Autonomous Vehicles and Autonomous Learning

autonomous car

One of the newer categories on this blog is for VR, AR and AI. They were not topics of much concern in education when I started writing here in 2006. They are topics of interest now. 

The same may be true of autonomous vehicles and it is definitely true of what I'm calling autonomous learning

You are more likely to hear news about "autonomous vehicles" rather than "driverless cars" these days. They are pretty much interchangeable, but the former doesn't sound as scary. In the way that "global warming" was replaced with "climate change," the newer terms are not only better in public relations terms but also are more accurate.

An autonomous vehicle (AKA driverless, auto, self-driving, robotic) is one that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Many such vehicles are being developed, but as of this writing vehicles on public roads are not yet fully autonomous.

Many of the experimental cars and trucks you might see on the road (or, more likely, on the news) have a human along for the ride and ready to take over if needed. Initially we all heard about this future where you would get in a car, tell it your destination and sit back and relax. It was a taxicab without a driver. But more and more we are hearing about the autonomous vehicle with no human in it that might be delivering packages to locations. (No word on how they are unloaded. I guess you meet the vehicle at the curb.)

I was talking to a friend who has no involvement in education about an online course I was teaching and how MOOCs are being used. He said, "So, it's like an autonomous vehicle."

My first response was "No, its not," but when I gave the idea a few moments, I saw his point.

You set up a good online course. It has AI elements and guided learning, predictive analytics and all the other tools. The student enters and goes along on their own. Autonomously. Teacherless.

Some archived MOOCs are already somewhat like this - though probably minus the AI and guidance systems.

I call this autonomous learning. If you search on that term today you are more likely to find articles about learner autonomy. This refers to a student's ability to set appropriate learning goals and take charge of his or her own learning. However, autonomous learners are dependent upon teachers to create and maintain learning environments that support the development of learner autonomy.

My friend and I took the vehicles:learner comparison further. The mixed or hybrid car will probably be with us for a few more decades. By hybrid I mean not only with its fuel but also with driver-assist features. Part of the redundancy there includes the passenger as backup driver - a guide on the side. The car can park itself, but you might need to help in some situations.

Hybrid or blended courses are also going to continue to be around for awhile. Like the vehicles, the fully-automated course will be the experimental exception for a decade or two. But those kids in the college Class of 2037 have a very good chance of taking autonomous classes.

I will feel safe on the road with autonomous vehicles when ALL the vehicles are autonomous. Throw a few human drivers in there and the reliability drops. Do I feel the same about autonomous learning? Too early to say.

OER: Downes Versus Wiley

Stephen Downes got news from David Wiley that he would be partnering with Follett, a company best known for managing college bookstores. But Follett is another company getting into courseware. In this case, they will make Lumen Learning’s OER courseware available to institutions. The Lumen course support is not free, but low-cost (($10 to $25) and meant to replace the more costly commercial textbook. Downes asks: "What if students don't want to pay money for these 'open' educational resources? Are they denied access? Isn't this exactly one of those closed marketplaces people said would never happen? This is why I defend the use of the non-commercial clause in open educational resources."

David Wiley has responded and the post is worth reading to anyone working with OER and those following the growing role that commercial vendors are playing in open resources and the further dilution of what "open" means in education.

Neuro Gaming and Our Distracted Minds

Neurogaming is a new form of gaming that involves the use of brain–computer interfaces (such as EEG) so that users can interact with the game without use of a traditional controller.

You probably have seen stories in the past decade about people controlling computers with their brain. This was particularly true in working with people who have handicaps or disabilities from injuries and were unable to use a keyboard, mouse or traditional input device. Neurogaming can have applications in treating brain disorders like PTSD and ADHD.

But the field has moved beyond health industry neurogaming technologies and now sectors like defense, sports and education are working with these technologies.

An early neurogame is the racing game NeuroRacer. Though it looks very much like a traditional single-player game, it was designed to improve the cognitive functioning of aging adults. It looks like a simple driving game that we saw in the earliest days of home and arcade videogaming, but because it is controlled by your thought processes, it is at an entirely different level of gaming.

Neurogames allow users to pick up and move objects by mentally blocking distractions. This requires brain-computer interface algorithms, GPU computing and special hardware like virtual reality headsets, motion capture and mobile EEG to create personalized closed loop systems. 

Adam Gazzaley, who created Neuroracer, and his Neuroscape lab at UCSF are focusing on improving brain function and bridging neuroscience and consumer-friendly technologies.This means games to support treatment of brain disorders such as ADHD, Autism, Depression, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease. 

All this may be beyond our technical skills, and the medical uses may be beyond our own needs, but Gazzaley also has simpler results from their research that apply to all of us. He co-wrote a book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, that explains that our brains are limited in their ability to pay attention, and attention is required for neurogaming. We don't really multitask but rather switch rapidly between tasks.

Distractions and interruptions - "interference" - divert us from completing goals.

Do you admit to not being able to finish reading an article or writing one because your phone rings or a text arrives or a social media notification pops up?

From their research, the authors offer strategies to fight distraction. Neuro games are part of that along with meditation, physical exercise and planning accessibility. They realize we are unlikely to give up our devices, but that we need to use them in more balanced way.

