Going Horizontal

vertical horizontalIn microeconomics and management, going vertical or vertical integration occurs when the supply chain of a company is owned by that company. For example, if a car manufacturer also produces its own steel, tires and batteries.

This is in contrast with horizontal integration, wherein a company produces several items which are related to one another.

Higher education has been a vertical enterprise for centuries. We keep knowledge creation, teaching, testing, and credentialing all under one company/college banner.

These are terms from economics and business. Are they applicable to discussions about education?

Horizontal integration often occurs in the business world by internal expansion, acquisition or merger. Of course, that might happen in education too, but there are also signs that it is happening in other ways.

When MOOCs were the big news five years ago, some people saw this as a shift from a vertically integrated model to a horizontally integrated one by decoupling teaching and learning from the campus testing and credentialing.

In looking for further examples of vertical and horizontal integration in education, the examples I found were mostly in medical education. 

"Vertical and horizontal integration of knowledge and skills - a working model" (Snyman WD, Kroon J.) looks at an integrated outcomes-based curriculum for dentistry at the University of Pretoria in 1997.

In "Horizontal and vertical integration of academic disciplines in the medical school curriculum (Vidic B, Weitlauf HM) looks at pedagogical shifts caused by the rapid expansion of new scientific information and the introduction of new technology in operative and diagnostic medicine.

In more general terms, assessment alignment is often the reason for both horizontal and vertical alignment in education. Alignment is typically understood as the agreement between a set of content standards and an assessment used to measure those standards. By establishing content standards, stakeholders in an education system determine what students are expected to know and be able to do at each grade level.

Probably, it is best when education goes both vertically and horizontally. 

Horizontal information exchange can be teachers sharing methodology, students sharing information, students helping each other learn.

When a curriculum is truly vertically aligned or vertically coherent, what students learn in one lesson, course, or grade level prepares them for the next lesson, course, or grade level. I know teaching is supposed to be structured and logically sequenced so that learning progressively prepares them for more challenging, higher-level work. I saw that structured sequencing more in my K-12 teaching than I do in higher education which is more siloed. 

Let's work on going more horizontal, higher ed.

ELIZA and Chatbots

sheldonI first encountered a chatterbot, it was ELIZA on the Tandy/Radio Shack computers that were in the first computer lab in the junior high school where I taught in the 1970s.

ELIZA is an early natural language processing program that came into being in the mid-1960s at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The original was by Joseph Weizenbaum, but there are many variations on it.

This was very early artificial intelligence. ELIZA is still out there, but I have seen a little spike in interest because she was featured in an episode of the TV show Young Sheldon. The episode, "A Computer, a Plastic Pony, and a Case of Beer," may still be available at www.cbs.com. Sheldon and his family become quite enamored by ELIZA, though the precocious Sheldon quickly realizes it is a very limited program.

ELIZA was created to demonstrate how superficial human to computer communications was at that time, but that didn't mean that when it was put on personal computers, humans didn't find it engaging. Sure, kids had fun trying to trick it or cursing at it, but after awhile you gave up when it started repeating responses.

The program in all the various forms I have seen it still uses pattern matching and substitution methodology. She (as people often personified ELIZA), gives canned responses based on a keyword you input. If you say "Hello," she has a ready response. If you say "friend," she has several ways to respond depending on what other words you used. Early users felt they were talking to "someone" who understood their input.

ELIZA was one of the first chatterbots (later clipped to chatbot) and a sample for the Turing Test. That test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human, is not one ELIZA can pass by today's standards. ELIZA fails very quickly if you ask her a few complex questions.

The program is limited by the scripts that are in the code. The more responses you gave her, the more variety there will be in her answers and responses. ELIZA was originally written in MAD-Slip, but modern ones are often in JavaScript or other languages. Many variations on the original scripts were made as amateur coders played around with the fairly simple code.

One variation was called DOCTOR and was made to be a crude Rogerian psychotherapist who likes to "reflect" on your questions by turning the questions back at the patient.  This was the version that my students when I taught middle school found fascinating and my little programming club decided to hack the code and make their own versions.

Are chatbots useful to educators?  They have their uses, though I don't find most of those applications to be things that will change education in ways I want to see it change. I would like to see them used for things like e-learning support and language learning

If you want to look back at an early effort, you can try a somewhat updated version of ELIZA that I used in class at my NJIT website. See what ELIZA's advice for you turns out to be.