Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Powerful Algorithms are Not AI

A while back I wrote a post that explained my personal feelings regarding the difference between gamification and game-based learning. I feel like now there is a new confusion going around the education industry. Powerful algorithms versus AI. Artificial intelligence learns and grows on its own whereas powerful algorithms are just that. An algorithm has limitations. 

An example of a powerful algorithm used in education would be something like voice to text or the opposite; text to speech. You will notice when you use one of these tools that there will be limitations. For example it may pronounce a word incorrectly or it may write the wrong thing when you talk. This is because while it is powerful it does not learn the more it is used.

AI on the other hand learns on its own. Yes it is still a type of algorithm but it is a much more powerful algorithm that has the ability to pull from its previous experiences. This is why the more people that are using AI the better the AI is becoming. It is also why we need to hope Sarah Connors is ready for us in the future because we are leading the path to the robots revolution.

If you are attending workshops and conferences on AI please remember to take it with a grain of salt. Some of these so-called experts are not experts at all. Honestly I think it's impossible to be an expert at this point because AI is still such a new technology in the education field.

Now when Data becomes a real person, I'll be first in line at Comic-Con to get his autograph.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Comic Con 2023

Welcome to Good Burger
 I once again received a professional pass to New York Comic Con as an educator. This year, I only went for the one day but found it to be enough without getting overwhelming.

The day started with a quick stop at the Paramount+ booth where they were hosting a game version of Good Burger, because the movie will be coming out shortly. I then walked around the expo floor for a bit before heading to the panel sessions.

On Thursday at Comic Con, the New York Public Library works to organize educational panels and I sat to listen to some educators discuss "Kids as Content Creators: Engaging Media-Savvy Students". During the session, the teacher was talking about this cool program, Pixton, to allow students to create custom comic books. The most interesting part though was not from a presenter, but from the woman sitting behind me. While they were discussing the cost for the subscription and how they fundraised, she muttered under her breathe that the New York Public Library provides Pixton to all library card holders. This got me interested to go home and see what else Philly offers that I may not know about.

Continuing Education Credit
for NY Teachers
While at Comic Con, I walked around the expo floor and spent a good amount of time speaking with the publisher's booths. Last time I attended I learned about a few Advanced Reader Programs so I was excited to see if there were any new resources out there. 

Overall, I had a great day. Knowing that NYCC allows educators to apply for the professional pass is amazing and the Thursday sessions for educators are a great way to see how others are using literature, pop culture, and technology to work with students. Thursday is typically the slowest say of the weekend but when walking in the expo hall, it was shoulder to shoulder. I can't imagine how crowded the weekend would be.

Walter Emanuel Jones
Original Power Ranger
For the big stars that were signing autographs or doing professional pictures, they had a separate area, but other less popular (but still really cool) celebrities were sitting at strategic booths throughout the expo hall. I didn't pay for a selfie, it was $60, but I thought it was cool that I recognized one of the B list celebrities that were sitting at a vendor's booth. The original Black Power Ranger, Walter Emanuel Jones. He was also in the Nickelodeon show Space Cases. I loved Space Cases and always thought it was kind of a kids version of Star Trek. The group of misfit students snuck onto a ship and then launched lightyears away. Similar to Star Trek Voyager, they had to work together to find their way home on a seven year journey. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Pay to Play?

I've recently been wondering something and it's been stuck in the back of my head and I want to bring it out.

Imagine you are a child and your parent wants to be able to brag about you so they buy your way onto a team. Example, Draco Malfoy in Chamber of Secrets when he joins the Quidditch team after his father buys the entire team broomsticks.

Now you didn't really earn your place on that team but you still go around bragging to people and acting superior because you were on the team. Everyone on the team knows you're only there because of the equipment your parents bought but you still act high and mighty.

Now imagine that you are a child who has no idea that this is going on. Perhaps the broomsticks were donated anonymously to the school specifically for the team and your name is on the roster the next day.

The same situation where your parent bought your way onto the team, should you realize it? Notice that correlation? And what should you as that child do? Taking this thought a step further what happens if you know one of your classmates is a better player. Do you take the position that was purchased for you or do you step aside?

This scenario is just one extreme example of a complex issue revolving around equality in education. Parents, rich or poor, will do almost anything for their children. However, I often wonder if we're really just hurting the future.

There are cases circulating the news such as a story from 2016 that pops back up often regarding a teenager who drove drunk and got in an accident. His lawyers argued "Affluenza" as the defense. This teenager was raised to believe actions didn't have consequences because his parents would buy him out of trouble. How many more stories like this never made national headlines?

The point I'm trying to make in this rambling, both fictional and real examples, is I want to know if there's something we can do to stop this from happening? It's not just students. I recently received an email that I had been selected for an award. To accept the honor, I would have to pay $2000 for processing, press releases, and other things related to the "honor" and it made me start questioning how many people brag about honors that they really just paid for.

I know sometimes someone else is paying for these awards. For example, I'm in a regional organization and every year we honor one person with a national award. The regional organization has the authority to select our winner, but we pay the national organization for everything that the winner received such as the plaque, medal, award ceremony attendance, and more. So we are technically paying to give the award. The difference is that the recipient is not paying, the provider (sort of) is paying. I also understand that things like the physical award does cost money even if the title itself doesn't. Is an email and social media post as exciting as a plaque to hang in one's classroom?