The video below is a talk Gazzaley gave in which he describes an approach developed in his lab that uses custom-designed video games to achieve cognitive enhancement. It is more of his own story through this research than a jargon-laden lecture. He shares his basic science research that inspired these translational efforts, to the founding of Akili Interactive Labs, to their latest quest for the first FDA-approved action video game.

Drawing on MOOCs for Lifelong Learning

I recently took a free online MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on "Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration" that is offered by the University of Newcastle (UOM Australia) that is now included in the edX platform. Readers here may be familiar with MOOCs, but if you are new to them, they are online courses that are offered for free. They are usually university courses, though many are hosted by MOOC providers (edX, Coursera etc.). To many people the experience will not be at all like "taking a course" at a university. It might be your first time learning online, and that is odd for anyone. They are "massive" because you probably will be one of thousands of students in the class. The "lectures" are probably videos and probably (thankfully) much shorter than the 90-minute ones you had in college.
This particular course is an "archived course" which means there is no active instructor. The six-week course was first offered with an instructor in October 2016. EdX keeps courses open for enrollment after they end to allow learners to explore content and continue learning. All features and materials may not be available, and course content will not be updated, but courses are sometimes offered "live" again.
Learners may take a MOOC for credit or to get a certificate of successful completion (it is an option for many courses) and pay a fee (generally far less than typical tuition). But the majority of learners take them for lifelong learning and perhaps professional development with no desire to get credit.
UON has a prestigious Natural History Illustration program. I do some drawing and painting, but I am certainly not an aspiring scientific or medical illustrator. That is one of the great things about these MOOCs. There is very little pressure and no prerequisites to taking a course. A middle school student could attempt one. You need no artistic background. You might want to take it to learn about the topic and not even expect to try drawing yourself.
I audited a few art courses as an undergraduate. I was an English major and they didn't count towards my degree requirements - and I wasn't really good enough to be in those courses, but professors often allowed a few extra students. Professors made it clear that you needed to attend classes and do the assignments, but you would not get the same attention as the tuition-paying students. The MOOC model is similar.
This course is about observing and illustrating subjects from nature, science and culture, with their linkages to the environment being central. My interest is half art interest and half my interest in nature.
My own artwork is not "realistic" so it was a challenge to try creating accurate replications of subjects from the natural world.
Topics included:
- Core scientific observational skills
- Field drawing and sketching techniques
- Concept sketch development
- Composition for natural history illustration
- Form, proportion and structure essentials
- Drawing and rendering techniques
There are sample videos from many edX courses on YouTube and that's a good way to get a taste of what is in a course.
Here is an intro from the illustration course.

This article first appeared on One-Page Schoolhouse.

Exploring Virtual and Augmented Reality in Learning

Virtual reality, like rock n’ roll, is not something that can be described well. It must be experienced in order to be fully appreciated and understood.

Interestingly, it has been catching on among educators.

Since 2013, Emory Craig, Director of eLearning at the College of New Rochelle, and Maya Georgieva, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Digital Bodies, have been presenting workshops on the topic. They’re working with developers, researchers and educators who are embracing the immersive learning technology, which seems to be on the cusp of widespread well as being on the receiving end of a lot of hype.

Around the time Craig and Georgieva began exploring this emergent medium, the arrival of Google Glass seemed to have ushered in greater popularity. Georgieva was one of the educators to experiment with Google Glass. People suddenly had a wearable ideal of what could be tapped to create an augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). The much-heralded yet now all-but-defunct product left its mark, as several key technological developments have sprung up to satisfy a new market.

One key development also came from the Internet giant: Google Cardboard. An accessible solution that was ‘easy to get into the hands of educators,’ Georgieva noted, it has helped to generate interest in the use of VR in the learning environment. With only a smartphone app and the inexpensive piece of cardboard, students can be transported to other worlds...

continue reading... "Outside the Boundaries: Exploring Virtual and Augmented Reality in Learning" by Kristi DePaul

You Are a Data Point

Does it disturb you to be thought of as a "data point" or "test subject"? A data point is a discrete unit of information, a single fact usually derived from a measurement or research. A person as a data point can be represented numerically or graphically. That sounds pretty cold. 
An article on about Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, online-only institution that enrolls 80,000 students worldwide, talks about how it has enlarged its institutional-research office the past few years and how students are very much data points. Of course, students, as well as employees and customers offer a valuable source of data for researchers.
In an educational setting, this data could be used to improve student outcomes and to make assessments that can lead to improvement in learning design and delivery..
One of the often stated benefits of MOOCs has been the opportunity to use these very large courses to obtain data about how students learn online. Critics of this approach say that learning online in a class of 25 versus a class of several thousand are not comparable experiences. And are there valid comparisons to how students learn online to learning in a face-to-face class? That has been argued for several decades. 
WGU is also a competency-based institution. Standardized measurements and goals are how their courses are designed. If not a good thing for a student's education, it certainly is an approach that is great for researchers who can hold certain variables constant while testing tools and interventions to see how they influence students.
No one likes to be thought of as just a number. It reminds me of sci-fi novels and media about the future like 1984 and Brave New World (or the cult favorite TV series, The Prisoner, illustration at top). But we are all very much considered as data points by advertisers and in many modern technologies, social networks and institutions.