London’s ExCeL exhibition center is one of those monolithic structures that can be clearly identified on a satellite view of the city… nearly 500meters long and half as wide, ‘massive’ is an understatement, and exhausted is another downplayed description of how one feels after a couple of days wandering its endless aisles and tradeshow stands.
Rather than attempting to review our visit as a whole, this missive will focus on 3 lectures (selected on little more than a hunch from hundreds over the 4 days), all quite different but singularly brilliant in their own ways.
Aggressively competing to ‘own the future’, Chinese researchers are enjoying billions invested to go up against the likes of Google’s Deepmind to fully realise AI’s potential to change our world. Joleen Liang of Squirrel AI gave us a breakneck tour of how her company is investigating and trialing their systems already with over a million students in China. The power to make inferences about student progress and behaviour stored in ‘deep data’ was mind-blowing. Coming from a society where Social Credit Scores and an authoritarian government seek to keep a less than benevolent eye on social cohesion, the implications for civilisation in the medium-to-long term are nothing less than Smart-Orwell.
The highest hoped-for outcome is that the machines will act as the perfect teaching assistants, to help accelerate learning and cognitive skills in each of us beyond our dreams. The worse case scenario is that true AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) will be humanities greatest… and final invention. How much DON’T you trust giant corporations and totalitarian regimes to do this responsibly?
Fusion not Fission
Just as our understanding of the way the universe actually works crumbled a century ago as Newtonian Physics was dethrowned by Plank, Schrodinger and Einstein, the fundamental ways that we learn are well overdue for a major shake-up. This was the hypothesis that Pi-Top computer’s Director of Learning and Research, William Rankin, explored with verve in a mind-blowing and hilarious talk. The long and short of it was that if we have any chance of arming future generations with the skills they’ll require to overcome mounting civilisational challenges… linear, traditional learning ain’t gonna cut it. Instead, success will only come from employing the equivalent of Quantum learning in our classrooms and beyond.
Sometimes, the Simplest Idea…
Welsh teacher Duncan Wilson used 16 years of experience in classrooms to realise a fundamental problem holding back what many students were able to gain from each lesson: disruption. It only takes two, or sometimes even one student to spoil it for everyone else. Wilson’s solution was to attempt what many teachers have hit upon: to rearrange the seating plan to minimise disruption. It was when he paired his approach with a number of student data parameters stored on the school’s SIMS system, with an AI algorithm that he struck gold. The software automatically used the data to create a seating plan with the express purpose of minimising the chance of disruption in each lesson.
The results were astounding, with something approaching 20% less time wasted on unruly student gaggles. The school soon asked for Wilson’s solution to be scaled to its thousands of monthly lessons, and 5 years later, Class Chart employs over 40 people and provides its services to 100’s of schools. Peripheral services and reporting built around the principle to help with efficiency reporting and parent engagement have continued to build the platform into a fully-fledged class management system.
Three totally different offerings, with highly varying mixtures of technology and student engagement are each pointing to a future where education is reshaped by technology to help subsequent generations learn like never before. Conferences like BETT are overwhelming but worth the trouble of bringing all these ideas and approaches together to mix under one garganutuan roof!