Several of us from Taupaki School attended the Singularity Summit in Christchurch recently. This is the second in a couple of blog posts exploring my notes and reflections from the three days. Click here for the first post.

Part 2. Day 2 and 3.

Artificial Intelligence

Neil Jacobstein describes A.I as: Pattern recognition techniques; software agents; a vision of superhuman intelligence and computer science accelerating other technologies. But he warns of the importance of keeping our critical thinking hats on.

He talked about a practical framework for understand and using A.I (see Operational Recommendations in the slide below).

Artifical intelligence is being used in a variety of industries in many different ways. Neil tells us that  60 + start ups are already using Deep Learning and that Watson is becoming mainstream. There has been a huge advancement in computing power and IBM’s True North Is but just one example of this. We now have real time information discovery using software like Tensorflow and we can crowd source experts using Experfy

So what is A.I’s added value? There are lots of examples in healthcare like personalising treatments, DNA sequencing and more accurate diagnoses of disease. It has even been used to help people in poverty with credit card debt (Affirm ) and bringing transparency to the business world with Kensho. We can see that Education features on the above A.I category heat map, but Neil suggests that Education will be fast moving up the list for one on one communication.

Lastly he talked about Responsibility – this is a big one. Trust is going to big issue. Us trusting it and it trusting us. There needs to be a real emphasis on security, empathy, ethics and us all taking responsibility, because we are all in this together.

Ethics

Speaking of Ethics, ethics seemed to be a reoccurring theme throughout many of the talks. Amin Toufani talked about the changing landscape of economics and equity. Rich people typically benefit more from technology and we need to really think about how we can use technology to benefit those in need. He talked about a potential shift from ownership to access, which could lead to a more sharing economy. An example of this might be renting out your self-driving car when you are not using it at work. But with the use of Bitcoin our self-driving connected car might be able to pay the car in front to slow down so you can get past it and get to work faster. This seems to move us away from the direction of equity.. Technology can either create more inequality or reduce inequality that choice is ours and we need to own the choices we make.

This is a quote from a homeless lady who sat on the street with nothing but her old typewriter. She said to Amin that she would write a poem on anything he wanted. So he asked her to write a poem on exponential technologies. It is still making me smile.

Security

Mark Goodman talked about security and criminals as being early adopters of technology. Given Education’s increasing shift to a paperless world and the number of student’s on devices and our IT infrastructures in schools, this is one talk we should be sitting up straight for. I can’t reproduce any of the content of the talk (we were asked not to), but will give you the gist of why it is important and some ideas for making your world more secure based on trips to security conferences.

One example you may have heard about is is criminals using current gaming trends like Pokémon Go to lure people to remote locations to rob them This is a good example of thinking critically about the tech you are using. Our phones have Geo tracking on which is easy for hackers to intercept.

Ransomware is on the rise and the interconnectedness of the Internet of Things opens us up our surface attack area on unprecedented scale.

So what can we do? (tips picked up from Kiwicon over the years)

  • Change your password frequently and always use different ones for different logins. Use a password manager like KeePass to keep all your randomly generated passwords in.
  • Don’t ever give your password to anyone. Seems simple but many get caught out by people who are experts at tricking you into giving them hints about your password.
  • Always apply updates as soon as they become available – unpatched software is an open door for hackers.
  • Phishing scams are still the most common way to get attacked so learning how to spot one is essential.
  • Consider using multifactor authentication. This is becoming much quicker and easier these days.
  • Check out Netsafe and Cyberpatriots
  • Have a look at this security in education discussion at NetHui and related blogpost.
  • Go to at least one security conference in your lifetime (like Kiwicon )

Education

Sue Suckling was just brilliant. She stood up and declared the age of exams is over – a brave lady who was very deserving of that standing ovation.

Sue talked about what is different about our current environment and why we need to change. She suggests:

  • We are hyper connected.
  • The future of jobs is uncertain. We know we will have mass job loss to Robots and that landscape is changing all the time
  • Education is borderless
  • Increase of online study e.g. Deakin and MOOCs
  • Digital native norms. She talks about Don Tapscott and his idea of digital native norms. (I am not so sure about this, I am looking into it more).
  • Demonetisation – degrees for free and mentions the Manaiakalani Trust
  • Power to the individual  –  learning from You Tube and Makerspaces.

What will qualifications look like in the future? This will depend on what is relevant, what is needed for the subject, what competencies are needed, what character dispositions are needed and includes record of participation.

She says verification is important (that learners can do what they say they can do) and fair enough – I want to know that the person flying my plane is competent at it. This is where Blockchain can come in as a permanent record of skills and competencies. But we still need verification of providers. She suggests a rating system, which is an interesting idea as humans are riddled with bias and machines are programmed by humans so can inherit their bias. I hope this one is thought through.

