The Algorithmic Future of Education
Audrey Watters

Audrey; I agree with all your points, but I think if we forthrightly dismiss IRT based algorithms we will be spitting into the wind. There are aspects of education that can be improved here and .76 is significant (even in the non-statistical sense), especially if we consider the rudimental pedagogy of these early efforts in the digital realm. I think the real danger is found in a simplistic understanding of education that allows one to easily think of a student as a hard drive that can be filled by Knewton alone. It is the same mindset that thinks multiple choice tests can tell us all we need to know about a student’s achievement and potential. The lack of transparency in Ed Tech is also much more of a problem than is generally acknowledged. It’s critical to a realistic discussion of limitations in the tech and I’m glad you highlighted it. Here a partial list of what I thinking might be needed.

  1. Our mind (which is cultural and more than just neurons) is an organ of adaptation and it’s structure reflects the environment (much of which is also cultural) to which it is adapting. Educational theories must reflect this understanding of its subject. If you want a computer analogy, we should fill students with algorithms (or schemas in cognition speak) not data. Data (or sensation in cognitive speak) is just something you find in the environment; finding an appropriate algorithm is how you make sense of it.
  2. Most tech seems to focus more on artificial intellegence (AI) rather then augmented intelligence (AugI). AI is not generally successful outside of marketing schemes or playing chess or jeopardy. Aug I tech (like google) are much more successful. (Watson’s diagnostic systems can be included in AI, but its much more of an augment to a doctor’s intelligence and treatment plan) I would love someone in tech to tell me why pie in the sky AI is more of a focus or why I’m wrong.
  3. We must find an alternative to neoliberalism, which is increasingly showing its ideological underbelly. (It’s great insight that you integrate austerity into this conversation.) Consider Apple, Facebook or Google (Is it me or is it just hard to say Alphabet here). What you love about these companies is the tech. What you hate is what they have to go through to satisfy Wall Street and scratch that billionaire itch. Every public trust does improve with privatization and a shareholder focus; sometimes it just syphons off profits.
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