Data & Learning (why does everyone think it's such a great combination?)

@vanessa pointed me to this IBM tells us what the future will look like post on FastCompany (that reliable source of unbiased thoughtful reflection on the limits of technology). The authors ask:

“What if you had the ability to have the materials available, but through pure electronics deliver them to the student and be able to monitor in real time what that student was doing well with and what they’re struggling with? The teacher could individualize the instruction because they’re essentially handed an understanding of that student on day one because the classroom itself has followed that student from entry in kindergarten.”

I suspect the question was rhetorical. But I don’t think it should be. I have a very negative reaction to terms like “pure electronics” “monitor in real time” “deliver materials”. That sounds like a factory of learning rather than the one-room schoolhouse.

Let’s hope IBM aims higher. They have the resources and smarts to come up with a more exciting vision for what personalized learning could look like.


I was struck by the passivity of machines “doing things” to learners–computers will recommend, diagnose, guide. And there’s little talk of connectivity or enabling learners to interact with each other.

What feels wrong to me is someone else knowing what is best for you - be that a computer of a human. The idea of a lifeless machine probably just scares a lot more people.

I sense a lot of “technology will be the solution” sentiment in the education technology world. I think we need to recognize that technology will only ever be a part of the solution and that we need to rethink how we look at education (both higher ed and lower ed) on a more fundamental level.

I sometimes think that all we need to do is advocate learning as a means of empowerment - something that can be self directed and self iniciated.

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@1L2P : Strangely, I had the exact opposite reaction when I read that article. If I think about my high school experience, even thought we had one teacher per subject, and a limit of 25 students per class, it really did feel like a factory to me. Each subject was taught the same way for each student, with material being covered at the same pace, with the same exercise set for each student, with no consideration to the individuality of the student. For example, in Mathematics, I found algebra, geometry and calculus came to me very naturally, whereas trigonometry scrambled my brain. I would have been very happy to have halved the time spent on the other areas, and had more time to grapple with trigonometry. Other students were different, where some grasped trigonometry quickly, but struggled with calculus (for example).

I imagine using machine learning, expert systems, and other AI techniques in molding and guiding syllabus content, pace, and so on would allow teachers the ability to personalize education in a bigger way for students than is currently possible.

@dirk : The article seemed to indicate that the technology they are predicting being used in classrooms will be used to allow the teachers to have a better idea of student progress. I think you are right that when it comes to education you cannot make technology the only solution, however I quite liked the idea of technology better equipping teachers to perform their function as educators better.

With so much technological advancement happening, I am excited to see what the future holds in store.

That’s the “promise” of all this technology, but when it is described in terms of delivery of materials and monitoring student progress, I worry that the people designing these systems are paying too much attention to efficiency and not enough to creativity, serendipity, and unique pathways.

I’m excited for some things, but I’m also concerned that we are giving up essential things like privacy, personal choice, exceeding expectations, etc.

What if this happened the other way around - the system decided that given your liking for physics you should focus on your strength - algebra and calculus. Would this account for what you aspire to become one day? Would the system give you a choice? Would it ask you if you like trigonometry? Who designs the system?

As a computer scientist I sometimes have to remind myself that algorithms aren’t objective and unbiased and that machine learning doesn’t deliver objective truth.

This, in an era when a secondary education is often the bare minimum required for an individual to productively enter the workforce.

Is this the ultimate goal of education - to productively enter the workforce?

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Absolutely not. We probably all have slightly different takes on the goal of education, but tying it too closely to the needs of the economy makes it hard to keep things like the humanities, arts, or philosophy - which we seem most in need of these days.


Ethics FTW. Well said, @1L2P

Embedded as I am in the Humanities, I’m not sure that I totally agree with you, @1L2P.

Firstly, if you’re poor, and need skills, and live in a developing country where the skills gap is significant (I’m thinking mostly about SA here, where there just aren’t enough fitters and turners, let alone engineers) then surely having a technologically-focussed education is a good thing? Technology isn’t just the stuff we interact with. It’s other kinds of machines too.

Secondly, as this article in THE shows, tying higher education to the needs of the economy doesn’t necessarily mean there is no room for humanities. In fact, the research and Oxford seems to make a strong case for the two being very compatible.

I agree that people need jobs and that education is a pathway to jobs. And I also think humanities should be preserved and that people with humanities degrees are able to get jobs.

However, the article you share only shows that having an Oxford degree gets you a job. We would need to see the results for graduates from other universities and compare to engineering etc graduates to make the claim that humanities are a good career path for job seekers.

And even if they are, the perception that they are not, is being used to dismantle humanities departments at the moment.

That’s what I meant by tying it too closely to the needs of the economy.

I think the research shows us that you have issues with Oxford… :wink:

Seriously though - I often feel (from my admittedly cushy situation) that we should be careful of the rhetoric we use. It’s all very well to critique a broken system from the inside. But if you’ve been told all your life that the only way to succeed is via a degree, then I’m not sure that critiques of the system in the vein of “this is all broken” are that helpful.

It’s a revolting phrase, but we should remember to check our privilege.

Yes. I don’t think anyone was trying to get rid of the universities in this thread.

I have issues with privilege as a barrier to participation. But not with quality. After all, I work at the two best universities in the world :slight_smile: