#futureofwork

Guest post from Rachael Mann

As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “…but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”, to which I would like to now respectfully add, “and technology.”

The dreaded circle of death can take many forms. My love-hate relationship with technology is relatable with everyone it seems. We’ve all been there- the projector isn’t working, the internet is stalling, or in my most recent scenario, repeated laptop failure. While working on the final chapters for my new book earlier this Spring, a message popped up saying that my power was low and to reconnect to a charger before my laptop went to sleep. I quickly went to plug in my laptop only to realize it was already plugged in. I tried a different outlet, but the message persisted. After trying different outlets in another room, I realized I was going to have to make a quick run to the Apple store to purchase a new charger.

The person assisting me at Apple suggested that I set up an appointment for later in the day to troubleshoot the problem and see if there was another underlying issue. The technician assured me that it was a routine check and that there was nothing to worry about after I expressed my fear that I would lose the data that wasn’t backed up. The “routine check-up” escalated to three technicians working to solve the problem as now the login screen wouldn’t take me back to my home screen. Five anxiety-ridden hours later, I was finally able to leave the store with my MacBook working like a brand new computer again.

The following Monday, due to a teacher shortage, I received a request to do a presentation on one of our campuses. Since most of my work is with teachers, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the afternoon in a high school classroom working directly with students. I rushed over and arrived at the same time that the students were piling in. I quickly set up my laptop and connected the projector, only to see that the dreaded message that had popped up at the Apple store only a few days earlier was once again on my screen.

Fortunately, the students had assignments to do for their IT class and were able to work independently. The IT specialist for the campus came to my assistance, but when he saw the message and realized that it was a personal computer, not one of the school’s devices, he could not offer his services after all.

With the students still working on their own, I took the window of time as an opportunity to call the Apple hotline. After 30 minutes of troubleshooting and still no progress, I resolved myself to the fate of spending another full evening at the Apple store. As I walked away from the laptop to see if any of thee students needed assistance, but a student who had been observing my challenge piped up and said, “Miss, I am a certified technician, can I look at your computer?”.

Several students protested, saying don’t let Peter work on it, he breaks everything! At this point, iI figured it couldn’t get any worse, and I was intrigued by this student’s curiosity and confidence, so I agreed to let Peter help me.

After a few clicks, other students began to gather around. What started as a failed attempt on my part had spontaneously turned into a class project. Some of Peter’s classmates began looking up solutions while others were yelling out commands. At one point, multiple kids were saying, “No, not the Kernel!. I thought this was a new slang word from this younger generation and told them to keep it down, later learning that “the Kernel” was actually a term for a code that he was using. They were speaking a foreign language to me!

As Peter continued to troubleshoot, another screen showed that it wasn’t bootable. From the other student’s expressions, I knew this was a bad thing.

At this point, I began mentally preparing myself for purchasing a new laptop and hoping that I had saved my presentation for Pennsylvania, where I was traveling to the next day, in iCloud. After a short time, Peter asked me to log in. He had finally fixed what the tech specialist at his own school, Apple phone support, and several Apple techs in the store, could not accomplish. My evening was once again free and my trip to Pennsylvania would not incur the price of a new computer to deliver my presentation.

This is what Career and Technical Education is all about. Giving students real-world experiences and skills that will serve them as they decide to move forward on their career path.

I asked Peter about his plans after graduation and he shared that he may get another certification, join the military, or pursue a career in cybersecurity. I have since learned that he was offered a job by one an advisory council member from the program and is now employed locally by Code Ninjas.

Regardless of the paths that his classmates choose, at its’ very core, nearly every career imaginable is a technology career. While it may seem that I am overstating, as Peter Diamandis said in Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, “Right now, there is another asteroid striking our world, already extinguishing the large and lumbering, already clearing a giant path for the quick and nimble. Our name for this asteroid is “exponential technology,” and even if this name is unfamiliar, its impact is not.”

To be successful in any field now requires having a strong technology skill set. This program will equip students with that critical tool.

Early on when the internet was just beginning to explode, it was common to hear professionals typing away on their trusty typewriter and stating, “this internet thing is just a fad”. Fast forward to a mere two decades later and “this internet thing” has not only proven that it is here to stay, it has now become a way of life. Technology will advance, whether we agree to join or not. Those who decide to keep pace will own the future.

Now, the greatest challenges facing the world can also be viewed as the greatest opportunities for our students in classrooms in every corner of the world. As educators, it is our privilege, as well as our responsibility, to give students the opportunity to start tackling big problems now, problems that could lead to initial failure, but ultimately lead them to their own success – which in this case, became my success as well.

 

Part Two of my posts on AI, recently published in Getting Smart.  (image from CC)

Teaching Students About AI

One of my professional goals this year was to learn more about artificial intelligence (AI). Over the course of the past year, there have been a lot of stories coming out about how schools are adding the concept of artificial intelligence into their curriculum or trying to weave it into different courses offered. The purpose is to help students better understand its capabilities and how it might impact the future of learning and the future of work. When I did some research earlier this year, I was amazed at some of the different uses of artificial intelligence that we interact with each day, and may not realize.

A quick Google search of the term “artificial intelligence” turns up 518 million results in .17 seconds. Compare this with the methods for conducting research years ago, where we had to brainstorm topics as we searched the card catalog, and then had to understand the Dewey Decimal system, in order to find the books on the shelf.  Advancements in technology led to the creation of online databases which made it easier to find articles and journals electronically, however it still required us to think of what terms to use in the search and may still have required you to locate the resource from a shelf or borrow it from another library. Today, the capability of technology for finding answers to the questions we have is tremendous. Now through tools like artificial intelligence and virtual assistants we have access to millions of resources in our hands instantly.

What are some everyday uses of AI?

Some common uses of artificial intelligence that many people likely use every day and may not know it are:

  • Smartphones:  The use of artificial intelligence is used with the photo editor on smartphones. When you want to take a picture, artificial intelligence helps by selecting the appropriate settings and suggesting different modes to you.
  • Music and Media: Whether you use something like Spotify or enjoy watching Netflix or even YouTube, artificial intelligence is helping you find the music and media that you want. Over time, it learns based on your selections and then provides recommendations for you to add to your playlist.
  • Smart Home Devices: Artificial intelligence is used in smart home devices to adjust the temperature and even lighting based on our preferences.
  • Online services: From travel to banking, shopping, and entertainment, these industries rely heavily on artificial intelligence for using chatbots or through algorithms that enable it to track spending, suggest purchases, prevent fraud and complete other transactions much faster.

Because artificial intelligence is used so much in our everyday lives, we need to make sure that our students understand its impact and potential for the future of work and learning.

How can we teach students about artificial intelligence?

One of the best ways we could teach our students is by making sure we keep challenging ourselves. I recently enrolled in the course offered by ISTE U, Artificial Intelligence Explorations and Their Practical Use in the School Environment.  The course was made available through a collaboration with ISTE and General Motors Corporate Giving and focused on K-12 STEM education. My interest in the course is to learn more so I am able to share with my 8th grade STEAM course and in my foreign language classes. Having taught about artificial intelligence last year, it is a high area of interest that I want to grow in professionally.

Throughout the course, participants work through ten different modules focused on topics related to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Each module contains activities that enable you to interact with different forms of artificial intelligence, engage in discussions, view videos and to even create things such as chatbots and virtual facilitators. Part of the course includes an IBM Developer course on “Chatbots for Good,” in which you work through activities and learn about design thinking and empathy, and other activities related to the IBM Watson program. The culmination of the course has participants design a Capstone project, which will ideally be used with students through PBL or as a student-directed exploration of AI.

There are many uses of AI for education and one school in Pittsburgh is offering the nation’s first AI course to prepare students. Pittsburgh is where AI began and developed starting back in the 1950s which makes this an exciting event. Students enrolled in the Montour School District, a district known for its innovation and “student-centered, future-focused” mission, are learning about AI through a program that launched this fall. Students will have access to resources from Carnegie Mellon University, which became the first university to offer an undergraduate degree in AI. The goal of the program is to help students learn about AI by exploring the uses of virtual assistants, engage in inquiry-based learning and build their skills in STEM-related fields.

How can we provide the opportunity for all students to learn more about AI?

Simply explaining the concept of artificial intelligence and identifying some examples of what it might look like, does not really enable you to understand it at a deeper level. The best way that I have found to understand it better myself has been by first learning how it functions by trying some of the different tools and interacting with the AI. By trying some the AI experiments and creating chatbots, you and your students can think about how the tasks are being completed, which leads to a better understanding of artificial intelligence.

While schools may not be able to offer a full course to students, there are enough resources available online that teachers can implement in the classroom.

