The Impending Technological Singularity: Implications for Education

The new school year is finally here. My seniors have returned ready for year two of our journey together through IB Biology, and along with them come a new crop of 9th graders that bring with them the unfamiliar. Every class is different and over time they develop a reputation that will stay with them throughout their four years whether evidence continues to support these labels or not.

In my first class with the 9th graders this year, something peculiar happened that cannot be ignored. In an effort to establish a baseline of my student's understanding of investigative techniques in the laboratory, we began with an introductory activity that for the past two years has taken our students the full period and then some to complete. This was different. This year half of them finished with time left to cause trouble. The kind of trouble that 9th graders inevitably find themselves involved in with they don't have structures and routines controlling their every move. Again. This was different. I noticed a group of them were deeply involved in whatever was happening on one of the student's computer screens and my imagination went wild. Much to my relief, they were watching him code a game that they all played together. I asked how many of them liked to code, and almost half of them raised their hands and they were competing with each other to explain how this "Choose Your Own Adventure" game worked that they were all involved in. It was clear to me that they were able to speak and communicate in the language of code with the same level of comfort and proficiency that you would see in a person who was fluent in a second language. I am predicting this class will be known as the challenging "Techy" group. I say challenging because I would argue that most teachers will not be able to speak the same language that this group of kids prefers to converse in.

In the past 5 years, we have incorporated some problem-based learning units into the Integrated Science 9 and 10 curricula. What always amazes me the most is the ease with which students access and integrate various technologies to communicate their learning. Websites, infographics, programs, novel presentation platforms, video/multimedia creation platforms. You name it. Their learning curve is steep and fast.

 Student infographic from a genetics project.

Student infographic from a genetics project.

 This got me thinking of Moore's law.

Back in the 1960's Gordon Moore of Intel predicted that the number of transistors per integrated circuit would double every 18 months. This was of course based on prior trends, but it has held true for an additional 50 years...so much so that industry has been driven by this predictive metric.

 Click on the image to read about the approaching technological singularity.

Click on the image to read about the approaching technological singularity.

In an article in Co.Design, Mark Zucherberg applied Moore's law to the culture of sharing:

We talk about the Moore’s law of sharing, but we never meant that all this will happen on Facebook—it will happen in the world. Our challenge is to make that happen on Facebook. I draw an analogy to Intel. Moore’s law was great for them, because they could point at the world and say, "Okay, in 18 months, someone’s going to fit this many transistors on a circuit board—we’d better be the ones to do it or else someone is gonna eat our lunch!" I look at this the same way. Three years from now, people are going to be sharing eight to 10 times as much stuff. We’d better be there, because if we’re not, some other service will be.

I would argue that there should be a Moore's law of education as well.

The evolution of artificial intelligence and the impending technological singularity has been an obsession of mine for quite some time. In short, the idea is that in developed nations the evolution of human intelligence has begun to plateau and technology is in a position to overtake human intelligence. By combining the two, humans stand to kick start an unimaginable increase in human intelligence which would trigger a technological singularity. Even more alarming is that the predicted dates of this merger between human and machine seem to focus on the decade between 2020 and 2030. My 9th graders will be graduating from high school in 2020.

As an educator, I have to ask myself, "How am I preparing my students for THIS future?". Even more importantly, Educators should be asking, "How are we preparing ourselves to prepare our students for THIS future?"

I encourage you to check out this video, entitle Humans Need Not Apply: 

 

I have been a Technology Integration Coach at ASB for the past three years. This has given me a unique opportunity to observe learning from many perspectives. The teachers at ASB are some of the best that I have ever worked with. They work tirelessly to understand their students needs through collaboration and data-informed decision making in an effort to personalize the education of each and every student. The problem is not in the teachers efforts but in our systemic metrics. Our school is an IB school. For seniors the focus is on IB scores and college admissions. To prepare them to achieve their goals it takes 25 hours a day. As a result, education as an institution is focused on the slow-to-change systems (IBO, College Admissions processes, SAT, etc.). This does not leave room for a great deal of forward thinking beyond the general trends of higher education. Another unfortunate consequence is that educators in general are much slower at learning and integrating new technologies into their practices than our students. This is the conundrum. If advances in technology are increasing at a pace predicted by Moore's Law, and our students, despite a lack of instruction in this acquisition of knowledge are gaining at a much faster pace than those in charge of educating them, at what point does the gap become too large? At what point does our current educational model become irrelevant? 

As a biology teacher, I often find that biological systems serve as perfect metaphors for any wicked problem we face as a society. The one that best fits this wicked problem is climate change. For years we have been contributing to the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in the name of progress and innovation. The human species was launched into relevance by the agricultural and more importantly the industrial revolution. The system was huge, the rewards were inconceivable and numerous, and the risks of environmental impact were considered negligible if they were considered at all. Now it is rumored that climate change is real (have you read about the floods in Louisiana this week?) :-) We are on a pathway to destruction and people are still in denial. Scientists all over the world are desperately searching for solutions while the populace continues to ignore the threats in the face of economic hardship. A plea published by the Economist leads with the subheading: 

Global warming cannot be dealt with using today’s tools and mindsets. So create some new ones.

