Virtual School Meanderings

January 28, 2023

Will AI transform education? The case for

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative (and be sure to check out the earlier entries on this topic at How will AI impact K-12 education in the US? and Will AI transform education? The case against).

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Will AI transform education? The case for

BY JOHN WATSON

Previous posts looked at AI in education  and then at the case against the view that AI will transform education. This post explores why AI might in fact revolutionize education.

The New York Times published an expansive essay, “What Would Plato Say About ChatGPT?”, that includes this provocative opening:

“Plato mourned the invention of the alphabet, worried that the use of text would threaten traditional memory-based arts of rhetoric. In his “Dialogues,” arguing through the voice of Thamus, the Egyptian king of the gods, Plato claimed the use of this more modern technology would create “forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories,” that it would impart “not truth but only the semblance of truth” and that those who adopt it would “appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing,” with “the show of wisdom without the reality.”

If Plato were alive today, would he say similar things about ChatGPT?”

I believe that quote holds the key to why AI might be the technology that actually does transform education. Explaining why will take a few paragraphs.

The affirmative argument is based on a few key points:

  • First, let’s acknowledge that the previous main view about AI in education, which is that AI would transform learning via personalization as embodied by Knewton and other companies, has been mostly a failure to this point. That’s not the main channel of the transformation path at this time, although it could be an important factor in the future.
  • Second, recognize that some of the shortcomings of the currently public available versions of ChatGPT have probably already been fixed in the current private versions. Arguing about fixable shortcomings of the current systems is a waste of time when we’re considering future impacts. (These shortcomings are important to understand relative to current usage, however.)
  • Third, let’s think about what these AI systems might be able to do in the relatively near future, combining ChatGPT, Dall E, and some other systems and capabilities.

Much of the current focus is on Chat GPT’s ability to generate essays. But when you recognize that capability as largely a synthesis and summarizing capability of a significant percentage of all the information known to humanity, and combine it with both natural language processing and image generation, what do you have?

A system that could drive the marginal cost of online content generation down to essentially zero.

What about the need to align to state standards and demonstrate alignment? Again, the cost would be roughly zero once the system is created.

Why is this so transformative? Because it could change the fundamental interactions between content/instructional materials, teaching, and other elements of student support provided by school-based professionals (SEL support, guidance, career and college, etc.)

There’s been a concept in online learning for a very long time, that good online content and platforms allow teachers to focus on tutoring, relationships, and SEL-related issues. That’s true to some extent, but as long as content generation has been relatively expensive, and the personalization potential of online platforms not yet fulfilled, there’s not been true cost savings to allow significant investment in these roles for teachers and other professionals.

Imagine a world in which AI systems have been trained on the best open educational resources (with appropriate copyright considerations, etc) to create:

  • Standards-aligned content that is consistently higher quality than is currently available (because there is excellent digital content available, but it’s hard to source from a single provider and/or it is expensive).
  • This content is fully aligned to all state and other academic standards.
  • It includes text, videos, assessments, animations, etc.
  • It sits in a system that can assess student understanding and personalize content.
  • Its marginal cost is close to $0. And by marginal cost I don’t mean marginal cost to deliver to one more student, but marginal cost to create a new course.

The first four bullet points don’t sound too different from what we are often told is currently available, but AI could take the production values, accuracy, and overall quality to an entirely new level, while finally delivering on the personalized learning aspects that previous AI systems promised but couldn’t pull of in practice and at scale. But it’s the drastic reduction in cost that’s really the key.

This futuristic system would make teachers obsolete, right?

Not at all.

This is where we get back to the above New York Times quote about Plato.

In an AI-driven education system, teachers’ roles would shift away from delivering content, to working with students instead. Their work would focus on understanding students, motivating them, addressing SEL needs—and deeply assessing their knowledge, understanding, and interests.

We’re already seeing some of this shift in online and hybrid schools, in which teachers are already filling a different role than in traditional schools.

But the AI-driven version of content and personalization could dramatically accelerate this shift.

There would also be the need for a significant increase in teachers assessing student knowledge in a world in which any student can create an essay, slide deck, etc. in minutes using AI.

What does that assessment look like?

It will likely include much more use of strategies that look like a version of the Socratic method, or a dissertation defense: one or more teachers discussing key issues with a single student, or a small group of students. Of course, this can’t happen just at the end of each school year; it needs to happen often and consistently. Assessment and instruction would become far more intertwined than they are in most traditional classrooms.

To be clear, I don’t know where this would lead. But it would take schools down a path that has been talked about by digital learning advocates, and we see to some extent in online and hybrid schools, but has not yet reached scale—a path in which the roles of teachers and other professional staff become very different.

How and why would it reach scale?

I doubt this approach is going to take hold in traditional public schools in less than a decade even in the most optimistic scenario—and it might far longer if traditional public schools were the only path. Too many elements of public schools are too difficult to change quickly.

But taking a page from the Christensen Institute’s disruptive innovation theory, you can envision how a set of charter schools, alt ed, and independent study could be built around new instructional models taking advantage of the changed cost structures, and newly enabled roles, driven by AI.

Again, this isn’t so different than the promise of online schools. But there are two major differences. First, fully online schools have never been of interest to a significant percentage of students and families, for all sorts of reasons linked to (real or perceived) socialization, and the day care role of schools. Second, existing cost structures have made innovative hybrid schools difficult to scale.  This time could be different due to the changed cost drivers explained above.

A friend of mine with long experience in Silicon Valley talks about how a key question about AI might be: is the timing similar to the Internet circa 1989, or 1999?

If you’re old enough to remember those times, you may recall (or have realized later) that the Internet existed in 1989, but it was too early to have much impact. It was hard to use, and usage was limited to a few intrepid virtual explorers testing the earliest listserves, chatrooms, and eventually, browsers.

By 1999 the Internet was exploding all around us, on a near-term path to becoming ubiquitous and changing most elements of life. A hype bubble formed, but even the bursting of the bubble contained the seeds of the next transformations such as smartphones and social media.

Is AI the technology that enables the changes that transform education? Is 2023 more like 1999 than 1989?

I don’t know. But after 25 years about being skeptical of new technologies, I’m actively considering that this time might be different.

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January 25, 2023

More #DLAC23 Program Info 🤩

An update from this upcoming digital learning conference.

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Pick your topic and find your crew!

Want to find a group of people with a shared interest in the digital learning field? The DLAC team is trying something new this year with a Community Based Set of Sessions!

Goals: Bring people together and continue the conversation.

Interested in any of the topics above? Learn more about the sessions being offered and community coming together at DLAC to explore each topic and continue the conversation beyond #DLAC23!
As our full 2023 program comes together – it can be a little overwhelming to see the many sessions we have to offer. If you are just wanting a taste of DLAC  –  we’ve got you covered. Here is a sample of sessions both onsite and online coming your way in February and an overview of what DLAC is all about in general!

Need to register still? Now is the time! ⬇️

Register for DLAC!
Questions? Reach out!

DLAC@evergreenedgroup.com

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January 21, 2023

Will AI transform education? The case against

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative (and be sure to check out the earlier entry on this topic at How will AI impact K-12 education in the US?).  Personally, I think this is closer to what will occur.  Over the decades we’ve seen a lot of ed tech that has the potential to significantly impact education, but it rarely does.  The cost is often the biggest issue – as education is generally underfunded (and especially underfunded in the past few decades as school choice efforts have sought to delegitimize public education).  Beyond funding, there is also the issue of teacher practice.  One of the main reasons why any initiative often fails in a school setting is a lack of training and support for teachers during and following implementation.  In some respects this is also a funding issue (i.e., not enough money to adequately train and support), but also part of an ideology that often views these initiatives as ways to replace teachers and/or save money.

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Will AI transform education? The case against

BY JOHN WATSON

A previous blog post noted the recent advances in AI that are being noted across many sectors, including in education. It’s not surprising that some people are predicting a near-term transformation of education as AI spreads. This post explores why those predictions are probably wrong. Next week’s post will explore why, maybe, they could be right.

The simplest argument for why AI will not transform education is this:

We have at least 100 years of people predicting that a new technology will transform education. To this point, those predictions have a perfect track record of being 100% wrong.

If you’re inclined to view this argument in video form, here it is in just over seven minutes. As the video points out, some of the technologies that have been predicted to revolutionize education include:

  • Movies
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Computers
  • Videodiscs
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • And, more broadly, the Internet.