To learn more about AI and Virtual Assistants, have students explore these:

  1. Google AI Experiments: Through Google experiments, there are hundreds of different experiments available to explore based on AI, Augmented and Virtual Reality. Students can select experiments to try and decide what makes it “artificial intelligence.”  The favorites are Quick Draw and Semantris.
  2. Botsify: Teachers can teach students online by using artificial intelligence through Botsify. By creating chatbots, teachers provide an innovative learning experience for students, where they can interact with the chatbot, ask and answer questions and even submit quizzes through the chatbot.
  3. Avatars: It can be fun to have students create their own talking avatars, and use them even as evidence of learning or to create a lesson or instruct on a topic to share with peers or even younger students. Some tools to check out are VokiTellagami and My talking avatar.
  4. Akinator: A “web genius” that tries to guess the famous real or fictional character you are thinking about. It is fun to see the questions that it asks based on your responses and see how many tries it takes for it to guess.  It is also available on Google Play and iOS
  5. Learning tools: There are different apps available that through artificial intelligence, provide students with opportunities to have additional practice and amplify their learning potential. Elementary students can learn about geography through Oddizzi, or math through Splashmath. All students can practice vocabulary by trying Knowji, which uses characters to “bring vocabulary to life” in flashcards. If students have questions, they can try Brainly, which is a tool for students to ask and answer homework questions in a collaborative, community type platform.

Looking to the future with AI

The use of artificial intelligence in the world and specifically in education will continue to grow as more people explore the topic and develop new ways to incorporate it into daily life. The potential for learning through artificial intelligence means that students have access to virtual tutors, can enroll in an online course taught by AI, and have access to the resources they need at the exact moment they need them.

Part one of a series I will be writing about Artificial Intelligence.

About a year ago I started to notice more news coming out about artificial intelligence and machine learning and their uses for education. I understood the concepts of AI and ML, I could provide pretty decent definitions but beyond that, I really had to invest some time in learning more and being able to identify what it looks like in the world and what it could look like in today’s classrooms. Years ago while working on my Spanish translation coursework, we looked at machine learning for translation and that goes back well over 20 years, so it’s not something new, although it may seem like it because it has been coming more into light recently.

What I think of when I hear “Artificial Intelligence”

When first hearing the words “Artificial Intelligence,” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is AI something that you find easy to define or give examples of? For some, the understanding or a reference point might be something seen in the movies. For me, being an 80s child, my first thought goes to Star Wars, and I picture R2D2 or C3PO. Beyond those two references, my mind wanders to the movie “I, Robot” which starred Will Smith, where the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and were able to take action on their own. Today, one of the most common thoughts goes to Alexa, Echo, Siri and the other virtual assistants that have continued to gain popularity. All good examples to think of in order to get a better idea of AI, but what is the true meaning of AI and where might we see it in action in daily life?

What is AI

It is a complex concept to understand at first because it is an amazing technological advancement. When I wanted to find out more, I started to look at some of the research done by Getting Smart started in December of 2015. The team at Getting Smart launched a research study referred to as #AskAboutAI and over a two year period, they identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as education, healthcare, recreation, transportation, military uses and gaming to name a few. There were three objectives in the campaign: education, employment, and ethics. The research centered on finding how AI can be beneficial for different industries, some of the main uses, whether there are any risks associated with it, the benefits and of great personal interest, the possibilities for using AI in education.

According to their report following the research, the notion behind AI is that machines become capable of exhibiting human intelligence. “Machine learning” a concept started in 1956, refers to when algorithms are used to interpret data and take an action or complete a task. At its base, artificial intelligence is a computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a kind of “super intelligence.” It is basically the development of computers that are capable of completing tasks that normally require “human intelligence” however the AI learns on its own and continues to improve upon its past iterations. AI becomes smarter, its knowledge base grows, and it creates new possibilities for society. Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence, and it can be said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.

Common uses of Machine Learning and AI: Did you know?

In my exploration to learn more about AI and what its potential is for the future of learning, I researched how we might already be using AI in our daily lives without even realizing it perhaps. Here are 5 common uses that I was kind of surprised at finding out work by AI.

