A Decentralized Internet Will Preserve Innovation In STEM Education

Image: Getty / White House plugged-in

If money can be decentralized and, to some extent, anonymized, can’t the same model be applied to other things?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Net neutrality may be dominating the news headlines this month thanks to recently proposed policy changes at the federal level, but to understand this important issue beyond the sound bites, it’s important to get a sense of what net neutrality actually is and what’s at stake. The larger movement is bigger than the question of whether or not your favorite streaming TV shows will slow down — it actually impacts how we communicate, learn, earn money and share and store our most personal information.

Net neutrality may be currently positioned as a polarizing political issue but, in reality, the efforts to preserve an accessible, open and secure internet are bipartisan and totally essential to the work of growing a rising class of STEM-educated Americans.

Net Neutrality 101

Put simply, those who favor net neutrality are arguing for a system in which internet service providers (ISPs) are not allowed to give preferential treatment to some content and/or users over others. The most common metaphor in use is that of the “fast lane” vs. slow lane”; for example, net neutrality supporters argue that ISPs will be able to control access to content and prioritize some content for some users into a fast lane.

This policy is getting attention because it is a clear shift from a February 2015 move by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that issued regulatory policies in an attempt to ensure net neutrality. The most significant portion of this policy was that it classified ISPs as utility companies, which then required them to be subject to regulation to protect consumers. Supporters of this policy argue that it prevents ISPs from providing inequitable access to content and security.

In November 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his intent to repeal the 2015 policy ensuring net neutrality. In a statement on the official FCC website, Pai argues that the 2015 “decision appears to have put at risk online investment and innovation, threatening the very open Internet it purported to preserve. Requiring ISPs to divert resources to comply with unnecessary and broad new regulatory requirements threatens to take away from their ability to make investments that benefit consumers.”

Image: Getty / Executive limiting access

 

The current battle over net neutrality attempts to position regulation as a barrier to innovation, but this assessment fails to take into account the tremendous innovation already happening within our STEM fields across the worldwide global networks that connect us. The future of innovation is here, but we need to preserve equal access to information for all, instead of just the corporate few.

Why K-12 Needs Net Neutrality

Educators and administrators have had their eyes on the net neutrality standoff for a long time. Today’s classrooms have begun to incorporate more and more technology, which means that even the smallest disruption in service or accessibility can throw off multimedia lesson plans designed to get students truly engaged with hands-on digital problem-solving.

Back in May of this year, a post in the Ed Tech Round Up made clear the dangers of doing away with an accessible internet, and quoted a statement from the American Library Association, which put it thusly: “Net neutrality is essential for library and educational institutions to carry out our missions … The internet has become the primary platform for learning, collaboration, and interaction among students (and educators).”

Not only could slower speeds and inequitable access disrupt the flow of instruction, but these concerns will also weigh heavily on administrators who have to constantly weigh the cost/benefit of incorporating technology into the classroom. As a recent piece in EdWeek Market Brief explained, “School and library officials worry that if those protections are curtailed, deep-pocketed companies could pay to have their content delivered more quickly, while the flow of other online resources for educational purposes would be slowed or otherwise diminished.” In other words, without net neutrality, schools could easily have their hands forced toward a smaller range of pedagogical products with more financial backing, as opposed to keeping their classrooms open to a range of tools that offer meaningful educational benefits.

The Future Of The Internet Is A Decentralized One

The upside of this debate is that it’s serving as a rallying cry for a broad range of STEMers, including students, parents, educators, scientists, engineers and innovators who see this as a chance to work together toward building alternatives to the current way we approach internet access. With our collective power, we can create a decentralization strategy to ensure that future generations have access to the same educational and technological opportunities that we have today — or even better options that we haven’t yet devised.

Image: Getty / Ethernet and the American flag

 

So, how do we create a path forward? A 2013 piece in The New Yorker compared the success of the Bitcoin revolution to the possible implications for internet decentralization. The piece describes Bitcoin’s use of blockchains to do away with the need for a single central control point and asks the very timely question, “If money can be decentralized and, to some extent, anonymized, can’t the same model be applied to other things, like e-mail?”

Decentralization has been in the news and in our culture, for some time. As Mashable reports, a character on the HBO show Silicon Valley recently proposed just such an idea, a kind of “new internet” that values privacy and security over big business control of information flow. If nothing else, the promise of a sort of new internet can inspire us to think more broadly today and to remember that the work of STEM education should be preparing our young people for precisely such work.

