Artificial Intelligence

I recently saw Blade Runner 2049 for the first time. Released in 2017, it was a sequel of the original Blade Runner where issues around Artificial Intelligence (A.I) are explored. In thinking about A.I. and the role of A.I. in our lives, movies like Blade Runner tend to come to mind because they seem to not only represent of what could happen as A.I. development progresses, but these neo-noir, science-fiction movies reveal human’s fears of the doom and gloom of the inevitable Singularity. However, doom and gloom are not the only possible outcomes on A.I. development.

According to Margaret Boden (2018), “Artificial Intelligence seeks to make computers do the sorts of things minds can do, which involves psychological skills such as perception, association, prediction, planning and motor control” (pg. 104). She goes further to define the “main aims” of A.I. as both technological and scientific (pg. 104). One concept of heated debate, though, it whether or not A.I. is really intelligence or just programming. This debate plays out in practical settings like using A.I. to diagnose and treat medical issues. A.I.’s perceived weakness in real life situations is that it does not have the ability to explain why it made the decisions it makes. However, I wonder how well doctors can explain the same diagnoses. If A.I. processing is meant to imitate the human brain’s processing, then I wonder if a doctor’s explanation would actually be similar to the A.I.’s? Specifically, A.I. should be able to list out the rules it followed to make the diagnosis just like a doctor would list out the same process of elimination for his or her diagnosis. I know the algorithms of artificial intelligence are far more complicated then how I have described them, but the same could be said for the human brain’s processing. What A.I. cannot account for is a doctor’s decision based on other aspects than just book knowledge like the senses and gut responses. But, at the end of the day, no one really can know if A.I. is truly intelligent or now. In fact, Boden makes the same claim: “Since genuine intelligence involves understanding, that’s another reason why no one knows whether our hypothetical AI would really be intelligent” (pg. 120).

So, is this a problem? No, I don’t think we can know or must  know how closely artificial intelligence mirrors human intelligence. It is and will be a form of intelligence. Human’s need to know 100% seems to be an attempt to control the future of A.I. development. I know Stephen Hawking described A.I. as being a future threat to humanity that we cannot ignore, but I wonder why? Is the only option of A.I. development to be a threatening one? I don’t think A.I. needs or can replace the entire human being. Instead, it would redefine the roles of humans and computers. We can look to science fiction again to see other possibilities for A.I. development that do not put the existence of humanity at risk. For example, the Enterprise computer on Star Trek the Next Generation as well as Data both provide different stages of A.I. that both work hand in hand with humans on board. First, the computer aboard the Enterprise contains a massive amount of information, but it isn’t just an information storage unit. It can do more. Man times, the Captain Picard asks for information form the computer, then asks is to extrapolate, or draw a conclusion about that information, for him. Sometimes the computer complies, and sometimes there isn’t enough information to extrapolate from. The computer possesses a higher processing function than my current PC in that it can make associations, predictions and plan courses of action, but it isn’t as advanced as the character Data. Data is a created artificial life form that definitely has a superior intelligence that that of his colleagues on board. Data is unique in that he has been created to be both computer and consciousness. It is this version of A.I. that seems to create the most problems in the minds of humans today, but if we look at the intricacies of the Data character, it is clear that Data serves no real threat to the other life forms on board. It works with and for the Academy, but has a personal life of his own. What Data and the Enterprise computer are both missing is human emotion. But, I wonder if human emotion is require for this form of intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is already here. It will continue to advance. How we perceive A.I. is just as important as how we use A.I. If we are careful to curb the human responses and interaction with A.I., then maybe we can avoid the doom and gloom of the Singularity.

 

Reference:

Boden, Margaret A. Artificial Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2018.

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Behaviorism

So far, the theories we have discussed so far, make sense. I can see some of these different theories, or lack of theories, at play in my own work as well as from my coworkers.

How I view teaching has changed. I have known in my head that theories of teaching and learning exist, and that they don’t always work practically in the classroom like they have been described. This does not necessarily negate the theory; it just means that there needs to be more than just a theory in place. Specifically, what comes to mind is behaviorism. Ertmer (1993) claims that “Behaviorists equate learning with changes in either the form or frequency of observable performance” (p.55). This theory makes sense. In essence, we know someone has learned when their behavior demonstrates the change that matches the intended outcome.