  1. Communication: So much email, fortunately there are spam filters. Spam filters are powered by AI and help to streamline the amount of spam that appears in your inbox. We know that computers can generate email, and so as email senders, whether real or automated, become more careful with choosing words that were not previously flagged, the filters must learn to adapt and do so by learning based on words that the email user flags. Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
  2. Travel: Whether you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA ( Estimated Time of Arrival). Even the airline industry uses AI, which fascinated me in finding out this fact. Autopilot qualifies as AI, and it has been estimated that actual “human steered” flight time is approximately only seven minutes of the actual flight length. That is amazing!
  3. Social networks: Ever notice how quickly faces are detected in images and names are suggested for tagging friends in photos on Facebook? The artificial intelligence can detect faces and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has added new features as part of its own AI Initiative, because the goal is to offer a more personalized and interactive experience for Facebook users. Other social media sites like Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, recommend chats to join based on an analysis of user input and data.
  4. Online Shopping: Have you started searching on Amazon, and it quickly suggests other items you “may be interested in,” as a result of prior searches and order history. There are systems are in place to help protect consumers against fraud, with alerts capable of being sent almost simultaneously in response to a transaction that does not seem to be “typical” purchase or is located in a non-home base location. All done through AI.
  5. Education: There are a wide range of tools available for educators and students whether in the form of Google Searches, where alternate search terms are instantly suggested, the use of citation, plagiarism checkers(a favorite) and even Siri is a popular tool for searches. Simply ask Siri a question, have a conversation.

What does AI mean for our classrooms?

Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms, there are so many possibilities, and of course, we want it to be something with purpose that enhances the learning experience. I think that it is important to think about your classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How is class time being spent? How could you save some time by using AI? What would you want for your classroom? Dream big!

There are some time-consuming tasks that take away valuable time for providing the best learning experiences for students. It takes time to locate appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate and to find more engaging and immersive learning experiences.

How could AI help?

  1. Communication: Students and teachers would communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students could be paired with peers instantly, which would help each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits of being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses.
  2. Differentiation: With the use of AI, students and teachers could connect with the resources they need right when they need them. An entire internet of resources accessible and deliverable to each student within seconds. Through AI, students could have access to one to one tutors or a virtual peer to learn with.
  3. Personalization: Offer more personalized learning opportunities for students with AI that can analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and access resources to help students better understand the content.
  4. Exploration: Augmented and virtual reality are being used even more in classrooms, and through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. We would not be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
  5. Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.

Considerations for the future.

There is always a concern when it comes to the use of technology. Especially with AI, we need to determine the true purpose, value and impact on student learning. We don’t want to use it just because it is the newest thing or the latest trend. When it comes to AI, the biggest concern has been whether AI would lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have negative impacts on student learning? As for replacing teachers, AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, all vital components of relationships in the classroom.

So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.

A few:

AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment.

It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student.

AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning.

But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.

Stay tuned for part two of the AI series coming up next week! Check out the ISTE U course on Artificial Intelligence. And look at Montour School District in Pittsburgh, I will be sharing more about that school after I visit it to see the AI Space and Showcase event on January 22nd.

Image from Thinkstock

**this is a work in progress

Things on my mind: Self-awareness, Competition,  Failure, Focus

During the last couple of weeks as the school year was winding down, the demands on my time were increasing exponentially. While this may seem a bit exaggerated,  there really is no other way to describe it. Granted, I take a lot of extra things on personally and professionally, when most people meet me, they ask if I sleep. I do, some. So why do I, or educators take on so much? For me, the reason is because I truly am a lifelong learner. I don’t want to miss opportunities, especially when that might mean I miss out on creating opportunities for others.  I don’t want to say no to someone that needs my help, because I realize that for some people, asking for help required that they be vulnerable and step out of their comfort zone. So I will always try to help someone else, even if it means delaying my own goals or veering from some path that I am on. And I am good with that, but I also realize that there is only so much that I can do. 

 

Self-awareness

Being self-aware means you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, emotions, thoughts, and have a deeper understanding of what motivates you, at least this is my way of defining it. I can somewhat identify my strengths, but it is uncomfortable to openly admit my weaknesses.  I have no problem admitting mistakes and failures in front of my students. The more that I can do this with them, will help to dispel that misconception that failure is final. Personally or among friends, for me, admitting weakness is tough, but the first step in trying to improve is acknowledging that there is a something to improve upon.  I’m well aware that I have certain areas that I need to devote some time to in order to become more effective and consistent and possibly attain some level of balance. If balance is really a thing. Maybe it is because I set demands on myself that are too high or overly ambitious, but I have reached a point in my career and my life, where I feel I need to engage in activities that I am passionate about being involved in. Even while I was in law school,  my friends would often laugh at my ability to multitask and my methods of over-preparation for class. I did then what I try to discourage my own students from doing now. I would take notes on the computer, write notes on paper, listen to the lecture and grade papers all while sending text messages throughout the class. And somehow while doing all of that I still managed to answer a question when called upon. I survived the four years of teaching full-time and four nights a week of law school. When I think back and compare schedules of then and now I feel so much more out of balance now than I did back then. It just does not make sense. 

