Schools Using AI

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                                             Image:Gerd Altmann

I wrote earlier here about teaching AI in classrooms and a former colleague who read it emailed and said that I need to also consider not just how students are learning about AI but also how schools use AI.

In that earlier article, I said that many people are unaware of AI used already in their everyday lives. It's not that the AI is deliberately hidden from view (though in some cases it actually is deliberately hidden, such as with chatbots). If you use apps on a smartphone, you are using AI. If you use Google search or Gmail, you are using AI. If your car has navigation or safety features that keep you on the road, you are using AI.

In education, AI is making it possible to provide more personalized learning experiences for students. By automating tasks that take teachers more time, AI facilitates these tasks so that time can be spent with students providing one-to-one feedback. The AI can evaluate progress, analyze and make recommendations for further study. Digital tools with AI integrations can create a personalized learning path based on each student’s responses and based on their needs. There are platforms that have AI which helps to automate tasks and so can provide adaptive learning and more personalized experiences for students. Students would also have access to intelligent tutoring systems through AI.

Schools using AI administrative;y and pedagogically are more likely to see the value in having students learn in the classroom about how AI works and how it operates in their lives in and out of classrooms.

Teaching Artificial Intelligence in K-12 Classrooms

Should K-12 students be learning about artificial intelligence? Since the turn of the century, I have written about, observed and taught in programs to have all students learn the basics of coding. Prior to that, robotics made big moves into K-12 classrooms. AI seems to be the next step.

I saw recently that DayofAI.org launched a day for classrooms around the world to participate in learning about AI. They offered resources from MIT for teachers, including lesson plans and videos for all grade levels.

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New vehicles have many AI-assisted applications Image: Foundry Co

It's not that students aren't already surrounded by artificial intelligence in their everyday lives, but they are probably unaware of its presence. That is no surprise since most of the adults around them are equally unaware of AI around them.

You find AI used in maps and navigation, facial recognition, text editors and autocorrect, search and recommendation algorithms, chatbots, and in social media apps. If you have a smartphone to a new car, you are using AI consciously or unconsciously. Consciously is preferred and a reason to educate about AI.

Though I have never thought of my time as a K-12 teacher as training students for jobs in the way that teaching in higher education clearly has that in mind, you can't ignore what students at lower level might need one day to prepare for job training in or out of higher ed. Artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud computing, and cybersecurity are areas that always show up in reports about jobs now and in the near future.ed workers which means that we need to do more to prepare our students for these careers and others that will evolve over time.

“AI will dominate the workplace and to be successful, people are going to have to understand it,” said Mark Cuban, who launched a foundation in 2019 that provides AI bootcamps for free to students to learn about AI. It is his belief and the belief of other tech leaders and educators that artificial intelligence is something that should and can be taught at all levels, regardless of a teacher’s experience in this field.

One starting place might be Google AI Experiments which offers simple experiments to explore machine learning, through things like pictures, drawings, language, and music. See https://experiments.withgoogle.com/collection/ai

AIClub offers courses for students and free resources for educators including professional development sessions to spark curiosity for learning about AI. They are also developing guidelines for AI curriculum in grades K through 12.

I tried an AI test (it is rather long for younger students) at www.tidio.com/blog/ai-test/ that was part of a survey for a research study about AI-generated content. It shows you images, texts, and plays sounds and asks you to decide if you think they show real people or were created by humans or not. Almost all of us will be fooled by things created by AI. Another site is fun for kids as it shows very realistic AI-created cats that don't really exist. And another site at https://ai4k12.org/ is also a human vs AI activity where you decide whether art, music, writing or photos were created by a human or AI.

All of those examples can be used as a way to introduce students to how AI is used and even caution them to recognize that they can be not only helped but deceived using AI.

The Return of the One-Room Schoolhouse

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Traditional one-room schoolhouse Peoria, Kansas.

It's not exactly a "one-room schoolhouse" in the sense of the 19th-century place that had that label, but a new trend to "microschools" has some of that in its lineage.

The trend grew out of pandemic remote learning and school closures but also is an offshoot of K-12 homeschooling. This form of education is micro in that it serves a small student population of generally 15 students or less. There isn't a definition of a microschool that fits all the ones that might fall into the classification but they probably are all offering personalized, student-centered learning and multiple age groups in the same classroom.

There were pandemic "learning pods" created by families so that kids could learn in small groups and those might have included a trained teacher. A microschool is more official and probably registered as a school and perhaps even as a for-profit business.

So, is this just a "private school"? At 15 or less students, this is not really a business model. Then again, there are a few networks of microschoolsthat have emerged. Acton Academy has more than 250 affiliate schools in 31 states and 25 countries, with an average annual tuition of about $10,000.

There are microschools for every grade level from kindergarten through high school and even a few microcolleges. But this is a new thing, so there is still a lot to be worked out. For example, there is no one national accreditation body, so rules and regulations vary widely. A few states (West Virginia and Wisconsin) are trying to define microschools via new legislation. There are legal, financial, and pedagogical things to consider.