Has climate change gotten too out of hand for us to find a solution in time? Is it too late to change the system?

Let this be a warning to educators around the world. If we don't do something to prepare ourselves to prepare this next generation for a technologically advanced society, will the gap between our level of integration and our students level of integration become too wide? Will we become irrelevant? We owe it to our students to look beyond college admissions and IB exams. It is time for education to change our curve before it is too late.

Game On!

What started two months ago as a manipulative plot to get my seniors to prepare for IB exams has turned into an epic quest:  to annihilate Lida the Mango (#1 in the world in biology) in a battle of wits while accidentally preparing for exams of course. The QuizUp biology topic update has finally gone live and my students  couldn't be more excited... or sleep deprived.

QuizUp: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em!

 Click through on the image to find out more about QuizUp

Click through on the image to find out more about QuizUp

For a while now I have been using Quizlet to help my IB Biology students learn vocabulary for my course.  Finals are just around the corner, so I posted the following messages to our class Facebook group: 

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My first reaction was to dismiss this idea as I suspected that it was going to serve the same function on a different platform, which means twice as much work for the same result.  However, I went ahead and signed up for QuizUp to see what the fuss was all about. 

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A week later, I find myself ranked #2 in India hot on Rams tail, though admittedly he has a bit of a lead on me.  A couple of days into my obsession with this game I mentioned it to a colleague of mine.  At midnight a couple of days later he sent me this message: 

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We have decided to start a QA group at our school:  QuizUp Anonymous or 12 steps to getting more sleep at night.  But enough about us... it IS all about the students after all. 

To play the game, you choose a category (there are tons of options) and then you either challenge a friend to play with you (in real time or asynchronously) or you can challenge a random person in the world in real time.  Each game has 7 questions and you have 10 seconds to answer the question. You get experience points for guessing a correct answer, your speed in answering the questions, completing games and victories.  For each category, points add up to numerical levels and levels add up to achievements in the form of player titles (I am an Evolutionary Einstein formerly a Genetics Genius) as well as badges such as this one:

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There are even a few badges for the not-so-fortunate among us: 

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A student of mine discovered this after challenging me one too many times.  He should have known better than to go after an Evolutionary Einstein! 

Anyway, you can check out your stats as well as the stats of your "friends".  Here is a breakdown of the games played by the student that introduced me to this game. 

 

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Can you tell that he is studying for his SAT in December?  I love that his top three topics include Biology and Physics.  Unfortunately, after playing "a few" games under the topic of Biology, I realized that the biology questions for the most part didn't address the IB Biology curriculum.  In passing my student had mentioned that we could create content for QuizUp, so I wrote to them and asked if I could create content for a new Science category with my students that would be focused on the IB Biology content that they would be tested on in May.  I figure if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join them.  How great would it be to leverage a tool like this for student learning?

They loved the idea, and have charged me with creating a spreadsheet with a minimum of 300 questions to launch the new topic.  Once this new topic is released, students all over the world will be able to access this question bank and play other students while accidentally preparing for their exams in May. 

I would like to open this up to other IB Biology teachers.  The format required for the questions is as follows: 

  • All questions are multiple choice and need to be submitted in a spreadsheet
  • Questions can be a maximum of 130 characters
  • Answers are limited to 30 characters
  • The order on the spreadsheet needs to have the question first then the CORRECT answer, followed by 3 wrong answers.

If you are an IB Biology teacher, and you are interested in helping me to create content for this game, send me a message and I will be happy to add you to the Google Spreadsheet that I have started with my students.  The faster we get this done, the sooner it will be available for our students to use.  You can reach me at my Twitter handle @roryaileen, or by email at newcombr@asbindia.org.  I am also looking for a catchy title (with IB somewhere in it to avoid the addition of non-related content) as well as achievement level title suggestions.  I am thinking of going with an evolutionary theme.  Instead of beginner, they start as primordial slime, and progress to higher organisms until they reach the top level, Super Human Intellectual Terrestrials.

I will keep you updated on the release, but for now, my arch nemesis from Spain has just challenged me to a rematch, so I must go. 

Twitter PLNs: Geographical Isolation Doesn't Really Exist

I have been living overseas for 14 years now on four different continents.  It has been one exciting adventure after another, and most of the time, I wouldn't trade my life for the world.  However, when it comes to forming PLCs and learning with colleagues, the isolation can sometimes be overwhelming and in some cases a deterrent.  Sometimes I crave the world.  It's really a numbers game when you get down to it.  The sample size of educators in your physical proximity or even time zone that share in your specific passions and interest can be quite limited.  In most of the places I have taught, there were at most two schools with an even smaller group of teachers interested in learning about the same topics, pedagogical strategies, or technological tools to the depth that I wanted to go with my professional development.  In countries outside of the US, you frequently have to contend with language issues, cultural/educational barriers, and in places like India traffic and logistical difficulties. 

 Kenya, December 2012

Kenya, December 2012

Relying on my biology metaphors, it can sometimes feel like I am an opportunistic predator (read educator) –always searching for the PD rich experience but always aware of the energy and motivation costs of the hunt.  It can be hit or miss, and I have found that localized PD experiences in my host countries can frequently be a miss.  Having said that, limiting my professional development to the small group of teachers that I work with in my physical space can be just as much of a miss for no other reason than the statistical significance of a small sample size.  What is the likelihood that I will find another teacher in my building who wants to explore iPad apps that will help me to better illustrate the movement of electrons and hydrogen ions in the electron transport chain during both the cyclical and non-cyclical light dependent reactions in photosynthesis for my 12th grade IB class or gamifying my chemistry unit for 10th grade? 

Another issue is technology.  It is impossible to stay abreast of every new app, tool, and resource that hits the market.  It is even more difficult in international schools if you don't have a critical mass of connected educators constantly sharing out resources that they have discovered outside of our little bubble.  The key word here is connected.  It is because of Twitter, that all of the issues mentioned above have completely disappeared for me in the past year. 

PLC or PLN?


Before I joined Twitter a year ago, PLC used to stand for Professional Learning Community.  It was the edupopculture (yes, I just made that word up) buzz word for your department, vertical team, grade level team etc.  It usually consisted of less than 10 people who shared a common goal, often a goal predetermined by the administrators dictating your meeting agendas.  PD was delivered and often watered down to address all grade levels and all disciplines.  In the international schools that I have worked at in the past, this frequently involved literacy or something more tool oriented like Atlas Rubicon.  My PLC time was often spent documenting what were already doing rather creating or discovering new ideas in uncharted territory.  Then I joined Twitter.

I have now expanded my PLC into a PLN.  Though it may look like only a difference in one letter, there were actually two major paradigm shifts that took place.  The obvious change is that I now have a network rather than a community.  Instead of being isolated by an ocean from other educators that share my vision and mission as an educator, I am now connected to them through my network.   

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The second shift is more subtle on the surface, but has a far greater impact on my development as an educator.  Instead of a Professional Learning Network, I now refer to my PLN as my Passionate Learning Network.  Whenever I have time to explore or discover, I simply turn to Twitter.  In no time at all, I am connected to people who share in my passion for learning and offer far more insight and an endless stream of new ideas for me to dig into.  My world now looks a little more like this:

 Image originally from  eatrio.net  via  Reddit

Image originally from eatrio.net via Reddit

This image came from a great post that you should check out:  40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World

Snapshot:  How do PLN's Work


So today, I went onto Twitter and one of my fellow Tweeps from California posted this:   

 @davidtedu

@davidtedu

My question was what is this ThingLink and why are you awake at 1:30 am California time?  So he responds: 

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Hmmm....Note to self:  Check out ThingLink; it could be the answer to my photosynthesis dilemma.  What is #playdate13?   

Before I could ask him, another Twitter friend, @clongbh sent me the link to the Google site for the unconference that they are going to attend, Playdate Los Angeles.  After taking one look at the site, I felt the isolation creeping in...but only for a moment.  I was frustrated that I couldn't be there to participate and learn from the amazing educators that are participating in this creative playdate.  It then occurred to me that I can still participate by following the hashtag #playdate13 this evening as all of the people attending are connected educators and will be tweeting out resources and commentary throughout the event.  I suspect that several of the sessions will also be aired live via Google Hangouts.  Chris then invited me to a new Google+ Community that can answer all of the questions that I have about Thinglink and connect me to other educators using it in their classrooms.  

This just in:  While writing this post, I received this tweet:   

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I do not follow ThingLinkEducation, but their search engine must have alerted them to the fact that I was tweeting about ThingLink so they sent me a link to their educator's toolkit and a Google presentation on 70+ Interesting Ways to Use ThingLink in the Classroom.  Need I say more?  Two minutes on Twitter, and I now have hours of exploring and creating to do with an instant support network made of people who are passionate enough about ThingLink to share their expertise.  I am definitely looking forward to digging deeper when I finish this post.  If you are still not convinced, or not sure how to get started, here are some previous posts that I have written about using Twitter for professional development. 

What it Means to be a Connected Educator 

Twitter for Professional Development Series  

Update:  I received these two tweets from @CoffeeNancy after sharing this post on Twitter.   

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