 

While this post has started off as random thoughts,  they do have a point, which will present itself sooner or later. (perhaps not even in this post, as I am between a few projects).  These random thoughts are my reflections, and how I become more self-aware. As some of my friends know, I tend to not sit and type but rather speak my thoughts into a document and then go back and revise and reflect in the process. It simply works for me and it makes me more productive, at least I think that it does.  We don’t need to make big gains each day, it is in the small wins, ongoing progress that we achieve more. Reading this post yesterday, reminded me of this fact.  I got away from reading the posts by Thomas Oppong, and this quote helped me through some of my reflections. “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.” 

But lately, I have not felt as productive as I would want to be. Yes I’ve made lists, checked items off as I completed them, kept up with email only to have two or three emails pop in as soon as one is sent. I have opened Voxer to find four or five hundred messages waiting and many other notifications from other forms of social media. So how does one find balance? How does one keep focus when surrounded by and consumed by so much “connectedness.” In the pursuit of learning, how much is enough and how much is too much?

What I mean is I think as educators we need to involve ourselves in a variety of learning possibilities. We no longer need to leave our homes to go out for professional development, nor be limited to that which we have at our schools. There are so many options available that meet our needs as far as goals and time and passions. But it seems that more and more time is consumed by social media like Voxer or Twitter, just for a few examples. Don’t get me wrong, these are tremendous tools for becoming a connected educator, for breaking away from the isolation that can happen. But how do we keep up with everything and everyone?  If you know, please share.

 

Competition

It is tough “keeping up” lately. I read a lot of blogs, books and stay active through Twitter and Voxer, and have a pretty good routine for keeping up-to-date with information. Reading has never been a problem for me. The area in which I need to improve is with my own writing. Some days I feel like I just can’t keep up. I feel like I’m falling behind, that I’m not meeting the goal, not pushing myself enough to accomplish things. But today I had a moment to pause and think, and it came after reading  some of the The Path to Serendipity , by Allyson Apsey and also “What School Could Be,” by Ted Dintersmith.  After reading these, it occurred to me that I am doing the exact same thing that I try to stop my students from doing which is push myself so hard, judge myself so critically, to the point where my desire to work and to get things done becomes consumed as soon as my eyes focus on that ever-growing list of goals. I put up a wall and that inner voice tells me that I will never get things done. The inner voice convinces me that I can’t, so I don’t even try.  And then I remember the quote  “the only thing standing in your way is you,” so I need to get out of my own way. 

My list is full of things which are not part of my daily work as a teacher, but rather tasks that I have voluntarily pushed myself into becoming a part of. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out, maybe it’s my drive to keep doing better, to keep pushing myself to do one more thing, take one more step, to see how much I can handle and how much I can learn. But in recognizing this, I realize that my students do this as well. I’ve seen them push themselves and worry that they won’t finish something in time, that they won’t get into the college that their parents want them to, that they won’t get the highest grade, that they won’t be as smart, as quick or as good as somebody else in the class.  Pressure.

How many times this year I have said to them “You don’t need to worry about anybody else. You only need to worry about yourself because you aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself.”  I came across an anonymous quote a while ago that said “I’m in competition with no one but myself.” The power of this quote really hit me. These are the reminders that I give to my students, but yet are ones that I have failed to be cognizant of within myself.

In reading “Path to Serendipity”, so much of what Allyson says resonated with me, especially when thinking back to when I first started teaching. And in reading “What School Could Be,” I am thinking about the structure of school, the “game” of school and all of the pressure that exists. Pressure which is placed on students whether by the school system itself, the testing, parents, teachers or the students themselves. How do we break this cycle? Wanting the best for someone should be more about supporting them with whatever decision they make, and being there if they find out that it was not the best decision to be made. That’s the risk we take when we step out of our comfort zone, when we go against the grain and do something that is different, that may not be the traditional way to do something but it’s the way that we want, it’s personal to us, it’s our passion.

