Alternatives to Keynote Speakers

Medieval Lecturer

The more things change, the more things stay the same…

I am on the board for a great elearning conference, and we are in the middle of looking for keynote speakers. I am not against keynote speakers per se. I have been to some amazing conferences and have had some career changing moments with some amazing people who were keynote speakers. Our little conference with a big heart does a lot to keep the costs down – this is one of the reasons why I volunteered to be on the board here – it is a low cost conference with high quality presentations. We could increase corporate sponsors and increase the keynote fees, but I think that would ultimately raise the price of the conference for attendees. And then we would be even more dependent on corporate money. I am not saying that I don’t want a keynote. I am just thinking out-loud to myself here on the internet: what are the alternatives? I personally value open. If “open” (as in open education resources, open access, and open pedagogy) is one of my chief values, what would a keynote look like through that lens? There is a great irony of thinking that we are doing something innovative by promoting an event with a “sage on the stage,” another one-way dump of information that promotes the hierarchy of the status quo. It has been my experience as a teacher and an elearning professional that real learning takes place in the community, through engagement, and interactivity. It has also been my experience that conferences, elearning or no, can be the last places that anything like that happens (I am thinking here of the Educause cattle-chute approach).

So I have done some cursory reading over the last few days looking at alternatives to keynotes. Here are some promising tacks:

1. Participants
In his posting at the Event Manager Blog, Jan-Jaap In Der Maur asks “…why have someone on stage telling participants what to do, if they can tell each other? Think of alternative formats, where participants work in smaller groups, talk directly to each other, or delegates are invited on stage spontaneously to be interviewed or join a panel.” In other words, why can’t the keynote be an activity? We can guide the activity or discussion around a central theme.

“Why have someone give information, tell ‘the truth’ about a topic or make decisions, when the combined wisdom of the crowd is much bigger than that of a speaker?” asks Jan-Jaap when we can get people involved in providing the content, debating, or making decisions.

2. Expert Debates
I liked this idea from Martina Cicakova’s Sli.Do posting “Expert Debate: an Interactive Alternative to a Traditional Keynote Session” but it still leaves me wondering where to find the money for TWO experts. One way to handle this is to virtually stream the experts in which is less expensive. This could help emphasize that the conference is about the participants, not the expert personalities. I like this though because if you read Martina’s article, she says that it was highly interactive: “In total, the audience submitted nearly 50 questions to be answered during the session and placed 323 ‘likes’ on questions.” They used Slido as the tech platform behind the debate.

3. Panels
Another possible alternative to keynotes are panels. Panels can be organized in such a way that the panel members are not only talking to one another, but they are engaging the audience as well. An article at Innovation Women, “The Event Manager’s Guide to Creative Panels” has a number of useful suggestions for keeping panels engaging.

4. Video 
We could watch a short video on the theme of the conference and use it as a catalyst for small group discussions, bring that back to a larger discussion with a moderator summarizing the themes that come up to be addressed later in the conference. The catalyst could just as easily be a live or recorded performance. I have seen presenters use this effectively.

5. Unconference
We do a little bit of this already with our conference preview during the breakfast portion of the conference. But an unconference allows participants to sign up and present brief presentations – I am thinking that the Pecha Kucha technique of 20 slides/20 seconds a slide would be ideal here. The genius of this is that each participant of the conference gets to decide what they think is important enough to dedicate 6 minutes and 40 seconds of stage time too. We get to crowd-source the genius of the participants.

Again, I am hoping that we find someone who is knowledgeable about elearning, professional, inspiring, and not insulted by our travel expenses + smallish stipend, but I am also interested in alternatives to the standard conference. If you have some ideas that should be added to this list or if you have had interesting alternative experiences to the standard conference/keynote experience please comment below, contact me by email, or chime in on Twitter.

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Peralta’s Equity Rubric

Peralta Community College District logoIf you haven’t seen this before, I think this is a pretty big deal: Peralta Community College’s Equity Rubric. I have been thinking about this for a while now. There are similar efforts around Edu. There are some that attempt to assess diversity and inclusion but they use terms that are not well defined or are vague. One diversity and inclusion rubric I read from the University of Rhode Island included “actions” such as “can understand” which would be hard to demonstrate, and used sociological references from 1967.

According to their website, the “Peralta Equity Rubric is a research-based course (re)design evaluation instrument designed to help online teachers make the online course experience more equitable for all students.”

