, in Conservative manifestos trumped them.The Blair legacy was an army of technocrats who confused student politics and bookish views with the real world. They were hired, groomed and selected, with a tremendous sense of entitlement. This went on and on with the idea that having NGO experience on your CV meant you had been in the middle of the class war. No – it largely meant a comfortable sojourn and almost no contact with typical, Labour constituents. I saw this in my own constituency, where a good, local MP, with a healthy majority retired, only to be replaced with two candidates who were ‘selected’ not so much for the abilities, as their CV. They lost – badly. This Blair legacy has lost Labour the last two elections. The empirical evidence is now clear. First, in Scotland, Labour has already imploded, as other, fresher politicians land-grabbed. Even the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party demands more respect. Second, Labour lost the last two elections, which cle[...]

Why I got married on Blockchain and paid by Bitcoin


I got remarried on Blockchain this year. Seriously, in Edinburgh, I opened a Bitcoin account and we both entered our details via two iPhones onto a blockchain system and renewed our vows. Why not? When I got married in that same city, 34 years ago, we signed a document and that document lies somewhere in Edinburgh – to be honest I couldn’t tell you where. We were doing the same thing but getting it confirmed by a piece of technology that is arguably more transparent, safe and tamperproof. This piece of tech was provided by my alma mater, the University of Edinburgh. I was determined to learn abut this stuff by doing something. So what role has academia had in Bitcoin and Blockchain?Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?Let’s go back to 2008 and the first appearance of Bitcoin and Blochchain. Who is Satoshi Nakamoto? This has become a modern myth, like the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti or Bigfoot. There have been lots of candidates, one disastrous false claim, lots of denials and a recent false claim. We don’t know. We don’t even know if it is one person. What we do know is that Satoshi Nakamoto published one of the seminal papers in computer science Bitcoin: A Peer-to-peer Personalised Electronic Cash System at the very time that the world’s financial system was on the brink of meltdown. He has good reason to remain anonymous, as he, or she or they, had created a dangerous piece of technology that threatens to reshape, not only the world’s banking system, but the way government and many other areas of human endeavour operate. Satoshi disappeared just as the US government, the CIA and the FBI, even the department of Homeland Security, were becoming active around Bitcoin. It was clear that they saw it as a potential threat to the dollar and existing banking system, as well as a system that could be used for money laundering and drug sales (they weren’t wrong and closed down Silk Road some time later). When Wikipedia became the target of US agencies, who used Visa, Mastercard and PayPal (disgracefully) to starve it of funds, Bitcoin was associated with Wikipedia, but Satoshi Nakamoto did not want to become another Julian Assange and went to ground. Academia’s reactionAcademia was slow to react. This was clearly an astonishing technical achievement and serious figures in the computer world agreed that it could be a game changer, some claimed it could be as great a shift as the invention of the internet itself, certainly a major advance. Yet they were nervous of its disruptive and transgressive nature. The main players were not academics but hardcore coders and hackers, often with strong libertarian views. They weren’t fond of institutional values and inertia.Nakamoto’s astonishing nine-page paper was not published in an academic journal but part of a community of coders and hackers, where the real action was on Reddit and Sourceforge. These are people who comment quickly, contribute and do things. They quickly went on to create exchanges, wallets and dozens of applications in the Bitcoin ecosystem. The players lie largely outside of institutions and prefer the world of doing and action, rather than research and papers.As things progressed, however, academia started to take an interest. So where is the activity on Bitcoin and Blockchain? There’s a curious dynamic here. Bitcoin and Blockchain were created to decentralise and disintermediate institutions, so why keep it locked up within institutions? And if you offer courses can learners pay in Bitcoin? Should they be decentralised and free MOOCs or MOOC-like? Should the qualifications be on Blockchain?There seems to be four approaches to Bitcoin and Blockchain, in terms of academic activity. First, the technical stuff around cryptocurrencies and the design and coding of Blockchain. Second, courses and research on the governance, social and policy issues. Third, the practical applications, in different domains. Fourth, the actual use of Bitcoin and Blockchain to deliver education. So who is doing the interesting stuff?Academic offersJoichi It[...]

Could AI composed music win a Grammy?


It hasn’t but I’d argue that one day it could. Classical music, many would say, is a crowning human achievement. It’s regarded as high art and its composition creative and complex. Jazz is wonderfully improvisational. Whatever the genre, music has the ability to be transformative and plays a significant role in most of our lives. But can AI compose transformative music?EMIAt a concert in Santa Cruz the audience clapped loudly and politely praised the pieces played. It was a success. No one knew that it had all been composed by AI. It’s creator, or at least the author of the composer software, was David Cope, Professor of the University of California, an expert in AI composed music. He developed software called EMI (Experiments in Musical Intelligence) and has been creating AI composed music for decades. Prof Steve Larson, of the University of Oregon, heard about this concert and was sceptical. He challenged Cope to a showdown, a concert where three pianists would play three pieces, composed by:1. Bach2. EMI (AI)3. Larson himselfBach was a natural choice as his output is enormous and style distinctive. Larson was certain of the outcome, and in front of a large audience of lecturers, students and music fans, in the University of Oregon concert Hall, they played the three pieces. The result was fascinating. The audience believed that:1. Bach’s was composed by Larson2. EMI’s piece was by Bach3. Larson’s piece composed by EMI. Interesting result. (You can buy Cope’s album Classical Music Composed by Computer.) Conclusion – this is getting somewhere.Iamus. named after the Greek god who could understand birdsong, created at the University of Malaga, composed a piece called Transits - Into the Abyss, which was performed by the  London Symphony Orchestra in 2012 and also released as an album. Unline Cope's software, Iamus creates original, modern pieces that are not based on any previous style or composer. You can listen to its output here. Their Melamics web site has an enormous catalogue of music and has an API to allow you to integrate it into your software. They even offer adaptive music which reacts to your driving habits or lulls you into sleep in bed, by reacting to your body movements.Further examples of the Turing Test for music have been applied to work by Kulitta at Yale. But is a Turing test really necessary? One could argue that all we’re doing is fooling people into thinking this has been composed by a machine that cheats. I’m not so sure. Cope has been creating music from computers from 1975, when he used punch cards on a mainframe. He really does believe that computers are creative. Others are not so sure and argue that his AI simply mimics the great work of the past and doesn’t produce new work. Then again, most human composers also borrow and steal from the past. The debate continues, as it should. What we need to do is look beneath the surface to see how AI works when it ‘composes’.AI techniques in musical compositionThe mathematical nature of harmony and music has been known since the Pre-Socratics and music also has strong connections with mathematics in terms of tempo, form, scales, pitch, transformations, inversions and so on. Its structural qualities makes it a good candidate for AI production. Remember that AI is not one thing. It is very many things. Most have been used, in some form, to create music. Beyond mimicry, algorithms can be used to make compositional decisions. One of the more interesting phenomena is the idea of improvisation through algorithms that can, in a sense, randomise and play with algorithmic structures such as Markov chains and Monte Carlo tree decisions, to create, not deterministic outcomes, but compositions that are uniquely generated. Evolutionary algorithms have been used to generate variations that are then honed towards a musical goal. Algorithms can also be combined to produce music. This use of multiple algorithms is not unusual in AI and often plays to the multiple modality of musical s[...]

10 deep dive questions to ask about LEARNERS before you start


The whole ‘Blended learning’ thing turned out to be an excuse for ‘Blended teaching’. It's largely used as an excuse for using teaching techniques you've used before with a couple of new things thrown in, whereas the promise had been delivery based on an analysis of learners and learning (the clue was in the second word – learning). To partly rectify this, here’s ten questions you may want to ask to inform your blend, questions about your learners. It’s easy to ignore learners when teaching but teaching, remember, is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and that end is learners and learning. Most methods of audience analysis focus on attributes such as age, gender, ethnicity and so on. Sure, you need to know whether you’re learners are children or adults and at what level in the education system but you need to take a deeper dive to get to the issues that inform design. So these are not the usual questions about age, gender, educational background and diversity. That’s dead easy – takes about five minutes. These are the questions that allow you to create, adjust and target your delivery to make it a success. These are the harder, more oblique questions that dig deeper.1. Personas – mmm…Personally, I’m not a fan of personas, named profiles of typical audience. You know the line, ‘This is Matt, he’s 23 and loves sports…..” They tend to focus too much on the average, which is dangerous with a wide and diverse audience. I’d much rather get some concrete ideas that will really shape the experience. Nevertheless, they can be useful as a means to communicate intention to a team. Each to their own and if you think this helps – OK by me.2. Why?Why? That’s a great question to start with. Why should they do this? Why should they learn this? Understand their motivations (or lack of) and you can respond accordingly. Is it compulsory? Do they care? Why should they take it seriously or even do it at all? Teachers and trainers tend to assume that people are gagging for learning – when much of it makes them gag.3. What will they NOT like?People love online stuff, that’s why 1.7 billion are on Facebook and online time is soaring. Yet they often recoil when they get very structured online learning. Why is this? Have a look at these 20 reasons why online learning sucks. You may be surprised to learn that they don’t want all of that jazzy graphics, animation, cartoons, beeps and gamification. Maybe they do. How can you find out what they don’t like? Ask them.4. What will they like?What would your target audience like to experience? Do they want the light touch or more solid, challenging learning?You may be surprised when a bunch of engineers come back and say they want it straight, no frills. How can you find out what they want? Ask them.5. How distributed are they?If you have a highly distributed, global audience, you may wish to seriously consider the social side of learning. Or are they all on one site – makes blended learning a lot easier. Different time zones, different cultures, different languages are all issues you may have to wrestle with. Do you really want virtual classrooms across seven time zones? Or should the design be more asynchronous, so that all can access the experience in their own time. What has one location got than another does not? Can you leverage their differences?6. Language(s)This matters, especially when learners are taking a course in a second language (often English). This doesn’t mean dumbing it down but being smarter in the level of language you use and media mix. Take it easy on long sentences and jargon when it’s in the target audience’s second language. It may also influence media mix. Ultimately cultural and literal translation may be necessary. Think about this, as you can stay more culturally neutral. They may even want the learning in their second language, if that is the language of business or medicine.7. Personality types?Forget Learning Styles – they [...]