However, evaluating students simply on behavior does not demonstrate learning. I have students how play the part of a good student really well: body language shows they are listening, they ask questions, and when work is assigned, they dive in. However, the product of all their pretense is not always what it should be. I have noticed that English Language Learners in particular are able to mimic the behavior of the learner, but who also struggle to comprehend the task in front of them. This example shows how I think now after being exposed to a variety of learning theories. Before the exposure, I was just confused about how the product didn’t match the behavior. Now, I just think that I need to apply a different theory to reshape my approach with this particular set of students.

Overall this has shaped my understanding of the expectations of the PhD student: to know the theories and know when and how to apply them in writing as well as research.

Technology’s Impacts on Learning Communications

Whether we realize it or not, using technology subtlety changes the processes of learning and how we communicate while learning.  Instinctively, we accept that technology empowers us to reach out at any time, share what we are thinking while we are thinking it, and read what others are thinking at any given moment. At first glance, this seems ideal. However, if we look at how the processes of learning and communication are quietly changed with the use of technology, we should wonder if what is lost in that process has any value.

 

First, technology impacts learning communications by slowing down our response time to others. Regardless of whether it is the instructor or student response time; it is rarely immediate. This is an important factor because in a face to face classroom, many revelations of learning happen in the extemporaneous exchanges that happen in the moment between teacher and student as well as between student and student. These moments of discovery are key to reshaping our understanding and ideas. Technology may prevent these epiphanies from happening at all. Instead, the curiosity that unpins a question may be lost in the time it takes for an emailed response or discussion forum reply. Without that curiosity, often times, the value of the moment is lost. The art of teaching and learning is lost.

 

Second, technology impacts learning communication by giving student response to assignments more time for pre-planned and constructed thoughts. While having deeper and more thoughtful responses is typically best, but what is forgotten is the mess of constructing ideas, and more importantly, the reconstruction of ideas. As a social constructionist, it matters that students are able to observer the messiest version of peer work so as to empower their own messy work. Sometimes students learn more from the work in progress rather than the final product. This is the equivalent of only knowing your friend through Instagram. If you only see the final, created selfie, then you start to think these people never get sick, have a bad day, or are human at all. It is isolating. Online classes already have so much potential to disconnect students from other students, and always having time to have pre-planned and constructed thoughts is part of the problem.

 

A third, and more positive, impact of technology on learning communications is the added ability to construct new knowledge with others almost simultaneously. In a classroom, student collaboration still means everyone taking turns to share out and possibly discuss how the new knowledge reshapes what it already known. It takes time, and ultimately only one speaker can speak at a time. However, with technology like Twitter, multiple responses can happen at the same time. Multiple voices can share out literally at the same time. The benefit of this is that everyone feels heard. There is time for individuals to go back read all responses and continue the thread, and at some point, someone can encapsulate final new thoughts on the topic in an attempt to incorporate the most influential ideas. This is a unique opportunity because it is unique to what technology can do for learning.

 

Technology in and of itself is not bad. Awareness of how it impacts and reshapes learning and learning communications is mandatory if we want our students to continue on experiencing the process of learning.

Personal Learning Theory

Personal Learning Theory

Introduction

Generally, my personal theory of learning is that learning is social. Learning is a complex process that requires both knowledge and social interaction to help break it down, evaluate the pieces, then put it back together. At the heart of it, we need social interactions to emotionally support what is shaping in our mind. If we limit ourselves to content only, we actually close ourselves off to other perspectives and different interpretations. Without outside contact, we are sometimes left uncertain of achievement, disconnected from course goals, and ultimately self-reliant to a fault.

This perception of learning is definitely connected to the current research in distance learning. According to Kang and Im (2013), “learners who felt they had a higher degree of interaction with their instructors and other peer learners had higher satisfaction and higher perceived learning outcomes than learners to felt they experienced a lower degree of interaction.” While this isn’t speaking directly to actual course outcomes, the perceptions of students regarding their success in class matters as a selling point at minimum for online learning. If students get an ‘A’ but are not happy about how they earned it or are dissatisfied by the experience, then it is less likely they will continue with online classes. Similarly, Gutman (2001) lists as her number five barrier of “Six Barriers Causing Educators to Resist Teaching Online,” as “Interpersonal Relations” (pg. 54).  Gutman states that “for some [teachers], the lack of direct interpersonal contact with both students and faculty is an issue” (pg. 54). The role of social interaction is not just important for the student experience; it is important for instructors as well. These are just a few of the current voices on social learning. However, the concept has been around for decades. Both Lev Vygotsky (1978) and Albert Bandura (1971) theories on the social aspect of learning are really the foundations of the current research surrounding the topic.

