Artificial intelligence inserting doubt into the relationship between educators and learners

As the various responses are washing over us in education about the implications of artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT, I’ve thinking about its consequences for the relational aspects of education.

Just as deep fake video, AI generated images and even naturalistic voice platforms make us second-guess the veracity and provenance of what we are seeing or hearing, human-like text generation has inserted a doubt into our minds. The first doubt is of the educator of their own skills; can they discern what is student-generated work and what is not? The second is the more obvious question of whether the work they are spending time grading and giving feedback upon is the words, thoughts and accurate reflection of a human’s learning. In combination, these doubts therefore become present whenever a lecturer sets about the task of grading and/or giving feedback on student work: has artificial intelligence has been used or not? So the potential impact on students, who are putting in time and their original work, is their work is, by default, potentially being treated with distrust from the start.

Robot
Photo by Alex Knight on Pexels.com

This leads to the other area of doubt, which is on the learner’s part. They may doubt that their work or effort is being taken at face value as their own effort. Secondly, taken to the next logical level, they may doubt that any personalised feedback and grades they seemingly receive from a human educator may in fact have been generated by AI. This ‘weaponisation’ of AI can be by both sides looking for efficiency, or simply a crutch to prop up a lingering doubt that their own work is really any better than AI (yes, academics have imposter syndrome as much as students).

While I don’t fully subscribe to the thesis from Adrian Wallbank’s piece in The Times Higher that AI should be resisted and kept completely away from the classroom (good luck policing that), I agree that assessment should be used as a process for students to reflect on their learning:

“What I suggest ought to be assessed (and which helps us navigate some of the issues posed by ChatGPT) is a record of the student’s personal, but academically justified, reflections, arguments, philosophising and negotiations. Student work would then be a genuine, warts-and-all record of the process of learning, rather than the submission of a “performative” product or “right argument”, as one of the students in my research so aptly put it. This would enable our students to become better thinkers.”

Ben Thomson, the excellent technology journalist (another sector and profession that is having an existential moment of crisis about AI), also contributes a parent’s view of the education situation and says the new skills learners could develop are editing and verifying information. It’s not a bad point and perhaps an obvious end-point for the information abundance students live within now and in the future. Seeking out the human skills needed to work with AI-generated content and assessing those skills is a good way to go.

As I gather advice and resources for colleagues to help us mull over the short-term and long-term strategies we need to employ, I don’t think I can resist any longer the thought that this is a game-changing moment for education. In a YouTube video, from  in Charles Knight, he puts it well: the economic model upon which higher education has be operating – that is, the time-pressured systems of assessment for staff and students, relying often on precarious labour – has left itself vulnerable to gamification. I’d argue that gamification of that system is now in the hands of everyone, staff and students. Knight rightly calls that now is the time for appropriate resourcing of staff workloads to enable them to design assessments and time to grade them. I can only add to that, investing in people – those who teach and support learners – is more important than paying money for technologies to catch people out. As many before me have observed, the latter is an arms race that cannot be won. Teaching and learning is relational and it’s through prioritising that with time, money and status will higher education be equipped to deal with the doubt and distrust inserting itself between educators and students.

Trouble ahead for digital education? The risks of forgetting and distancing of education from the digital

I’ve had a rising sense of unease in the last few months about the future role of the digital in education generally. I have a hunch that everyone feels they have ‘been there, done that’. But have they really? Even as mantras like “we’re not going back to what was before” are being repeated, I’m not sure that makes it true. I think we might be reverting to the familiar and I think there is quite a bit which could be lost as a result.

I’m not an advocate for using technology for the sake of it, but in the past few years digital practices have permeated learning and teaching, throwing up fascinating results. Mainstreaming accessibility and (some specific) inclusion practices is one. The world of assessment, especially exams, has been turned upside down. Student and staff have increased digital confidence and selected skills have improved significantly.

I think the badmouthing of ‘online learning’ in society (in journalism and politics especially) has made it difficult for universities to declare they are building their capacity in this mode, especially for undergraduate teaching. Avoiding saying ‘online learning’ has also resulted in a very fluid situation with terminology, making it even harder to pin down what is being discussed.