20 ways to make your e-learning totally suck


A lot of e-learning sucks. It’s like wearing a suit or coat that’s two sizes too small – all a bit cramped and makes you feel uncomfortable. Here’s a selection of 20 things that drive me CRAZY when doing e-learning.1. Learning objectives – don’t bore me with your teacher and trainer-speak up front. I’m bored already and we haven’t even started. More here.2. Long introductions – history of,…background to… here’s your tutor… No, give it to me straight, stop padding things out. More here.3. Cartoons – cartoon style imagery is for kids. I don’t watch cartoons on TV, so don’t give me them when I’m learning - they’re so damn condescending.4. Perfect people – I know this is about management but I don’t need stock pictures of perfect people in perfect suits with perfect teeth and hair – believe me, real offices don’t look like that.5. Text-graphic, text-graphic – Lord Privy Seal – picture of Lord, Picture of toilet, picture of seal. Stop just selecting a lazy image for every bit of text, page by page. More here.6. Text and audio at same time – stop – I can’t do both at the same time. Give me images with narration or text only – not narration and text at the same time – it makes my head hurt.7. Too much text – I don’t want all of this legal stuff, detail, overlong stories. I’m never going to remember all of this, so cut it until it bleeds, then cut it some more.8. Over-engineered effects – too much distracting movement, effects and buzz makes my head spin – when I learn, less is more.9. Long video sequences – OK you’ve hired a video guy and the academic wants to prattle on a bit but I’m bored after 5 minutes and learning precisely nothing. Keep it short. Less is more. More here.10. Tinny audio – you sound as though you’ve recorded this in a tin shed. Get a proper mike and record in a proper environment. More here.11. Sound effects – you may think it’s fun but those beeps for correct answers and bongs for wrong answers are doing my head in! More here.12. Music – who  told you that background music aids learning – it doesn’t  - get rid of it. More here.13. Multiple choice questions that simply take a noun from the text and ask me to select it from a list. In real life I never select answers from lists. It’s a test of recognition, not knowing. More here.14. Stupid options in multiple-choice questions – don’t do it, I’m not a dumb-ass, treat me like an adult.15. False buttons – don’t make me click on something that looks like it’s interactive when it’s not. That annoys the hell out of me. More here.16. Opaque icons – your graphic artist may think he/she is an ‘artist’ but I haven’t a clue what that icon means. More here.17. Gamification – I’m not one of Pavlov’s dogs, so don’t make me collect coins, chase rubies or do silly gamey things in order to learn – I’m not 12. (Note that I'm all for deep gamification.) More DOs & DON'Ts here.18. Learning styles – what are you talking about - they don’t exist. Let me repeat – they don’t exist.19. Mindful – let’s stop and be mindful – no that’s a mindless fad and I have a mind that wants to learn– move on.20. Chat – so you’ve got a chat box for ‘social’ learning, as you believe in social constructivism. Forget that Vygotsky shit – chat is usually boring, long winded and irrelevant.ConclusionNote that I'm not against all of these things, especially gamification and collaboration. I'm just against simplisitc implremntations that learners don;t like. I could have gone on with another 400 DOs and DON’Ts but they’re all listed, explained and categorised here if you want to check out more.[...]

7 weird ways the porn industry leads in VR (and what we can learn from it)


Sex was not invented in the sixties and it is likely that our prehistoric ancestors were pretty turned on to the use of sex-tech, which has been dated back to at least 26000 years. The dildo predates agriculture, and there’s enough examples of usable phalluses to state that this was a common object in prehistoric culture. A case has also been made for the ‘venus’ figures, especially those with exaggerated sexual features, as being a form of early pornography.The porn industry has always been quick to grab the opportunities that innovations in technology offered. In painting, print, photography, film, videotapes, telephone, television, the web, streaming video, webcams and now VR. In marketing and commerce, they pioneered progression from free to paid services, from video to live, pop ups, local offers and personalised recommendations.Sex and VRSex, like most forms of human activity, is a 3D affair. It involves the intimacy and physicality of the 3D human form. Virtual sex gains a lot from ‘presence’ in VR – the actual feeling that you are there with someone else. It’s one thing to watch, quite another to feel as though you are actually there, with that person, or actually having sex with that person. VR is not watching sex it’s having sex. It is a natural for VR. Pornography is the creation of fantasy sex. Those fantasies can now be very real. If you want an idea of the effect of early content on people experiencing VR sex for the first time, watch this.  1. Content – human presenceVR content is a mainstream category in many porn sites. They have been experimenting and quick to innovate with VR, long before any consumer VR hardware was available. One thing they quickly learned was that the full 360 degree was unnecessary. Interesting things in sex tend to happen in one direction - that's alesson many 360 and VR folk need to learn. As most sex is in one direction, so they limited the fixed field of view to 180 degrees or less. At this level, you are still the voyeur but the sense of presence is increased and you have the ability to look around. What some have reported, who have used Naughty America’s passive porn in VR is a sense of being there but also an experience, not of small figures on a small screen, but sex on a human scale. We should listen to this as it is exactly what we need to learn about the use of VR in learning – presence, the human scale, the idea that we can simulate human experiences in soft skills (as oposed to hard skills!) and all of those things we regard as difficult to teach.2. Interactive – human touchTo really participate, one needs to add the sense of touch. The haptic side is exactly what has been offered for centuries through sex toys. This has been supplemented with VR, so that the sex toy is accompanied by imagery of a real or graphically created partner(s). Even before any commercial VR was available as a consumer device, there were people working on mechanical masturbation devices matched against the 3D vision of someone you are having sex with. Tenga developed a masturbator that synched with a VR image back in 2014. Much of this took place in Japan, with dolls providing the haptic stimulation. This ‘haptic’ market had been dominated by sex dolls, and by dolls we mean something way beyond cheap plastic blow-up balloons. This married Japanese businessman fell in love with his doll (‘she isn’t just after money and never betrays me’). These figures are now being used with VR to add the haptic dimension. The use VR with AI programmed dolls are also being made, where you choose the personality and your partner talks back.A full body sex suit has also been developed that delivers touch all over your body, with the addition of a sex toy. Synched with VR you get the sensation that someone else is touching you. It was invented by, you guessed it, the Japanese company Tenga. It’s actually [...]

