Friday, January 14, 2022

Exemplar of successful implementation of tech in schools

Not often you see schools having resolved the ‘technology’ issue. It is usually a contentious issue, often tribal, defensive, even hostile. Despite the endless claims on workload, the refusal to do what every other area of human endeavour does, use technology to reduce it, education often seems to wilfully avoid the issue. Schools have, in the past, been quite independent, creating their own websites, buying and building their own technology, reducing much of it to a cottage industry. It was impressive to find a school network that took technology as seriously as Curro, in South Africa. They had invited me to give a keynote on AI for Learning, based on my book and experience but I hung around as the teacher sessions were so damn good. This is what I learnt, as I think it is a recipe for success.

Centralised service

Curro technology was a centralised service that provided CPD for all teachers, as well as procuring and implementing ALL technology across the entire network of schools. This is NOT simply centralised procurement, it is a group with the deep expertise needed to tackle the change management, training, trials and implementation of a range of activities. They had already implemented a wide range of technologies across the network, accessible through a single point of entry. This, I think is a necessary condition for success, single door, single sign-in. Everything from administration to advanced AI and adaptive learning systems were distributed from this point. Teachers, in particular, appreciated the simplicity of this one-stop-shop approach. It was clear that the service also had real and trusted expertise from which the whole school could draw, rather than distributing responsibility out to all teachers.

Ecosystem of technology

There was a real sense of technology as a force for good in teaching and learning. With champions out in the schools, supported by expertise at the centre, they understood the balance between innovation and implementation. This allows experimentation and constructive feedback. I got none of the tired scepticism I’ve seen elsewhere. Rather than plump for one system, they have built an ecosystem of technologies accepted by everyone. Careful choices, careful implementation and the sense that different tech meets different needs.

Emphasis on CPD

Webinars and other training is distributed, a term in advance, with practical training in hte technology, news on what’s new and other relevant services for teachers. It is clearly a dynamic service designed to bring teachers with them in the change management process. I was giving a talk as part of that process. The day’s activities were under the banner of ‘Imagining 2022’. It’s hard enough to Imagine what any year will bring these days but it was clear that this was a learning organisation, willing to learn from their mistakes and make the effort to plan forward. It was CPD organised by teachers for teachers and not scared of introducing outside ideas and speakers. There was no sense of being a protected, inward-looking process. You got that sense of CPD being in the hands of the teachers themselves, not something done TO teachers.

Content curation

The teachers were full of praise for the provision of content that they could use themselves or for students. There was no sense of the schools hanging on to the idea that ALL content has to be created and delivered internally by the existing teachers. So what of it wasn’t invented here. It was refreshing to find a sense of openness to curated content from outside sources.

Adaptive learning

This was the big surprise. There were glowing testimonials from teachers about the power of adaptive learning, using AI, to personalise learning for students. It was described as a ‘gamechanger’ by the teacher who presented, with clear targeting, so that efficient and relevant, individual interventions could be made for students. It was clear that they knew why they wanted this technology, had implemented it well and were using teacher feedback to spread the word internally.


Content, slides and short videos, along with digital worksheets, were used in class with regular assessments. A big win was saving time on marking and correction, which was automated and done instantly, even alternative question provision. This, I feel, is an argument that is massively underappreciated in schools. Diagnostic questions, provided by the system were found to be particularly useful, for identifying individual learners’ strengths and weaknesses. This meant that teachers didn’t have to wait for an assessment before making an intervention. There was also openness to including parents in the process, using the tech to allow access to their progress, lessening the need for teachers to respond to parent requests. Learners at home can also be held accountable for work in class or at home in realtime. This use of technology to extend teaching and learning was exactly what I had presented in my Keynote, using Artificial Intelligence as ‘Augmented’ Intelligence.

Conclusion

Far from being reactive to innovation they were on the front foot, seeking out the best of breed technologies. By creating a separate entity that centralised these efforts they could keep delivery safe and simple, as well as think about how to bring staff with them. The fact that I was brought in, someone 5,500 miles away, to give a talk, was a testament to their ambition and openness. I learnt more from them as they did from me. That’s as it should be.


Monday, January 03, 2022

Part 3: Metaverse - a look into the possible abyss

Owning a Metaverse is one thing, owning the discourse and language of the Metaverse is another. Note how we’re all now using an invented and owned Facebook brand the ‘Metaverse’ to even talk about this. I get the feeling that we’re being suckered. 

It comes from Neil Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash (which was the white noise seen on screens when the system crashes). It is an astonishing novel, where the virtual world, the Metaverse sits in an anarcho-capitalist world, owned by the Global Multimedia Protocol Group. You access it via VR, controlled by a monopoly cable television group that has replaced all telephone networks, all of this is very close to the Facebook bone.

Facebook’s land grab of the virtual world through Metaverse branding is slick PR but it stinks. It is as if just naming something makes it real. The brand alone acts as the new centre of gravity. Metaverses have been around for decades, what is different is the branding and financial commitment that Facebook have put into this. Apple is having to pay developers six-figure cash sums to retain them, such is the recruitment pull into this world.

Shift to Web 3.0

This is all part of a much bigger shift in tech, re-defining itself as Web 3.0 with an open, permissionless, decentralised world of cryptocurrencies, NFTs, blockchain and multiverses. Why? If you’re in regulatory trouble in this world, create a new one. You are then free from those authorities and constraints. 

Even better, create a system where you make money, and I literally mean ‘make’ money as cryptocurrencies. You create money, then rake in even more money, make virtual stuff, sell it - all of a sudden you have an economy, free from governments and control. That is how these brands already escape tax - they play us by creating virtual excuses. They trade online, making it difficult to pin down taxable entities such as true sales and profits, then shift to low tax regimes to literally steal revenues from the actual countries that accrue the sales and profits. They are the masters of illusion as what they deal in is illusions. This next step is to create a wholly illusory world - the Metaverse.

The libertarian roots of Silicon Valley have outgrown their teenage years. They’re now greedy adults - they want it all. Not content with grabbing all the real money they want to destroy the real and make even more money from the unreal.

People in the Metaverse

Commentary on Tech swings from utopian to dystopian, from hype to horror in a flash. But the

Metaverse could turn out to be a crime-ridden scamfest, full of fakery, rug-pulls, NFT frauds and cryptocurrency BS. The real world has plenty of crime and scams, as does the existing online world but the Metaverse may actually create worlds where this is made so much easier. No one can hear you scream in cyberspace. We may all have our digital twin in the Metaverse but there will be swarms of Jekyll and Hyde twins to deal with.

Objects in the Metaverse

In The Conspiracy of Art (1996) Baudrillard trounces modern art. His book Simulacra and simulations (1981) gave him fame in the art world but this critique of that world demolished the pretence that they were at the vanguard of relevance. Art has become a set of signals, everywhere and nowhere, part of a consumerist nexus with its careers, commerce and tawdry fame. For him it has become a mediocre game of high-end, consumerist and status exchange. He would have been writing about NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) if he were alive today, the creation of digital entities, largely as investment assets. They are already being seen and marketed as assets within the Metaverse.

Nike has acquired a virtual shoe company, RTFKT, who also make NFTs. Let that sink in. They want to sell virtual shoes for virtual people in virtual worlds. Other high-end brands will buy into that virtual economy. That should make us think.

What should also make us think and worry is the strange tale of the ‘Evil Ape’ NFT developer who disappeared after deleting his Twitter account and website, with $2.7 million of investors’ cash. Evolved Apes was a supposed Multiverse full of NFT apes who were to fight each other for survival. The Multiverse and game never appeared. The cash, a cryptocurrency called Ether, disappeared. You’d think the foolish investors would have learnt their lesson but they’re carrying on with Fight Back Apes, fighting the Evil Ape. The whole episode contains all the signs you need on this combination of NFTs and cryptocurrencies in a supposed Multiverse. It will be a dark place, attracting every scammer on the planet.

Places in the Metaverse

Forget simple shoes and images, land and properties are already being sold in Metaverses. When Snoop Dogg developed his Snoopverse, someone bought a property in his virtual world for almost $500,000. “I'm always on the lookout for new ways of connecting with fans and what we've created in The Sandbox is the future of virtual hangouts, NFT drops, and exclusive concerts.” Snoops virtual house is modeled on his real house and you can buy expensive  passes to get access. Platforms are already there, such as Sandbox and Decentraland, with Sandbox already clocking up a $4.3 million sale for a plot of land. Investors and major brands are already buying into the Sandbox project. The role that celebrities and influencers play in this movement will be interesting.

Conclusion

This may turn into a new gold rush, creating a wonderful new market or a form of tulip mania where many lose their shirts. Who knows? What makes this different from previous Multiverses, such as Second Life, is that the underlying technologies, with cryptocurrencies, an already existing NFT market and a ubiquitous, high-bandwidth, cloud-based internet, make it a much more sophisticated world. As we spend more time in such places, we may well be willing to spend money on the places we inhabit. This is the economy of experiences, not physical assets. At the moment it looks as though assets, rather than experiences are its main inhabitants.