There is also a reduction of digital education to effectively mean ‘online lectures’, often through Zoom, which was a dominant teaching approach during emergency remote teaching. Needless to say, this is one of many possible approaches, and at that, it’s not one I would say delivers anything different pedagogically. For flexibility and accessibility, yes, it has benefits, but not much value added for learning (except where is no longer a ‘lecture’). Digital education is so much more than online lectures. Where it can really excel is as space for agency and empowerment of learners, but that doesn’t make headlines.

I am hearing from colleagues across higher education institutions that going ‘back to campus’ is the driving message. It’s understandable; we’ve all missed the buzz of being co-present in the same space and the optics of looking like you are teaching ‘on the cheap’ isn’t a good look.

20130116 Time by kbrookes CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’ve been using the pendulum swing as an analogy for what is happening; a short-term re-engaging with on-campus teaching at the expense of thinking about the digital, but it will settle in a year or two somewhere between the two. But I’m not so sure now. When working from crisis to crisis, our brains don’t allow us to use our long-term, learning memory. Meaning much of what was learned by educators in the past few years will be lost. But worse than that, our personal experiences will be overwritten by the narrative that ‘online’ was awful. So opportunities will be lost to experiment, to fail and learn. Why, when we are pouring our energy back into face-to-face, would we think to explore gentle and inclusive digital practices like asynchronous tasks, student choice in modalities of engagement, on-campus use of technologies etc.?

I hope I’m wrong. I know there are pockets of long-term change out there, but I’m not seeing it mainstream.

I’d welcome your thoughts.

In praise of pausing: “Curation and collaboration as activism: emerging critical practices of #FemEdTech” Paper published today IWD 2022

There’s a relentlessness to what needs to be done regarding inequality. There is so much to be thought about and done.

We can take action of course, but what I learned through the wisdom of my co-authors is action also requires periods of non-action. Intentional pausing when we lie dormant, gathering energy from our environment so that, when the time comes, we can act again.

I’ve been relatively quiet over the past 6 or so months. I’ve been busy, but I’ve pulled in my tentacles a bit from the constant connectivity of certain places like Twitter. I’ve had to because, to be honest, the past couple of years have burned me out. I’ve not reached a state of collapse, but I’ve been close. This year I’m trying to find some balance by pausing some activities. And I refuse to feel guilty about it, because it is necessary.

The authors’ Thinking Environment, January 2021 (not pictured Giulia Forsythe)

There is so much more I could write about the amazing experience of working with co-authors who I admire so much: Helen Beetham, Frances Bell, Lou Mycroft and Giulia Forsythe. However, I started this blog post 5 hours ago and I’ve been interrupted by a sick child, a school run, a sick partner, work emails, Teams messages, the shopping being delivered and, of course, the cat.

So 250 words is pretty good for now. I’ll act again, just not yet.

Why not just read the paper itself? I attach the Accepted Manuscript below.

Being an Effective Learner

This is one of the tasks I crowd-sourced from Twitter (see below) for a short project for students called ‘Step Away from your Screen’, funded by the Resilient Learning Communities Enhancement Theme at Edinburgh Napier University. The image is CC BY 4.0 and available below as a PDF or image to download and reuse.

Being an Effective learner

Use a Sketchbook and pens

Turn to a new page
Turn it so that is is landscape with a blank page opposite. 
Draw an oval containing the words 
"what interferes with me learning effectively".
Draw 7 lines radiating from the oval. 

Draw
At the end of each line, sketch something that represents what hinders your learning.
Add words or images on how each make you feel. 


The opposite page
On the opposite page, draw another oval, this time containing 
“what helps me learn”.
Add 7 lines radiating from it.


Draw
At the end of each line, sketch something that represents what helps you learn. 
Add words or images on how each make you feel. 

Reflect
Now look over both pages and reflect. 
How can you make more space for the things that help, and less space for those that hinder?

Many thanks to Sally Brown and Vikki Burns for sharing their ideas so generously.

School of Computing 3rd September 2020: Resources and References

Here are my keynote slides and the Mentimeter responses.

