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Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

My background is interdisciplinary, in the intersection of education, computer science/AI, and cognitive science. I’ve been interested in all of these areas from a young age, really, in some form. I really found my professional focus when I was a graduate student and began looking seriously at how we can use technology, and AI in particular, to create different types of learning experiences that people emotionally connect with and that really help people learn to do something, not just to memorize information. My graduate work led me to start Kaleidoscope Learning with a couple of colleagues, back in 1998. Kaleidoscope focuses on creating innovative learning experiences for corporate learning, professional development, and higher education, and doing related consulting work. I also run an annual conference called The Learning Ideas Conference, teach e-learning design at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and am the current president of the International E-Learning Association. All of the various roles I’m involved in relate to my goal of reimagining education and workplace learning using technology — essentially combining progressive, active educational methods with technology, allowing us to create great educational experiences that can reach a large-scale audience and be made available to anyone.

What inspired you to pursue AI-based approaches to education?

Kind of a mix of my interests and a bit of luck, really! I had long been interested in education and also in computer science and had studied computer science and also done a fair amount of teaching and tutoring. AI was fascinating to me, in terms of what we could potentially do and also from a psychology standpoint, in terms of analyzing and understanding human behavior. I came across a Ph.D. program at Northwestern University that was focused on applying AI approaches to education, and in a very interdisciplinary way, and I ended up doing my Ph.D. there and using my work there as a foundation for my career path. I still work with a number of friends and colleagues from those days, too.

How is AI being used to transform education?

In my view, AI has so much potential to transform education, and the key, more than anything else, is to use AI to create great educational experiences. For example, imagine a world in which a student who wants to learn about Ancient Greece could do so by exploring a virtual reality or hologram projection of Ancient Greece, with the help of an artificially intelligent coach. The student could explore anything they liked, and the coach could — due to having gained an understanding of the student’s interests and style — provide information, make suggestions about things that the student might like, engage the student in interesting and challenging conversations, even virtually introduce the student to other students who have similar interests. This is just one of many things we can potentially do in an AI-driven educational experience — we can put learners in more control, create personalized education, and do all of this in a way that scales up to large-scale audiences. While there’s been work done in AI-based education for quite a number of years, I’m hoping that we’re at a point now where we’ll be able to put a lot of these ideas into practice.

Do you have any advice for young data scientists looking to break into the education industry?

I think we’re at a time of opportunity right now; I’d say if you’re a data scientist with an interest in the education industry, get to know the education field and your potential audience, and then think about what you’d want to do and the contribution you could make. I’d also recommend considering organizational learning — for example, corporate learning and development — as an area where you might be able to come up with interesting applications of data science.

What is a great way for a young professional/student to use data science for social good?

There are so many ways to go here! Certainly in the world of education, using data science as part of the foundation for the kinds of learning experiences I mentioned earlier would be great and would enable wide access (at least within the groups of people who have appropriate internet access, which still needs to be improved) to these experiences — right now, a lot of great learning experiences are available only to people at, say, a certain school.

Is there anything else you want to mention?

I’m excited about the potential uses of AI in education, and want to note that my hope is to see AI used to create new and exciting educational experiences that put people in positions to enjoy personalized, interesting learning. I do worry a bit that AI will be employed in ways that are more punitive in nature, but am hopeful that we’ll see AI in education have a tremendous positive influence. To me, the beauty of AI and technology in education is that we can reimagine education around people’s individual needs and goals, in school, work, and life.



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