The rubric’s criteria include:

  • addressing students’ access to technology and different types of support (both academic and non-academic);
  • increasing the visibility of the instructor’s commitment to inclusion;
  • addressing common forms of bias (e.g., image and representation bias, interaction bias);
  • helping students make connections (e.g., between course topics and their lives with the other students);
  • and following universal design for learning principles.

As a consultant and instructional designer – this is very interesting. These are actually things that we can DO to make the educational experience more inclusive. This is exactly what Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. was asking us at the Rendezvous 2018 conference: what is in your portfolio? We need to come up with ways to document and analyze our work toward inclusiveness rather than discuss what we think or believe. Developing rubrics like this is a concrete step in that direction.

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A Math Textbook for Adult Basic Education

I want to thank folks who contacted me about open textbooks for adult basic math. I taught the course last quarter with downloaded worksheets, old textbooks, and out-dated GED teaching materials. My class made it work – I turned it into a projects-based curriculum, and it was a lot of fun.

The next quarter I teach the class will be somewhat different because I have settled on a textbook: The Fundamentals of Mathematics by Burzynski & Ellis from OpenStax (Rice University). I like the text because it is clear, contains well laid out, step-by-step explanations, and it is very visual. According to the site: “The work text format gives the student space to practice mathematical skills with ready reference to sample problems. The chapters are divided into sections, and each section is a complete treatment of a particular topic, which includes the following features:

  • Section Overview
  • Sample Sets
  • Practice Sets
  • Section Exercises
  • Exercises for Review
  • Answers to Practice Sets

The chapters begin with Objectives and end with a Summary of Key Concepts, an Exercise Supplement, and a Proficiency Exam.”

Strangely enough, I could not find the book there from the front page, I had to Google it. I will have to email to see if the book is being retired or something. I down-loaded a pdf just in case.  The text is free, openly licensed, not behind a login or a paywall.

My main concern with textbooks is getting them into the hands of students in a timely fashion. Many of my students are in marginal economic circumstances. I would also like to break the book down into modules and put it up online. Both of these cases require an openly licensed book.

I looked at a number of sources – there are some great ones from the University of British Columbia but the illustrations were all of things like Canadian money. I looked at others that were teaching the right subjects but the audience was obviously 6th graders – lots of juggling clowns, etc.

If you have any other suggestions – feel free to send them my way OR if you have taught using this textbook, I would love to hear from you!

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The Commons and OER: Metaphors Matter

David Wiley in his blog, Iterating Towards Openness, wrote a post on the Commons metaphor and OER: “…is the commons the right metaphor for our work with OER? There are incredibly important – some might argue fundamental – differences between commons and OER.  I don’t know who these “some” are, but I feel that there is a fundamental connection between the idea of the Commons and OER. It is true that an open textbook is not the same as a resource like fish or land. A metaphor is not a literal, one to one relation. I think that the idea of the Commons regarding OER is one of principles. The shared principles between the traditional idea of the Commons and OER include:

  • Access
  • Sharing
  • Stewardship
  • Collective Non-Localized Governance

When we are using OER, maybe we should be asking ourselves how our use of a resource promotes these principles? We should be willing to look at what we are doing and ask questions: How is my use of this resource promoting its dissemination and use? How does putting a resource behind a paywall or even a password promote access to this resource? An open resource should be freely available: how are we sharing it? Does my practice look like responsible stewardship or merely self-interest?

How we decide also matters. Elinor Ostrom defined the Commons as “a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.” There are foundations, universities, and other non-profit organizations that help with this. But I have seen the mission of such organizations de-railed by discussions of “sustainability” which almost always lead to muddying the waters with corporate money. No, I don’t think corporations are evil in themselves, but it seems difficult for people to think clearly around large piles of cash. All of a sudden, maybe redefining “open” to include maximizing profits doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. Let’s change the mission from “free access to information” to “lower cost.” And then we can even go further and say “why should this be about money at all – maybe it is really about convenience and outcomes.” But I digress. My point is that definitions have consequences, and who shapes the definitions is important. 

Maybe the real question is why is the Commons metaphor so common? What are the consequences to the free access of knowledge if we see or define OER as merely commodities, separate from the means, ideas, principles, and organizations that created them?

There is an article in Wikipedia that discusses the idea of the Commons and its relation to knowledge as a social structure: “The connection between knowledge and commons may be made through identifying typical problems associated with natural resource commons, such as congestion, over-harvesting, pollution and inequities, which also apply to knowledge. Then, effective alternatives (community-based, non-private, non-state), in line with those of natural commons (involving social rules, appropriate property rights and management structures), solutions are proposed.” This is exactly what I hope happens with open education resources in general and open textbooks in particular. The best use cases for OER are coming out of the libraries and the universities: that is, the very communities that are developing the materials are the very ones that should be guiding these discussions – not private corporations with a literal and non-metaphorical invested interest.

