Digital Darwinism and the Age of Assistance

It is an evolution that I have been following and I have written about how AI and machine learning are pushing us closer to that new age. I jokingly said that I was accepting resumes for a digital assistant. And most recently, the amazing and also frightening Google Duplex demo made me wonder if we don't need a reverse Turing test for AI.

It has been suggested that in this era where technology and society are evolving faster than businesses and schools can naturally adapt, the mantra of “adapt or die” comes into play. You can react to change, be disrupted by it, or adapt. Brian Solis and others have referred to this as "Digital Darwinism."

As with the more established Darwinism, the digital version is pretty indiscriminate when it comes to which products or companies survive, thrive or fade.

digital DarwinismI suppose we are still officially in the Information Age, but I think we may be evolving into an Age of Assistance. There is some evidence of this when you hear people say things like "Google, dim the bedroom lights" or "Alexa, play music by James Taylor."  

As in nature, we need experimentation and adpatations and even new species to survive. And some will have to go extinct. Goodbye Blockbuster, Circuit City, Borders Books, Tower Records, Pontiac, Saturn, and Palm. Hello Netflix, which then had to evolve (and is still doing so) to be a streaming rather than discs-in-the-mail service.

This pruning is clearly happening in business. Have any colleges fallen aside via Digital Darwinism? (A colleague answered that question by only half-sarcastically saying "Trump University.")

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are big drivers in Digital Darwinism. Is it true that Digital Darwinism has pushed open the door to an age of assitance a bit wider?  

That push comes from artifical intelligence combined with speech recognition.

Though smartphones and standalone devices with Siri, Alexa et al have put this assistance in front of consumers, digital speech recognition didn't start with those devices. The IBM Shoebox was shown to the general public during the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. It was launched in 1961 - almost 20 years before the introduction of the first IBM Personal Computer. It was able to recognize 16 spoken words and the digits 0 to 9. 

Most speech recognition systems require some "training" from users and with AI they learn to respond more accurately and efficiently. We have moved away from the earlier "speaker dependent" systems in some ways. They have to learn a particular user's speech patterns, accent, pronunciation etc. Newer systems tend to be independent and aggregate patterns from the many users that are connected to them more than focus on one user. It's not your Alexa. It's everyone's Alexa.

The rise of smart speakers in the past year via their sales (sales that have more than tripled) like Google Home and Amazon Echo have made some humans more reliant on voice commands.

Google has been talking and offering voice search for a few years and we ceratinly sometimes use voice to seach on our phones. But, if you're like me, you still find that technology lacking in most instances. But the voice search revolution is still predicted to happen and I don't doubt that it will occur, though perhaps more evolutionarily than revolutionariy.

The sophistication of voice-recognition systems is improving rapidly. Microsoft’s Cortana voice recognition software (which doesn't get as much attention it seems) now has an error rate of 5.1 percent, which gets it up there with human counterparts. With Microsoft large installed base of Windows-based personal computers, smartphones and smart speakers, they will certain be players in this area.

Google Assistant is a virtual assistant primarily available on mobile and smart home devices, and (unlike Google Now) it can engage in two-way conversations.

What I find on this topic online is primarily about marketing, but I believe it also applies to education.

Consumers are researching just about everything they buy and want relevant results. they want assistance. In an Age of Assistance, we are finding that assistance in what is being refferred to as mobile-first “micro-moments.”

This is way beyond classical marketing. Currently, I don't see many examples in eduction of schools getting into new opportunities for “assisted” engagement. Is your help desk using voivce recognition and AI? Is it in other student support services? can a student in a course that is online or in a classroom use voice to aska question of a digital assistent at 1 AM when they are stuck on a problem?

Those few schools that are adapting and experimenting with these technologies might be safer down the evolutionary road when Digital Darwinism starts to make programs or colleges digital Dodo birds.

 

Digital Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in the Age of Business Disruption

Digital Darwinism: Branding and Business Models in Jeopardy

                 

 

FURTHER READING

thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-154/insights-inspiration/thought-leadership/marketing-age-assistance/

thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/consumer-insights/search-in-the-age-of-assistance/

forbes.com/sites/briansolis/2017/10/11/wtf-whats-the-future-of-marketing-in-the-age-of-assistance/

business2community.com/tech-gadgets/the-age-of-assistance

Students Are Still Suffering From Summer Melt

Summer melt is the phenomenon of prospective college students' motivation to attend college "melting" away during the summer between the end of high school and beginning of college. I wrote about this summer melt last summer and this summer (inspired partially by a week-long heatwave in my part of the country) I decided to check in in and see if things have changed. Basically, things have not changed.

There are some intervention programs at schools that seem to help prevent summer melt, but for the majority of schools students are still melting away.

This phenomenon is especially prevalent in low-income minority communities, where students who qualify for college and in some cases even register for classes ultimately end up not attending college because they lack resources, support, guidance, and encouragement. The melting is also common for students who are the first in their family to get a chance at college. That was the case for me many decades ago.

I vividly remember trying to fill in the FAFSA forms for financial aid (which was critical to me attending). My father had died three years before and he was the one who wanted me to attend college and get the opportunities he never had. My mom couldn't provide money for college and couldn't really help in completing the forms. She had no idea what college was all about. I had no one to turn to, so I did it all myself - probably badly, as I didn't get the financial aid that I clearly should have gotten based on our financial situation

But I persevered and I got to Rutgers College in September. And I hated it. College seemed so much like high school all over again that first semester that if I could have gone to an office and gotten all my money back, I would have quit in October.

I couldn't get a refund and I stuck it out, and by the spring semester my perspective had completely changed. I found my place. I found the places to go when I needed help. I was able to get some additional student loans.

Many students were helped on their college path during their years in high school by counselors and probably a few trusted teachers. But that support is gone in the summer after high school graduation and most colleges are not supporting incoming freshmen until orientation.

These students who melt away are not going to other colleges. They are going nowhere.  

The summer melt student rate varies by schools but runs about 10-40% of students, according to a study from Harvard University. According to surveys, the general number given is about one third of all students who leave high school with plans to attend college never arriving at any college campus that fall.

That's the problem. What about the interventions and support?

One project I read about targeted 1,422 students and offered them up to two hours of counseling (which is not much) over a five-week period following high-school graduation. About 500 students received assistance through in-person meetings or over the phone. About one in three of them received help filling out financial-aid forms; another third got help with transcripts. One in 10 merely sought emotional support and reassurance to manage pre-college anxiety. This Summer Link program set a budget of $48 per student to cover costs.

But some of the interventions are not costly and may not involve much staff time. I would not let the high schools totally off the hook when it comes to support. Realizing that almost all high school counselors are 10-month employees and off for the summer, high schools can still support their graduates by texting weekly reminders to check their email, complete their financial aid forms and register for classes can go a long way to keep students on track. If there is any summer staff, being available for help would be a tremendous intervention even if it is more of a group session than 1:1 support. 

For colleges too, texting programs (email seems to not be the way to communicate with these students - though many college are still using that and snail mail as their way to communicate) can make it easy for counselors to reach large numbers of students quickly.

Social media should also be used. Having incoming freshmen follow an Instagram account for their particular class (not the general college accounts) that post photos and brief notes on deadlines, numbers to call etc. would also be better than email and snail mail.

When feasible, getting those students on campus in July and August is a good thing. These are not the students who visit with mom and dad, take pictures and buy t-shirts and things at the bookstore.

My only visit to Rutgers before orientation was an afternoon when we met with a faculty member to create our schedule. My "advisor" was new faculty member who taught economics and knew less about my English Education program of study than I did. Plus, I was profoundly disappointed that my first semester courses seemed to have nothing to do with my goal to be an English teacher. Economics 101? 

Some of summer melt certainly comes from those doubts and concerns I felt and I think all students feel about what college will be, how successful they can be and even if they’ve made the right choice. The forms and information colleges ask for and the placement exams that most schools require and all the deadlines are important. Missing or messing up one of them can really screw up your college path. 

In talking to some friends who are not involved in education about summer melt, they were shocked. They say "You mean a kid has taken the SATs, been accepted, received financial aid, and she still doesn't show up? That makes no sense." And they're right. It doesn't make sense that colleges aren't doing more to prevent these students from melting away.

 


Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College by Benjamin L. Castleman and Lindsay C. Page

Distance Learning Is Getting Closer to Home

distance learnerAccording to the report from Learning House released in May, two-thirds of online undergrads were taking online classes less than 50 miles from a campus of the school where they enrolled.

This probably surprises many educators. In the early days of online learning, one of the big attractions of online courses was that it gave access to students at a distance from institutions. We called it distance learning back in the day for just that reason. At my university, we often talked about those students we had in a course who were across the country or aboard a Navy ship on the other side of the world.

That changed over the years and the trend became to offer our own commuter and residents students online courses. The convenience wasn't about the distance from campus but about the convenience of anytime learning. A generation used to time-shifting their viewing habits on TV by VHS tapes and later DVRs was primed for doing the same for education. Video-on-demand (VOD) and education-on-demand (EOD?).

In the report, they found that 45% of the students studied online within 25 miles of campus - which is not a terrible commute. 78% of the online students were enrolled at a school with a campus within 100 miles. The old distant student that lived more than 250 miles from their campus accounted for only 8% of the respondents.

Learning House is a company that partners with schools to market and manage online programs, so analytics on why students select what they select is important to their business model. Obviously, local media is more important to marketing online programs than national ads.

The reasons respondents gave for selecting an online program are not surprising: things related to ease and pace of study, such as year-round courses, frequent start dates, self-paced courses and accelerated courses. Of course, tuition and fees is always a factor.

The surprises in the report come more from the results around distance. Besides the reasons given above, why would students take online courses from a school that offered them face-to-face nearby? The survey found that 76% visit their campus at least once a year, and 45% do so three or more times per year. Why? The top reason was to meet face-to-face with a teacher (40%) but also to use a library or lab or meet with a study group. Not exactly a hybrid course, but touching upon some of those features. Students seem to want those options along with the online features.

The "anywhere, anytime" learning model still works, but the appeal of the big name university across the country may not be as appealing as we once believed. This is also something we see with MOOCs. The appeal of free courses from major universities online is still with us, but many students still feel negatively "distanced" from the instructor and their fellow students with any online learning experience. But in a course with 20 other students is not as distanced as one with 20,000 students.

 

 

Should Social Media Be in the Classroom?

appsThere's no question that social media is increasingly ubiquitous across age groups and industries. The drivers have been the rapidly increasing ubiquity of smartphones and expanding WiFi networks that gave rise to the many social media networks. many of those platforms have fallen away and a handful of them, like Instagram and Facebook, dominate.

And then there is the education world...

A 2015 Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of teens use more than one social networking site, and 24 percent are online “almost constantly.” Schools have reacted as they often do with new technology. They try to stop it from entering the classroom. Phone-off policies have been used for several decades. Students sneaking a look at their Instagram account in class are treated in the same way we would have treated a student sneaking a look at a comic book in the 1950s.

Of course, there were teachers who tried to incorporate phones and even social media into their lessons. Having students do searches, following a class hashtag, polling apps or using the photo and video capabilities to record experiments or document learning are just a few ways teachers have made the enemy mobile device more friendly.

But those teachers and classrooms are still the exception. I regularly see articles in edtech journals about a teacher using social media and it is treated as innovation when it is not. I understand the headlines though, because it is still at the fringes of classroom pedagogy.

The concerns in K-12 are understandable and that is a different world when it comes to privacy, cyberbullying and other issues. But social media in higher education classrooms is just as limited.

So, am I saying we all need to include more social media in our courses? Yes, but with the caveat that it should be limited - as with other mediums such as film/video - to true educational applications. Using social media to be trendy is stupid.

Social media can be a way to teach students to think critically and creatively about the world and their place in it. I feel that we do have an obligation to teach students about the intelligent use of their devices and apps. Successful networking, whether it be via devices or face-to-face, is always listed as a skill employers want. As mobile social media continues to dominate our culture, its intelligent use for marketing or more personal communication becomes a must-have skill.

A page at accreditedschoolsonline.org lists a number of resources and lesson plans that teachers can use. It is important to use lessons that would naturally occur in your curriculum, rather than injecting social media lesson into what is probably an already crowded curriculum. How can social media be the tool or vector to teach what you want to teach?

The way that rather than just have students read a famous speech or Shakespeare scene or poem, you can have them experience it as a video/audio, we can find new ways to experience content via social media.

Two examples from that resource page:

Flickr Gallery is a lesson using curated (in itself, an important concept) Flickr galleries to teach students about selecting useful images, critical thinking about image presentation, and ideas of intellectual property and copyright.

I know that some of my colleagues would laugh at the idea of using Twitter for Research (some still don't understand why students need to be taught to properly use Wikipedia) but it is certainly used in that way by journalists and other professional writers. 

Educators need to be more aware of the social learning aspects of websites that they might not think of as "social media." For example, Goodreads is a free site that allows people to search its literary database, annotations and reviews and curate reading lists, connect with other readers and even take quizzes about books or do a Q&A with an author. This is not limited to fiction. Non-fiction groups are there too. My own Goodreads list has connected me to readers of my reviews and led to conversations about authors and books.

And other sites are probably not familiar to many teachers. Yes, you will need to think outside the platform's probable original uses and applications and hack them for your educational needs. Kahoot! is a game-based trivia and quiz platform that obviously provides a way for teachers - and even better, students - to create and share their own quizzes within the classroom. Wakelet is a free social media curating (I do like that skill) platform that allows you to collect information from around the web, including tweets, videos and photos. These collections can be private or shared, and users can add text of their own to their stories.

Should Social Media Be in the Classroom? Yes. How might you use sites like Reddit, Snapchat, SoundCloud or Twitch in your courses? An excellent topic for professional development.

Online Learning Is Not All in English

globeAmericans are rather well known for being American-centric. President Trump's "America First" speeches make that clear. Despite what Copernicus pointed out, we tend to think we are the center of the universe. This also tends to be true when it comes to MOOCs.

MOOCs from outside the United States don't get the same amount of attention as ones from within. I started a group on LinkedIn back in 2012 when I was offering a meta-MOOC on their rising use in academia. That group over the years has been much more international and broadened the discussions to online learning in general. 

Of course, even an American MOOC taught from Stanford is international in its participants. I try to take note of international courses and efforts.

Globally about 75% of all MOOCs are offered in English. Translating MOOCs taught in English to other languages can increase participant enrollment and disperse course knowledge to non-English language learners. However, it takes a significant amount of time and resources to translate text from English into another language, and then manually replace the translated text in the targeted language.

"China's higher education is facing problems, such as traditional teaching approaches, content and the quality of teachers not meeting student demand in the new era," said Zhan Dechen, a professor at Harbin Institute of Technology. Could MOOCs could be a solution to those problems? More MOOCs in China creates its own set of challenges.

The Online Education Development Office (OEDO) in Japan has trained teaching assistants who support faculty members in all aspects of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and Small Private Online Course (SPOC) planning, production and course running as well as assistance with copyright issues. They offer a MOOC Development Toolkit which include Microsoft Excel and Python scripts to speed up the translation process in Open edX Studio. OEDO developed a Content Modification Tool that replaces English text with translated Japanese text in a localized version of Stanford University's MOOC on “Creating Effective Online and Blended Courses”, for Japanese faculty/staff development.course development in edX Studio.   

Still, that 75% of MOOCs in English have international appeal, translated or not. Google launched a MOOC to train entry-Level IT Support Staffers. It was intended for use with Americans. Before Google created its certificate program through Coursera, Google training programs designed to help low-income young adults get into the information technology industry by learning the fundamentals of tech support were being offered. Through its work with a relatively small number of learners who participated in Google internships or an IT residency program, the company discovered it could get them qualified very quickly. This is the type of course that if it was a truly MOpenOC, and translated, it could be offered for a much more global audience.