Report: AI and the Future of Teaching and learning

I see articles and posts about artificial intelligence every day. I have written here about it a lot in the past year. You cannot escape the topic of AI even if you are not involved in education, technology or computer science. It is simply part of the culture and the media today. I see articles about how AI is being used to translate ancient texts at a speed and accuracy that is simply not possible with humans. I also see articles about companies now creating AI software for warfare. The former is a definite plus, but the latter is a good example of why there is so much fear about AI - justifiably so, I believe.

Many educators seem to have had the initial reaction to the generative chatbots that became accessible to the public late last year and were being used by students to write essays and research papers. This spread through K-12 and into colleges and even into academic papers being written by faculty.

A chatbot powered by reams of data from the internet has passed exams at a U.S. law school after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation and torts. Jonathan Choi, a professor at Minnesota University Law School, gave ChatGPT the same test faced by students, consisting of 95 multiple-choice questions and 12 essay questions. In a white paper titled "ChatGPT goes to law school," he and his coauthors reported that the bot scored a C+ overall.

ChatGPT, from the U.S. company OpenAI, got most of the initial attention in the early part of 2023. They received a massive injection of cash from Microsoft. In the second half of this year, we have seen many other AI chatbot players, including Microsoft and Google who incorporated it into their search engines. OpenAI predicted in 2022 that AI will lead to the "greatest tech transformation ever." I don't know if that will prove to be true, but it certainly isn't unreasonable from the view of 2023.

Chatbots use artificial intelligence to generate streams of text from simple or more elaborate prompts. They don't "copy" text from the Internet (so "plagiarism" is hard to claim) but create based on the data they have been given. The results have been so good that educators have warned it could lead to widespread cheating and even signal the end of traditional classroom teaching methods.

Lately, I see more sober articles about the use of AI and more articles about teachers including lessons on the ethical use of AI by students, and on how they are using chatbots to help create their teaching materials. I knew teachers in K-20 who attended faculty workshops this past summer to try to figure out what to do in the fall.

Report coverThe U.S. Department of Education recently issued a report on its perspective on AI in education. It includes a warning of sorts: Don’t let your imagination run wild. “We especially call upon leaders to avoid romancing the magic of AI or only focusing on promising applications or outcomes, but instead to interrogate with a critical eye how AI-enabled systems and tools function in the educational environment,” the report says.

Some of the ideas are unsurprising. For example, it stresses that humans should be placed “firmly at the center” of AI-enabled edtech. That's also not surprising since an earlier White House “blueprint for AI,” said the same thing. And an approach to pedagogy that has been suggested for several decades - personalized learning - might be well served by AI. Artificial assistants might be able to automate tasks, giving teachers time for interacting with students. AI can give instant feedback to students "tutor-style." 

The report's optimism appears in the idea that AI can help teachers rather than diminish their roles and provide support. Still, where AI will be in education in the next year or next decade is unknown.

Can Generative AI Build Me a Website?

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Artificial Intelligence has gained very widespread attention in the past six months even among people who consider themselves to be not very tech-savvy. chatGPT and its clones have received much of the attention but the AI floodgate opened wide. So wide that people became fearful and the government became interested in possibly restricting its growth in the U.S. and other countries.

Google introduced a tool to help you write. Grammarly, the writing assistenat that checks your writing, now has a feature to help you write too. Before we put a pause on AI growth, I want to consider how it is already being used in building websites.

You may know that AI can write or revise the code behind websites and applications. I won't comment on that because it's not my strongest area. One of the problems I always encounter when starting on a new website with a client is content readiness. Writing website copy should be something that a client is intimately involved in doing. I'm okay with editing content but prefer clients to write their own initial copy as much as possible. Generative AI technology can draft surprisingly high-quality marketing copy.

I build and maintain some sites using Squarespace and they have integrated generative AI technology into the platform. It is used in their rich text editor, which powers all website text, providing you with predictive text. As with other chat tools, you write a prompt and the AI will generate a draft of copy that you can insert into the text block with a single click.

AI isn't building an actual website quite yet, but no doubt it will one day. And you still need humans feeding the content to it, checking it over and placing it in a design frame. Platforms like Squarespace, WordPress, WIX, et al, have made building a site much easier, but all those platforms will get more intelligent in the next year. Artificial combined with human intelligence will hopefully still provide the best designs.

The Metaverse Is Being Built

I know that Facebook has generated a lot of talk about the metaverse, but the metaverse will be built and contain many companies and persistent virtual worlds. Those places will interoperate with one another. They will also interoperate with the physical world. Microsoft has described the metaverse as “a persistent digital world that is inhabited by digital twins of people, places and things.”

It will certainly create its own economy, much like what happened from the early days of the Internet. Many metaverse stories seem to portray as a leisure and game environment, but it will take in much more serious industries and markets. It will certainly include eventually finance, retail,  health & fitness and others. (I think it will be incorporated into education too, but that will be an upcoming article.)

Do you recall when Niantic launched its very popular Pokemon Go in 2016? That launch moved the idea of merging the physical world and AR and VR experiences. I read recently that Niantic CEO John Hanke had once called the metaverse a “dystopian nightmare,” but now they are looking to create their own version that will be AR-focused. Their augmented reality development kit is called Lightship. It is intended to make it easier to build AR experiences.

An article on gizmodo.com listed other companies besides Facebook and Niantic that are already building their way into a metaverse.   

Microsoft announced efforts to pursue an enterprise, office-focused metaverse by integrating AR and VR from its Microsoft Mesh platform into Teams which it sees as a “gateway to the metaverse."

Nvidia's OmNVIDIA Omniverse is an open platform where creators, designers, researchers, and engineers can connect major design tools, assets, and projects to collaborate and iterate in a shared virtual space. The company's announcement shows it as part of their broader “omniverse” ambitions. Omniverse is their own branded name for the metaverse and I suspect other companies will also try to brand their part of the metaverse, although a true metaverse will contain all of them. The Internet contains many portals, platforms, domains, and websites, but they are all the Internet or World Wide Web.

Meta, which people consider something new, actually has years of experience building its VR and AR applications. They already have their Horizons Workrooms platform available as a free beta on the Oculus Quest 2. It is a virtual office space designed for workers at home, in the office, or anywhere else. (Note: The Oculus brand


NOTE: In October 2021, Facebook, Inc. announced that it would change its corporate name to Meta, and that the Oculus brand name would be phased out in 2022. Future VR hardware produced by the company is expected to fall under the "Meta" brand rather than Oculus, while "Horizon" will be used for immersive social experiences operated by Meta, including those previously operated under the Oculus brand.

 

 

Are We at Web 3.0 Yet?

web 3.0The term “Web 2.0” was popularized by Tim O'Reilly and Dale Dougherty at the O'Reilly Media Web 2.0 Conference in late 2004. O'Reilly defined it as not being a change in the technical framework of the Internet but rather a shift in the design and use of websites. The shift was moving away from websites that offered a passive user experience to ones that allowed users a more active experience through the ability to interact and collaborate through social media dialogue and to act as creators of user-generated content.

When I wrote a piece here called "From Web 2.0 to Web 4.0 in December 2019, it was inspired by an article online about "Web 4.0" that made me wonder if we had jumped over Web 3.0.

Web 2.0 websites allowed users to interact and collaborate with each other through social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community. This contrasts the first generation of Web 1.0-era websites where people were limited to viewing the content in a passive manner. Web 2.0 examples include social networking sites or social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, et al), blogs, wikis, folksonomies ("tagging" keywords on websites and links), video sharing sites (YouTube, Vimeo), image sharing sites (Pinterest, Flickr), some web apps and any collaborative platforms, and mashups of multiple applications.

World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee questioned whether Web 2.0 was substantially different from the earlier Web technologies. He said that his original vision of the Web was "a collaborative medium, a place where we [could] all meet and read and write." Berners-lee coined the term "semantic web" at the start of this century, but that has sometimes come to be called Web 3.0. Berners-Lee meant "semantic" to refer to a web of content where the meaning can be processed by machines. (archived version of his article)

Semantics refers to the philosophical study of meaning, but semantics comes up in discussions about search technology. Google, Siri, and Alexa using semantic search technology. In that application, it is the idea of answering user questions rather than merely searching based on a string of keywords. hunt down words. I can ask those applications a question like "What time is sunset tonight?" or "What is the zip code for Montclair, New Jersey?" but I could earlier have asked a search engine "zipcode Montclair NJ" and gotten an answer. Now, when I ask what time is sunset, the app knows where I am and so the answer is location-based.

In 2013, I wrote about Siri and the semantic web and said "We are not at the point where you can ask 'What would I like for dinner tonight?' and expect an answer." That might change as AI plays a larger role in search and other web operations. Semantic search is a data searching technique in which a search query aims to not only find keywords but to determine the intent and contextual meaning of the words a person is using for search.