The article in Wikipedia goes on to say that “…the commons metaphor is applied to social practice around knowledge. It is in this context that the present work proceeds, discussing the creation of depositories of knowledge through the organized, voluntary contributions of scholars (the research community, itself a social common), the problems that such knowledge commons might face (such as free-riding or disappearing assets), and the protection of knowledge commons from enclosure and commodification (in the form of intellectual property legislation, patenting, licensing and overpricing).”

Playing with and stretching definitions to fit a particular end or agenda is a dangerous game. Corporate or political money can make that game really attractive. But in the end, the long term weakening of a word (and then the idea) does nothing but closes access, prevents sharing, abdicates stewardship, and creates social structures around the resources where the only ones with a voice are those with the money. Collective governance over a resource can last hundreds maybe thousands of years – there are examples of this all around the world. But corporations get bought and sold all the time – that is often a sign of success or even the very definition of it. But then what happens to the resource then? Flatworld Knowledge was a great example of this. They openly licensed books and then changed the licenses. It was not other businesses that rescued that work but it was foundations and individuals that scrambled to re-host the materials elsewhere.

I am not against businesses taking a role per se. Flatworld Knowledge made important contributions to the discussion around Open Textbooks. Frischman says that one of his goals in his book, Governing Knowledge Commons (2014), “is to stake out knowledge commons as an independent, affirmative means for producing innovation and creativity and an important domain for research. In our view, commons are neither wholly independent of nor opposed to markets based on exclusive rights (whether formal or informal), nor are they subordinate to them.” Nothing is more subordinate than to let a corporation make the definitions around free access to any resource. 

If one wants to create a business to sell and repackage the works of others then do that. It is called a “private business” and there are plenty of models out there: businesses and publishers are already doing that. There is no judgement here – it is the American Way, but redefining “open” and “commons” to justify the use of those labels in a private corporation is not necessary and appears disingenuous at best.

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Week 4 EL30: Graphs and Decentering the Self

Indra's Net“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I am still reading the articles for our class, eLearning 3.0 and am not quite sure the value of thinking of my self as a decentered graph. Our assignment is:

Create an Identity Graph:

  • We are expanding on the marketing definition of an identity graph. It can be anything you like, but with one stipulation: your graph should not contain a self-referential node titled ‘me’ or ‘self’ or anything similar
  • Think of this graph as you defining your identity, not what some advertiser, recruiter or other third party might want you to define.
  • Don’t worry about creating the whole identity graph – focusing on a single facet will be sufficient. And don’t post anything you’re not comfortable with sharing. It doesn’t have to be a real identity graph, just an identity graph, however you conceive it.

I took my first stab at this what-was-my-original-face-before-I-was-born-type exercise and thought about how much of my thinking about my identity depends so much on what I do. The graph captures what I do but does not capture my relationships with other people, the depth of my social media relationships, the magazines and books that I read, philosophers, religions, my favorite beers, food, cooking, sports, or travel – all of which go into who I am. I am sure Google knows this already.

What the graph does capture is the interconnectedness of the roles – the over-lap in all the things I do and how dependent they all are on coffee.

A number of Europeans that I have met are insulted by this idea: that what we do for a living has much to do with who we are essentially as people. Sometimes the work that people do have little to do with aspirations and more to do with luck or other circumstances. Many Americans define themselves by work. It is a very Puritanical/Capitalist thing to do.

Image of a concept map that defines Geoff Cain by what he does

And then there’s the Joke via Kurt Vonnegut:
“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

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A conversation with Ben Werdmüller

I watched a video today for our eLearning 3.0 class – an interview between Stephen Downes (course facilitator) and Ben Werdmüller, cofounder of ELGG and Known.

This was an interesting conversation for myself because I am very interested in the Indie Web and wrestling what we can of the internet away from the corporations. In the spirit of this, I went with Reclaim Hosting (Hippie Hosting back in the day) to host my website, geoffcain.com, and I am also using WordPress. I would like to build out something here to help my family migrate into a post-Facebook world and get control back of their data. And by data, I mean their identities, stories, photos, etc. past, present, and future. I loved a few of the reasons Ben gave for the creation of the distributed web:

  • Ownership
  • Control
  • Audience
  • Career

These are all the reasons I am in this space. I want to own my data and identity, control my own data and internet space, develop my audience based on something besides ad revenue, and promote my professional life. I would also add how important privacy is now. I think it is obvious to everyone now that Zuckerberg and company are not our friends.

I find it hysterical when people freak out about the “dark web,” distributed web, or IPFS because criminals are using it. I think the internet now is a criminal enterprise with people buying and selling our privacy and our politics.

I like the attention to ethics that seems to be happening in this course. I think it helps that Downes has a background in philosophy. That is one of the biggest problems in tech (and many other sectors in our society) is that over-specialization leaves out ethics and thinking about the long-term consequences (and unintended consequences) of the choices that we make when building internet tools and platforms.

I found this video very inspirational and I am looking forward to learning more about distributed web spaces and how we can use them not only for education but to get my family to create our own social network!

 

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Some Thoughts on OER-Enabled Pedagogy

“It is the essence of certainty to be established only with reservations.”  
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Definitions matter. In the September issue of the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning vol. 19, no. 4, David Wiley and John Hilton published a paper “Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy.” As a humble practitioner of education, I do not find the term or the definition useful or accurate. It is a narrow definition that only further commodifies education.

The term “OER-Enabled Pedagogy” is not useful because we already have a term “open pedagogy.” For myself, it is not a vague term. There are years of research on open pedagogy. Yes, the term is used in many ways but so is the word “open” and the word “pedagogy.” As discussed in the Open Pedagogy Notebook ““Open Pedagogy” as a named approach to teaching is nothing new. Scholars such as Catherine Cronin, Katy Jordan, Vivien Rolfe,  and Tannis Morgan have traced the term back to early etymologies. Morgan cites a 1979 article by the Canadian Claude Paquette: “Paquette outlines three sets of foundational values of Open Pedagogy, namely: autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.” I think it is important that the term “Open Pedagogy’ remains broad because it can then account for a wide variety of practices. David Wiley himself has contributed significantly to the discussion of Open Pedagogy in the past – I particularly appreciate his discussions contra the “disposable assignment.”

OER-Enabled Pedagogy implies that there is a “Commercial Textbook-Enabled Pedagogy” and no matter what Cengage or any other publisher tells you, there is no such thing. A textbook is not a course. Education, real education, is not a commodity. The term “OER-Enabled Pedagogy” focuses on the object: “OER,” not teaching and learning, which is pedagogy. There are OER-enabled practices, just as there are face-to-face classroom practices or online teaching practices. Of course, my definition of teaching or learning has a lot in common with Grotowski’s definition of theater in “Towards a Theater of the Poor”: theater starts with two people in chairs facing one another; everything else is window dressing. Basically theater occurs where ever two or more are gathered. Things like sets in the end are extraneous. Theatre, like the teaching and learning process, is a series of choices about authenticity, communication, and expression.

I can practice Open Education without an OER and without discussing permissions. There are many educational practices that do not rely on copyright or OER, and yet, I would define them as part of Open Pedagogy. This is why I say the definition is too narrow. My students and I have a discussion about the impact of tariffs, they go out and scour the newspapers and journals and come back with their thoughts and reactions. They then write letters to congressmen. They do something about what they are thinking about. I am oversimplifying my assignments but I long ago learned that if you want to keep the curriculum fresh, don’t rely on a two to five year old textbook to keep your students abreast of what is happening in the world. Why would I limit my definition of Open Pedagogy to how I relate to a commodity or an object? I would be happy to discuss how OER can enable my teaching practices but OER is not a pedagogy, not even the permissions that OER allows is a pedagogy. Someone can use OER, realize the full potential of the permissions in their course, and still serve up a bad course.

One of the ironies of this is that I participated in a MOOC that had as one of its outcomes to come up with some examples of student work that was enabled by OER in order to come up with a definition of OER-Enabled Pedagogy. Even back then I was not really impressed with the idea because the work did not include discussions of engagement or interactivity, which from research in online teaching and learning, we know are some of the factors in student success in face-to-face or online learning. It is funny that the world of instructional design and OER is so small that I might have contributed in a tiny way to this.  

The fact that “Open Pedagogy” has a complicated and multifarious definition and a past is a good thing. It means that as educators we are on to something. The defining and redefining hone the thoughts about what Open Pedagogy is or could be. That is what academics are supposed to do. I don’t object to neologisms per se or “OER-Enabled Pedagogy” itself – I just find it odd when someone has to invent a word to describe something that people have already been doing while using a term that seemed adequate to describe the practice: “Open Pedagogy.”

I don’t see how this term actually clarifies anything. If you see it in any other way than an attempt to further control the narrative around OER and rewrite history, or if you feel that education should be transformative and not a transaction, please feel free to comment below. 

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The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks

Image of the cover of The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks

The Rebus Community has come out with their guide to publishing OER called “The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Textbooks (so far).” I like the model of the Rebus Community: they are a foundation which means their survival as a business does not depend on the adoption of their methods, platforms, etc. ( or whatever currently passes for “sustainability”). Also, as a foundation, their work won’t be sold to another corporation who will inevitably engage in further “open washing.” I especially appreciate their notes about contributors and participants in open textbook projects: 

“In our experience, teams around open textbook or OER projects often also include:

  • Project leaders
  • Contributors at all scales, be it a person writing five chapters, or someone proofreading just one
  • Students (graduate and undergraduate)
  • Advisors or some form of wise counsel
  • OER champions or advocates
  • Institutional supporters, such as instructional designers, OER librarians, CLT staff, etc.
  • Interested observers
  • Potential adopters
  • Community members”

You can read more about this great work from their press release“The Guide represents an important moment in the evolution of the Rebus Community, a culmination of two years of great, collaborative work. Moving forward, it will serve as a living repository of collective knowledge, equipping those who want to publish open textbooks with the resources they need. Just as the forum and Projects platform provide the tools that can make the community more self-sustaining, the Guide will help build long-term capacity. In turn, we can dedicate more time to refining and extending this infrastructure, and enabling more project teams, anywhere in the world, to create and share OER.”

This is a truly sustainable model: make OER part of the academic practice of the institution. Definitely worth a look for your post-Halloween reading!

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Week 0.5 – eLearning 3.0

I just finished watching Stephen Downes’ talk on Web3 technologies and their implications for learning. I am very interested in what Stephen had to say about technologies being used to build consensus and decision making. I think a shared, distributed web can facilitate that. We will need to do more I think than just “build it and they will come.” I know that Stephen knows this – he had enough in this one presentation to spark a dozen other presentations which is what this post is. I am hoping that new technologies will help change how we think of teaching and learning as well as problem-solving and decision making. 

I am teaching Social Studies for Adult Basic Education at Green River College here in Washington. My previous work in teaching English composition had me assigning a lot of position papers and debate type assignments – very traditional stuff. In this political climate, I am not interested in that, and the more I look at how we worked before in English departments the more I see that it is a part of the problem. Most of those kinds of assignments (writing papers on gun control, the death penalty, etc.) seem to promote a binary view of problems: one can be right or wrong. I wanted to move away from that and there are ways of thinking and learning that go beyond that, the Toulmin Method for instance focuses on whether an argument is warranted or not – what support is there for the argument that can be a helpful stepping stone away from arguments solely driven by person beliefs. I was still unsatisfied with this, but then I started reading about deliberation versus debate.

Values and Public Policy is a good example of this. They are a great resource for curricula that starts with the news and current events. I start the students off talking about values and Maslow’s hierarchy. We then talk about world problems attempting to get to the bottom of why people are making the decisions they are making and where could we help discover common ground. We spend a lot of time talking about the differences between deliberation and debate. 

Lets connect!

Basically what I am looking for in this class is to figure out how these new technologies are going to change the way we think about teaching and learning or how they will shape future pedagogy. How do you think Web 3.0 will change the way we teach? I have already seen a lot happen with open pedagogy. So if any instructional designer or teacher would like to connect sometime on this topic, let me know – maybe we can set up a Google Hangout.

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Week 0: Seimens and Downes on AI

It was good to see Stephen Downes and George Siemens sitting down together and talking again for our Education 3.0 MOOC. It felt just like old times (CCK08, CCK11, etc.). I can’t really say what they do for one another exactly, they seem to play off one another well – but listening to them together has always brought about great moments of catalyst. I read something in Quintilian the other day that seemed to capture something of the experience for me: “…learning does take something away – as a file takes something from a rough surface, or a whetstone from a blunt edge, or age from wine – but it takes away faults, and the work that has been polished by literary skills is diminished only in so far as it is improved.” Both of them have challenged me. Their ideas have asked me to sharpen my own and to refine my own thinking about knowledge, pedagogy, learning and thinking. Their recent discussion on AI was no exception.

Image of a brain with a digital half and a fluid half
Does knowledge need a knower?

I have been thinking about AI almost all of my life. Back in the late 80’s I was at Berkeley as an undergrad and took Hubert Dreyfus’ class on Existentialism. It was a profound experience. I did not like the course delivery at all but Dreyfus’ lectures had me on the edge of my seat and everything we did in the class felt immediate and very personal. For myself, that is the nature of exploring philosophy. I find nothing abstract about it at all. There are abstract philosophers and philosophies but I have never had much time for them. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and, later, Wittgenstein and semiotics; all had a deeper resonance with my experience than formalistic philosophers. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, at least what I know of them through Gia-fu Feng’s translations, are also at the core of my experience. I would say “thinking” here but I have to admit – I am not really an academic by profession, at least by any traditional definition of the term. My “experience” includes thinking but it also includes what I do, how I engage with others and the world, and my creative expression of that whether it is writing, drawing, making music, having a damn good conversation over a coffee, or implementing shenanigans on the internet.

In the course of hanging out at Berkeley, I also managed to read some of Dreyfus’ work on computers and Artificial Intelligence. I found the work profound – profoundly annoying. My take-away from his positions were that one is not intelligent unless one is “embodied.” Computers are not embodied; therefore, they can’t be intelligent. I agree with a many of his premises – I consider myself an AI skeptic: the mind is not a machine with a series of on/off switches; intelligence is not a set of formal rules; all knowledge cannot be formalized. I don’t think that what we call thinking, knowledge, or knowing can be contained in a formal set of rules or an algorithm. But later, Dreyfus went on to attempt to apply this thinking to online learning. Online learning, according to Dreyfus, is an oxymoron because learning requires “embodiment” and the physical presence of a “master” (fully tenured).  

We can avoid a lot of philosophical hand-wringing by all of us admitting that essentially we do not know what human thought is much less have a good working definition of intelligence that would allow us to replicate it.

Before I ran into the ideas around Connectivism, I described my understanding of pedagogy as Constructivist rather than Behaviorist. Connectivism, in the end, is going to account for more of what is happening in the world than just about any other approach, but Constructivism was a part of just about every education program I have been a part of – that doesn’t make it “right” but it informs a lot of work including my own: Constructivism says that all knowledge is a compilation of human-made constructions not the neutral discovery of an objective truth. At the heart of my problems with Behaviorist thought and pedagogy is Objectivism. Objectivism is concerned with the “object of our knowledge,” while constructivism emphasizes how we construct knowledge. Constructivism proposes definitions for knowledge and truth based on inter-subjectivity instead of the classical objectivity we find in behaviorist approaches. Constructivism is based on viability instead of “The Truth.”  Where I politely disagree with Constructivism is in its belief (and that is what it is) in objectivity—that constructs that can be validated through experimentation. And here is where I see Connectivism to be the evolution of thinking about Constructivism – the compilation process of knowledge is more important than the knowledge – or at least as important. The “human-made constructions” rely on our connections with others, with ideas experience, and knowledge in other networks. There are some ideas within Connectivism that I find troubling or at least annoying: “Learning may reside in non-human appliances” for instance. For myself, information resides in non-human appliances but learning is a kind of knowledge and knowledge requires a knower. But that is just me.

So what is AI then? AI like most tools are extensions of human abilities. It can be a very good extension. A computer can beat a human at chess because, unlike the human mind, chess is a set of rules and algorithms. I have yet to meet a computer that wanted to play chess. I have yet to meet a computer that invented an interesting game. This is something that AI should be able to do because after all, a game is just a set of rules and algorithms. When a grandmaster plays chess it is interesting. The grandmaster is not just drawing on experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of chess openings, but is fighting emotions, memories, distractions, pressure, and history. That is interesting. To say that a computer can play chess is a bit of an absurdity. It is even more absurd to claim that it is therefore an advance in artificial intelligence – it is an advance in accessing and processing data, nothing more. That is a good thing – processing data in new and powerful ways can help us do things. George pointed out that the computer is better at diagnosing some cancers than a doctor  – we want this. This doesn’t mean someone should quit medicine. We need doctors to help define the challenges we want our tools to solve.

We have a lot to learn from the field of AI. There are going to be great advances in many fields, including education, from this work. I welcome that. But we risk something when we call AI “intelligence” – we risk having someone in authority say “well, the computer knows best, after all, who am I to argue with a super-intelligence that can calculate 200 petaflops per second and has access to all the world’s data? I guess we push the button after all.” My fear is that our faith, and that is what it is, that AI is intelligence rather than a tool, an extension of the human, absolves us from making ethical decisions that computers are incapable of making.

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