AI,Self driving cars, and the joy of getting lost: thoughts from #connectmore17


(image: unsplash)

Martin Hamilton, Jisc’s “Futurist” gave the keynote talk at yesterday’s connectmore17 event held, very handily for me at my institution, GCU.  Martin gave an entertaining overview of some technological developments weaving his way from computer games, to drawing (cats) programmes, to space rockets to self driving cars.  All of these developments said would, and are have an impact on education.  As he was talking I couldn’t help but think about the talk Audrey Watters gave at the University of Edinburgh earlier this year called Driverless Ed-Tech: The History of the Future of Automation in Education.  I could end this post here by saying -just read that post, but I’ll add a bit more context.

Throughout the day there was a lot of really useful collective sharing of practice, issues, challenges and you know, all the face to face, networked,  discursive “good stuff ” this kind of event engenders.  There was a real feeling of “the collective”.  To use Audrey’s analogy, it felt like the majority of us were all on the same bus.

During the closing panel session (which was sadly only save from being a manel by including me) it probably won’t surprise you that the issue of the future of education  and the role of learning analytics  came up.  And again we came back to self driving cars, that narrative that with a little automation we could really make impacts on the personal journeys of our students. Now, I may have had a rant or two about this over the day and during the session, but as it is typical with me, it’s only later that I actually figure out what I should have said – hence this post.

Drivers-less cars, using data from us “real drivers” have the potential (are-ish) to get us from A to B in the most efficient manner – personalised of course to our individual preferences, without us realising that our personal experience is a default setting that a couple of million others will be experiencing.

I’m quite good at getting lost – even with sat nav – but I generally manage to get where I need to go. Sometimes my detours are very frustrating and waste lots of time, other times they take me to really unexpected places and people.  So although I do admit to enjoying the safety net of GPS I’m not reliant on it. I find road signs, street names and at times even people are pretty helpful in finding places.

That’s my fear for education, and again Audrey writes about this far more eloquently than I ever could.  The illusion of personalisation, the ever growing demand for successful ‘learner journeys’  from enrollment to graduation in the most efficient way should worry us all. Education should take you to new, sometimes unexpected and challenging places.  I’m not saying there shouldn’t be support and guidance available,  We’re pretty good at providing the educational equivalents of road/street signs, and people to ask help from. It’s just that sometimes it’s really good to go for a wander, to get lost.

The more we try and lock journeys down, monitor and measure things, we may lose some really interesting people because they will just not be able engage because their profile doesn’t fit, or we may loose more people from “the system” as they may go completely off grid. That in itself may be really exciting, but for me just now, I find that a bit sad.