 

And I know I have derailed a bit in this, maybe more than a bit, but sometimes it’s good for me to just sit with my computer, and thanks to the voice to text, I can close my eyes and talk through what has been going through my mind, and then edit the writing. Lately it’s been that I just can’t get enough things completed. Countless presentations, proposals, webinars you name it, I am doing and experiencing the same thing that many other educators are experiencing as well. However the difference is that my perception of others is that there are no struggles. Blogs are being published, podcasts are being recorded, books are being written, speeches are being given, and my question is where do you find the time? How can I find a time? And I am so impressed and inspired by the work of my friends and my colleagues who share their stories and seem to have a lot of balance, but then again how do I really know? My perception is not necessarily their reality.

A good friend of mine Mandy Froehlich has written a book which just came out today, called “The Fire Within”, in which she shares personal stories as well as stories of educators who talk about the different struggles that they’ve gone through. We don’t often hear of the struggles and the negative experiences that we as educators may have, but there are a few things that I’m sure of. We need to start with relationships. We need to be open and vulnerable. We have to tell our stories. It is from these stories, whether they are stories of great innovations or epic failures, where we can connect and provide the inspirational redirection that someone else may greatly need. And while telling our story makes us vulnerable, there is great power in vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, as defined by Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly”. It is “uncertainty,risk and emotional exposure.” My favorite quote from Brown is that vulnerability is “the courage to  show up and be seen even when you have no control over the outcome.” This quote is one I read last summer, and I kept in the back of my mind while preparing for different events in which I felt completely out of control. I didn’t think I had the courage and was ready to back down, but this served as a reminder to me that it was better to try and fail, than to never try at all. The interesting part about this book is that she came up with the title after reading a quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 1910, where he spoke about the man who enters into battle valiantly, and at best he has success and at worst he errs while daring greatly.

 

Focus

So there is nobody pushing me to get things done but me. Nobody adding more items to the list but myself. And there is nobody that I’m in competition with. I have to accept that I will accomplish the things that I need to accomplish in my own time and in my own way. Pushing the publish button on this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been thinking a lot and decided to put my thoughts out there. 

comfort

Published on Getting Smart, February 3, 2018

The “gig economy” is fairly new to me, I was unaware of the terminology until recently. When I first heard “gig economy”, I could not figure out what it referred to, at least in the sense of both words used together. Separately, I can easily define “gig” and “economy.” The gig economy gets its name because each job or work assignment is similar to an individual “gig”. The gig economy was formerly known as the ‘sharing economy’, with one of the most popular examples being Airbnb. I recall first hearing “Airbnb” two years ago and not having a clue about what it meant then. I only knew that I had several friends who arranged travel as part of Airbnb.

So how does the gig economy work?

It is employment that is a temporary task, for example, delivery couriers, Uber (another term I did not understand when I first heard it three years ago), or Lyft, to name a few. A prior post in Getting Smart included some statistics related to the average income from providing these types of services. The numbers are fascinating. In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers earning an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees. It is projected that 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees in the future. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and estimates are that by 2020, this number will increase to 43% in the United States. So it leads me to wonder: What will the number rise to in another 10 years, by the year 2030? In a quick estimate, perhaps it will rise to approximately 63% if following the previous increase as a trend.

Looking ahead, the students currently in kindergarten will be the graduating class of 2030. It seems a long way off, but we need to prepare them for their future, and if the future does involve less traditional educational paths and more “gig” jobs and freelancing, how do we start preparing them now? It is important to consider these statistics and trends when preparing your lessons each day, and it has led me to think about how I am instructing students in my class.

As a foreign language teacher, students often ask why they should learn a foreign language, or say that they won’t need a foreign language in their future. There are many benefits in learning a foreign language, but I think the gig economy presents a perfect example of how it could be of even greater benefit to students in the future. Having foreign language knowledge is a skill that can come in handy and benefit students later on in life. Some common examples that come to mind are sellers on sites like Etsy or even someone who works as an online tutor or an editor. These do not have to be full-time positions, but can be in addition to a more permanent job, and done as extra work on the side. It’s about having options available. And to best prepare students for the future of work in a gig economy, we need to give them options.

Prepping for the future

How do we prepare students for a future of freelance work or to become entrepreneurs? By offering more opportunities for them to explore and create, through opportunities to not only explore the types of jobs available but also job shadow to learn firsthand, the qualifications and skills that may be necessary.

So if this is the trend that will be coming in the future, then will schools continue to encourage students to seek a college degree, or an extended learning program or formal training? Or do students need to simply master a skill or have time to explore an interest they have, to become more marketable? Do schools have the responsibility to create different courses through which students can learn about a variety of professional options and afford time for students to explore on their own or by connecting with professionals in their community?

Many schools have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends, such as entrepreneurship, webpage design, sports and entertainment management, and other similar courses to help students develop skills necessary to create their own job opportunities. At my school, Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for courses which would help students to develop some of these skills. She thought “we should provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways that would prepare them for future success.” To do this, a few years ago she created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and  “Sports and Entertainment Management” in which students develop a wide variety of skills focused on project management, event planning and learning everything there is to know about being an entrepreneur. In her classes, students take on different roles, learn to collaborate and be part of a team that is entirely responsible for planning, organizing and executing large-scale school and community events. Some of the roles include: Project Manager, Committee Chairs, Social Media and Advertising. Students rotate through these roles so they develop the skills necessary to be successful in any of these areas in the future.

Through this course, students have developed skills to prepare them for many career options as well as better understand how to start a small business or plan major events. They also develop critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. Observing the students involved in these courses has always impressed me, and seeing them come up with new products and start their own business, has shown the value behind providing these opportunities. These electives grew in popularity over the years because of the truly authentic and relevant learning experiences they provided.

Degree or no degree?

What difference does having a degree make? There are a lot of statistics that point to alternate forms of furthering one’s education, which do not involve the traditional undergraduate degree. There is more of an emphasis on building skills in diverse areas, to be flexible and explore alternate training options. There is a growing trend of students “crafting their own career” and not being dependent on an employer to do this, but rather create a professional path based more on personal interest. Several former students, ones whom I thought would pursue a college degree, instead opted to venture into unique areas of business. They have been successful and it is even more rewarding knowing they are doing what they love and control their schedules. Some of these entrepreneurial ventures include: a dog daycare, photo booth rentals, personal shopping service, resume writing, jewelry making, party planning and photography. These students chose these paths because they were able to pursue personal interests through electives, and develop skills and knowledge to get their business started. There will continue to be a demand for these services and these entrepreneurs will be in control of when, where and how often they provide these services in a gig economy.

The preparation that all students need

What are the skills that all students should develop regardless of what the future holds in terms of education? We need to help students learn how to communicate, to collaborate, to problem-solve and to find out what they are passionate about. There should be opportunities for students to engage in more real-world experiences, where they can assess needs in their community and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. Project-based learning is a great way to help prepare students for working with others and to have more of an authentic and meaningful learning experience.

The Buck Institute of Education is working to develop a High-Quality Project Based Learning framework (to be published in March), with six criteria that students should experience through PBL. One of these six is “project management”. The focus of this is more on how to support students with goal setting, time management and self-assessment. These skills will prove beneficial regardless of what the future “job” may be for students.

When we support students in setting goals, learning to self-assess, engaging in more independent work and developing time management skills, we help them to develop the skills that they will need to be successful in the future regardless of what they ultimately decide to do. Whether they pursue full-time employment or explore options in a “gig economy”, they will be ready to face any challenges that arise in a constantly changing workplace.

Published originally on Getting Smart, January 8, 2018

 

Have you noticed more discussion recently about Artificial Intelligence or AI? When first hearing “Artificial Intelligence” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is it something that you can easily define? Perhaps your understanding/reference point is something you’ve seen in the movies. For myself, being an 80s child, my initial frame of reference is Star Wars, I immediately think of R2D2 or C3PO. My mind then wanders to thoughts of “I, Robot” starring Will Smith, in which the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and to take action on their own. And more currently, I think of the Alexa, Echo, Siri and others that have gained popularity, even more so recently. But what is the true meaning of AI and how do we see it in daily life?

The concept of “Artificial intelligence” can be hard to understand/grasp, especially when trying to think about how it can be applied to education as well as many other sectors of society. In December 2015, the Getting Smart #AskAboutAI research began and over these two years, they have identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as recreation, transportation, education, healthcare and gaming to name just a few. The campaign focused on AI in regard to three objectives: employment, ethics and education. How can AI be beneficial for different industries, what are some of the uses, what are the benefits and risks associated with it, and of greater personal interest, what are the possibilities for AI in education.