10 ways to get started with VR in learning – a primer


So here we are at the start of a VR journey that has only just begun. The first raft of consumer devices are out there – from cardboard and cheap plastic goggles that work with smartphones to headsets with external sensors, hand control devices and 3D audio. Facebook bought Oculus Rift, Samsung are in there, PSVR is in the gaming market. Vive are out there. Google have a platform. Everyone’s playing with this stuff.I have experienced dozens and dozens of different VR experiences. Let me tell you that all of them have blown my mind. Immersive VR repeatedly reminds me of the power of technology, not as something we use as tools and machines, but to truly interact our minds. The recent example of VR to rewire the brains of paraplegics so that they gain some control over their previously inert limbs is a glimpse of a future where the brain itself can be changed for the better by technology. That is the game we as learning professionals are in – changing minds for the better.If you are in the learning game, you should at least be aware of its possibilities as it delivers some unique and exciting learning opportunities. It is clear that VR delivers some marvellous benefits in terms of attention (full-on), motivation (exciting), experience (experiential learning), learn by doing (often ignored), context (real) and therefore transfer and retention. But what can you do if you want to use VR to educate or train? Here’s a quick, practical primer.1. Immersive photographsThe Mars Rover is a good example, where you feel as though you are there on Mars. Geographical and geological locations that benefit from this 360 degree view. Try these free locations, such as the Temple of Karnak in Luxor - some are astounding. This 360 view of the inside of the International Spacestation is great. One can set learning experiences around this image – ask learners to find stuff, annotate, explain things. One can also do the inside of a building, vehicle, whatever. Here’s one of the Supreme Court in the US.360 degree photos have been around on Facebook for years. You simply shoot a panorama on your smartphone, open the Facebook app and post to share the photo. You can either turn with your finger or move the phone. To take thinks into proper VR, with newer Samsung phones you’ll see an icon tat says ‘View in VR’. Touch that, insert your phone into a Gear VR headset and you’ll see it in fully immersive VR. This is a great way to get started, play with ideas or prototype.2. Immersive moving videoYou place a 360 degree camera, such as a Ricoh (£300) in the middle of the space you want to video. This could be inside a vehicle, in a classroom, office, gallery, hospital ward, outside location – anywhere. Press play and you will have a full 360 world of action recorded, not in as high a definition as the photographs shot in option 1, but usable video.I’ve seen this used for teacher training, where an entire lesson is captured and used to train that teacher through feedback or as exemplary lessons for other teachers. Hundreds of short 360 degree videos have been shot and are replayable through VR. News items from the BBC are plentiful on YouTube. Not for profits have high impact, emotionally charged videos on climate change, refugee issues and endangered species. In education I can’t think of few subjects that would NOT benefit from the use of VR. Maths, physics, chemistry, biology, drama, geography, history, languages, business, design, art, vocational subjects and soft skills can all potentially gain from the creation of 3D videos.This approach is great for attitudinal training, where an issue, incident and shift in viewpoints is needed. The fact that the learner has no choice but to be fully attentive means you can hold them and deliver emotional impact with the learning outcome that results in high retention. I can remember, in details most of the VR experiences [...]

7 FAILS in the way we practice 'failure' in learning


Failure, as we know, is a fundamental part of learning which I have explored elsewhere. Yet failure, in practice, is often used in learning to hinder rather than help learning. It too often becomes defined in practice as a deficit technique, rather than a formative feature of progress. Here’s seven examples of how failure can fail learners.1. Language of failureFar too much emphasis is put on final, summative assessment, at the expense of formative assessment, confusing and importing summative habits into formative processes. The summative language of ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ is a mutually exclusive opposition that makes little sense in formative assessment. We take a dualist attitude and transfer it, mistakenly, back across to the entire process of learning. Too many teachers and online learning programmes default to the language of failure, rather than the language of learning. The fact that you have yet to know or master something is a state of ‘not yet knowing’ not failure. Yet the red pen culture and lack of knowledge about feedback, deliberate practice, memory and the role of failure in all learning is endemic.2. Language of gifted and talentedMy heart sinks when I hear parents use these terms about their kids. Even worse, are schools and teachers, who should know better, using a whole raft of terms associated with these fixed ability terms. Attributing success to ‘talent’, ‘ability’ and being ‘gifted’ is disturbing from a head teacher or teacher. You don’t have to be a Dweck freak to realise how destructive this language is in learning. It fixes attributes and therefore demotes effort and practice. It also gives learners a get out clause. Even the learners who succeed with high marks stop at the pass mark and ignore the remainder. The rest, if they are branded as failures (not talented or gifted) will make less effort and many will drop out3. Hands-up anyoneA good example of awful teaching practice is the ‘hand up anyone’ technique, beautifully exposed in Ferris Beuller “….anyone, anyone.”. The teacher asks a question. This is good as it forces the learners to try to recall the answer but only the ones who know the answer put their hands up and the rest feel deflated. The introverts are excluded, tehre's not enough time for true reflection. It makes no sense. The process of learning needs to be kept positive at this level, not some lazy ritual where people are embarrassed, even castigated for not yet knowing.4. Whole task assessmentRather than create, active, effortful learning experiences, where failure is part of the learning process, we set whole tasks and simply repeat those tasks. You don’t learn to write by simply writing, you learn hundreds, indeed thousands of small rules around spelling, sentence structures, punctuation, style and so on. It’s lots of tiny acts of failure and correction that lead to success. The ‘whole language’ movement, for example, led to decades of bad teaching and poor literacy, as it failed to recognise the role of failure in the learning process. Whole task teaching and assessment is the route to self-doubt and failure.5. EssaysThe ‘essay’ is a lazy and vastly overused form of assessment. A Professor of Pharmacology once complained to me that her University forced her to set essays for her Pharmacology students, which she found ridiculous. Smart students simply memorise essays for exams, so they are far from being an adequate form of summative assessment. Hand written essays encourage this as it is difficult to engage in critical writing, which always involves redrafting, structural change and rewriting. Waiting for weeks (the norm) to get a grade back (with scant feedback) on an essay, is a ridiculous form of formative assessment. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come across parents writing essays for their kids at school and, unbelieva[...]

5 levels of FAILURE used to succeed in learning


Peter Thiel, in his excellent Zero to One, warns us about fetishizing failure. He hates the old mantra about entrepreneurs having to fail to succeed. Failure, he thinks, can hurt those that fail, as well as the collateral damage that failed businesses bring – job losses, people not getting paid, suppliers with unpaid bills and bankruptcies. He has a point but in the learning process, failure that is limited to the individual, is most certainly a good thing. This blog is called PlanB, in recognition that we have a lot to learn from failure. In fact, it is an essential and, some would argue, necessary condition for learning.Critical thinkingThis may be a bit non-PC but what made Europe a dominant force in culture, commerce and science, was the critical thinking that developed in Ancient Greece. This continued, with a long Dark Ages interlude, when religion all but extinguished this mode of thought, to the development of the scientific method and the idea that all knowledge should be seen as subject to scrutiny, tested, and even then still open to future challenge. Quine applied this to all knowledge. It has held us in good stead.Learning through failureLearning is cognitive improvement. It is all about moving on from one mental state to another that improves performance. These small steps forward are, in fact, built on many of small failures. You learn to drive a car by adjusting thousands of small acts of over-steering, going too fast, too slow, taking the wrong line on the road, braking too hard…. You learn by building on many, many small acts of failure. Learning to write means making lots of spelling, punctuation and stylistic errors, eventually getting there over many years. The feedback loop try-fail-learn-repeatlies at the heart of the learning process. Unfortunately there is often a fear of failure in education and training, sometimes even a blame culture around failure. As an antidote to this, here are five levels of failure that one can use when learning or designing learning experiences.Level 1. Failure recognitionWe have all experienced those small, sometimes big, sometimes catastrophic experiences of failure, even humiliation. The teacher that told you that you’d never amount to anything, the exam failure and so on. Actual failure is compounded by the fact that the learning game is soaked in the language of innate ability not development and learning. From ‘Gifted’ children to ‘Talent management’, professionals use the bizarre language of fixed ability, often without realising the consequences. The first step on the failure curve, therefore, is to recognise and encourage what Dweck calls a growth mindset. This does NOT mean endless praise, which can seem inauthentic and get counterproductive. It does mean encouraging learners to strive for improvement and, importantly, not let failure be the road-block it so often is at school or in other areas of human endeavour. The simple recognition that failure is normal, happens to everyone, and, when seen as the natural step towards improvement, can be turned from a negative to a positive, is a mainstay of good teaching and learning.Level 2. Tons of tiny stepsMathew Syed’s book Black Box Thinking draws on many examples of successful learning through failure. One stands out. When David Brailsford announced in 2009, that Team Sky would win the Tour de France ‘within five years’ no one took him seriously. Within three years Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the race. Sure, he had a goal but that is never enough. A focus on ‘leadership’ and ‘goals’ is never enough. It is all about what Brailsford calls ‘marginal gains’, tons of tiny steps, all adding up to bigger success.In any learning domain this is all about breaking things down into their constituent parts, mastering identifiable competences, and getting them rig[...]