The biggest surprise for me was was when Sue talked about the blockers to change being fear from the students themselves. We as a society have spent decades indoctrinating them into a system where you need a degree to get a job. That is what we have taught them. The question now is how do we change this? How do we talk to our young people to support them in taking the leap of change? Find your Billion is a brilliant initiative and a great place to start!

A vision for the future of education according to Sue:

So what? What now?

So after hearing all those talks these three things stuck out for me as being important competencies and dispositions:

  1. Critical thinking – The ability to interrogate the world around us and make better decisions.
  2. Ethical competency – An understanding of ethical theories and applied ethics. Ethics gives us a framework to view our actions from a 360 degree view. How might this product harm or help others? What is the right decision when there seems to be no right answer? What moral guidelines am I or should I be guided by?
  3. Empathy – We are going to need it in spades. At this rate of change, technology has the potential to increase or decrease inequality in society, to allow us create or destroy and empower or disempower others. So we had better care and take responsibility for each other and what lies ahead because our future generations depend on it.

Knowing how machines and the internet works, the place of information security in the future and the possibilities of biohacking seem like good things to know about. What was crystal clear is that business’s and school’s that don’t adapt to change and hold on to their old ways, will end up left behind, slowly becoming obsolete and not realisng it, until they are.

I wasn’t scared by what I heard and saw at the Summit, rather super excited and filled with hope about what’s possible in our future.

Professional reading suggestions:

*These are my notes from SU. If any of this interests you, I would suggest doing some further reading as this is my interpretation and sense making of what I heard. Also check out these great blog posts on SU reflections:

https://twitter.com/taratj/status/799891136512860160

https://twitter.com/claireamosnz/status/799841299457159168

http://www.thinkbeyond.co.nz/blog/exponential-change-prepare-disruption/?platform=hootsuite

 

 

Part one: Day one:

Several of us from Taupaki School attended the Singularity Summit in Christchurch recently. This is the first in a couple of blog posts exploring my notes and reflections from the three days. I am still processing a lot of this and what it means for Education and our future, so these are just my ‘initial thinkings’

The first day was set aside for speakers to introduce some important concepts in order for the attendees to be able to get their heads around the impeding cascade of content that was to come in the following days.

The first concept was this idea of exponential change, which in this context, refers to the idea that the world is changing at a far greater rate than ever before. In fact Kurzweil suggests that the 21st century will achieve 1,000 times the progress of the 20th century. This is all because of a thing called the Law of Accelerating Returns. An example of this is computing power doubling every year and halving in price. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

This is a concept that humans find really hard to get their head around and the graph explains why. Simply put we humans think linearly not exponentially. This lures us into a false sense of the speed of change. It always feels like we are in that spot labeled ‘present day’ and from that viewpoint change looks liner. Check out the Wait But Why blog post for more information.

My first takeaway had hit – I really had no idea, none, about how to be responsive to that rate of change or how to raise my consciousness of it. Lucky the next few days offered some content for comfort.

Breaking capitalism

One of my favorite speakers was Tiago Mattos who talked about Abundance and Scarcity models. Which, in short, mean you either have a belief that there are not enough resources for everyone (Scarcity) or you believe that there are enough resources to go around (Abundance mindset). I wonder if we talked to our students, children and co-workers about changing our mindsets from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset, how that might change our approach to our interactions, behaviours and mental models around building products.

All we know is capitalism, I thought this could be a really nice framework to build an alternative where ‘I’ becomes ‘we’ we work together, we are great, we achieved this together.

Tiago offered a continuum of ways of being:

  • Depriving humanity – The Dementor approach to life
  • Apathetic – Everything sucks
  • Lone Warrior – Egocentric (gets things done, but on their own)
  • Tribal pride  –  (our company is great)
  • Innocent wonderment – (we are all great). I am wondering how this mindset might map onto complexity theory, in terms of influencing how people interact within systems with each other – much more thinking here for me to do….

Disruption

David Roberts talked about disruption and I think it was one of the most important talks because he clarified for me what disruption meant. I had felt a bit uncomfortable with the term for a while after hearing a lot of talk like “we need to disrupt education” as if it were an ointment that we apply to all the broken areas of education.

David used the spice trade as an example of how disruption works. The spice trade was a booming industry and spices were worth more than gold due to their popularity in preserving food (we know they don’t, they just make rotten food taste better – but they did not know that then). Along comes Frederick Tudor who invented the first insulated warehouse and completely disrupted the spice industry. He didn’t intend to he was just experimenting with putting ice into a wooden crate and shipping it around the world.

No one in the spice trade made it into the ice trade. Just let that sink in. Disruption is unlikely to come from the industry you are in and you won’t see it coming.

So ask yourself this question: As educators what are we in the business of? What industry are we really in?

And prepare: In my view one of the best ways to prepare is to be agile enough to pivot when disruption happens.

And Remember: Innovation is doing the same thing better. Invention is making new things. Disruption is doing new things that make old thing obsolete.

Click here for the next blog post on the Singularity Summit exploring Artificial intelligence, Security, Education and the So Whats?

Image by Denise Krebs https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/7149966049

Are creative people really different from the rest of us? Can creativity be taught?

The answer seems to lie in how standard cognitive representations and operations are used in idiosyncratic ways. Or in others words, it’s how individuals use information in unusual and different ways.

So what is going on with people who are thought to be creative? Sternberg (1988) found that these people:

  • Lack conventionality. They tend to make up their own rules and deviate from the norms. From an educational perspective we can see that too many rules can stifle an individual’s creativity. We need to create safe practise fields for students to deviate from the norm, to experiment, prototype and fail forward.
  • Integrate and intellectualise. These people are good at making connections between disparate ideas. This is yet another reason to move to a cross-curricular approach. The more connections that can be made between disciplines and ideas, the better students will be at building on existing connections.
  • Aesthetic taste and imagination. This is about having the knowledge to know what is beautiful in a particular area. Knowing a masterful piece of music when you hear it or knowing that something will work well in one circumstance and not another. How do we cultivate this in schools? Perhaps this is where we need to slow things down and allow enough time for students to try multiple ways of immersing themselves in a subject or topic. Do we rush from topic to topic, piling more and more on before there has been time to reflect?IMG_5263
  • Decision making skill and flexibility. Decision making is deliberate and rational, but agile and able to change methods and pivot on failure. This is knowing when to let go and change direction and when to persist. Worksheets and over prescribed instructions will give no opportunity for students to change methods and pivot on failure because they are learning to follow one pathway to an outcome. This is where I think the design thinking approach is invaluable in schools as it teaches students to develop multiple approaches and practise letting go when they need to.
  • Perspicacity: This refers to a person being perceptive, insightful, discriminating and shrewd.
  • Motivated and focused. This is where persistence comes into play. How many hours do you think Divinci spent on his inventions? To create the famous last supper it took him 3 years, sometimes working night and day – the Mona Lisa four years. While historians might squabble over exact time frames, the point is that creativity isn’t always flashes of insight followed rapidly by a product or piece of work. Sometimes it is deliberate and slow.

Given the right conditions we all can be creative, granted not all of us can or want to be the next Divinci, but we need to move away from the mindset of “oh I am just not the creative type” Creativity can be taught!

Constraints

Experiments have shown that where participants have more constraints, they show more creativity (Finke, R et al. 1992). This has implications in an educational context when we are trying to teach creativity. Rather than giving students a blank canvas and saying go for it, a better way might be to give them a limited number of materials and get them to use those materials in different ways to create something new. This also can help overcome a limitation on our thinking called functional fixedness (a cognitive bias that limits us to only use an object or material in traditional ways).

References:

Finke, R.A., Ward, T.B., &  Smith, S.M. (1992). Creative cognition: theory, research, and applications. Cambridge, MA

Sternberg, R.J (1988). The three facet model of creativity. In RJ Sternberg (ed.), The Nature of Creativity. New York: Cambridge U Press.

 

 

Collaboration is a familiar word in education and business circles and is seen as an important activity to amplify learning, problem solving and  change. But what does good collaboration look like?

Bot and teachers working together I remember going to the International Conference On Thinking a few years back and coming back with a new word in my vocabulary called coblabberation. Coblabberation refers to groups working together ‘collaborating’ but little substance comes from all the talking. Or another words getting together and doing a lot of collegial talking with no meaningful change or outcome as a result.

Rebbecca Sweeney in her masters research showed that successful collaboration is more than just getting together and sharing ideas. She suggests that an important ingredient of successful collaboration is also being able to critique the ideas and practices being shared.

This view is also reflected in Patrick lencioni’s work around a conflict continuum. At one end of the continuum we have artificial harmony where groups will not critique or challenge ideas for fear of conflict and upsetting other group members. The problem with artificial harmony is that little change or improvement in practices can occur in this space.

Lencioni(1)

Construct from The Advantage. Redesigned with permission.

At the other end we have personal attacks. This is where there is a lot of challenge and critique but it’s done in a destructive way attacking the people rather than critiquing ideas. In this space relationships break down thus crippling change improvement and any movement forward.