Among the themes of many of these technologies has been that they allowed “the” expert in each subject area to reach millions of students, giving access to the “best” teachers regardless of where they live. The technology advocates largely if not entirely overlooked the fact that the best teachers see themselves as teaching students more than teaching content, which means prioritizing many elements of the students over the nuances of the material.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that online learning has had no effect on students. Online learning is best understood as an instructional modality, not a technology; a modality that allows for the flourishing of new ways to reach and engage students by breaking down barriers of time and place. As many sessions at DLAC will soon demonstrate, online and hybrid programs have positively impacted millions of students. But it’s far too early to say that digital learning has revolutionized education, because the percentage of students who have experienced a transformative online/hybrid class or school remains very small.

Also, it’s important to recognize the difference between enhancements and incremental improvements—which technology has definitely provided—and transformation, which it has not provided.

Given the long history of predictions that the latest technology will transform education, the starting point for anyone who is saying AI will change education is to explain why this technology is fundamentally different than all the technologies that came before. To this point, the case is not compelling. AI advocates have predicted that adaptive learning would transform classrooms for many years, but few predictions have come true, while failures like Knewton are more common. Note also that educators and less-interested observers may not recognize Knewton as the complete failure that it was, for two reasons. First, the hype as Knewton was growing exceeded the attention when Knewton failed. Second, Knewton’s failure took the form of a sale for $17 million, which might not sound like an obvious failure unless you know that investors poured $182 million into the company.

In summary, the case against AI being likely to transform K-12 education is that a long line of “transformational” education technologies has failed over the last century. That evidence alone suggests that the most likely outcome is that AI will be yet another over-hyped technology that has, at most, marginal impacts on education.

But maybe this time is different? Next week’s post will explore that argument.

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Durango, CO 81301-5437

January 20, 2023

DLAC23: Beyond the Program

An update from this upcoming digital learning conference.

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Even more in store for you at #DLAC23!

We have spent the last few weeks highlighting our full 2023 program, but we want to make sure you know ALL about the other amazing things happening around the conference as well!

🐾There is a TON to share – Cedar is here to help.🐾

Interested in one or more of the opportunities above? Head over to Beyond the Program for all the information you need to join, network, learn and share before the conference even gets started!
Need to register still? Click the button below and lock it in!
Register Now!
We are here to help.

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Copyright © 2023 Evergreen Education Group, All rights reserved.
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Durango, CO 81301-5437

January 16, 2023

Learn more about the NSQOL at DLAC 2023 in February!

Note the promotion of the Canadian eLearning Network’s design principles session in this update from the NSQ.

NSQ is making a splash at #DLAC23!
Feb 7 (online) Feb 13-15 (online and onsite in Austin)

Dear Michael

Join us to learn more about the standards in one of these exciting sessions being held in Austin, or join us online to learn more about how digital learning can serve your school or district. Sessions at DLAC in Austin include:

Look Both Ways:  Crosswalking the Danielson Framework with the NSQ Teaching Standards. 

Christine Voelker – Quality Matters
Cindy Hamblin – VLLA
Allison Powell – DLC
Brandie Benton – Virtual Arkansas
Shannon Smith – Michigan Virtual

An NCAA Review Journey – Mapping the NCAA Criteria to NSQ Standards and Existing Best Practices to Save Time and Energy

Sarah Overpeck – NCAA Eligibility Center

Design Principles for Digital Learning and NSQOL Standards: Commonalities & Differences

Randy LaBonte – Canadian eLearning Network

NSQ in View: Making the National Standards for Quality Online Learning Work for You

Christine Voelker – Quality Matters
Cindy Hamblin – Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance

Virtual Learning Program Certification – Pilot Project UnderwayChristopher Harrington – Michigan Virtual Learning Research InstituteBrian Mott – Virtual VirginiaSarah Warnick – Virtual Virginia
Cindy Hamblin – VLLA

Effective Instruction using NSQOT

Zack Simmen – Lincoln Learning Solutions
Rachel Book – Lincoln Learning Solutions

The National Standards for Quality Online Teaching Poster Session

Cindy Hamblin – Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance
Allison Powell – Evergreen Education Group
Christine Voelker – Quality Matters

The National Standards for Quality Online Courses Poster Session

Cindy Hamblin – Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance
Allison Powell – Evergreen Education Group
Christine Voelker – Quality Matters

The National Standards for Quality Online Programs Poster Session

Cindy Hamblin – Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance
Allison Powell – Evergreen Education Group
Christine Voelker – Quality Matters

Check out the full program at: https://www.deelac.com/2023-program

Do you still need to Register? The price of registration goes up at the EOD today: January 21, 2023, but we are extending the lower price for those who have expressed interest in the Quality Standards. Email us at DLAC@evergreenedgroup.com.

 

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