Little tribute to Tim Berners-Lee from the learning community


Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and published the first web page on this day 25 years ago. Truly remarkable things have happened since then. His gift to the world of learning was a virtual world in which teachers and learners could have unlimited access to knowledge and use the network, that is the internet, to do things that were scarcely thought possible. It is one of the greatest of all inventions and human achievements and of unimaginable importance for the future of education and learning.Standards He wrote his proposal in 1989, redistributed it in 1990, when it was accepted and the first website, at CERN, was up and running in 1991. With three simple standards HTML (write your letter), HTTP (delivery of your letter) and URLs (postal address), he invented a way to use the internet to publish, distribute, send and receive information. This, for learning, was an invention on a par with writing and the printing press.Web of peopleFrom the very start the web was used to share academic knowledge and collaborate on learning and research. It was, in effect, a knowledge sharing network. Berners-Lee understood that he was creating a web of people, connecting people and so creating a social effect. Beyond this his vision was also of the intelligent analysis of the data that the web creates. He looks forward to the emergence of a true semantic web, which should make this possible. In this sense the web, for Berners-Lee is always a work in progress.Enables online learningWithout the World Wide Web there would be no search, web content such as Wikipedia, open educational resources, online learning, online games, online book stores or social media. With the humble hyperlink it changed forever the way content is written and read. We can move through content, drill down into content, get help and learn in a way that was difficult with largely flat, linear media. Of course, media other than just text was shared as images, audio, animation, video and now 3D worlds became available.Open learningAn important principle for Berners-Lee, is Open Educational Resources. Berners-Lee favours Net Neutrality and defends the position that the web should not be controlled by companies or governments. Some open educational initiatives have become major forces with hundreds of millions of learners using their services, such as Wikipedia, Khan Academy, YouTube and MOOCs. The promise of free at the point of delivery learning has already emerged with new business models, new forms of delivery and new forms of pedagogy.ConclusionBillions are online and almost all learners who are online use the web to find things out or to enhance their learning. We have seen the web evolve from websites to knowledge bases (such as Wikipedia), rich media (YouTube), self-paced online learning and social collaboration. Artificial intelligence through adaptive learning promises to make further advances in personalising learning and VR will bring us a new medium for learning. We are only at the start of a process where new forms of learning and pedagogies will emerge.[...]

40,000 years ago media was 3D - it’s making a comeback


At the dawn of media, 40,000 years ago, sculpture was 3D. Prehistoric sculpture was voluptuously 3D, wallowing in the grace of the human and animalform. Our ancestors’ brains understood that re-presentations of the 3D world should be in 3D. Even cave paintings took full advantage of the rock shapes and contours. Recent research shows that cave art may not have been ‘art’ at all but a more utilitarian tool – the cave as classroom, where we learned to be a predator and avoid being prey. It would seem that the images had real narrative purpose, showing the actual appearance and hunting habits of animals.Media is 2DAround 3400 years ago, we invented writing upon 2D surfaces; clay, papyrus, bark and paper. This form of semantic communication has remained a powerful, flexible and dominant force. Painted art on 2D walls and 2D canvases also came to dominate domestic decoration and art.Writing, print, black and white photography, colour photography, black and white movies, colour movies, back and white television, colour television, green computer screens, colour computer screens, HD TVs, tablets, mobiles – what do they all have in common? They are all 2D. TVs have been getting bigger and with higher and higher fidelity. Indeed we are capable of creating fidelity beyond that which the human eyes can perceive. This attempts to recreate 3D immersion in 2D by increasing the field of view. It also increases suspension of disbelief by bringing the immersion of cinema into the home. It is 2D that strives to be 3D.The battle of mobile screens has led to a battle between mobile and tablet screens. Phone screens got smaller, then bigger, eventually settling on screens large enough to satisfy viewing needs but small enough to hold in the hand and put in one’s pocket. Phablets essentially outgunning the tablet market. All of this has taken place within the 2D paradigm of flat screens. Even the 3D worlds in gaming, where players moved around within 3D environments were still 2D.McLuhan and Baudrillard reflected on these changes and the shift from the real to simulated and hyperreal. As the consumerist world of communications, art, entertainment and work become more virtual, we spent more and more time in this new realm. Yet it has remained stubbornly 2D. This is because the technology we invented and made available was limited.  Black and white photography, movies and TV existed, not because we loved the ability of that medium to represent essence – we had it because silver nitrate and limited broadcast technology was all we had.Yet human perception is 3DBut here’s the thing, contrast our media with the reality of human perception. We see in 3D, we hear in 3D. We have stereoscopic vision and hearing which creates enough data for the brain to recreate 3D worlds. Our two eyes recombine two separate data feeds to recreate in out brains the 3D world we perceive. Our two ears are subtly folded to create sound shadows and catch the exact location of sounds in 3D space. We feel, smell and touch in 3D, even our balance and sense of direction are in 3D. Consciousness itself is in 3D. Yet our media are still largely 2D.Media now 3DThis brings us to the here and now, and a break point in the evolution of media, where AR and VR have emerged as viable consumer technologies. Our media now match perception and deliver data that can be seen as we see the real word – in 3D. We can now experience 3D media that truly match our human needs and 3D consciousness. That word ‘experience’ is important, as it is the distribution, decentralisation and democratisation of ‘experience’ that is now possible. So let’s explore the several levels and layers of re-presentation in 3D media.AR (Augmented Reality) as 3DAugmented reality retains our 3D vision as its b[...]

Baudrillard – virtual reality philosopher


Neo, in The Matrix, carries a copy of Baudrillard's Simulcra and Simulations, that's Jean Baudrillard the French philosopher, who examines technology, or more accurately its virtual outputs, in culture. More than this, he has created several concepts and theories that redefine what technology is in our lives and culture, beyond face-to-face and print media. His focus on the idea of ‘simulations’ is a break with the past, disassociated from reference to the reality it pretends to represent. This is illustrated in his infamous book, ‘The Gulf War Did Not Take Place’. His core idea is that the virtual world(s) we have created are now more important cognitively and culturally, that their supposed referents in the real world. More than this, he thinks the virtual has cleaved away from this assumed real world. He took an even more controversial position on 9/11, seeing it as a defining event is a clash between two globalisised perspectives.HyperrealityHe rejects traditional Marxist descriptions and explanations of economics, with its focus on ‘production’, constructing a new era of consumerist culture, based on consumerism, communications and commodities. ‘Hyperreality’ is the new state, free from the anchors of reason and materialism. For Baudrillard, consumerist communication has it’s own set of codes related to the desires of the consumer. This new form of living has demoted the idea of people as producers.‘Consumer Society (1970) rejects the Marxist (and Freudian) ideas of the free agent. The conspicuousness of consumption, he thinks, is far more complex. Malls have their perpetual springtime and perpetual shopping. Our created needs, all the possibilities of pleasure make us not producers but consumers with a huge capacity for consumption. Prophetically, he saw the real role of credit as lubricating this desire and its excesses. His critique of Marxism reaches its peak in The Mirror of Production (1973), where each of the major elements in Marxism are demolished – dialectic, modes of production and so on. Indeed, he turns Marxism on its head, as he thinks it is a justification for the system it purports to destroy. For all its machinations around labour, production and value, Marxism has no distance.SignifiersIn what he calls the ‘code’, floating signifiers, ads, virtual experiences and so on, we live within a system of signs. As his leftism gave way to fatalism in Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), death is the only escape. But death confirms the absence of relevance of the system in which we fund ourselves trapped. In On Seduction (1979), he renews his broadsides against Marx, Freud and the structuralists, opting for a Nietzschean view of perspectivism. It is a blow to glib liberalism and Marxism. Citizens are not a community, they are consumers.Simulcra, simulations, virtual realityHe picks up on Nietzsche’s rejection of oppositional thought, to move the debate beyond appearance and reality, subject and object, oppressors and oppressed – to a world of Simulacra and simulations (1981) – ads, TV news and soap operas. Even in the realm of divinity the battle between sumulcra and iconoclasts, who conformed the power of ‘icons’ shows that our concerns are in this battle of signs. Representation first reflects a reality, then masks and perverts that reality, masks the absence of that reality and finally bears no relation to reality. This is pure Nietzshe. There is a brilliant passage in this book on Disneyland. You will never see that place in the same light after reading this critique of the US ‘embalmed and pacified’.Yet despite writing all of this in the era of traditional broadcast media, his work has gathered strength as, what he calls the ‘virtual’ world, has grown to immense pro[...]

Harvard Business Review: Disastrous diversity training doesn’t work, drop it…


"You want the truth? You Can't handle the truth!" that great line delivered by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good men. It's what's happened in L&D for the last few decades. Is there any other profession that would put up with so much money spent to so little effect, resulting in so much failure?In a brilliant article in the Harvard Business review this month, the most knowledgeable diversity researchers bar none, Dobbins and Kalev, explain, once more, that despite massive spends on diversity training, it quite simply doesn’t work. Let me repeat that – it doesn’t work. I’ve been writing about this for over ten years, presenting the evidence, talking about it at conferences but still I experience L&D as a profession that would rather just deliver courses, that don’t work, than think about solving the real business problem.Merill Lynch paid out half a billion in fines over 15 years, no small sum. Yet the numbers of minority candidates and women senior managers have only increased marginally in most large companies. Dobbins and Kalev represent the evidence from 1000 studies in over 800 companies, over 30 years, to show that diversity training not only DOES NOT WORK, it is actually COUNTERPRODUCTIVE. The effect of compulsory courses is short-lived and can result in a backlash effect. Blaming and shaming doesn’t work and training should not be presented as ‘re-education’. You can choose to ignore this evidence, and ‘Keep becalmed and carry on’ or be taken seriously by senior management and do the right thing.What doesn’t work?Compulsory trainingThis doesn’t work and often produces negativity around its accusatory tone. Negative messages and implied threats don’t work. It often fails to change attitudes as it uses inappropriate presentation and exposition training techniques. The evidence is clear – avoid this as your main strategy. The evidence also suggests that it tends to particularly hurt women in the organisation.TestingTesting doesn’t work as the evidence shows that white men (managers’ friends) are often given a pass and the test results are interpreted inconsistently. Bottom line – managers fiddle the tests. As Dobbins and Kalev stress, it actually hurts minorities and women. Performance appraisals show similar results, with male managers showing bias in outcomes.Grievance processesThe evidence suggests that this can produce conflict and a culture of accusation and complaint, as well as resulting in retaliation, negating what you’re trying to achieve.What works?Voluntary trainingVoluntary training eliminates the forced and accusatory strain that often exists, when you are identified as needing such a course and also within the course, where you may be made to feel unnecessarily identified as a culprit.MentoringThis seems to have a positive, beneficial effect on actual diversity outcomes.College recruitment programmes (minorities)Targeted initiatives for minority groups in schools and colleges, work, as they are don’t plaster over the problem after the event but tackle the issue at root.College recruitment (women)Ditto.Diversity programmesThese programmes, that tend to focus on management interventions and strategic progress, work better than crude compulsory courses.Diversity managerA Diversity manager will be able to identify a strategy and implement subtler approaches, as well as having the authority to effect change. This move has proven efficacy.Conclusion To genuinely build a constructively fair and meritocratic organisation that values everyone, regardless of race, gender and socio-economic background, most diversity strategies have to change. It needs a subtler, less compulsory and more manageri[...]

Bots ahoy! 7 ways chatbots can be used in learning


Chatbots are popping up everywhere in customer services. Facebook, Microsoft and Google are all in the chatbot game and dozens of startups are creating bots - MykAi (banking), GoButler (personal assistant), GoodService (Concierge). Conversational interfaces and conversational commerce have arrived and, as Chris Messina, Uber’s ‘experience’ guy says ‘chat is the new black’. Messaging services are among the most popular services online and young people have flocked to them, away from the more staid posting. Messaging is BIGGER than social media. read that one again. Why? They’re natural and liberating, more akin to normal human behaviour than other interfaces. Gartner have predicted that by 2020, 85% of customer interaction will be through bots. Whatever the future, they are here to stay.Socrates – the first learning botSocrates was probably the first bot or proto-bot. Having never written anything himself, Plato used his name in a series of dialogues, to tutor younger thinkers by asking questions that exposed their inconsistencies and lack of knowledge. The ‘Socratic’ method is exactly that employed by modern bots, although Plato is replaced by the invisible hand of AI (Artificial Intelligence). In the same way that Socrates remains a model teacher, so Socratic bots may be useful in education and training.If you’re on Twitter you’re likely to have followed, or have follower, bots and if that attractive model wants you to follow her, she’s probably a bot. That’s their primary skill, or trick, to weakly pass the Turing test by fooling you into thinking and/or behaving as if they were human. This has already happened, from ELIZA (one of the first AI conversational programs) to Little Ice (Chinese bot that has had hundreds of millions of conversations). Customer service bots are now common and Facebook and Microsoft have launched bot frameworks. These allow you to use bots that front AI systems to deliver business services.Could AI replace teachers? I've written about this here. This article focuses on the role of bots in teaching,1. Homo technusWe are susceptible to this form of chatbot dialogue. Nass & Reeves, in 35 studies of learning, published in The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television and New Media Like Real People and Places, (summary here) explored this susceptibility in detail. They showed that we attribute human qualities to technology, especially interactive, computer tech that responds to our requests and actions. When Steve Jobs fought with Steve Wozniac to get the first Apple computer to open with the word ‘Hello…’, Wozniac couldn’t see the point – Jobs was right and that obsession with user experience became the wellspring for Apple’s success.We have now moved beyond this natural propensity towards seeing technology as having human qualities and agency, to actually creating AI technology, which is as good as, even surpassing human abilities. This started with tasks in specific domains, namely chequers, crosswords, scrabble, chess and now Go. This has accelerated exponentially to produce real-time trading and self-driving cars. It would be naïve to imagine that AI will be used in every form of human endeavour, OTHER than teaching. With bots, which are really just the front-end of certain forms of AI, it can surely be harnessed for this form of human good.2. LanguageNLP has given us huge success in language recognition, whether text or speech. It is this form of AI that lies behind Siri, Cortana and other voice systems. This is how most teaching is done, and dialogue remains a key teaching skill. What powers, not just single query bots but longer dialogue, is AI. It all started with Markov, a R[...]

Seymour Papert – Logo, Lego and constructionism - RIP


Seymour Papert was a constructionist (not to be confused with constructivist), who worked with Jean Piaget and built on his theories to redefine how education could function on a constructionist basis. The Logo programming language was a tool he wrote to support this approach to learning and he was been a stern critic of traditional schooling. Politically socialist, active in South Africa, he claimed that his work in education came from observing irrational racism and he worked with disadvantaged groups all of his life. He also cofounded the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT with Marvin Minsky and was a founding faculty member of the MIT Media Lab.ConstructionismConstructionism implies a hands-on approach to learning, to learn by doing, even in abstract subjects like mathematics, where digital tools allow one to play with real world machines and build virtual models. The learner comes up with a solution to problems and makes things happen in the real or digital world. His constructionism saw learners as using the physical (or virtual) world and external objects to learn, as opposed to the more purely cognitive and mental theory of constructivism. Very much a precursor to the maker movement, where learners construct, use and code actual physical objects, such as controllers, mini-computers, robots and so on.Technology and learningAmong the first to realise, and create projects, that saw computer technology as realising new pedagogies, he was a keen observer of how children actually learn. The technology, he claimed, would bring electronic resources, interactive video and virtual reality, allowing new forms of learning, with schools having to adapt to these changes. For Papert, computers and the web are not merely tools but ways of thinking, in the same way that writing is a way of thinking and expression. LogoTo encourage problem solving through play Papert wrote, with Wally Feurzig, programming language that controlled a Logo Turtle. This language has more recently been used to programme the Lego ‘Mindstorm’ kits, named after one of Papert’s books. These commercial kits allow you to put together blocks with motors, gears, sensors and a computer, then programme it to do things. It is this interest in technology, put to use in education, which fascinated Papert. As a major player in the OLPC (One-Laptop-Per-Child) initiative, he also tried to take these ideas to a wider, global audience.Critique of schoolingFor Papert, school is a process of regimentation through age segregation, a fixed view of knowledge, of what is ‘right’, too teacher-led and too much focus on academic, abstract thinking and reading, pushing what he calls the ‘epistemology of precision’. For Papert, children should play and personalise their learning through play, improvisation and doing. They should be encouraged to see knowledge as incomplete and accept vagueness and imprecision. As a mathematician he is highly critical of both ‘what’ maths is taught and ‘how’ it is taught in schools. Most of what is taught, he thinks, is irrelevant to most people. He thinks this is the result of paper-based learning – the ability to write and manipulate symbols on paper. How it is taught, is also flawed, as it does not connect with the real world.Knowledge machineAs part of his constuctionist vision, he speculated that a Knowledge machine could be built, that takes anyone, especially children, into a learning environment, where they can interact, problem solve and develop. His knowledge machine predicted the virtual environment that appeared as the world-wide-web and the move towards virtual learning worlds. In this he was prophetic, as the web produced devices and r[...]

Will Pokemon Go and other AI/VR/AI apps kill the iFad (sorry iPad)?


iPad and tablet sales have been falling sharply. In 2013 Apple’s head honcho, Tim Cook, predicted that the iPad would overtake PC sales by 2015. He was way off, as sales have fallen every quarter for two whole years, down 10% last year, across all tablets. iFadI was never enamoured by tablets and wrote extensively on how their massive procurement was a disaster in secondary schools, FE and HE. I doubted their ability to enhance learning and skills, especially as students moved on to long-form writing, coding, graphics and so on. The procurement processes were pathetic but the pedagogic arguments were worse, if they ever existed in the first place. In many cases, I suspect, they inhibited learning.Another factor was the market, where smartphones simply adjusted screen size and extra functionality to trounce tablets. Phablets are now the norm as screen sizes grew, then shrank, but eventually settled on an optimally large-but-not-too-large format. They cluster around a size that was just big enough to watch videos and read long-form text, while still being pocketable. Even Apple increased the size of iPhones, as they saw the threat. Inevitably, the smartphone won on power, size, convenience, functionality and price.Tablets aren’t killing laptops but smartphones are killing tabletsI first started to note this when my wife and sons simply switched over to their larger phones or used laptops, while the iPad lay idle and unloved in the corner. I don’t see that reversing. Can’t say I’m sorry. The iPad was always a consumer not a producer device. It’s still odd to see people peck away like chickens in meetings on iPads. If you want to write – get a laptop. And before you say ‘attachable keyboard', simply turning a tablet into a laptop, makes it precisely that – a laptop. iPads also suffer from functionality limitations – not being able to run apps simultaneously. Nexus 7 tablet anyone? Nope. Google killed it. In that sense, it was always something stuck between a proper computer and a truly mobile device – neither a fast, sleek fish nor fully mature fowl. Large-screen phones from the top and fast, productive, long-life battery laptops from the bottom crushed it. Laptops and smartphones have the legs, while tablets, increasingly, look like a passing iFad.AR/VR/AIAnother set of nails being hammered into the tablet coffin is AR/VR and AI. Don’t see many folk poking around the streets playing Pokemon Go with tablets. We have entered a new era, where mobility really does matter. Computing is being taken into the real world. As the many layers of AR meld with RR (Real Reality), Pokemon Go being the fist mass application, AR is here with a global bang. VR on mobiles through Google Cardboard has also caught the imagination. It is this that will drive the VR market, with instantly downloadable experiences. Once cameras on smartphones have 3D capture, it will fly. Smartphones democratized comms and knowledge, VR democratizes experiences. Beneath all this is the massive, invisible hand of AI. Apple’s souped up voice and messenger plans along with thousands of other AI inspired applications are already making smartphones super-smart, with better personal security, better interfaces, better functionality and better apps. The awkwardness of the smartphone interface has given was to smartphones being really ‘smart’. The tablet era is over.[...]

Love this VR of a classroom lesson - 7 uses that really takes you there


I received a fascinating link via Twitter from Chris Edwards, a Deputy Head in Surrey, who was interested in views on his experiment with a 360 camera and VR. In the 360 degree video, Mike Kent, a Geography teacher, delivers a great lesson and you can look round the entire room as students and teacher move around, get things done, interact with the teacher and go through a Q&A session. It is fascinating. They’re using this approach for lesson observations allowing the teacher, or their colleagues, to watch it back in full Virtual Reality. This gives the teacher a view of themselves, from the student’s point of view, as well as observe ‘everything’ that happens in the classroom. It made me think of different possibilities…..1. Exemplar lessonsGood lessons by great teachers must surely be worth viewing by novice teachers. The rich set of processes, actions, behaviours, body language and interactions that go into a great lesson are complex, wonderfully captured in this example and could be done on any subject. A bank of such lessons would be far more useful than dry lesson plans. 2. Teacher training in schoolFeedback is vital for novice teachers and this, used sensitively, is ideal for feedback from senior colleagues. As Chris says, “great to have if difficult feedback is required to be given to the teacher. Can watch it through the VR goggles and get student experience”. Every nuance can be observed, replayed and used as a platform to see ourselves as others see us. Research shows that this ‘deliberate practice’ is exactly what leads to accelerated learning and improved performance.3. Behaviour trainingA bank of these, with exemplary action by experienced teachers, would be a godsend in teacher training. The immersion of VR really does make you feel as though you are actually there in the classroom – an important factor in this type of training – context and realism. I think this form of complete immersion would be wonderful for the young, fearful teacher, before entering the fray. I’d be interested in Tom Bennet’s view on this.4. StudentsI could also see this being used, sensitively, for feedback with students who have problems in classrooms, even in the presence of their parents. To be honest, I’d also love to see them used by students in revision. Some years ago, I met a teacher in Italy, Armando Pisani. He’s a high school teacher who teaches 14-18 year olds in maths and physics and is unique in that he records all of his lessons on video for later use by students. To learn efficiently and deeply, students need to be able to “review, not miss things through inattention, being distracted, illness, student absence, teacher absence or language difficulties – some students have other languages as their mother tongue”. The lack of “supply teacher availability is also a problem”. Recorded lessons give the students the ability to “catch-up and cover work not covered in a teacher’s absence”. For full analysis see here.5. ParentsArmando Pisani achieved significant improvements in results but interestingly, he sees parents as a key driver in the use of his recorded lessons. Parents “like to see what students do during lessons” and some parents “loved the subjects when they were at school”. “I had assumed parents like it (recorded lessons) less than students but the opposite is true”. He thinks this is because parents they tend to think of it as “learning, students as  a task or work”. His view was that these recorded lessons increased parent involvement and through this, attainment. 6. Class layoutThere are many ways[...]

10 ways Pokemon Go portends AR in learning


Who saw that coming? Like many hugely successful, mass-consumer, tech things, it had surprise on its side. Above all it created ‘buzz’ – it’s the thing that everyone and the entire media, traditional and social, are talking about. Imagine the power of that buzz if we could harness it in learning. Maybe we can.The genius of Pokemon Go, the Geo Catching app, is its use of AR (Augmented Reality), which has, within a few weeks, become a global reality. The melding of the real and non-real, through addictive gaming, has done what a million ‘research’ projects failed to do – capture the imagination. And this is just the start. AR through smartphones makes the real word come alive with augmented possibilities, wait until this is available through your glasses or straight to your retina. This may revolutionise consumer computing.AR and learningAt the risk of being accused of being a bandwagon jumper, I have been writing about the impending AR/VR revolution for years, so cut me some slack on this. Quite simply, this opens up immense possibilities and opportunities for learning. If we could take some of that AR ‘magic dust’ and sprinkle it on learning, we may, at last, lift and augment tasks that were traditionally passive, static and 2D into activities that are active, dynamic and 3D. The real world, in which we live, learn and participate is, after all, active, dynamic and 3D. You can literally superimpose anything on anything, anywhere at anytime for anyone. It is personalised learning in the extreme, with a huge does of curiosity, motivation and addiction thrown in.Blended realities and learningBut it is more than a game – it’s a beautiful blend of different realities. Without getting into the several thousand-year-old philosophical problem of appearance and reality, this really (sic) does take AR from a tiny tech tributary into the mainstream. Its cleverness is in its layers of reality; consciousness (in itself a complete re-presentation of reality), maps (an idealised mapped representation of reality), the camera view (a photographic representation of reality), Pokemon and all the other imagery (superimposed upon the other realities), all eventually framed within your conscious view of these realities. In addition, it uses the internet (itself a created reality) and GPS (a created dynamic co-ordination path within both the virtual and real). One could add a social reality. Confused – don’t worry, your mind simply brings them altogether into one conscious, blended reality.Learning applicationsRather than look at isolated examples of AR in learning, let’s identify some species of learning that can be enhanced or augmented by AR.1. ExplanationsWhen we move beyond facts into explanations, causes, rules, processes and so on, text and even 2D images often fall short. Explanations, in varying degrees of depth, in physics, chemistry, biology, hydraulics, pneumatics, maths etc, can all be brought to life through the superimposition of explanatory diagrams, arrows, flows and explanations that are beyond text. This ‘contextual’ learning not only makes understanding easier and quicker, it is also likely to result in increased retention and recall. That’s what Pokemon Go and Augmented Reality have to teach us about learning.Take physics. Explaining Newton’s Laws and many other concepts in physics is not easy, as they take place in 3D and on a scale that is often impractical even in a lab. Allowing one to experience the laws of physics in the real world through the superimposition of augmented explanations certainly enhances and accelerates learni[...]

Could AI replace teachers? 10 ways it could?


Teachers are not ends-in-themselves, they are always a means to an end - improvements in the learner. Given this premise, could it be possible to eventually replace teachers with AI technology? This may not happen soon but let’s, as a thought experiment, ask whether it could.Obvious points are that AI is 24/7, fast, scalable and cheaper. This gives it a head start. But could it teach? First, we need to break down the functions of teaching and learning. I have used a PGSE schema as my starting point, supplemented by other learning tasks.1. Searching for answersGoogle is nothing but AI and has already delivered a remarkable pedagogic shift with search. Let’s also reflect on something that has already happened. Since Google’s inception, the number of librarians, teachers of sorts, has steadily fallen. We have less need of book and Journal warehouses, now that most knowledge is online. Beyond this, OER resources, such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Khan Academy have transformed the landscape. All of this is available through AI enabled search. Beyond search we see apps, such as Photomaths, where you simply point your smartphone at a maths problem and it gives you the answer. More than this, it gives you the steps in between. That’s how powerful AI has become.2. Student supportWe have a good example of student support in the remarkable Georgia Tech bot, Jill Watson. This AI teaching assistant bot, trained to answer based on prior responses, was used with 300 AI students, without them knowing. They were more than fooled, they praised the teacher for its efficacy and speed. In fact, it was only because it was so fast in its replies that they spotted it was a bot. We can expect a lot more of this, as teacher support, gives way to intelligent AI agent support. Teachers, especially online teachers, spend a lot of time on admin and support, so this is one area that is ripe for AI automation.3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledgeThis is where AI has made good progress and could outperform teachers. At one level Google already provides access to ‘knowledge’ on every subject, in detail. On ‘knowledge’ Watson beat the Jeopardy Champions way back in 2011. It is now a web-based service with access to huge knowledge bases and AI. At the skills level, YouTube is already the search engine of choice for learning how to ‘do’ things. With 3D, virtual worlds one can see how learn by doing can be expanded, as it was with flight sims, through cheap consumer technology, high in AI. The Todai project in Japan has produced AI software that passed the Tokyo University entrance exam, in Maths, Physics, English and History with a score of 53.8% versus the average human score of human 43.8%. Why is this important? Well, if AI has graduate level skills at this stage, it is likely to replace graduate-level jobs.4. Plan and teach well-structured lessonsLessons or learning experiences can be idiosyncratic, even flawed. AI design offers, not only optimal design but also continuous improvement, as it uses individual and aggregated data to spot poor components in lessons. There are plenty of examples of this already, from MOOCs and other forms of online learning, where errors in content, bad designed questions, overlong videos and presentations, have all been caught by data produced by online learning systems that constantly look for improvement. ‘Structured’ is an interesting concept here and one could argue that learning needs to be far more structured than the one-size-fits-all lesson plan. Differentiation could be identified and handled by A[...]