Resources (Sorry, these are mostly for Edinburgh Napier staff only)

The Digital Support Partnership 12 Principles for Online Learning and Teaching

Example week by week module planner

Touch Point Module surveys

Moodle Help! How to I teach online? Community (Self enrol)

Digital Tools webinars Tues-Fri 12pm daily

Help with Teaching Online – Q&A (Mondays)

References

Bali, Maha (2017) ‘Inequalities within Digital Literacies’in  https://library.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2017/8/2017nmcstrategicbriefdigitalliteracyheii.pdf

Berg, Maggie, (2013) The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

Beetham, Helen (2017), Digital literacy and democracy, https://helenbeetham.com/2017/02/22/digital-literacy-and-democracy/

Eng, Norman (2020) What Frustrates Students Most About Online Classes (Covid-19 Edition) https://normaneng.org/what-frustrates-students-most-about-online-classes/

Farrell, O., Brunton, J. (2020). A balancing act: a window into online student engagement experiences. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 17, 25 https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-020-00199-x

Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust and Bond, (2020) The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning, Educause Review, https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. New York and London: Routledge.

Naffi, N., Davidson, A.-L., Snyder, D. M., Kaufman, R., Clark, R. E., Patino, A., Gbetoglo, E., Duponsel, N., Savoie, C., Beatty, B., Wallace, G., Fournel, I., Ruby, I., & Paquelin, D. (2020, August). Disruption in and by Centres for Teaching and Learning During the Covid-19 Pandemic Leading the Future of Higher Ed. International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of AI and Digital Technology (OBVIA). https://www.docdroid.net/L0khasC/whitepaper-disruption-in-and-by-centres-for-teaching-and-learning-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-leading-the-future-of-higher-ed-21-08-2020-pdf

Neroni, J., Meijs, C., Gijselaers, H. J. M., Kirschner, P. A., & Groot, R. H. M. De. (2019). Learning and Individual Di ff erences Learning strategies and academic performance in distance education. Learning and Individual Differences, 73(February 2018), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2019.04.007

Stanford, Daniel  (2020) Videoconferencing Alternatives: How Low-Bandwidth Teaching Will Save Us All https://www.iddblog.org/videoconferencing-alternatives-how-low-bandwidth-teaching-will-save-us-all/

Swansea Academy of Learning and Teachin, ‘ABC at Swansea University’, https://salt.swan.ac.uk/abc-learning-design/

UCL Designing programmes and modules with ABC curriculum design https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/case-studies/2018/jun/designing-programmes-and-modules-abc-curriculum-design

The dilemma of academic promotion

Last month I wrote about the idea of talking opening about engaging with the academic promotion process at my institution.

There are so many of tools of HE management, like yearly reviews and promotions, which I can see have good intentions; to capture and reward work which is ‘good’. Yet, like asking students to sit exams which test them at how good they are at sitting exams, it does feel like I am being tested with how good I am at talking about my work, rather than doing it. This feels like a strange use of energy when I see the purpose of my role is to meet the needs of my colleagues and students which are so acute going into this next academic year.

A part of the teaching and learning promotion pathway at my institution is having external impact; changing the way others work.

At a time when my to-do list is overwhelming and my caring responsibilities are bordering on negligence, the idea of pursuing commitments to work externally is, well, what’s a bigger word than overwhelming?

My external network has been a lifeline to me through years of professional isolation, my PhD and unemployment. Since Covid-19, it has provided me with connections to people and ideas which have made me be able to address challenges in my own institution, and so much more. I have connections to people who I respect immensely and inspire me. When the external networks have spilled over into ‘real life’, it has always been joyful and rewarding.

But I feel I have taken from my external network more than I have contributed.

Frequently I have to take a step back from involved Twitter conversations. I have to make judgements about whether my email, colleagues or students, or child or partner in the room deserve more uninterrupted attention than my phone. I like to take time to think about what I want to say and I don’t work well when switching between multiple tasks. I’m not a natural ‘fit’ with this medium.

My dilemma is this: I owe my network so much, but I need to start asking them (you) for favours. If you asked me to speak in the past, I’m going to be asking you for evidence of the impact of that event. I’ll be putting it out there that I’m available for speaking and keynotes at conferences. There are cruder, more transactional ways of putting it, but I’ll be asking to be considered. This is deeply uncomfortable to me.

I love visiting institutions and having conversations with colleagues. I enjoy speaking with any size group, that’s not the problem. My problem is that I am worried that this will change the nature of my relations with others; does my motivation for making these connections now have something individualistic, even selfish behind it? The only way I can see of trying to subvert this is by being open about it and about this process.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has faced similar dilemmas when applying for promotion.

So, I’m available, I’ll be in touch and, in return, I’ll keep talking about it here. Does that sound like a deal?

Academic Promotion: what would happen if we were open about it?

So you work really hard, you get some qualifications, a fixed-term post or two, a PhD, publications, numerous job interviews and then you land a role. A role you could see yourself sticking with for a while. Then the workload hits and you are paddling to keep your head above water, all while still learning the idiosyncrasies of your new institution AND developing then teaching courses from scratch. But you are still lucky, right?

Yes, of course you are, you have a job, a purpose, a future career.

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

We know that an insidious mental health issue with social media is comparison; comparing our worst selves to the highly-doctored versions of others’s ‘best selves’. In academic roles it’s impossible not to compare ourselves to highly-efficient, work-all-hours-of-the-day, fingers-in-every-pie colleagues. “I’ll never be able to do what they do” is a common refrain in my head. Yet, when I think about it, colleagues have said they don’t know how I’ve been working this current pace and level for months. (I should add a disclaimer to the effect that the current mode of higher education aligns with my research, passion and expertise, so when I found myself in a position to help, there really were no options, though I did worry about the future standards I was setting for myself and others.) This type of comparison is still insidious and damaging ; it others colleagues and makes our own career journeys seem like failures.

I’ve been advised by line managers to consider applying for promotion next year. It’s an involved process and I’m not convinced I will have sufficient evidence to make a case, though I am getting mentoring from generous and supportive colleagues.

Yet I’m uncomfortable with it. It’s not just the ‘singing my own praises’ and re-packaging of my work, but the way it feels, somehow, that I shouldn’t talk about it openly.

Thankfully, my institution says it does not have a limit on promotions, nor is it a competitive process. It also has a teaching and learning pathway for promotions, though obviously this still includes some publishing. It does not have very many successful applicants though, certainly not in comparison to the research track. I’ve been astounded to learn really impressive colleagues were not successful.

So what if I were to write and talk openly about my engagement with the promotion process, whether I am successful or not? Would this be of help to colleagues internally and externally?

I know there is risk in doing this, because there is a danger that by making it public anything I do could be seen as selfishly looking for evidence for promotion. “Can we really trust what she is saying?”, well, would it help if I try to be transparent about it?

My next post will address the very conundrum I’m faced with by putting this ‘out there’.

Forum theatre and digital education dilemmas: let’s improvise!

I ran a workshop yesterday at the Association for Learning Technology’s annual conference in Edinburgh. The title was the same as this post. I’ve copied below the abstract for the workshop. A number of people have expressed an interest in doing something similar in their institutions, so I am making my scripts and own workshop notes available for anyone to re-use and re-mix.

Forum Theatre Workshop Notes ALTC 2019

Forum Theatre Scripts Digital education dilemmas ALTC 2019

Let me know how you get on and if you want any help, please get in touch.

 

Session Description
This will be an interactive workshop where participants will be invited to join in with discussion, games and short improvisations.

There is an increasing need for informed debate about the unintended consequences of the use of digital technologies for teaching and learning. Learning analytics, artificial intelligence, algorithmic bias and platform surveillance are problems with which learning technologists and educators must wrestle (Williamson, 2015, 2017). Yet, what agency do educators and those who support them have over the technologies they choose to use? How can, for example, individuals act with integrity when institutions mandate the use of platforms which commodify student data (Morris & Stommel, 2017)? And for those who work in the open, how can they guard against disadvantaging those who may not have the same access or privileges? These issues inevitably have an impact on learners and learning.

Forum theatre was established by Boal (1985) as way to draw an audience into debates by using short plays as provocations. When audience members see a situation they think could be handled differently, they intervene and change the course of a story. This workshop will explore a series of brief scenarios where educators and learners are faced with problematic situations concerning the use of digital technology for teaching and learning. The purpose of the workshop is for participants to work together to explore alternative approaches.

Forum theatre has been used in contexts to stimulate debate about difficult situations, often focusing on power inequalities, oppression and the importance of dialogue. By directly intervening, participants can bring their own knowledge and experience to bear to the scene. Forum theatre is suitable for complex situations where there is no one solution and the ensuing discussion is often the most generative part of the session. No prior performing experience is necessary.

Teaching is often described as performance. Many performers within theatre would dispute that performance is an act of concealment, but more a process of self-revelation which is predicated on authenticity (Brook, 1996). We teach with our ‘whole selves’ and this workshop will introduce playful ways of exploring pressing issues around the use of digital technologies for teaching and learning. For one hour, participants will be invited to forget any preconceptions of what to expect from a conference workshop and co-create some serious play.

Session content
This will take the form of a theatre workshop involving warm-up exercises and games, script reading and improvisation. There are no requirements for any technology/BOYD but a room with a flexible open space is necessary e.g. it can be cleared of furniture to accommodate a performance area. Video recording may therefore be difficult, and may inhibit participants. Photography, however, would be fine.

References
Brook, P., (1996), The empty space: A book about the theatre: Deadly, holy, rough, immediate. Simon and Schuster.

Boal, A., (1985), Theatre of the Oppressed, trans. Charles A. and Maria-Odilia Leal McBride (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1979).

Morris, S. M., & Stommel, J., (2017), A Guide for Resisting EdTech: The Case Against Turnitin. Hybrid Pedagogy, 15. http://hybridpedagogy.org/resisting-edtech/

Williamson, B., (2015), Coding/learning: Software and digital data in education: A Report from the ESRC Code Acts in Education seminar series. Stirling. https://codeactsineducation.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/coding_learning_-_software_and_digital_data_in_education.pdf

Williamson, B., (2017), Learning in the ‘platform society’: Disassembling an educational data assemblage. Research in Education, 98(1), pp. 59–82 DOI: 10.1177/0034523717723389.

Building Learning Communities Through Building in a Virtual World (Minecraft)…and then breaking it

On Wednesday I ran two workshops for Edinburgh Napier staff on Minecraft. It was billed as a hands-on exploration with a view to thinking about how it could be used for learning and teaching. As it happened, it was an experience in how to manage vastly different skill levels where some participants jumped in confident in their ability to navigate a 3D world, while others struggled to orientate themselves. Feedback mentioned feeling quite uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. This was not accidental, as I was hoping for participants to experience what it is like as an inexpert learner in a wholly disorienting space. I was also hoping that they would collaborate in the world to do tasks together. I think I achieved the former, while the latter was less in evidence, although there was very lively conversations between participants in real life as they were sitting side-by-side in a computer lab.

I had designed the world with escape rooms where participants had to work together to

hello

Unexpected vandalism

break free to an area where they could do unstructured building. Education Edition Minecraft includes Scratch-like coding plug-ins and in the afternoon workshop, one enthusiastic participant managed to overwrite the escape rooms with huge letters made out of grass and earth spelling out ‘Hello’. It was chaotic and yet another lesson that I can’t always control what learning happens.

Yesterday I spoke about the workshops during our Learning and Teaching conference. Here  are the slides I used including responses from staff on some questions I posed about the conference.

Here is the blurb for my talk:

Drawing on the workshops during the research and teaching day, this session will explore how the ‘LEGO-like’ building functions of Minecraft can allow users to manipulate their environment, thereby developing skills in design and creativity. Doing so collaboratively necessitates communication and co-operation, enabling the building of social presence and relationships, an area notoriously difficult to achieve in distance and online learning. By working through tasks as novices, the workshop participants experienced what it is like to be a beginner learner and the dis-ease and emotional responses this can create in the individual. Mistakes are inevitable and wholly necessary to learn how to use the various tools in Minecraft. The 3D environment also prompts questions around accessibility and inaccessibility, including how some digital technologies can be disadvantageous for some while inclusive for others. Lessons from the workshops will be shared, including what it was like to learn, collaborate and ‘fail’ in an unfamiliar environment and how this could inform planning and design of learning for students. It will end with a short plenary discussing experiences, drawing on all the sessions during the day.

Key literature
Sharples, M., De Roock, R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C.-K., Mcandrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M. and Wong, L. H. (2016) Innovating Pedagogy 2016 Exploring new forms of teaching, learning and assessment, to guide educators and policy makers. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.20677.04325.