#ectel2014 Workshop – Learning Analytics for and in Serious Games; what I learned…

I feel really good that this year I had the opportunity to attend and participate at the 9th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, EC-TEL 2014. I have to say that so far it has been an interesting experience and I have had some very good conversations but I have also sat in on some very good presentations. I wanted to collate some of my thoughts and reflections about a workshop which I have attended yesterday about learning analytics for and in serious games. Now I have to state that in my own PhD work, I also make use of some learning analytics, focusing on the emergence of social networks in virtual worlds. However I am still a bit skeptic when people make sweeping statements about learning analytics and how they in fact can be used to determine the learning that takes place in an online/digital environment. Still, some of the talks in this workshop have indeed very clearly stated that learning analytics is certainly not about defining the learning occurring, but more about understanding how the learning trajectory evolves.

Christina Steiner during her presentation at EC-TEL 2014, 17th September 2014

Christina Steiner during her presentation at EC-TEL 2014, 17th September 2014

The first presentation, was a comprehensive overview of learning analytics and educational data mining and the current and future research trends in the area. The speaker, Christina Steiner described how one of the key factors driving LA, is assessment defining it as the gathering of information about a learner’s progress towards the achievement of goals and relative competences. So LA comes into play to make sense out of all the learner’s data as he traverses an online environment. Learning analytics and educational data mining have some common goals and similar definitions relating to the collection and collation of data about learners. However educational data mining emphasises automated adaptation and recommendations of a personalised learning experience. LA can be made use of in different time scales. It can be used to report what has happened (past), it can also be used to monitor (real-time progress), and it can also serve to predict (possible?) future learning issues. It is made up of 3 stages; collection, visualisation and predictive modelling, and improving on the LA process. So the main stakeholders in this are learners and teachers.

However this provokes in me some thoughts and questions: would analytics apply to all learning processes, and all learning domains? How accurate would the predictions be? Do they really predict and model learning? If a student has opened a resource, or maybe visited a site, or even uploaded an assignment or completed a quiz, can we really say that that learner has learned? Would he really have learned everything we had in mind as goals?

Let’s say that I, as a teacher, think that by performing an online activity, the learner would achieve a set objective. Therefore when I design and set up my LA process, I know that I would be measuring the student performance in line with that goal. However I believe learning is not linear. I know and everyone knows learning is a complex mesh that is very much dependent not the many experiences the learner goes through. So how can I say that a learner is advancing his progress (or vice versa) by ticking the box that the learner has gone through the activity? What sort of tools would I have to monitor what other additional skills and competencies that learner has attained by maybe going further than that activity? Maybe that activity was boring to the learner and he skipped it but that activity has prompted him to search further, and to investigate deeper than the activity. Where would that place the learner? In my books, that learner demonstrates a good critical skill set, but what about the system? Are we risking to going back to standardising learning with the inclusion of learning analytics to assess learning?

However Christina Steiner ended her talk with a very important consideration, “Serious games” she says. “should be considered as part of multiple learning tools and activities. We’re looking towards data integration not isolation”. I think we should keep this in mind. Data is only part of the larger picture, and we need to understand the larger picture to be able to fully understand learning. So what I would like to understand more is about the role that serious games have in and for learning and ways in which can we exploit the information we gather from them to improve upon and provide a richer learning experience.
The rest of the presentations gave an interesting mix of how games were assessing different skill sets and competences. One final word goes to Laila Shoukry, who delivered a really cool presentation containing her own sketches directly from her smart phone. Good luck for your own PhD Laila!

Chorus: The digital assistant powered by people, not computers

See on Scoop.itEffective MOOCs

So much work on augmented intelligence is about the technology. This approach appears to combine the social and technological aspects — truly augmented collective intelligence. — Howard


“Computer scientists are looking to improve on the performance of artificially intelligent personal assistants by devising a way to use the power of a human crowd to chat you instead. The system, known as Chorus, was designed by researchers at the University of Rochester to allow a number of users to act as a single agent that converses with a single end user in real time.

Chorus was made to try and deal with a couple of problems – the limited knowledge base of a single human user, and the often stilted conversational ability of AI that can leave you feeling like you would be better off talking to your dog.

The use of a multitude of human users means that everyone can suggest answers, providing a large pool of possible responses, with the crowd voting to reach a consensus about the best way to proceed.”

See on m.gizmag.com

The Messification of Assessments – where do we want to go from here?

Today I decided to post my views on an article I just read on the Times of Malta. The issue was really quite simple; our national board responsible for the local benchmark standardised exams, MATSEC, issued a rule – no beverages allowed during the examinations sessions – and after a few hours, during a weekend (which says quite a lot!!) the board issued a statement saying that it has revised this decision and thus reverting back to the original exam policies.

Now to be honest I don’t feel I should get into the merits of whether this is just or unjust. I find that real life may be far more unjust than a decision not to allow drinks during a mere 3-hour period.

Now I, for one, believe in flexibility and allowances. I wouldn’t work well if I didn’t eat or drink frequently. I am hypoglycemic – still I guess I never drank or ate during exams. I am sure I would have been hyped up before and after exams. But then again I always took exams very seriously.

Yet I am very sure that at many workplaces, very few people have the luxury of eating and drinking all the time, especially in a productivity environment. Check out those people working in manufacturing industry! I am also sure that surgeons wouldn’t be able to break off an operation to drink during the actual surgery – possibly before or after the operation, it would be quite sensible to eat or drink but not during. The same applies to plenty of other professions, so why should the student ‘profession’ somehow be exempt from so many other inherent rules that are built within our society.

What worries me the most however, are the comments and the remarks which one can see emergent from the Times’ long string of ad hoc commentators…first of all I have to say, that I find, very sadly, and at the cost of generalization, that the overall quality of many crowd sourced comments lacks (to put it mildly) – not just in terms of the argumentation posed, but also in their use of grammar and vocabulary of the language used. I saw one particular comment, which accused the decision taken by the board as being racist(!!???) – duh!! – racist for enforcing some disciplinary measures, and which as built on my previous arguments, many such work places also enforce? I find these types of comments not only unjustified but also unacceptable.

However I would also like to highlight some of my views on these assessment methods. Now I have to stop for a moment and specify that I am not living in fairy tale land and therefore I know that some form of benchmark assessment practices, in a country, are needed. Yet the way that we are shaping the whole Education system around these blessed Matsec exams is ridiculous. Teachers, parents, administrators, even students… many are of the belief that these exams will definitely show how able or not they are, to live and work in today’s world. This is in my opinion, our downfall.

It doesn’t mean at all, that if one passes these Matsec exams, one has a sound or a critical mind, that one is able to solve problems or that one is knowledgeable about certain topics. It doesn’t even mean that people have a good mastery of the English or Maltese language – let alone other subjects. At higher Education, much of the talks amongst academics concerns the poor level of academia which many of our students seem to show. When one sees the outcomes, then maybe one can discuss whether today’s exams are “harder” than exams which we sat for 20-30 years ago. I am sure they were different, they were suited to those times probably. I continue hoping that the exams have changed from those times, to suit what society needs from us in today’s world. What I really invite people to think about and consider, is that of the importance of young people to demonstrate what they know throughout their schooling years and not just in the 3-hour exam frame. What young people need to concern themselves with, is not that they have to protest to be able to drink during 3 hours, but they have to protest about the ways in which they can be given the opportunity  to generate enthusiasm for learning to be able to do something good. Without being too cynical I find that a good portion of today’s generation, are too self-centered to believe that one day, they can use some of the knowledge which they gather by living, from their schools, from their elders, and from the games they play, for the good of the world – to achieve something better for whoever will come after them.

Maybe after all, we are to blame because we are really spoiling our younger generations; by failing to fight our own battles and trying to fight our students’ battles instead – the magnitude of which is relative to whoever is fighting it.

We need to wake up really. What do we want to get from our younger generations? Where do we want to go? This – no drink during exams issue – is really the tip of the iceberg. The undercurrents run much deeper.

Mr. Khan’s Academy – teaching ‘virtually’ anything

I think I had a sort of epiphany upon listening to Salman Khan… I mean… really…and  drama apart, I just love what this guy is doing…

Khan, has indeed founded the Khan Academy, and notwithstanding the fact that there is a humongous amount of resources which can be accessed and downloaded freely from the site, this guy is indeed revolutionising the whole notion of learning as being encapsulated within the classroom walls.

I look around me and I see educators, teachers, academics and other people involved in the great institution of Education (with a capital E) who are nothing but pessimisting, deluded and cynical bureaucrats concerned with all the petty issues, getting lost on the way, and forgetting what the true notion of providing education is. To me, education and educating is about freedom – everyone’s right to and duty towards freedom… it is the freedom to know, the freedom to learn, the freedom to live actually, because to my mind learning is like breathing…we breathe without being all the time conscious that we’re breathing but we definitely need it to survive. In the same manner, we need to learn, otherwise we would not be better than a cabbage (with all due respect to the cabbage) in a vegetable patch.

So what excited me about Mr Khan, is this idea, that he is not really concerned with the petty nuts and bolts of the institution or of the curriculum for that matter. He can’t seem to be bothered with classifying students as ‘A’ or ‘D’ students, or anywhere in between for all it matters. He is only bothered with providing an insight of a particular concept and he has found the video as his most preferred medium – which is fine. I mean I don’t necessarily think that all the videos are brilliant for all the classrooms we have or that video is the only resource that one should use from this day onwards… far from it… I am sure that there are more and better resources… but it is the concept of it which is thrilling.

If only teachers, teaching specific classes could make use of this concept. This is not saying a lot, it is saying… listen, let the students do the learning elsewhere… when they come to class – they will carry a luggage, and your role then (as teacher) is that of helping them pack, (add or remove) items to their luggage. It’s easy, yes? However I wonder, if this can indeed happen in our classrooms… well at least not until we change the way we teach, assess and THINK…

‘Robot’ computer to mark English essays

The owner of one of England’s three major exam boards is to introduce artificial intelligence-based automated marking of English exam essays in the UK from next month.
Pearson, the American-based parent company of Edexcel (known as London Exams in Malta), is to use computers to “read” and assess essays for international English tests in a move that has fuelled speculation.
All three exam boards are now investing heavily in e-assessment but none has yet perfected a form of marking essays using computers – or “robots” – that it is willing to use in mainstream exams. Academics and leaders in the teaching profession said that using machines to mark papers would create a “disaster waiting to happen”.
Computers have been programmed to scan the papers, recognise the possible right responses and tot up the marks. Pearson claims this will be more accurate than human marking.
Although we live in a ‘technological’ society, I believe that technology can never replace human jobs in certain areas. In my opinion, this is one of them and I am very skeptic about the whole idea that computers can mark essays, where a number of multiple answers can be given in response to the same question. Keeping all this in mind, one has to ask the question, “How can a computer interpret profound human thought and judge if it is right or wrong?”