10 important things AI teaches us about ‘learning’


Alvin Toffler, who died this week, said, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” But he had a better quote, “If you don't have a strategy, you're part of someone else's strategy.” There’s one species of this argument that really matters in the learning game - if you don’t have an AI strategy, you’ll be part of someone else’s strategy.Most pedagogic change now comes through the use of technology. The internet is a huge Darwinian machine that selects ‘fit for purpose’ services, which millions, sometimes billions, want and use. As a result, in the learning game, we have seen more pedagogic change in the last 20 years, than the last 2000 years. This process is accelerating.There are some new kids on the learning block, like blockchain. But at a deeper level there’s something far more significant that’s happening; AI is re-shaping the learning landscape. Intriguingly, AI now draws its inspiration from evidence of how we actually learn. This should be a wake up call for those of us who work in the field. The AI community now shows us what works, practically, in learning theory, and what doesn’t. They do this by building ‘learners’, software that learns. Pedagogic change no longer comes from educational research (not sure that it ever did), it comes from insights in cognitive science and, increasingly, through this form of technological innovation. AI is the latest manifestation of digital pedagogy and the one that is now giving us confirmation about what works and doesn’t work.Learning embedded in AIWe’ve recently seen some super successes in AI, with Deepmind’s spectacular win against one of the World's greatest GO players, the Todai project passing the Tokyo University entrance exam. Deepmind used a layered neural network, with an executive layer, initially trained on 30m human moves, which then played itself using a trial-and-error process (reinforcement learning), with the huge processing power of the Google Cloud Platform – and it won. This is where it gets fascinating for those of us interested in learning theory. Cognitive scientists, and cross-discipline minds, like Demis Hassabis, have taken principles from cognitive learning theory, such as clustering, attention, learning by doing, reinforcement learning, chunking and practice, embodied these in AI, and are using them to great effect in getting software to learn and problem solve. These learning machines are showing us the way. So what can WE learn from this?1. SearchAccess to knowledge and skills has long been a problem in education and training. The traditional model has been slow, scarce and costly supply through expensive institutions such as Universities and libraries, with rising costs and debt. Then along came Google, a great pedagogic leap, and reduced that time and cost to almost nothing. This has been a huge pedagogic leap, one that completely reshaped the learning landscape at all levels. It is all down to AI. Google is nothing but AI.2. FeedbackWe know that improved and detailed, personal feedback accelerates learning. Yet traditional teaching, especially in the classroom and lectures, make this very difficult. Using data to dynamically adapt, in real time, what is taught next, is a common technique in AI. Much of what you see online is determined by algorithms that constantly monitor your needs. Software (AI) driven feedback is the only way to provide such detailed feedback, personally, on scale. AI thrives on new dat[...]

AI builds e-learning at 10% of cost, in minutes not months, with higher retention and recall


Paying 20k an hour for e-learning content, over many months, that is laden with noisy pages of text/graphics, punctuated by low retention multiple-choice questions? AI can help you to build content at 10% of the cost, in minutes not months, with higher retention and recall.ProblemThe problem with the traditional, online learning, bespoke content paradigm is the tools. They push vendors and buyers into producing content that has ten major flaws:1. Expensive to produce2. Too long to produce3. Difficulties with SMEs4. Media (but not mind) rich5. Weak Multiple-Choice6. Low effort learning7. Pavlovian gamification8. Impersonal learning9. Low retention and recall10. No practice1. Expensive to produceI ran a large, bespoke, content company. It was very successful but that was back in the day and used the tools of the day. Yet the content produced today costs and looks much as it was 30 years ago, despite the fact that computers are faster, better, cheaper and online. Why does it still cost 20k an hour to produce e-learning content? Because we’re still in the old paradigm of traditional authoring tools and a mindset besotted with appearance, not learning. Imagine reducing that cost by 90% through a radically different approach, using AI and automation. You can.2. Takes too long to produceE-learning projects can take three to six months or longer, with lots of process and angst. It’s a highly iterative process, and takes a huge amount of management, definition, design, development and delivery time to produce anything. Imagine doing all of this in minutes, not months. You can.3. Difficulties with SMEsBy far the most difficult step in the production of online learning is getting the knowledge and expertise from the mind of the subject matter expert (SME) across and into the course. It’s a tricky process and often full of angst and recrimination. Imagine taking SME content – any document, PowerPoint or video - and turning it automatically into online learning. You can.4. Media (but not mind) richAs computers have allowed us to deliver media rich experiences, we have, often blindly, ignored the research by Mayer, Clark and many others, showing that media-rich is not always mind-rich. This has resulted in an often garish concoction of movement, graphics, cartoons and animation, that inhibits, rather than enhances learning. There’s maybe not enough ‘edu’ and too much ‘tainment’ in ‘edu-tainment’. We need to pay attention to the research, reduce cognitive overload and focus on the learning. Less is more.5. Weak Multiple Choice QuestionsLong the staple of online learning, yet when in real life does anyone choose an option from a list, as if the mind was a simplistic ATM, choosing from menus? Besotted with MCQs, we have produced low-effort, low-retention and low-recall learning. It doesn’t have to be this way. Use more effortful, open response learning. The research shows it is superior.6. Low effort learningThe illusion of mastery is what much online learning produces, the feeling that you’ve learnt things through light-touch exposure and occasional selections from lists. In truth, real learning is learning by doing, real effort, not page turning and exposure to fancy media. Recent reseach turns traditional onine learning on its head. Make the learner make the effort – that’s what results in high retention and recall. Read to remember.7. Trivial Pavlovian gamificationDoes gamification play Pavlov with learners? It so often does, collecting coins, trivial games that just [...]

AI will have a huge effect on education & training. But what is it?


How does AI work?AI is not one thing. It is many things. There are also many uses of AI in education and training. Machine learning, in particular, will have huge impact on the actual world of learning – education and training. It is like a huge whale shark heading towards us gobbling up all in its wake. It learns about the learner as the learner learns. More than this it can in some domains, learn faster than humans. There are profound implications here, for future employment and even what it is to be human. It’s an existential threat or opportunity. That’s why we need to know more about it.Five species of AIBeneath all of this lies several species of AI, schools if you want, that have shaped the AI landscape. A useful guide is the classification used by Pedro Domingo in The Master Algorithm.1. Symbolists2. Connectivists3. Evolutionists4. Bayesians5. AnalogizersSymbolistsThe symbolists use maths and logic, sets of rules and decision trees, to deal with data. The problem with this approach is ‘overfitting’, the tendency to read into data, things that are not actually there. This form of AI is prone to exaggeration, or prone to being misled by errors in the data. It’s a balancing act between hypotheses produced, and data. Get it wrong and you get it badly wrong. But they have a trick up their sleeve and that is to see induction, predicting the future as the reverse of deduction.  You work back from good hypotheses from good data to determine outcomes. Decision trees are one practical tool in the symbolist armoury, there are many other refinements. Decision trees are used in Microsoft’s Kinect to identify parts of the body from the cameras. Decision trees are often better than humans at predicting diagnoses and legal rulings. Its weakness is that it doesn’t do ‘mess’. It’s bad with many practical and fuzzy problems. It demand exactitude.ConnectionistsConnectionists are inspired, not by logic, but the brain. The brain, or at least neural connections and networks are the connectionists shtick. More specifically ‘backpropogation’ is their kick-ass tool. Imagine having to climb Ben Nevis blind. You tap your foot around until you find the steepest direction and step forward. Repeat until you get to the top. Only there’s a problem; you may only have climbed a secondary hillock. Nevertheless, this idea of a ‘gradient ascent’ (or descent) is fundamental to connectionism. Backpropogation has been used in text to speech, predicting the stock market and in driverless cars. But there’s another serious problem. In layered neural networks, the more layers you have, the more diffuse the findings. Autoencoders, sandwiches where the input is the same as the output but the middle is a form of compression, have allowed layer after layer to be more effective. There’s big money riding on this approach – the EU has put aside a billion euros and there’s £100 million in the US BRAIN project. Some, however, are sceptical about copying the brain. We didn’t learn to fly by copying the flapping of birds’ wings, they say. Neither did we go faster by studying the legs of a cheetah, we invented the wheel.EvolutionistsEvolution, some argue, is essentially algorithmic. Genetic algorithms produce variability and this is tested in the real world to produce – us! But evolutionary algorithms are more like selective breeding – we inject purpose and goals into the process. It’s less random than biological evolution. We let software breed softw[...]

What does Brexit mean for EdTech?


I know of four successful EdTech entrepreneurs who voted for Brexit. Surprised? Maybe not! I was one of them. Steve Rayson, another, made the point that people in this position like to do detailed analysis, weigh up the risks and make their choice. We were not swayed by Boris and co, and tended to see this as a long-term play, not a proxy general Election. Steve's point was that we are not scared of risk. We rehearsed the arguments openly, online, over several months and made up our minds. For all of us, I suspect, it was marginal. There was also some reflection around what it means for our sector.The Brexit vote has produced lots of angst around business. Die-hard anti-capitalists have suddenly found a new interest in the stock market and currency trading. They worry about tariffs and trade deals. But for those of us who have been travelling and trading abroad for many years, it’s not such a great problem.1. Addressable marketsEdTech companies tend to look towards the English speaking market – the US, Australia etc, for the obvious reason that we speak the same language. The EU market is linguistically diverse, compared to the largest, single EdTech market in the world, the US. This is why investment money tends to look for UK companies with a US angle. Content, technology and services are always easier to deliver in one language. Indeed, if one were to look for new, hgh growth markets, it’s not Europe but the US, Middle and Far East that you would turn. So in terms of growth, it’s business as usual.2. M&AMost of the M&A business is not investments from Europe or in European entities but in the US, Australia and elsewhere. Similarly, a lot of investment is to and from the US. This has been true for decades and is unlikely to be much affected by Brexit. Every single deal I've been involved in over the last ten years has had nothing to do with Europe.3. ServicesThere are no tariffs on services, so it will not make much difference. At present, few in EdTech experience any real differences between selling to EU and other countries. If anything, Ireland, which is in the EU, is the most difficult, as they subtract tax at source, which has to be reclaimed, with some difficulty. So no difference here.4. Education is devolvedEducation is a devolved responsibility in Europe. Pan-European attempts at integration and sharing, Bologna and many others, failed, as countries are, in reality, fiercely independent in education, with funding regimes that encourage institutions not to share students and qualifications. Being in or out, therefore, makes little or no difference. 5. ResearchLittle has emerged in EdTech from EU research funding. Many business people who have been involved in such projects complain about their bureaucratic and stifling nature and lack of impact. As they have had no significant impact, despite vast sums of money being spent, I don’t see this as something to worry about. Indeed, the country saves large sums if wasted research cash, rather than being spent on diffuse, collaborative, CityBreak research projects, get spent on closer working relationships between researchers and our own UK-based EdTech companies. The EdTech sector in the UK has not grown on the back of University research, it has grown through the efforts of investors, entrepreneurs and small businesses.6. OutsourcingFew outsource from the UK to EU countries, as Indian or other countries are cheaper, and often have higher level skills. Even if[...]

What does Brexit mean for education?


Education is a devolved issue in the EU, so the impact, in my view, will be negligible. Sure there will be adjustments, but that may, in some cases, be healthy.1. SchoolsBrexiters argued that there will be less pressure on schools, as there will be less EU migration in the future. This was one of the reasons so many voted for Brexit. They have a point as it is hard to see how there will be more pressure on schools because of Brexit. With other countries about to join, the number of children coming to the UK was set to increase year on year. EU teachers working here may be affected but that depends on what rules emerge and it is unlikely that qualified professionals will be much affected. Here’s some good news, Nicky Morgan was a fierce remain campaigner, so her tenure may be short - but who knows who we'll get next.2. Private schoolsPatrick Durham, speaking at the Festival of Education, thought that a number of private schools would have to close. Again, it’s hard to see why this would be the case. I think his case is exaggerated. There are about 5000 EU boarders in such schools and a cheaper pound will make their fees lower, attracting even more foreign boarders. There’s far more other nationalities, and let’s face it, this about making money. I’m not exactly crying in my soup over this one.3. Language schoolsThis is big business but there’s little sign that the thirst for learning English will change. It may be a little more difficult to come here but a cheaper pound will more than compensate. For me, this will be business as usual.4. Student feesCuriously, EU students in Scotland will no longer be classed as home students, and will have to pay fees, allowing the Universities to recruit without a cap. The same is true in Northern Ireland and Wales, which also offer student support. However, there may be fewer EU students in the future as our Borders tighten. So there's a real downside here as well. English Universities will, of course, simply say that EU students will be charged the same as UK to students to avert a dive in 2017 numbers. Easy fix.5. ResearchComplex one this. As part of the £350 million per week we pay (Gross figure before rebate - I know) to the EU, a large portion comes back to us as University research money. We will, in effect, simply be able to pay this direct. It will be under out control, not the agenda of a diffuse set of 28 states. This is generally true of all sources of EU research funding. It’s was never free money in the first place. It means, in effect, that we will have total control. This is a potential solution. There are already countries that are not members of the EU, that take part in EU research programmes, collaborate within consortia, even have access to European infrastructure. They have ‘Associated Country’ or ‘Third Country’ status, and include Norway, Israel and Switzerland. Time to consider htis as an option.6. Research qualityOne could argue that, free from the constraints of EU research criteria around collaborative participation, the quality of research will rise. I am in that camp. I have witnessed decades of wasted research in my field, in collaborative projects, with lots of meetings in nice European cities but little or no impact outcomes. EU quango have arisen with little of no real value. So we may see a reduction in wasted research, allowing us to focus on the stuff that matters.7. Vocational learningThe one are[...]

10 amazing ways Blockchain in assessment could be used in education


Blockchain. What is it? Can it be used in education? In 2001 I designed and implemented a Napster-like system that distributed learning content across a network, for non-competing public sector bodies, with no central storage or control. Everyone who created content could share it. It didn’t work because, despite being non-competitors, the public sector organisations just didn’t like innovation and stuck to their institutional silos. They stuck to their old ways – with massive duplication of content and no sharing, which is as true today as it was then. The same fate, I fear, could happen to Blockchain technology. But let's explore its potential.What is it?Blockchain could transform governance, the economy, businesses and organisations function.First, it's already here, not only in Bitcoin but in many other services and commodities - badges, credits or qualifications.Technically, blockchain is a distributed database, spread across many computers with no central control. Each ‘block’ is transparent but tamper-proof. Every ‘block' has a timestamp for recording transactions and offers indelible proof of all transactions. Rather than relying on third parties, it's a frictionless method for transacting with others.In normal speak, the basic idea is that you cut out the middleman. There is no central database as everything is distributed, public, synchronised and encrypted. All transations are logged with a time, date and details of transaction - then verified by some very smart maths. Concensus decides and every transaction is public. What it promises is a more efficient, secure and transparent was of handling transactions. This could saves a huge amount of administration, beaurocracy, effort and time. The Internet of things may release its potential.Who can use it?Single educational institutions, groups of educational institutions, national educational bodies, international educational bodies… anyone who wants to securely store badges, credits, qualifications and make available to others, educational data that matters, could consider using blockchain technology. Why does it matter?As education becomes more diversified, democratised, decentralised and disintermediated, we still need to maintain reputation, trust in certification and proof of learning. The increased focus on relevance and employability may also push us in this direction, as we also need more transparency. Blockchain could provide just such a system. A massive open, online, secure database.How can it be used?1. Single institutionOne school, Holburton School, in San Fransisco, a software school that offers project based education as an alternative to college courses, has already used blockchain to store and deliver issued certificates. It’s seen as a measure to stop fake certification. The encryption and 2 factor authentification, is used to create, sign-off and place the certificate into the blockchain database. They still give students paper copies but the DCN is a number that allows authentification by employers. I can see their point as it gives employers the idea that this school certainly knows its stuff on IT. MIT are doing similar things, as are the University of Nocosia.2. Groups of institutionsAs educational institutions cluster and co-operate, the need for shared repositories of certification and achievement become real. It may be a group of universities, such a Delft, EPFL, Bo[...]