Enough of my rambling today on paying for awards. Often when I see the list of recipients, like "30 K12 Influencers to Follow" I know right away know that it's well deserved. Just don't pop my bubble by telling me someone paid to make that list because I know a bunch of the people on the list and know they deserve recognition.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Learning from Attendees While Presenting

I've been doing professional development now for a few years but yesterday was a new experience for me. I went to a private school (not the new part) that was part of a Mosque (that's the new part). From the name of the school, I had assumed that it was associated with Islamic culture but I didn't realize how much. Throughout the day while I worked with the teachers on SEL, conversations mixed in about culture, along with them needing breaks at specific times for prayer. By the end of the day, I think I learned as much from them as they did from me. I wanted to share some of the experience and also my reflections, both personal and professional, about the day.

When I introduced myself to the group, I explained that I know their culture has similarities to my own, Judaism. I understood that they separated by gender and I didn't offer to shake hands with any of the men when I met them. I also stepped back to give space when the IT person was connecting an extension cord to my charger. 

It was interesting when he was speaking in Arabic and the principal (in English) told him that he should speak English while I was there. I told them it was fine and joked that I would just assume they were talking about how awesome I was but they did speak English the rest of the day for my benefit.

After introducing myself to the whole group, I took the opportunity to start with a language demonstration of using Microsoft Translator to collaborate with a global network. I told them of my experience working on a global team for E2 and that while we didn't speak the same language we were able to present together. This was my way of showing that if they were more comfortable speaking Arabic, as the minority in the situation I was willing to communicate in their language.

There were 16 attendees in total and it was immediately clear how close this group was. They were not just colleagues but almost like a family. In fact, when we were discussing SEL and some common classroom scenarios, one teacher told me that their students are more like sibling rivalry than classic fighting. This really was a micro-community in the heart of a larger city. They are neighbors; they pray together, work together, and go to school together.

Since I had not thought ahead but didn't want to disrespect their space, I offered to eat my lunch outside rather than bring non-Halal food into their mosque. I explained that when I've trained at the Jewish Day School I would pack a kosher lunch but wasn't thinking when I prepared for the day. One of the women told me that Halal and Kosher foods are very similar and that in-fact they are likely to take a kosher meal on flights or in hospitals because Halal isn't an option. I actually found that statement extremely impactful because I was under the impression that Halal eaters were more common than Kosher eaters.

In the afternoon the group went downstairs for the prayers and I stayed upstairs in the classroom. One of the teachers that was not praying with the others invited me to watch if I was interested in learning about the culture. She explained why she was not praying with the others that day. As we spoke and watched, I saw more similarities between their culture and my own. I am not an Orthordox Jew but I do know the rules and customs. The men stood at one end of the room while the women were on the other. When they got down on the floor, some were sitting in chairs and the woman I was standing with explained that health always comes first and adaptations can be made when needed.

The final interesting thing that came up was when we were talking about parental communication. One teacher gave an example of a time when a new student who didn't speak English or Arabic joined the class. He said something that sounded like a bad word in English but actually meant something very innocent in his own native language. This led to a discussion that online translators aren't perfect and that they translate literal statements. I used "It's raining cats and dogs" as an example of an idiom that makes sense in America and English but might confuse someone when translated.

I will be going back to this Mosque at the end of the month to provide another session and I am interested to see what more I can learn from them while I am facilitating the training. The upcoming training will be technology rich, specifically Microsoft tools.

Disclaimer: This blog post is my personal reflection to a training I completed on behalf of my employer. However the post is my own experiences and opinions. It does not reflect my employer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

What's in a brand?

I'm going to use an analogy so that I don't specify specific brands of EdTech but hopefully the point of this blog post will make sense.

There are many brands that make similar products and while one brand is well known for good reason it's not the only brand available. We'll start with an analogy using crayons. When teachers send out supply lists, while some teachers will just specify crayons other teachers will specify Crayola crayons. Why is this?

Do the store brand crayons not come in multiple colors? So why do teachers constantly recommend Crayola? The answer is simple. They are known for their quality and consistency. They're stronger and don't break as easily so even though they cost the little more upfront at the end of the day they will last longer.

There are tech products that also follow this pattern. From 3D printers to interactive panels there is always that one brand that is slightly more expensive but has a greater reputation. There is a reason why when you go to purchase a 3D printer for a classroom you go to the EdTech specialists or the vendors that sell industrial quality printers and not to your local Amazon page to buy the cheapest 3D printer available. It will still work, but it won't work as well and it will probably break down faster meaning you will have to replace it sooner.

Personally, I own one of those $200 3D printers and I use it at home. But I am one person and I am only printing the occasional object. A classroom is printing multiple projects and often running a printer constantly for days at a time to complete the entire classes queue. My printer at home would never be able to keep up with the demand of a classroom so while it is much cheaper up front I would probably have to purchase multiple printers and then replace them often because they don't last. For those people who know me you will also know that I am very obvious with my likes and dislikes in the Ed tech world. I will talk with a school to see what their goals are and I have recommended products that I don't personally use because I know that they are probably better for that individuals needs.

You may now be thinking that there are multiple brands that make quality products so how do you choose? For this analogy I'm going to use cars. If all cars are required to have standard safety features, why would some people prefer one brand over the other? Sometimes it comes down to the aesthetics. Sometimes it comes down to something as simple as what features are standard and what features are costing extra. My last car was a Ford but I currently own a Toyota. I love my RAV4 but that doesn't mean my next car is going to be a Toyota again. When it's time to upgrade my vehicle I will compare the different brands, compare the features, and take a test drive. Only then will I be informed enough to make a good decision about which car is best for me.

This is another reason that I like to keep up with all the trends even though I'm no longer in the classroom. Because when I give somebody an opinion it's an educated opinion based on my personal research and experience. I may recommend one brand this year, but that doesn't mean it will always be the best brand.