What will you do with Watson?

What would I do? I would put it into the hands of secondary school students. All secondary school students. Not just the anointed. I have learned over all my years in teaching that the best laid plans of mice , men and teachers can be totally thrown on their head when you get a school full of  secondary students onto a new approach, gadget or pathway. Secondary students are marvellous crap detectors. “What is the point?” “Why would you?” “But what if…”. They are also very good at interpreting things in ways you would never imagine. This can be hugely creative but it can also show up the loopholes, the weak spots and the deficits of any model or gadget you are trying to introduce to “the masses”. If Watson were to be put into the hands of a planet full of secondary students, they would soon sort it out. They would learn to work with it, undermine it, create with it, find the anomalies, ways of misusing it, ways of improving it. They would give Watson a run for its money. So why would you do that? Watson is one of the biggest programmes underpinning cognitive computing. Our secondary students are the ones who will be benefiting from it and who will add to it. They need to know how it works. They need a deep understanding of Watson and they need to be able to grow it into the next generation of cognitive computing software. If cognitive computing is about computers learning from humans and vice versa, then field work needs to be done with the young. Older people will bring their skills, expertise ,perspective and knowlege to bear to create a system which is more reliable, functional, dependable and adaptable. This really is the future and it should not be held back. Right now is a good time to genuinely collaborate on authentic learning for all. So, how would I put Watson into schools? I can’t answer that question at the moment. I am still learning about cognitive computing. They have put Watson up against humans in Jeopardy so they are still learning about it too.

Visual and spatial learners

This is a great example of why teachers should blog .I hope Kurtis Powers keeps blogging because already he is providing education with worthwhile insight and thought from a teacher perspective. His video makes it crystal clear as to how we can better provide for visual and spatial learners. It makes some good points so the messages are clear. He has also made an effort to learn how to make videos himself and that will help his understanding of how to scaffold that in lessons and use it to advantage. If you go to his newly created blog Education Super Powers you will find that Kurtis Powers had all the research back up and thought for why he is advocating this approach with technology. He is underpinning his pedagogical decisions with research but , because he is a teacher, he is looking at the role technology and software play in his classroom and discusses those things as well. I am wondering, since we do use technology now both at home and at school, whether we are now creating visual and spatial learners and that text based learners will diminish as time goes by.

Keep calm and use technology

question mark

Use technology to problem solve

Image : ClipartPanda

It was the lesson after lunch last Thursday with the year 9s. We had been practising shopping and what to buy in different shops . I then put a conversation from their book up on the board and said I’d give them 15 minutes to look things up they didn’t understand. About 5 minutes into this it was clear they could not do it. First time for everything. This conversation has always come after the other things and been straightforward. Not last week. The students were simply baffled and unable to get a hook into it. It was the last lesson of the week. I did not want them going home for a weekend and thinking French was hard and horrible. We then spent the rest of the lesson learning numbers and shopping vocabulary on their language learning site. Perfect. I had the weekend to solve the problem. I could just leave it. Skip over the conversation and move onto something else. We have the whole French language to learn. Not hard finding something else. No, I decided I would use technology to present the material differently. I set the conversation up one line at a time on Powerpoint slides. Big writing. Dark text on a colourful background. Monday last lesson I started with this. We did the conversation one line at a time. We pronounced it. We worked it out. So far, so good. I had made a list of 40 words of the conversation and put it on their language learning site. They loved it. They spent 20 minutes getting to grips with the vocabulary and were learning it quite quickly. There was a lot for year 9s to learn. We stopped. I put the original conversation up on the board and I played the sound file of it. All eyes were on the board following the conversation. We then went back to our language learning site to do more vocab practice on it. No feeling of failure. No confusion. No disenchantment. I used technology to get them into learning something they had found incomprehensible. Now, next lesson, I can play the conversation, I can get a couple of students to read it out and then we can do our own version of the conversation. Familiarity does not breed contempt. It breeds success. If you are on familiar ground you will take the risks necessary to learn a bit more and push yourself a bit more. These students could have felt like failures but using technology allowed me to refresh and repeat in a way they could understand. I now have a PowerPoint I can dress up even more and make an even better learning tool. Students who were born in 2000 and after like interactive learning. I am learning I have to become part of that as a teacher.

What’s the difference between a geek and a nerd?

Hannah Fry’s video from Head Squeeze is fascinating. It does have implications for schools because we are teaching both geeks and nerds , we are driven by both geeks and nerds and we might be a geek or a nerd as a teacher. The disconnect in an educational context can cause frustrations, communication blockages and a simple case of delivering the wrong content with the wrong tools to the wrong audience and wondering why it didn’t go well. I’m not particularly fond of stereotypes but there are times when using them can help clarify the picture so you can go back to treating others as individuals. What I really liked was the section on the scatter graph where you can see the language differences we make ourselves in social media. Basically, you cannot fake being a nerd and that was a light bulb clarification moment for me and something worth knowing.

Get yourself a lettuce upgrade

This was so familiar to me as a scenario I had to admire Armstrong and Miller for getting it so right. Before I make a technology purchase I know what I want, I make comparisons on the Net and I do my research. I look for the best I can afford. Then I get to the shop and have a conversation like this. It can be worse if I look like me and not at all as though you would know about technology things. On a good day I just go yes, yes, yes, I still want that one. On a bad day I’ll say something along the lines of oh, it doesn’t really matter I am going to load it with Linux anyway , probably Ubuntu 14.04. That usually guarantees the purchase will follow through pretty quickly without a hitch. The latest upgrade as such is more likely to be extra cost in insurance or an extended warranty. I will take the warranty option if it is going to cover the life of the device. Changeover seems every three years. If you don’t change over then you do find yourself running behind the times as such. Every 6 months there is a shift in technology. The best upgrade you can get is not a lettuce leaf but RAM. Always buy a device with as much RAM as you can afford and then , if necessary upgrade the RAM about a year down the track. You also need to afford as much graphics capability as you can because we run a lot of image and video these days. It does not alter the fact that once you have bought your device it is already old and you have to live with the fact someone else is going to have something better than yours. I am still running computers older than 10 years. You have to match the device to the job and older technology can have a specific job. I use an old laptop just to back up files so I know I have a copy of current files. I also use older technology in the kitchen where I am less worried about something getting splashed or having grubby finger prints. Lettuce leaf and carrot upgrades will always be there. Don’t be tempted because if your device is what you want and can afford then it will be good. Down the track you can buy a newer device with things they haven’t even thought of yet.Don’t feel bad and don’t feel inadequate. Just do your homework and be happy with what you decided to buy. Schools and small businesses can find themselves in the same position. They will buy a set up and it will be behind the times as soon as it is rolled out. Is it stable? Does it do what you want it to do? Is it secure? Is there a plan for the next step? You always need to keep an eye on the market and what is coming down the track but investing in it before the market has had a chance to put it to the test is not a sound decision. I often wait and see. They keep telling me technology is getting cheaper. It is still a pretty hefty outlay and so worth thinking about in a hard headed way.

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