The ideal space is somewhere in the middle, keeping an acute awareness that the group doesn’t slide to far left or right of the ideal conflict point. In order to work effectively the group must have a high level of trust and shared understanding that it is ok to disagree, critique and challenge each other’s ideas (but not the person).

One of the rules we have on our board is that it is ok to disagree, but we must never become disagreeable. Challenge and questioning is invited and while we might disagree on some matters we are one mind, one voice – we are a team who don’t take each other too seriously, but take our work very seriously.

We talk about collaboration a lot, but how often do we stop and question how effective we are as a group – are we just coblabberating? Do we explicitly talk about how we will work together or question what types behaviours are needed for effective collaboration to happen? How are we talking to our students about critiquing ideas respectfully when collaborating?

Maybe this post raises more questions than it solves , but I think it is a worthwhile topic to explore deeper given the weight we give to the power of collaboration. What are some of the ways that you approach collaboration amongst staff, students and parents? What has worked well and what have you noticed doesn’t work so well? I would love to hear your ideas…

 

 

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While on a recent trip to the states I visited a school called The Willows in Los Angeles. Gary Stager had recommend this school as being one that is leading the way in maker education. I was delighted to be met by three grade 5 (year 7 students) who excitedly informed me of what they were doing in class. The girls walked me into the STEM room where students were planning their next projects.

Design thinking:

The design thinking process is used to plan and prototype their designs. The girls explained that they could work on their own or work collaboratively using the resources that were available. What I liked was that everyone was doing something unique and different. Students first had to write a plan and draw what they wanted to make. Then they got materials and made prototypes of their designs, finally they could print, build, create and make their designs. The best moment was hearing one boy shout for joy when his design finally worked after repeated attempts, fails and iterations. What I noticed was that their teacher Amy Dugre, skillfully knew what information to give them and what to make them figure out on their own. She worked as a guide, asking clever questions to get the students to think for themselves. One question that came up several times was “who does [this design] benefit?” This some will recognise as the empathy aspect of design thinking. Empathetic or ethical thinking was very evident school wide, an example of this was the project called Our House. This project was student driven with the older students guiding and mentoring the younger ones. Students had to design a house and all the contents in it along with a list of expected behaviours and dispositions expected of the residents. High up on the list was how important it was to the students that they all treated each other with care and kindness – this is the world they want. Students made all the components in the house covering most curriculum areas as they created their house. I love the idea of students of all ages, teachers from all departments and the wider community coming together to learn, The Willows do this through their School-Wide Theme projects.

Learning lunches:

One of the initiatives I loved at this school was ‘learning lunches’. There are four learning lunches a month with the aim being to spark further research or growth. Week one involves a talk or video with week two being a follow up of sharing what staff learnt and what was tried in the classrooms. These lunches were always tied to the curriculum and had a ‘purpose’.

Making as a mindset:

One of the things that was most obvious (and most important in my view) was that making was a mindset for the teachers in this school. When we IMG_4265went into the music room the teacher had made the artwork on the walls and all the props in the room. The caretaker had redesigned a sand sifter to make it work more efficiently – even the science teacher had a very hands-on approach. The picture shows the material provided for students to recreate strands of DNA. When I asked Amy about integrating maker into the school, she explained that change takes time and had started with having the teachers come along when she took the students for technology class. This way the teachers were learning as well.

 

 

 

 

Curricular integration.

One example of maker that I particularly liked was one where students used Logo to program a computer to make repeating patters. The students then 3d printed their objects and later used them in Art class as part of a project that involved joining them together to produce an installation. This interdisciplinary approach is business as usual for this school, you can read more about the approach here.

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Looping:

At the Willows they do a thing called looping. Looping is a philosophy that keeps students with the same teacher for two years. This allows teachers to really get to know their students and what their needs are.

My Takeaways:

A strong emphasis on students driving projects, self-regulation and agency that students had.

Everything had a purpose, technology is used out of a need linked to the curriculum, likewise for professional development.

Importance of empathy and ethics in our everyday learning.

Maker tools are nice, but mindset is key to transformational learning.

Keeping students with teachers long enough to allow for a deep understanding of learner’s needs.

Skilled, passionate teachers are a school’s best asset ( actually I already knew that, but it’s always worth reiterating whenever I can).

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Last word:

A huge thanks to everyone at The Willows school for having me and a special thanks to Amy for the time and care she gave me whilst I was there.

P.S: The Bell. They don’t have one.  It was such a pleasant experience to talk to teachers and students without the intrusion of the archaic school bell telling everyone when to start and stop learning! – I hope more schools follow suit…