As educators, our goal is to expose young people to means and methods of problem-solving through experimentation and innovation. Today, we must take up that task with an even greater sense of urgency, because the problems that lie ahead of us — those issues of access, information security and the role we want to allow corporations to play in our daily lives — those problems can only be solved with the kind of innovative thought that STEM fosters in classrooms all across our country and our internet.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on December 7th, 2017.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

How Advancements In AI Could Radically Change The Way Children Learn In The Classroom

Image: Getty/ AI Classroom

 

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Advances in technology continue to change the way we live, earn a living and learn. These shifts affect not only the types of courses that college students take, but also may soon alter the very capacity of our brains’ abilities to create and store memories. The story of how technology affects the way we live and learn is one that is still being written, but we’re excited to track the ways in which the future is already happening — in our classrooms and in our minds.

Distance Learning, Online Learning

According to a 2017 study, 30% of all enrolled higher education students take at least one distance learning course. Distance learning refers to any courses that take place fully in an online space with no in-person meetings or class requirements. Distance learning classes typically feature a blend of learning approaches, some traditional and some more innovative.

One innovative approach that’s being used in both distance learning courses as well as in-person courses is commonly referred to as online learning. Unlike distance learning, online learning does not necessarily happen far from the classroom walls; rather, online learning refers to a blended learning strategy that incorporates online learning tools into the classroom experience.

Image: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

 

Online learning allows students to learn in a broader range of styles instead of simply sitting and listening to an instructor. It’s also the form of learning that is conducive to the advancements being made in artificial intelligence, and is arguably more effective for the needs of our modern workplace. But there are new challenges that come along with new approaches as well.

The Robots Are Taking Over…Our Brains?

As a recent WIRED article explored, some educators view tech tools in the classroom as a means of “cheating,” while others see that the very nature of learning has begun to evolve. The piece quotes David Helfand, a professor of astronomy at Columbia University, who puts it thusly: “The notion of education as a transfer of information from experts to novices — and asking the novices to repeat that information, regurgitate it on command as proof that they have learned it — is completely disconnected from the reality of 2017.”

This means that typical tasks associated with teaching and learning — like studying and memorizing information — have nearly become outdated thanks to the technological tools at our disposal. Today’s learners are able to outsource basic thinking tasks to tools like Wolfram|Alpha, a form of AI that uses language processing systems and a constantly expanding library of data sets to offer highly specific answers to typed user questions. And this just may be the beginning: Scientists have already begun to experiment with the use of embedded technology in our very brains to enhance our ability to create and store memories, which opens up questions about the possibilities of greater brain-tech connections impacting our need for time in the classroom.

So, what does the reality of the future actually look like, and how will that affect how students learn? According to some tech experts and scientists, technology may begin to play a much larger role in our ability to process and store information, and this could happen much faster than you might think.

A recent webinar presented by Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, revealed some startling predictions about AI and the brain. According to Kurzweil, “In the 2030s, we are going to send nano-robots into the brain (via capillaries) that will provide full immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system and will connect our neocortex to the cloud. Just like how we can wirelessly expand the power of our smartphones 10,000-fold in the cloud today, we’ll be able to expand our neocortex in the cloud.”

Image: Getty/ Brain Memory

 

If this sounds like science fiction, think again. Kurzweil has long published scholarly articles and books about his predictions regarding the pace of technological change, and the accuracy of his predictions regarding cloud computing, wearable technology and the breadth of the world wide web have been widely reported. Already, several entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk(Tesla, SpaceX) and Bryan Johnson (Kernel) are working to develop technological tools to connect our brains to computers for a range of purposes, including faster processing time and a greater capacity to fight neurological diseases. And researcher Mikhail Lebedev has worked to amass a growing body of research on the technological “augmentation of brain function.” To put it simply: The future is now, and our brains are the next frontier for tech’s impact on our lives.

Changing Technology, Changing Marketplace

A totally wired future might be closer than we could even imagine, but we don’t need to look too far afield to see the impact of technology, including AI, in our daily lives, classrooms and workplaces. As more and more industries continue to automate, the very nature of work is beginning to change. More front-line jobs are being replaced with automated workers, but the need for more advanced thinking around how to manage and synthesize AI in the workplace is also growing.

To best equip tomorrow’s leaders, we must provide students with technologically rich, dynamic learning tools that emphasize critical thinking and innovative problem-solving skills. In other words, we must prepare our brains to not just compete with technology but to coexist with it so that we can collectively move forward into an unprecedented and exciting shared future. This will ultimately impact when and how we are traditionally educated and how we’ll transfer and apply that knowledge in the workplace.

This article originally appeared in Forbes Community Voice™ on Aug. 7th, 2017.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…