This isn't the same thing as starting a home school. An actual microschool will need to be registered as a business and most often as a private school. Check into your state regulations, and you'll see the complexities of licensing, attendance and things such as insurance requirements.

more at usnews.com/education/k12/articles/what-is-a-microschool

 

The Disconnected 2022 Edition

brain connectIt's 2022 and I am reading an article in The Chronicle by Beth McMurtrie about how the pandemic forced disconnections in early 2020. On the other hand, we also became more connected to friends, offices, campuses, and stores through technology and media.

The article took me back to a keynote presentation I did back in January 2016. I titled that talk "The Disconnected." The talk grew out of the many references I had been seeing to people who seemed disconnected from many aspects of society.

There was the observation that there was a re-emergence of people who wanted to learn on their own rather than in schools. These autodidacts were a new group of learners that I felt might be reshaping school, especially in higher education which is a choice rather than a requirement.

In 2015, the sharing economy, the maker movement, the DIY do-it-yourself movement, and open-source coding were all topics of interest.

These trends were not limited to young people or students. Many people were “cord cutting” from traditional media. But the trend was especially evident in young adults. Even broader was a “rent rather than buy” mindset that was affecting purchases of media (music, movies, books, magazines), cars (lease or use a car service rather than own a car), rent an apartment or home and avoid the self-maintenance, mortgage and taxes.

In 2015, the “disconnected” comprised about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research. They estimated that number would double by 2025. Has it?

That new article is about students who seem to have disconnected during the pandemic and are not reconnecting now. Maybe they will never reconnect. 

According to McMurtie's article, fewer students are going to classes. Her interviews with faculty show that those who do attend avoid speaking if possible. They are disconnected from the professor and their classmates. They don't do the assigned reading or homework and so they have trouble with tests. They are disconnected from the course content.

The Chronicle had more than 100 people tell them about their disconnected students. Some called them “exhausted,” “defeated,” or “overwhelmed.” This came from faculty at a range of institutions.

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Why are they disconnected?

Reasons given by professors include pandemic-related items. Many students lost their connection with their college or their purpose in attending. Hours of online learning that they had not chosen and which may have been sub-par added to those things.

The students who seemed to have the most trouble with learning were the freshmen who seemed unprepared. But the observations that these new students seemed underprepared, both academically and in their sense of responsibility. One example was that students don’t fully grasp the consequence of missing classes. I was teaching long before the pandemic and all of those things were true of students back then too. 

So my question is whether or not those disconnected students of 2015 have become even more disconnected in the subsequent seven years, and if they have is it because of the pandemic or just a trend that started well before the pandemic.

McMurtrie also gives some things from the perspective of students. One student said that when she returned to the classroom after virtual learning many professors relied more on technology than they had before the pandemic. Ironically, that was something that many schools had hoped would happen; that faculty would be greater tech users when they returned to their in-person classes. Professors who never used virtual conferencing or flipped the classroom using a learning management system. That student may have seen her college experience as "fake" but the professors (and possibly their department chairs and deans) saw the experience as "enhanced."

I don't explain the disconnecting as only the result of social anxiety and stress or what psychologists describe as “allostatic load.”  I don't think this problem is temporary. I agree with some of the faculty whose responses are in the article who think the entire structure of college needs to change and that this is not a new problem.

None of us know what the solution might be.

Pandemic Learning Gains

loss gainThere has been lots of talk about the losses in learning during the pandemic. Much of that talk has been around the shift to online learning and what was perceived as lost by not being in physical classrooms.

coverMy wife, Lynnette Condro Ronkowitz, and I wrote two articles published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology (Volume 80, Issue 1) in January 2021 about the pandemic and higher education. (both articles are available via academia.com

The first article is "Online Education in a Pandemic: Stress Test or Fortuitous Disruption?" We considered the ways in which the shutdown caused by the  COVID-  19  pandemic have accelerated the evolution of online education. This movement from face-to-face (F2F) education to a virtual environment was forced and unplanned. It can be viewed as a stress test for digital teaching and learning in the higher education system. The study addresses course conversions and the progress of online education in response to the current crisis.

The second article, "Choosing Transformation Over Tradition: The Changing Perception of Online Education" was part of the first article's draft but the editors thought it would be expanded into a second article. In this article, we consider that despite advancements in online education, misperceptions persist that create obstacles to the integration of online classes in higher education. We refute misconceptions about online education and highlights key components of a strong online course. For example, as a result of the pandemic, it became apparent that there is a conflation between “school” and “education” that has prompted contradistinction, and so we tried to provide some insight into some of the social and economic implications of the culture of our education system.

We felt that though learning losses occurred during these pandemic years, there were also gains. A post on the Innovative Educator blog also addresses gains in learning that came out of the pandemic. Though we focused on higher education, the blog post looks more at K-12. For example, because of the pivot to online "students and staff were catapulted into the future in many school districts. As a result, our students will now be more prepared than they ever would have been, had education not been disrupted.

Some pandemic learning gains that were cited in the post:

Access to Devices - not that a "digital divide" does not still exist, but it is not as wide

Access to the Internet - the inability of students and some faculty to access broadband connections or possibly any Internet access at home became apparent. Stories of learners working from parking lots outside free wireless sites were shocking to some people.

Access to Content and to New Platforms - K-12 school districts began adopting learning management systems and platforms (Google Classroom was one ) and learning materials became more accessible to students and families.

Access to Each Other & The World - Higher education already had far greater access to learning platforms and tools such as video conferencing pre-pandemic, but it was not being used by a majority of faculty and in courses that were not already online. "Zooming" became a new verb for video conferencing for many people in and out of education - and it continues today. Virtual conferencing may come with some losses from in-person but it also came with gains. Video plus chat and captioning (though imperfect in most cases) helped students with and without disabilities or who spoke other languages access what was being said more easily. Courses could include authors, guests, and experts brought into virtual classrooms.  

I am not a fan of the term "the new normal" but such a thing would include gains that have remained in place and progress that was made. Hopefully, another major pandemic is far in the future but mini-crises from virus variants to natural disasters have occurred and will occur with greater frequency. And hopefully, we are better prepared for them.

The Science of Learning

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Professor Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921

Albert Einstein was definitely a subject matter expert, but he is not regarded as a good professor. Einstein first taught at the University of Bern but did not attract students, and when he pursued a position at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the president raised concerns about his lackluster teaching skills. Biographer Walter Isaacson summarized, “Einstein was never an inspired teacher, and his lectures tended to be regarded as disorganized.” It's a bit unfair to say that "Einstein Was Not Qualified To Teach High-School Physics" - though by today's standards he would not be considered qualified. It probably is fair to say that "Although it’s often said that those who can’t do teach, the reality is that the best doers are often the worst teachers."

Beth McMurtrie wrote a piece in The Chronicle called "What Would Bring the Science of Learning Into the Classroom?" and her overall question was: Why doesn't the scholarship on teaching have as much impact as it could have in higher education classroom practices?

It is not the first article to show and question why higher education appears not to value teaching as much as it could or should. Is it that quality instruction isn't valued as much in higher education as it is in the lower grades? Other articles show that colleges and most faculty believe the quality of instruction is a reason why students select a school.

Having moved from several decades in K-12 teaching to higher education, I noticed a number of things related to this topic. First of all, K-12 teachers were likely to have had at least a minor as undergraduates in education and would have taken courses in pedagogy. For licensing in all states, there are requirements to do "practice" or "student teaching" with monitoring and guidance from education professors and cooperating teachers in the schools.

When I moved from K-12 to higher education at NJIT in 2001, I was told that one reason I was hired to head the instructional technology department was that I had a background in pedagogy and had been running professional development workshops for teachers. It was seen as a gap in the university's offerings. The Chronicle article also points to "professional development focused on becoming a better teacher, from graduate school onward, is rarely built into the job."

As I developed a series of workshops for faculty on using technology, I also developed workshops on better teaching methods. I remember being surprised (but shouldn't have been) that professors had never heard of things like Bloom's taxonomy, alternative assessment, and most of the learning science that had been common for the past 30 years.

K-12 teachers generally have required professional development. In higher education, professional development is generally voluntary. I quickly discovered that enticements were necessary to bring in many faculty. We offered free software, hardware, prize drawings and, of course, breakfasts, lunches and lots of coffee. Professional development in higher ed is not likely to count for much when it comes to promotion and tenure track. Research and grants far outweigh teaching, particularly at a science university like NJIT.

But we did eventually fill our workshops. We had a lot of repeat customers. There was no way we could handle the approximately 600 full-time faculty and the almost 300 adjunct instructors, so we tried to bring in "champions" from different colleges and departments who might later get colleagues to attend.

I recall more than one professor who told me that they basically "try to do the thing my best professors did and avoid doing what the bad ones did." It was rare to meet faculty outside of an education department who did any research on teaching. We did find some. We brought in faculty from other schools who were researching things like methods in engineering education. I spent a lot of time creating online courses and improving online instruction since NJIT was an early leader in that area and had been doing "distance education" pre-Internet.

Discipline-based pedagogy was definitely an issue we explored, even offering specialized workshops for departments and programs. Teaching the humanities and teaching the humanities in a STEM-focused university is different. Teaching chemistry online is not the same as teaching a management course online.

Some of the best parts of the workshops were the conversations amongst the heterogeneous faculty groups. We created less formal sessions with names that gathered professors around a topic like grading, plagiarism and academic integrity, applying for grants, writing in the disciplines, and even topics like admissions and recruiting. These were sessions where I and my department often stepped back and instead offered resources to go further after the session ended.

It is not that K-12 educators have mastered teaching, but they are better prepared for the classroom from the perspective of discipline, psychology, pedagogy, and the numbers of students and hours they spend in face-to-face teaching. College faculty are reasonably expected to be subject matter experts and at a higher level of expertise than K-12 teachers who are expected to be excellent teachers. This doesn't mean that K-12 teachers aren't subject matter experts or that professors can't be excellent teachers. But the preparations for teaching in higher and the recognition for teaching excellence aren't balanced in the two worlds.