According to Getting Smart’s “Ask About AI” report, the notion behind AI is that machines can exhibit human intelligence. The concept of “machine learning” started in 1956 and is when algorithms are used to interpret data and take some action or to complete a task. As a foreign language teacher, I became aware of machine learning years ago, in the form of language translators. AI, at its base, is computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a “super intelligence.” It is the development of computers that can complete tasks which normally require “human intelligence” however it learns on its own and continues to improve on past iterations. AI becomes smarter, knowledge grows, and it expands the realm of possibilities for society. Machine learning is actually a subset of artificial intelligence. It is said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.

Everyday uses of Machine Learning and AI that you may not be aware of.

In my quest to learn more about AI and its implications for the future of learning, I needed to first understand how we were already using AI and perhaps, not even realizing it. I asked colleagues for their thoughts on AI and many were as unsure as I about how it is being used currently. Here are 5 common uses:

  1. Communication: Spam filters, powered by AI, streamline the amount of spam appearing in your inbox. As email senders (real or automated) become more careful with selecting words which have not been flagged previously, the filters need to adapt and continue to learn based on words that the user also flags. There is an added component of ML in this, in that through the algorithms already in place by the email provider, additional filters are then created.  Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
  2. Travel: If you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA( Estimated Time of Arrival). The airline industry uses AI, since autopilot qualifies as AI, where it is estimated that “human steered” flight time is only seven minutes of actual flight length.
  3. Social networking: When we use Facebook to share photos, the artificial intelligence is able to detect faces in the image and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has continued to add new features as part of its AI Initiative, to generate a more personalized and interactive user experience. Some social media sites, such as Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, chats to join, and news feeds of interest based on an analysis of user input and data. Even Google with its “cards” can provide a variety of personal recommendations based on your search history.
  4. Online Shopping: One that comes to mind quickly is Amazon, and how it suggests items you may be interested in, as a result of your prior searches and order history. Systems are in place to protect consumers against fraud, with alerts being sent almost simultaneously to an attempted transaction that is not recognized as a “typical” purchase or located in a non-home base location. All of this done through AI, which is used for identifying fraudulent transactions.
  5. Education: Teachers and students have a wide range of tools available, ranging from Google Searches, in which alternate search terms are instantly suggested, citation generators, plagiarism checkers, and even Siri has become a popular tool for searches. An astounding amount of information generated instantly, far more advanced from thirty years ago and society’s reliance on card catalogs, calculators and books.

But what does AI mean for today’s classrooms?

Looking at these common uses in everyday life makes it easier to think about some ways that Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms. Where will we see the biggest benefits? I think that it is important to take a look at your own classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How are you and the students spending your class time? What are some ways that you could get some of that time back by using AI? Time to dream big!

Thinking about my own classroom, some of the most time-consuming tasks are conferencing and finding time to work with each student, creating and reviewing assessments, locating appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate for students, offering more engaging and immersive learning experiences. AI can address each of these areas, increasing the time available to spend doing more interactive lessons, having students lead, having more time to focus on relationships in the classroom and truly providing students with a world full of opportunities, personalized to their needs and instantly available.

So how can AI help?

  1. Communication:  Students and teachers will be able to communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students instantly paired with peers, helping each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits for being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses. Build foreign language skills, talk to someone about school, family, life in a country being studied, possibilities are endless for language learning.
  2. Differentiation: With the availability of AI,  students and teachers will be able to connect with resources they need exactly when they need them. The entire internet of resources accessible within seconds, deliverable to each student saving valuable time for more interaction between teacher and student, and students and students. Through AI, students can have access to one to one tutors, creating more authentic learning experiences by pairing students with an expert or a virtual peer to learn with. Think of the benefits if each student could have instant access to a tutor wherever and whenever they needed one.
  3. Personalization: What better way to offer more personalized learning opportunities for students than to have AI be able to analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and find resources or create new questions to help students to greater understanding of the content. What about the potential for informing the classroom teacher, and working together to create new learning opportunities for students, but in a faster way, that relates directly to the student needs and offers authentic and timely feedback.
  4. Exploration: With the rise of augmented and virtual reality, and the benefits of bringing these into the classroom for students to have a more immersive learning experience and to see places and explore things that otherwise they would not, AI can be a tremendous benefit for this. Through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. Capabilities such as these are not something that will be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could show students want they want to explore, find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
  5. Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.

Considerations for the future.

Even though there has been concern expressed for what AI could mean for education: would AI lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have any negative impacts on student learning? There could not be a replacement of teachers because AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, vital components of relationships in the classroom. So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.

AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment. It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student. AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning. But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.