 

Research Problem

The idea that the social interaction/interpersonal connection is the missing piece for online learning is also repeated idea, article after article. Not only is this a topic of ongoing research, but it resonates with my own experience as an online student as well as an online instructor. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s findings from the “Evaluation of Evidence Based Practices,” there is no real difference between the online learning success rate and the traditional face-to-face success rate. The article specifically says that K-12 students “in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction” (pg. xiv). This is because of the ongoing complaint that online learning has a missing piece, the social interaction. In the Horizon Report for Higher Education (2017), it was noted that “higher education continues to move away from traditional, lecture-based lessons toward more hands-on activities, classrooms are starting to resemble real-world work and social environments that foster organic interactions and cross-disciplinary problem-solving.” This shift recognizes the need to create “social environments that foster organic interactions” because those environments mirror the real world. Social interactions are not just ways to create meaningful learning experiences; they also teach us how to function in the real world.

 

Online Learning/Theory Model

As a Social Constructivist, I want to research current definitions of social presence in online learning. Social presence is a gateway to social learning. I want to do a small-scale confirmatory qualitative study on a proximately 10-12 university students who have experience as an online student. Using Patrick Lowenthal and Chareen Snelson’s seven selected definitions of social presence from their article “In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence,” I would like to create an open ended survey to see how students define social presence in online classes today.

As I move forward with research, I will continue to refine my search terms. I have already adjusted my focus from “social learning” to “social presence” in the online classroom. My next steps are to finish compiling relevant studies on the influence of social presence in online learning and to follow that with peer reviewed articles defining how to incorporate or build social presence in online classes. This last part might be too much for this paper though. Despite this, I intend on using the references from class assignments to help guide my choices. So far, many of the class readings have been relevant to this topic, namely: Stodel, Thompson, and MacDonald’s (2006) article,  “Learners’ Perspectives on What is Missing from Online Learning: Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework;” Lowenthal and Snelson’s (2017) article, “In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence;” and Gutman’s (2001) article, “Six Barriers Causing Educators to Resist Teaching Online, and How Institutions Can Break them.” However, after reading Lowenthal & Snelson’s (2017) article, there is a new claim that “social presence might not be essential for a meaningful educational experience.” They go on to specify that certain types of instructional design would benefit from building social presence into the course, but that not all online learning requires social presence. Therefore, I need to expand my research a little more to see what other studies have been done on this front. It also makes me curious about my own research results, if those results would support this new claim.

 

References

Allen, Elaine I., and J. S. (2016). Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States, 1-62.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2007). Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning. The Sloan Consortium, 1-31.

Bandura, A. (1971). Social learning theory. Social Learning Theory. New York City: General Learning Press.

Gutman, D. (2001). Six Barriers Causing Teaching Online, Can Break Them. Distance Learning, 9(3).

Kang, M., & Im, T. (2013). Factors of learner-instructor interaction which predict perceived learning outcomes in online learning environment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(3), 292–301.

Lowenthal, P. R., & Snelson, C. (2017). In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence. Distance Education, 38(2), 141–159.

New Media Consortium. (2017). Horizon Report – 2017 Higher Education Edition. Horizon Report, 1-60.

Stodel, E. J., & Thompson, T. L. (2006). Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 7(3), 1–15.

U.S. Department of Education. (2010). “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning,” 1-94.

Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in society : the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.

 

Final Thoughts

There are two main things I have learned in Computer Mediated Discourse Analysis (CMDA): 1. There is a lot of theory to help refine the process. 2. I don’t have to work alone through the process.

The first part of the course, we were asked to find both research and theory in the literature that used or discussed CMDA. This really helped demonstrate the kind of information that is out there. This seems like a big DUH, but honestly I just don’t know what I don’t know. What I mean is that I really don’t know what kind of information is out there because I am so new to the field.

Once we finally got to actual coding, our class discussions were a reminder that we all need help doing the coding. Part of the help we need is to help avoid as much bias as we can, but also we are all so new to CMDA that collaboration is the only real way we will be able to effectively do the work.

 

CMDA and Qualitative Research

First and foremost, the most important quality of Qualitative Research is that hypotheses come from the research rather than having to come up with my own hypothesis and test it. That was a misconception that I’ve had, that I have to be the expert going in to research. In reality, doing qualitative research allows me to be more of an explorer rather than an expert.

So far in my education, the only real distinction between Qualitative and Quantitative Research is really about the results they produce; however, that limited information does not inform my decision-making when designing a research plan. Also, until now, I have been thinking my research will be predominately multi-strategy, incorporating both. But after this new adjustment, I feel a little off-the-hook for designing more complicated research plans. As of now, in order to help grow my knowledge in the field, I can primarily focus on Qualitative Research, and more specifically Computer Mediated Discourse Analysis.  Outside of knowing coding methods, there is not much I really need to already know before doing research outside of ethical and rigorous research methods. So, I will be in a constant state of discovery when it comes to research, and honestly that is less stressful.

 

After my initial practice with gathering coding, I am confident that I will need help coding in the future. I have always been one to notice small details in the world around me, but that doesn’t mean that I will notice the details in CMDA. Further, I don’t exactly know what kind of information, broad or specific, we should be looking for. I imagine that will come with time. So, I definitely need to know more about this process. I mean, what’s the point of coding information if the code doesn’t make sense? Then, once we gather that information, what do we do with it? Still not sure what the next steps are. Experience will help.

Coding for Knowledge

Emic coding helps to discover new knowledge in the qualitative research process. When you do emic coding, your job is to literally see what pops up in the discourse. You code everything, then look for patterns to see what is happening. It is expected that there is no previously decided questions to answer or agenda. As the coder, you go in with a blank slate so that you can keep your eyes open to all possibilities. Then, you have others do the same. Collaboration can lead to defining new knowledge as well as vet it.

 

However, with technology as a conduit for discourse, you need to keep in mind that this “phenomena” may  not be as authentic behavior as would be experience in a face to face setting. With technology as an affordance, there is more time for participants to respond with more thought out answers. Their behavior can be more covert and hidden. Social media and forums also provide an environment where a participant can create a persona that they project rather than projecting their true selves. This is a problem if we are seeking true and authentic experiences. So, the knowledge we collect could easily be unreliable if the participants are not sharing a their real experience. Therefore , we should always consider the role of technology in the communication being evaluated. We should anticipate what technology prevents from happening as well as what technology helps to create in discourse.

Sometimes Qualitative is Necessary

Before tonight’s discussion, I think I have approached qualitative and quantitative research as basically choices we make in the research design. There’s some personal preference in choosing, but mostly the type of research you’re doing drives the methods you choose. Also, how the research has been done previously plays a part in choosing a research method. But now, it seems more and more obvious that there are times when qualitative research is necessary. There are certain kinds of phenomena that can ultimately only be evaluated through qualitative analysis. That is where CMDA comes in. Sure, you can count how many words of a certain kind were used in the discourse. You can use word count and demographics to draw some surface conclusions, but honestly what’s the point? To gather real meaning from Computer Mediated Discourse Analysis, you must do qualitative work.

CMDA in Research

I think CMDA is an ideal way to evaluate how social presence shows up in computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environments. CMDA might help to see the immediacy of peer to peer or teacher to peer response times. CMDA could also show the level of formality in peer to peer exchanges in online communication. There could also be deeper analysis in the connection between informal language and the level of academic rigor in communication. It also might be interesting to evaluate the relationship between discussion forums that are open chat versus discussion forums that are assignments. No matter what my focus is in future research, CMDA could be an important method to use for research.

Thinking About Research

I think that most things that can be known, can be understood, through experience and observation. Sometimes things just happen. That is not knowledge when you witness it. However, when the same time keeps happening in similar situations, if we notice, we can learn to expect the same results in the future. When we start to recognize this pattern of circumstances, then we can begin to know things because we can begin to trust those things will happen again. So, if we want to understand the world, we need to be willing to experience it and observe what happens.

Research is a deliberate act of experiencing circumstances and observing them. I think the purpose of doing research is to know things on our terms rather than waiting for circumstances to happen on their own. Research creates controlled circumstances intentionally for researchers to experience and witness the results. Researchers then turn their observations into stories or numbers to create a set of data that is knowable. I have a preference for narrative type data but I think numbers can shed new light on to that narrative.

My future research is focused on the effects of social presence on learning in computer supported collaborative learning environments in higher ed. I think the topic can cross over into K-12 and even possibly into corporate training settings.