Author Archives: Santtu

Teachers Want to Go Digital Where it Brings Most Benefits

We carried out SLIF again, this time focusing on teacher activities.

John Richard Martin

In the fifth annual Sanoma Learning Impact Framework (SLIF), we decided to focus on the main tasks the teacher performs in her profession. In total 7075 teachers responded to the survey, which was again carried out in all of the markets in which we operate: Belgium, Finland, The Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.

Core activities

The main tasks for teacher are: lesson planning, teaching the whole class, exercising, testing, assessment and giving guidance personally or in small groups. Of course there are other tasks too, such as administrative work and professional development, but these are the most frequently repeated activities.

Figure 1 depicts the amount of time teachers estimate they spend on each activity. Teaching the whole study group takes most of the teachers’ time, but still only less than a third.

activities Figure 1. Percentage of time spent on different tasks

As part of the digital transformation, we are as an…

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Learning Materials Shouldn’t Form Filter Bubbles

Snellmanin ala-asteen luokan oppituntiIn printed learning materials bubbles might be formed between the school book cover and the plastic covering it. However, bubbles can emerge also with digital learning materials. These bubbles are completely different since they isolate learners from each other. That’s why it is very important to avoid and burst them.

Last time I wrote about how artificial intelligence is teacher’s friend not enemy. Intelligent digital tools and materials are not about to replace the teacher. Instead they support the teacher, making her job easier.

Now it is time to address another theme: filter bubbles. Filter bubbles are known from social media and politics. People with similar opinions and attitudes talk solely with each other, causing them to form a bubble which drifts away from other bubbles. In the future the same unwanted mechanism can also be affecting learning.

Politicians, education officials, application developers, publishers, and many others: one of the most central objective for parties working with education is to advance personalized learning. This means that learners are encountered as individuals rather than as homogeneous groups. For example my employer Sanoma Pro as an educational publisher aims to offer diverse materials with something for everyone.

In digital environments personalized materials can be composed and distributed automatically. For example in Bingel the pupil is offered easier or more difficult exercises depending on whether he got previous answers right or wrong.

Personalization cannot jeopardize the equality of learning

Personalization and adaptivity can be taken further than what present Bingel has. This is exactly where the danger of filter bubbles looms. In principle the learners could complete exercises and according to the answers be directed in different routes which might not cross in the future. This could replicate the unwanted scenario from social media with learners in their own bubbles, isolated from each other.

In real life the teacher has a central role in guaranteeing that each learner goes through at least particular topics. Also the curriculum mandates this; personalization has to be implemented respecting he curriculum.

What to personalize then, and on what grounds? Some propose learning styles as the answer. It means offering interactive content for kinesthetic learners, videos for visual learners, and so on. However, learning styles and their positive impact to learning has been debunked several times. Not worth to waste time in them.

Personalization for engagement

My proposal is to personalize in order to engage and motivate the learners. One can assume that a learner is more motivated if she gets offered learning materials tailored for her. For example, exercises should be hard enough to keep the learner interested. They cannot be too difficult, however, so that the learner doesn’t get frustrated. It is natural for people to like both routines and change. Learning materials should reflect this by offering both familiar content and surprises.

To conclude, an important note related to personalization and more generally applications utilizing AI: both the learners and the teachers should have the feeling of being in control and understand the tools and content they use. This is why it is worthwhile to offer recommendations rather than completely automatic adaptivity. Let the learners and teachers to select whether to follow recommendations or not.

Even better if the recommendation includes argumentation of why just that particular content is offered to that particular learner. For example like this: “You seem to be practicing for tomorrow’s geometry exam. You have already mastered areas but there is still some work to do with volumes. Here is a 30 minute exercise package for you and there is a three minute video covering the basics. You can also familiarize yourself with volumes with the following containers found in your kitchen….”

When implemented right, personalized learning motivates the learner, eases teacher’s daily work, and does not isolate learners from each other.

This post was first published in Sanoma Pro’s blog in Finnish.

 

Hey Teacher: AI is Your Friend, Not Enemy

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We are told from left and right that artificial intelligence (AI for short) is going to take our jobs: four million jobs in the UK in danger to disappear, 47 percent of US jobs are going away, as much as half of all professions vanishing during the next decade.

Luckily not all news stories are as gloomy. One research dealt with a thousand companies and estimated that AI will create new jobs in 80 percent of the cases. More moderate predictions claim that professions are going to both appear and disappear. A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) stated that in the years 2017-2037 the UK job market is going to see seven million jobs to go away, but 7,2 million new ones to emerge.

You Cannot Replace a Teacher with a Machine

How about teachers, then? Are they going to be fine? Yes, claims PwC. Teaching is one of those professions which are hard to replace with computers or automation. I couldn’t agree more. Deep knowledge of learners’ personalities, ability to adapt to dynamics in the classroom context, and interacting with the study group accordingly are in the hard core of teaching. No one or nothing knows the class better than the teacher.

Instead of replacing teachers, AI can help them in doing their job better. Teaching involves several routine tasks which could be partly or completely automatized. For example in Bingel, Sanoma Learning’s gamified learning environment for primary education pupils, checking the answers of simple exercises is automated. Assessment has further opportunities for automation and AI, as does for example planning the upcoming weeks, days, or lessons during a semester.

AI can help also the learners, for example by virtue of personalized learning. A machine can learn to provide the best possible exercises and other content to each learner, as long as it has access to enough data of the learning history. The accuracy can be further improved by adding other context attributes into the equation. For example the social dynamics of the study group, time of the study activity, and even the learner’s emotional state could help to select the most appropriate content. Doing all this can increase the motivation of the learner, which in turn can improve the learning results. In other words: the machine learns to make the human learn.

Learning materials are always designed and tested together with the users of the materials, namely teachers and learners. This applies also to intelligent systems which learn. Even the best data scientist or developer cannot implement good pedagogical solutions without the precious know-how of education professionals. The machine learns to make the human learn, but it all starts with the human teaching the machine.

This post was originally published in Finnish on Sanoma Pro’s blog.

YouTubers Make Their Own Rules

So I went to Tubecon for the first time. I didn’t know just what to expect, except that there would be YouTubers and their fans. In addition, I had heard about a “drop off zone” for adults, you know, to keep us old-timers out of the way.

Hairier than average wrist of a Tubecon goer

I escaped the drop off zone and happened to catch an interesting discussion on the main stage, called “The Greatest Panel of All Times”. It featured some of Finland’s most famous YouTubers, namely Miklu, Nova, pahalapsi, and Mandimai.

The panel was moderated by another popular YouTube star, Roni Back. TheManninen from a youth radio station Ylex also participated, giving insights on what it is like to maintain a corporate YouTube channel.

It was a laid back discussion and revealed what YouTubers consider relevant and interesting. How many subscribers do you have, when did your channel take off and why, does your channel have a theme, what’s the most embarrassing video you’ve published, have you deleted videos, who are your YouTuber idols, etc.

As people are different, so were the panel members. For example self-criticism varies a lot; some typically shoot only once and publish, while others repeat until they think the clip is perfect. Also the tools they use for filming and editing vary from free apps to very professional software.

However, more intestesting were the things that these YouTubers have in common. In particular, they want to be in charge from start to finish, making their own rules. They come up with the topics, shoot the videos, edit them, publish, share, and then take part in discussions. Sometimes they can have friends appearing in their videos, but they still do all the work themselves.

Another similarity between YouTubers is that they are somewhat self-educated on their hobby. There are tutorials on the web, guide videos on YouTube (naturally), and other YouTubers offering their help.

Video as a media is becoming more and more important in institutional education. Hower, I am certain that self studies and intrinsic motivation are crucial in order to become a star YouTuber, also in the future.

 

 

When You Have Only One National Test in Your Life, Why Not Start Preparing for It in Style?

Penkkarit

Soon-to-be graduates starting their exam preparation month by driving around on a truck while throwing candy to spectators

One distinctive feature about Finnish education is the lack of standardized national tests. The first national test for roughly half of the population is the matriculation examination at the end of upper secondary, approximately at the age of 18-19.

Today (February 16th) is the day when the class of 2017 starts preparing for the exams. In about one month they return to their schools and start taking the tests one day at the time: mathematics, English, humanities, etc. By the end of March they are done and then nervously wait for results, which are due some time in May.

However, studying is for later. Today is about having fun. Festivities (in Finnish called “penkkarit”) started already around noon by driving around town on a truck in funny costumes while throwing candy to passers-by. Then the party continues through the day (and night).

Testing is nothing new to these soon-to-be graduates. They have been taking tests since the very early grades in primary education. It is a common misconception of Finnish education that there are no tests. On the contrary, teachers assess their classes all the time with tests of various kinds.

The important thing is that normally tests are not mandated nor standardized. The teachers just choose to utilize them because they are good teaching tools. They naturally help in assessment and giving grades. In addition, and as importantly, they are good for the actual learning.

For video footage of penkkarit through the years, check here.

Flickr image CC credits: strandhe

AR + BYOD = A OK

Augmented reality (AR) is one of the hottest technology trends these days. It is also making its way to education. At the risk of hype meters overheating, allow me to combine it with another trendy acronym, namely BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

Book & phone

In the educational context BYOD means that the students are bringing their own devices to schools and utilizing them there in lessons and other learning situations.

Typically the devices brought to schools are smartphones. In Finland even the youngest schoolchildren often have smartphones. With these devices they can both consume and produce learning materials. Phones have integrated cameras and microphones, which can be used to create rich content. Phones are also personal and attached to mobile networks, which in Finland are quite reliable.

Augmented reality brings an interesting twist to BYOD. With AR, printed learning materials can be brought to live in a new way. My employer Sanoma Pro recently launched an app called Arttu, which does just this. Arttu works so that you open it on your phone and place it over the book pages. Arttu recognizes some images on the pages and opens related video content, bringing the learning experience to the next level. For more about Arttu (in Finnish), check here.

Whenever discussing BYOD, equality between the learners comes up. Is it right that some students have better equipment than others? The two extreme opinions are:

  1. Everyone should have the exact same learning materials, tools, and devices.
  2. Smartphones are like skates or skis. In physical education, the pupils are mandated to bring their own skates when they have ice hockey. And their own skis when they have crosscountry skiing. Why should smartphones be treated differently?

AR apps manage to avoid this debate, at least partly. For example Arttu provides a shortcut to video materials. However, the same videos can be found otherwise, too. It might be that somewhere in the distant future using AR apps is mandatory in order to pass a course. In such case, all students should be provided with sufficient devices and software, for example as a combination of own and school’s devices.

An earlier version of this post first appeared in Finnish on Sanoma Pro’s blog.

Flickr image CC credits: Image Catalog

On Gamification: Chocolate is Good and Broccoli Healthy

suojatie

Are you familiar with the expression “chocolate-covered broccoli”? It basically refers to adding a layer of cool stuff to a layer of boring stuff. If you work with edtech & gamification, chances are you’ve heard of it.

Opponents of gamification have the opinion that enriching education with gamified elements is like pouring chocolate on top of broccoli and therefore not good at all.

I disagree.

Think about when you cross a street. Do you ever tend to step on the white stripes of the crosswalk—or alternatively on the spaces in between—but not on the border? Or have you ever placed bets with your friends about a hockey game on TV? How about following your pace while running and later comparing it to your other runs on a training log? Maybe spent time on selecting the best filter for your picture so that it would get attention on social media.

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’ve gamified your life, brought some extra fun to it. In other words, you’ve covered your broccoli with some chocolate. Now my question is: why couldn’t we gamify education? (And my answer is: of course we can!)

When thinking of gamified educational materials, it is important to keep two things in mind: first, pupils/students compare them with other educational materials, not with games outside education context. Secondly, not all education should be gamified. There are several ways to Learning and gamification fits some but not all.

Avatars, levels, points, rewards, and storifying are typical features of gamification. They take nothing away from the imortance of the educational materials they are applied to, such as theory content, exercises, and tests. No, they are just there to spice up various learning situations and drive engagement.

I currently work with Bingel, a gamified environment for primary education, grades 1-6. We launched it this fall in Finland and based on the feedback we’re getting it really seems to hit the spot!

Earlier version of this post was published in Finnish on Sanoma Pro’s blog.

Flickr image CC credits: Emilien ETIENNE

Teachers Would Subscribe to a Proper Education Netflix

edunetflix

Jay Lynch from Pearson recently wrote an interesting blog post called Why We Don’t Need a ‘Netflix for Education’. I agree with most of what he is saying in that post, but still come to an opposite conclusion: we do need a Netflix for education. It just has to be developed on education’s terms.

There’s one key thing that distinguishes institutional education from watching movies: the teacher. You might get suggestions from critics or your friends regarding movies, but you are still alone watching them. In learning, instead, the teacher plays an essential role. When designing a Netflix for education, teacher’s role shouldn’t be faded but amplified.

A proper educational Netflix wouldn’t replace the teacher by trying to propose the best learning content directly to the students. It would rather offer the teacher with a vast amount of content, properly tagged and structured to fit various contexts. Exactly as Jay wrote in his piece:

A personalized learning system must enhance the emotional and personal connection between learners and teachers, rather than obviate it.

These emotional and personal connections manifest in the classroom context and are influenced by many factors. Not only the skill levels of students and teaching capabilities of the instructor, but things like personal characteristics, social relationships & structures, mood, and energy levels.

In addition, there are many random variables: sudden events such as natural disasters or acts of terrorism have impact on how people think (and learn), even if they took place somewhere far away. And even though people tend to appreciate routines, sometimes they just want to be surprised. Educational Netflix should generate moments of serendipity for learners and the teacher.

As much as I am a proponent of machine intelligence and AI, I believe that a personalized learning system should concentrate more on the surface than what’s going on under the hood. The teacher and the pupils should have powerful and intuitive tools to find, manipulate, connect, and enrich the content.

Naturally the content should be properly tagged and searchable, but above all this calls for careful UI design and A+ front end programming. Rather than trying to guess what the learners need, let them and especially their teacher to easily find it.

I claim that teachers would subscribe to an educational Netflix, if they were assured they would get to be included in its recommendation algorithm.

Flickr image CC credits: Austen Squarepants

 

Skateboarding as a Model for Student-Centered Learning

That's me, doing a handplant. Based on the fashion, I guess it is mid 80s, mabe a bit after. Photo credits probably Sami Knuutila or Samuli Holmala.

That’s me, doing a handplant. Based on the fashion, I guess it is mid 80s, mabe a bit after. Photo credits probably Sami Knuutila or Samuli Holmala.

If you haven’t yet watched Rodney Mullen’s TEDx talk, stop what you are doing (including reading this blog) for 18 minutes, and check it out below.

Ok, now we can continue. I hope you liked the video. If you are  a non-skater, I must emphasize that this is the man who has, maybe alongside Tony Hawk and Danny Way, invented most of the tricks and their key variations which constitute modern day skating.

When I was skating, virtually every day from early 80s to early 90s, these guys as well as Natas Kaupas, Mark Gonzales, Ray Barbee, Matt Hensley, Guy Mariano, and Jason Lee were my heroes. Many of them have since stretched their creativity beyond skating. Jason Lee has turned a Hollywood actor, Matt Hensley plays accordion in a popular punk band Flogging Molly.

And you must’ve heard of Tony Hawk who has built a hugely successful video game franchise on skating. Tony still rides, by the way, he just tried out whether he can still pull off a 900 on a vert ramp at the age of 48. Turns out he can:

So, skateboarding aligns with innovating, as you saw from Mullen’s TED talk above. I’d like to continue with this, drawing connections between skating and education, in particular student-centered learning.

Central concepts in learning are motivation, practicing/drilling, testing, and assessment. You have to be motivated to learn in the first place, then you have to practice, practice, practice, and finally test & assess whether you learned or not. And then iterate or move on.

In skateboarding, the motivating aspects are very intrinsic. You want to show yourself and your pals that you can land a trick. That’s it basically. It most likely hurts a lot before you can master it, but finally it is there. Then you can improve the style, create some variations, etc. But the bottom line is that there are very few external motivators, especially if you are a non-pro skater who doesn’t make a living from winning competitions and scoring sponsorship deals. The same applies to student-centered learning. The student really wants to learn something and this calls for…

Practice/drilling. Mullen didn’t mention it in the video but the saying goes that “innovating is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. This means that the heureka moment is only but a small part of coming up with the finalized innovation. For skateboarding, I would say that the ratio is even sadder, something like “0,1% inspiration and 99,9% perspiration”. It is easy to imagine all sorts of tricks, but really landing them is something else. I still feel sorry for my shins, although it has been 20+ years since they had several daily confrontations with plywood.

Assessment. In skating, most if not all assessment is self-assessment. Sometimes your skating buddies can watch you try something and then give hints: “you’re going too slow for the rail”, “put your front ankle like this”, “kick with back foot for the late shove-it”. These hints can help, but in the end it is up to you to implement them. While airbourne, you are supposed to do several things with your body simultaneously in order to successfully land a flip or a 360 or an ollie impossible. Only you can teach your muscles, hence self-assessment.

Finally, testing. In skateboarding, testing plays little role, if you don’t count the myriad of micro-tests you perform to yourself to try out whether your little plan to complete a trick works out or not. There are no standardized tests. Even competitions have no formal expectations of types of tricks that you have to perform in order to score well. This is what drastically separates skateboarding competitions e.g. from figure skating competitions.

Skateboarding will most likely enter the Olympics at the Tokyo 2020 games. This is one step towards the standardized testing model of skateboarding, of which I am not a big fan. And I am not alone. I am not one of those who deny skating of being a sport or a hobby, claiming that it is a way of life. However, I definitely think that you take something very essential away from it if you start to evaluate tricks according to some predefined and explicitly stated template.

By the way, I bought a deck last summer, to my calculations 21 years after I last owned one. I’ll leave you with your’s truly performing a 360 no-comply in summer 2015: