Will AI Do Improv?

There has been a lot on the news lately about artificial intelligence and how it is impacting the future.  Already there are advice posts regarding how AI can enhance education, such as “7 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Change Higher Education” or “Could Online Tutors and Artificial Intelligence be the Future of Teaching?”.

Yet, this morning as I was driving and listening to Fred Childs on NPR, something his guest said resonated with me.  A pianist noted that even though songs have very clear “rules” in the form of sheet music, whenever he plays a piece, there is improv, because how he plays depends on who he is playing with and what the mood of the audience is.

This idea of improv reminded me of an unexpected flow on Twitter this week in my Northeastern University class on Social Media at #EDU6333.  The current class is a little different than earlier classes I have taught, in that – feeding off each other – they love to add GIFs to their tweets.  Whereas this might have happened infrequently in past classes, it happens every day in the current class.  And I would suggest “feeding off each other” is simply another definition for improv.

Wednesday night, I was grading papers and watching the hashtag feed when the following began happening (I added a few earlier ones, but most posted between 7:45-9:15pm):

Granted, this was only a fifth of the students in the class…though others the next day lamented missing the exchange.  But this is engagement…and dare I say it

It reminds me of the improv associated with teaching…whether K-12 or higher education.  This week we explored constructivist learning and TPACK…yet the dialogue on Twitter went in lots of directions.

We are not at the point yet where AI is a threat to replacing teaching.  After all, scientist last year made a teen robot…and it got depressed.  We have not yet reached the point where machines can empathize with us…though in some ways they are now thinking in ways we no longer understandWith the massive data crunching afforded by the cloud, artificial intelligence may develop new ways to improv in the future.  If anything, we are approaching the time when it will be a natural enhancement to good teaching.  But just as good pianists improv when playing a standard set of sheet music, both teachers and students need to improv when learning together…which is what constructivism is all about!

Social Media and Education Redux

At Northeastern University, I teach a graduate course on Social Media and Education – EDU 6333.  I have been teaching it for two years, and it is fascinating to work and learn with (relatively) younger Masters students on this topic.

The course is 12 weeks in length and flows like this, shifting between tools and processes:

Course Map

Our Twitter hashtag is #EDU6333.  The course runs in Northeastern’s Blackboard .. but in this Fall’s course for the third week on Communication, we shifted and conducted our weekly discussions in a private Facebook group.  It was interesting to hear some of my students’ perspectives about this shift – viewing communication within social media versus within Blackboard:

…I would have to agree with you that in many courses the discussion boards have been a forced post/response system where students post their required responses and then move on to the next week. I always put significant thought into what I am posting in both initial posts and responses but there rarely seems to be an actual back and forth conversation between classmates. I have to say that in this courses Twitter and Facebook seems to facilitate a genuine conversation, largely because of the notifications of responses in my opinion.

…With this being my 8th class on Blackboard, I have become use to it, but it is not intuitive and I use it because I have to. Not because I want to.

…In previous courses, I found myself completing the baseline of our expectations and not going above and beyond. With the ease and simplicity of using Twitter and Facebook on my phone, I find myself accessing course information a lot more, and I find myself a lot more engaged in the course, time wise and frequency wise!

…Most of us have gotten used to almost instant satisfaction with our social media, in that we are able to search for and view whatever pops into our mind in a matter of seconds. Blackboard would be wise to incorporate tools that allow users to operate more fluidly and with ease, instead of forcing us to click and click, searching for simple information.

…I think Blackboard would do well to infuse various components of popular social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, into their academic-based platform. Increased accessibility by cell phone and an insta-chat feature should be at the top of their list. These additions would facilitate higher levels of communication amongst instructors and students, as well as encourage contact with class-related content.

…Blackboard compared to Facebook as a discussion platform is similar to comparing penny farthing bikes to cars in regards to transportation. Blackboard is clunky, cumbersome and crude. More often than not, I type up my responses on google docs and then copy and paste them into Blackboard. Even simple tasks such as hyperlinking are using outdated code, requiring it to take a much longer time than is truly necessary. Additionally, consider the image I posted below. It took me only a few short seconds to type the term into my open search bar, find an image, copy it, and paste it below. In Blackboard, I need to find the image, download it, and re-upload it back in order to incorporate it.

…social media can enhance interactions with instructors and peers. Discussion boards do not achieve these goals. They are in my o experience contrived don’t emulate in class discussion nor do they take advantage of existing platforms today’s students use to communicate. In most (not all) online classes I’ve taken faculty do not participate on the discussion board, virtually eliminating all informal faculty and student communication. They are used more as formal assessment like a short paper.

…I have taken over 60 online courses at the college level, and I find myself more engaged in this course than any of the others because of the frequency and conversational format of communication that Twitter and Facebook allow. I really wish other instructors gave us these opportunities to converse more freely!

Now, not all students necessarily were in favor of social media as a learning platform:

…the lack of connectedness and immediacy to Blackboard can be seen as one of its strengths because there are not the same kinds of distractions you would have with Facebook or Twitter. In this sense, CMS platforms create a separation between learning and everyday life which might be beneficial. This is especially important for adult learners who might be working full time or have a family to take care of and can’t feel connected all the time.

…I would strongly prefer to NOT have my classes be based on Facebook compared to Blackboard. I am very diligent about deadlines, so I am not one of the students who needs constant reminders. Another downside for me is that when I come on Facebook, I just want to scroll through some friends and family, watch some funny cat videos, and generally have fun with it. It is good for winding down. If all of my classes notified me each time something was posted on the Facebook page, I would get jolted back into school mentality even during a time I have set aside for not school work, which bothers me.

…I enjoy having a Twitter to communicate with classmates, the conversation flows naturally and quickly between classmates (more like a “real” conversation). On the contrary, it is also nice to have a home base where the material lives for a course such as blackboard. Facebook is a great method of communication but I can also see how it could be disruptive for completing course work (i.e getting notifications on the picture you posted 5 hours ago while trying to complete a discussion post for your course).

…The BB can be utilized as a tool for means of communication among peers and instructors but similar to any social media outlet this varies from person to person and instructor to instructor.

A side conversation this week began as students discussed meeting their K12 or undergraduate students “where they were.”  Rather than Twitter and Facebook that is being used in our course, they suggested that their students were elsewhere:

…I offered Facebook or email; both were met with a chuckle. High schoolers have moved on from Facebook. We discussed Instagram, Snap Chat and Twitter as possible option and settled on Twitter. I’m sure most them have Facebook, but just do not use it much in their daily social online interactions.

…my middle schoolers said they would prefer instagram, snapchat and imessaging as methods of communication, in that order.

…I just sent a Facebook message to my best friend’s son, who is 17. I will say it only took him 30 seconds to respond. He tells me that high school kids have moved to Instagram and Twitter because Facebook is for old people

…I’ve had similar conversations with my 7th grade students. They are all about Instagram and SnapChat now because the pictures are most appealing to them and there is still a text chat feature on both for two-way communication.

To see a possible more up-to-date use of social media in education, I was exploring a class at Virginia Commonwealth University earlier in the week being taught by Jason Coats, Bonnie Boaz and Ryan Cales.  They have a common WordPress site for their three sections of UNIV 200.  They are using Slack for discussions, Flipgrid for weekly video reflections, and blogs for individual assignments.  Cool!  Is this how classes are evolving?

Last week, Jane Hart published her latest list of Top Tools for Learning…expanded this year to the Top 200.  For the first time in 7 years, Twitter is no longer Number One (though it is still a very healthy Number Three).  Facebook is Number 6.  But Slack is Number 20, up 63 places from last year.  If I counted right, there are 78 new tools on this year’s list (of course, it is an expanded list).  And not all meet the definition of “social media” … but many do.

So I am wondering – how would I redesign my Social Media and Education course in a School of Education Masters … taking in to consideration all these new opportunities!  How would you?

I would be interested in your thoughts…

And here is the latest Top Tools list: