Blockchain: A Revolution For STEM Education

Image: Getty / Teen Working On A GPU Rig

Fostering An Appreciation Of Decentralization

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

These days, it seems like everyone is talking about blockchain technology. News about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is hard to resist, especially when their value shoots up and down and everyone wants to know how the blockchain can make them rich or poor — financially. But the real value of blockchain isn’t necessarily tied solely to disrupting the monetary status quo. It also lies in how this technology could transform and streamline transactions and recordkeeping in all sorts of fields — specifically education.

A Blockchain Primer

If you’re not familiar with how blockchain technology works or need to brush up, it’s helpful to compare cryptocurrency with the way your regular bank does business. Banks basically have all your account data on one digital spreadsheet to keep track of your transactions. That’s fine, but a highly centralized data system is vulnerable to hackers, and you can’t send money to a family member without going through an intermediary (the bank). Cryptocurrency, on the other hand, depends on a totally decentralized network of users to store information about all transactions. There’s no bank as a gatekeeper, but information (the block) is added to a permanent chain that no one can change. It’s safer because everyone in the network has access to the information at all times, so if someone is trying to change the record, everyone can see that happening — and stop it.

Image: Financial Times / PwC United States

An Educational Revolution

Last year, MIT delivered its first blockchain diplomas to graduates — on their smartphones. It was more than just a digitized certificate: Unlike a paper diploma, which could be easily lost or falsified, blockchain ensures that this important piece of data is never lost. It also cuts out the university or traditional clearinghouse as the intermediary needed to issue transcripts. Instead, students have direct access to their educational records right on their phones. Whether their house burns down or they move across the world, their diploma is secure.


Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 1 of 3

Anatomy of a digital diploma: “The MIT digital diploma ‘makes it possible for [students] to have ownership of their records and be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose,’ says Mary Callahan, MIT registrar and senior associate dean.” -MIT News

Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 2 of 3

“Using MIT’s new digital diploma system, employers and schools can quickly verify that a graduate’s degree is legitimate by using a link or uploading the student’s file.” -MIT News

Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 3 of 3

“The presentation layer has a customized image of a traditional MIT diploma; the content layer contains code with the student’s public key and generates the image; and the receipt layer proves the transaction has been recorded on the blockchain.” -MIT News


This is more than just a matter of convenience. If other credentials like certificates and badges are also stored on the blockchain, it will become much easier for students to move between universities and dictate their own educational trajectory because barriers to transferring credits would begin to fall away. In this world, MOOCs could also be more easily completed for meaningful credit that leads to a degree. A person’s entire educational record could be accessed at the touch of a button.

If individual educational records were encrypted in this way, K-12 assessments could be better coordinated as well. Instead of annual high-stakes tests that vary by state and grade level, one could imagine a more longitudinal assessment system that tracked achievement over time. For example, if an eighth-grade student passed a tenth-grade geometry test, she would carry that accomplishment on her record wherever she went, allowing her to continue her math education at the appropriate level for her as an individual, rather than having to retake the same test for the next several years. In this way, blockchain could help revolutionize personalized education.

Integrating Blockchain Into STEM Education

Image: Getty / Two Students Studying Electronics

If blockchain is the wave of the future (as it certainly seems to be), it seems logical to make sure that today’s students are prepared to engage with this technology in their careers. This is already happening in higher education, as colleges like Virginia Tech and NYU add blockchain concentrations. Studying blockchain capitalizes on a number of STEM disciplines, including computer engineering and higher math to encrypt the data.

Because the technology is relatively new and complex, there are currently very few opportunities for K-12 students to learn more about blockchain. Though some independent courses do exist, there is a real need to develop age-appropriate curriculum in this area. For younger students, understanding the basics about networks and honing relevant math skills is a good start; for older students, financial literacy dovetails nicely with cryptocurrency to spark interest. Additionally, learning to code is always an important STEM skill, and classes in Python will be particularly useful in understanding blockchain. As with all STEM education opportunities, the earlier it begins and the more hands-on it is, the more likely kids are to stick with it and see themselves as the blockchain contributors of the future.

A Philosophy Of Decentralization

Image: Getty / Students Building Computers

Finally, it’s worth noting that blockchain represents a major step in the cultural shift towards decentralized knowledge. Just as the technology itself eliminates an intermediary that stands between you and your money (or your educational record), so too does it hint at a world in which stuents may have more direct access to and control over their education. If blockchain leads to decentralized records and greater access to global databases of knowledge, education will be further democratized and many more people will have access to the learning that they desire.

This movement comes at a time when education — and particularly STEM education — is highly corporatized. There’s money to be made from selling people an education, but it would be a real mistake to allow corporate monopolies to have all the power over what we teach our students. Despite colleges becoming ever more commodified, no single organization “owns” STEM education. In order for the STEM education movement to thrive, it must remain decentralized and accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic standing or country of origin. It should also not be co-opted by special interests that value profits over innovation and authentic learning experiences.

Image: Getty / Student Studying On A Tablet

By teaching students the STEM basics they need to understand blockchain, we can also foster in them an appreciation for the values that it brings to the table. It’s a valuable technology, to be sure, but it’s also steeped in a culture that sees information as something everyone has a right to obtain freely, without having to pay a mediator for access to it. In this philosophy, knowledge is a birthright — and an effective STEM education can help keep it that way.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on November 30th, 2018.


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

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

A STEM State of Mind: No Magic Kit or Subscription Required

Image: Getty / Brain STEM

STEM programmes and flashy subscriptions are not necessary to drive STEM education

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

When you think of the acronym ‘STEM’ or, to be more specific, when you think of STEM education in practice, what are you actually imagining? Be honest, now.

Allow your mental landscape to fill up with robots, online games or a slick subscription service packed with apps that promise a complete transformation of students into budding tech industry gurus or ‘STEMers’.

If your mental map is filled with smartphones and coding apps, you’re not alone, and you’re also not wrong to be intimidated by what looks like quite an expensive and complicated approach to put into practice.

But here’s the thing: truly sustainable and meaningful STEM initiatives are multidimensional and include all aspects of STEM, not just the shiniest bells and whistles that our current technology can make available.

A real commitment to STEM is less about a certain product or approach but rather, it’s a dedication to truly valuing the liberal arts and sciences, which, of course, includes the life sciences as well as robust critical-thinking skills. And the real kicker? These are the kind of educational experiences that talented teachers have been engaging their students in already for decades now.

So, how can boots-on-the-ground educators sort out the tools that will help them leverage their existing materials and pedagogy to make their STEM offerings truly effective and meaningful to students?

For starters, we might first take a look at where the current influence on STEM programming originates, and take some time to reframe what STEM education can really look like in practice, in all classrooms, and for all students, not just the privileged few.

The pipeline pressure

In a 2015 piece on the changing landscape of STEM education, dean of Georgia Tech, Gary S May, reiterates the common opinion that the foundation of current STEM initiatives is born out of a commitment to creating a “larger, more skilled workforce in STEM areas … [by] preparing and encouraging more youth to pursue these fields at a time when they were less inclined to do so, and to provide more support and training for teachers in the subjects”.

May makes clear his belief in this strategy, and warns against potentially “watering down” the focus on the four STEM subject areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to include the arts and other less ‘hard’ STEM subjects.

While his point is well made, May does not address one of the most concerning factors influencing modern STEM education efforts, which is the tremendous external pressures that the financial industry, technology sector and NGOs are beginning to play, ostensibly altering its future.

Heidi J Stevenson, writing in the journal Issues in Teacher Education, notes that in addition to increased federal funding to public schools, US “venture capitalists have responded to political appeals and are investing 80pc more in STEM education than in 2005”.

Stevenson goes on to ask an important question, and one that we should all be considering when assessing our curriculum planning and materials: “Are these STEM-aiding entities’ motives purely altruistic or profit-driven?”

When we look at efforts from industry attempting to help boost STEM education efforts to fuel the talent pipeline, some additional concerns also emerge.

A thorough 2015 piece in TechCrunch examines some of the takeaways regarding gender discrimination in both tech and venture capital fields.

Image: Getty / STEM State of Mind

 

The lack of diversity is often cited as a primary motivator for fuelling STEM educational programmes aimed at recruiting more women and students of colour into the STEM pipeline but this piece makes clear that one of the key barriers to more inclusive workplaces is the reality that “the lack of diversity in venture capital boardrooms is far more than a STEM pipeline issue”.

Providing flashy STEM education products to educators with the goal of training and recruiting underrepresented students sounds great at first glance. But if the tech sector doesn’t actually address the persistent top-down issues that create barriers for those students once they are actual applicants, then this approach is sorely misguided.

Mindset shift v ‘magic wand’

Increased financial resources for students and schools are always welcome but when it comes to STEM initiatives, it’s important to take a critical stance when off-the-shelf programmes are sold too aggressively as a kind of pricey ‘magic wand’.

Experienced educators know that the real foundation of STEM education requires critical-thinking skills, hands-on engagement, and opportunities to explore the natural world through trial and error, research and reflection, and genuine interest and curiosity in the problems — and potential solutions — of our shared planet.

When pedagogical materials come directly from companies whose sole focus is building up their workforce, and potentially their bottom line, it’s unclear if their commitment to true learning comes before their profit margin.

Audrey Watters of Hack Education explores this question in a 2015 blogpost, and she sums up many of the concerns of venture capital funding for STEM initiatives thusly: “So, when we ask, ‘Who’s investing in edtech?’, we can’t simply look at the dollar flow for our answer.

“We need to pause and consider why this narrative casts innovation as something that happens outside of education institutions … why it’s focused on venture capital, for example, and why it’s focused on start-ups and not schools.”

A more sustainable approach to STEM education should obviously happen within our schools, and should rely on robust training for educators who are looking to add to their already diverse set of pedagogical skills.

In addition, students should be given real opportunities to engage in hands-on activities that require knowledge and application of skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and not just plopped in front of the latest software.

Today’s entrepreneurs and corporations have the power to create beautiful, engaging programmes, but when it comes to building a sustainable grassroots movement designed to reach all students in schools globally, encouraging them to become stronger critical-thinkers and problem-solvers, there’s most likely never going to be an app or kit for that.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on November 6th, 2017.


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

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

Insights Into Early STEM Learning

Image: Getty / Early STEM Classroom

Educators need guidance and support to create positive experiences for children.

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

An often-cited statistic is that the human brain grows to 90% of its adult size by age 5. Early childhood is also critical for the healthy development of synapses — the neural bridges between brain cells that expand abilities such as communication, complex thought, innovation and movement.

The years from birth through primary school comprise a particularly rich time for encouraging the growth of curiosity and creativity necessary in later life for careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Fostering STEM learning at an early age helps children develop a can-do attitude toward careers in these fields.

However, learning needs to be developmentally appropriate. Furthermore, educators need guidance and support to create positive STEM education experiences for children.

Early STEM Learning Affects Career Choices

In a March 2018 report, the Institution of Engineers of Ireland noted that discovery and exploration are key tenets of early childhood education that “overlap” with “core engineering traits/behaviours.” Engineers Ireland (EI) suggests fostering “critical thinking and problem solving from a young age” in a primary curriculum. It has indicated that providing STEM curriculum from primary through secondary education may eventually help avoid downturns in the number of engineering apprentices. As of 2017, the number of trainees in Ireland remained about 38% lower than at the 2007 outset of the Great Recession, according to the report.

According to a report from King’s College London, “Most young people’s science aspirations and views of science are formed during the primary years and solidified by the age of 14.” It notes research supporting the efficacy of a “sustained, longer-term programme” for building information about science careers into science curriculum.

In 2014 Scholastic article about the necessity of a maker space as a part of STEM education, journalist and educator Gary Stager asserted that science learning eventually will merge core ideas with hands-on practice of science and engineering. In short, students will be expected to demonstrate how these ideas work. This thinking at a higher level begins at preschool when children are encouraged to make their own creations while playing with building blocks, other materials and computers. If it continues throughout a student’s education, it likely will make the student more valuable to STEM employers.

Learning Must Be Developmentally Appropriate

The onset of schooling varies by country. For example, in Ireland, although state-funded primary schooling is available by age 4, it isn’t mandatory until a child is 6 years old. In the UK, public education includes part-time nursery school for all students beginning at age 3 and primary instruction begins at 5 years old. This is also a common pattern in the United States, where an increasing number of states are providing free preschool education. Whether you refer to early childhood learning as preschool, primary school or nursery school, successful STEM education considers the developmental needs of children at different ages. For greatest success at fitting into the teaching day and helping children make connections between different learning topics, STEM needs to be approached in a cross-curricular way and meld with activities such as art, play and music.

For example, according to cognitive psychologist Amy Shelton, who heads research at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, curriculum that includes block play helps young children gain “fundamental skills” necessary for building interest in STEM learning. Therefore, tinkering with construction toys helps build academic strength. A STEM lesson involving Magformers, which creates 3D brain-training magnetic construction toys, might involve children in the following activities:

Having an open dialogue to discuss and draw their inventions.

Counting different-looking toy pieces (i.e., one triangle, four squares, two pentagons, six colors).

Testing the capabilities of objects they build.

What looks like play is actually intense learning.

Early childhood and primary-level educators are, of course, concerned that STEM instruction is developmentally appropriate. Writing for the non-partisan, nonprofit think tank New America in 2016, Lisa Guernsey cringes when recounting some of the misunderstandings concerning early STEM learning. Guernsey emphasizes that effective STEM learning allows for exploration. It doesn’t involve skill-and-drill activities such as reciting math facts or science vocabulary. Another misperception she often encounters is the view that STEM learning is specialized and takes time away from arithmetic, reading and writing.

Instead, at the early childhood/primary level, STEM should involve experiences such as:

Observing and discussing the movement of insects.

Considering math ideas like “more” and “less” while building with blocks.

Working in teams to solve problems.

A large part of early inquiry concerns developing a go-along, get-along attitude. In March 2017, the BBC News highlighted the importance of relationship learning in an article about Northern Ireland primary students working in teams to build vehicles that “could travel on land, sea and air.”

For a group of students building a solar-powered vehicle, this experience included learning about circuits and switches. Other skills gained involved modifying original drawings to make an invention work, compromising on solutions and thinking about recycling.

Image: Getty / Happy Students Conducting An Experiement

 

Helping Facilitate Early STEM Education

Many teachers feel hesitant about helping young children explore scientific and mathematical ideas. PBS recently videotaped a University of Chicago pilot project aimed at helping early childhood educators become more comfortable facilitating STEM lessons, such as what objects float and why.

PBS noted that pressure is on preschool teachers to begin the STEM learning process because of poor assessment results in standardized science exams at the fourth-grade level. The short video points out that the featured university project focused on helping teachers learn how to facilitate the process of inquiry rather than teaching them the scientific principles behind the projects.

The goal is to help teachers feel more confident about getting students to make observations and discuss questions requiring something more than “yes” and “no” answers. Inquiry is a process that requires teachers to wait before sharing their own answers to student questions and to learn that it’s OK not to have all of the answers. What is important is to help students become critical thinkers. Supporting inquiry-based learning is one of the most effective strategies we can deploy today to promote STEM literacy, ultimately equipping children with the skills for success in tomorrow’s workforce.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on June 20th, 2018.


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

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

The Rise Of The STEM Toy

Image: Shutterstock / Toy Assortment

STEM Toys Can Help All Students, But Are All STEM Toys Helpful?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

While the subjects that comprise the acronym STEM aren’t new, grouping these subjects of study — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — into a pedagogical approach didn’t become a trend in educational circles in the early 2000s. Today, as the movement has gained momentum across the globe, more parents are taking action when faced with traditional curricula that don’t offer their children the kind of content and pedagogy that will best prepare them for a career of innovation and problem-solving. Some families are advocating for better courses or enrolling their children in extracurricular STEM programs, while others have turned to the marketplace to find the answer they seek.

That’s right: STEM toys. STEM toys have actually been around for several years now. As the New Yorker reported back in 2013, the industry was already welcoming an increase in STEM-related toys for almost a decade. According to data from a research firm on the toy industry, “Sales of building sets rose 22% from 2011 to 2012, from $1.63 billion to $1.99 billion; sales of scientific toys and educational toys, while a tiny fraction of overall toy sales, grew as well, by 17% and 25%, respectively.”

STEM Toys Can Help All Students, But Are All STEM Toys Helpful?

One trend that clearly stands out in the toy market: subscription services. Amazon’s STEM Toy Club, which launched in 2017, is perhaps the most visible major company to offer such an option, but the e-commerce juggernaut is not the only retailer that’s gotten involved with STEM toys. A recent piece in Retail Dive makes clear that several other large companies, including Walmart and Target, also offer STEM subscription services. The idea is simple: Parents pay a flat rate per month, and their children receive a different STEM toy or kit each month.

Subscriptions services are a great way to build curiosity and interest in STEM for kids who might not otherwise be interested. After all, who among us under age 12 would refuse a new toy in the mail each month? But as a product editor quoted in the RD article makes clear, it can be hard to tell if retailers are offering truly educational, engaging STEM toys or just trying to capitalize on the trend of STEM: “Amazon is actually late to the game,” Jennifer Stein said. “STEM has become a fabulous term for marketers to use because parents buy into it, but it has been around. For it to be effective, it needs to be used correctly.”

One can assume that most seasoned STEM educators couldn’t agree more.

What To Look For When Making A Selection

So, how can parents — and educators — determine which of the new crop of STEM toys are actually beneficial and which are just getting in on the trend of STEM? Tech firm Technavio, which released a report forecasting the growth predicted in the STEM toy industry, breaks down educational toys into three categories: academic, cognitive thinking and motor skills.

Solid academic toys include math and science kits, as well as language learning toys, and these toys should actively engage children in skill acquisition or application. In other words, children should not be passive observers — a good academic toy should require them to think, interact with and/or manipulate concepts and ideas.

Cognitive thinking toys for younger children can include puzzles and construction sets that require children to think logically and apply reason. Cognitive skill-building toys for older students include classics like the Rubik’s Cube, as well as more advanced construction sets from companies like LEGO, which require older students to apply concepts of both geometry and engineering.

Motor skill-building toys are a growing subset of STEM toys and primarily apply to the youngest of learners. Toddlers and preschoolers can benefit from workbench sets or even simple, well-designed building blocks, which allow young learners to develop the physical skills they need to move and manipulate objects.

Image: Getty / Students Building Electric Model Car

For parents who want to give their children additional opportunities to learn and practice STEM skills, quality STEM toys can be a great option. A growing market means that retailers are looking to capitalize on the opportunity, so it’s important to do your research and look for toys that offer dynamic, hands-on learning as opposed to just encouraging students to pretend to “do science.” While imagining a world in which they can grow up to be an engineer or a web designer is valuable, it’s most important that children actually get real-world experience by engaging in problem-solving as opposed to playing with something fun that just makes them look the part. After all, hard work can definitely feel like play, especially in the STEM fields, so look for toys that offer that sweet spot of rigor and joy, and watch your child’s interest in STEM take flight.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on May 29th, 2018.


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

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

What’s Driving STEM Education? Emerging Trends on the Road Ahead

Image: Shutterstock

Where is STEM education heading in 2018? A look back on the years leading up to 2017 to predict what lies ahead for STEM

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

In many ways, 2017 has been a year of great acceleration and progress in the field of STEM education.

In the roughly dozen or so years since the term ‘STEM’ was first popularised, the acronym referring to the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics has become something of a household term.

Not only are traditional primary-school science educators talking about STEM, but it seems that our entire global culture has started to shift towards recognising the power and importance of scientific innovation as we collectively look towards solutions to the challenges of our modern times.

It’s truly an exciting time to be a young person exploring the various subjects and disciplines of STEM, and, while the work is challenging, it’s also never been more invigorating to be an educator or educational leader devoted to furthering STEM education opportunities.

As we look back on 2017 and the years preceding it, we can also look forward to the trends emerging on the horizon.

Reports from the field: What research says about STEM education trends

It can be difficult to forecast the trends and influences in STEM education due to the rapidly changing nature of the technologies that inform STEM pedagogy.

However, referring back to a 2013 report tasked with forecasting STEM through 2018 offers some key takeaways for STEM practitioners across the globe. The report keys in on a dozen “technologies to watch”.

2013–2014

  • Learning analytics
  • Mobile learning
  • Online learning
  • Virtual and remote laboratories

2014–2016

  • 3D printing
  • Games and gamification
  • Immersive learning environments
  • Wearable technology

2017–2018

  • Flexible displays
  • The internet of things
  • Machine learning
  • Virtual assistants
Getty: Machine Learning

 

These technologies have already begun to play out in our classrooms and our lives, and this report provides a solid glimpse for what’s to come.

It’s surprising to look back at the use of mobile and online learning tools as a ‘new’ idea just a few years back. Today’s classrooms at the primary and university levels have, for the most part, fully integrated the use of personal technologies with instruction.

It’s no longer strange to see a smartphone or tablet being employed in the classroom, and this comfort with technology has set the stage for what’s to come.

In addition, the use of ‘out of the box’ approaches, such as gamification and alternative or immersive environments, seems like it just might be paying off.

A recent article in US News and World Reportshares some promising news for STEM strides, noting that “the number of students who took an AP exam in mathematics or science has never been higher. Students taking these exams nearly doubled from 273,000 in 2003 to 527,000 in 2013.”

Greater interest in advanced courses in mathematics and science is a trend that seems like it will only increase as educators and administrators continue to invest in not only off-the-shelf STEM pedagogical products, but also invest in a mindset that values the power of properly prepared educators and prioritises meaningful, rich opportunities for students to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the classroom, and the real world.

Looking ahead: The future of STEM education in 2018 and beyond

Many thought leaders in the educational community remain excited and forward-thinking about the future of STEM and, increasingly, STEM initiatives are happening via global collaborations that reach far beyond political borders.

In a report focused on the future of STEM education, the tenets of the STEM 2026 Vision are put forth as follows:

  • Engaged and networked communities of practice
  • Accessible learning activities that invite intentional play and risk
  • Educational experiences that include interdisciplinary approaches to solving “grand challenges”
  • Flexible and inclusive learning spaces supported by innovative technologies
  • Innovative and accessible measures of learning
  • Societal and cultural images and environments that promote diversity and opportunity in STEM

Most notably, none of these “six interconnected components” are prescriptive or specific to one particular approach of achieving success.

Image: Getty / Successful Learning

 

Flexible by design, the goal of STEM education going forward is not that all classrooms come equipped with a 3D printer and the latest software package that promises results, but rather that educators and students work together to radically transform our traditional notions of what a STEM classroom looks like.

What do these emerging STEM trends look like in practice?

Some experts predict that more schools will invest in multi-use makerspacesin which students can engage in truly hands-on problem-solving through experimentation, robotics, coding or even low-tech group activities that model the experience of solving engineering problems in the real world.

Others predict that Silicon Valley technocrats will continue to have a major influence on STEM education trends as companies such as Google continue to proactively grow their employment pipeline. But, at the same time, it seems likely that individual products or services will become far less important than a more holistic commitment to digital literacy and self-directed learning.

And, while collaborative learning is far from a new trend, many expect that increased access to free or low-cost collaborative technology will make for more dynamic, group-driven classroom work that better prepares students for the experience of working together for a common cause, on a common problem.

The future of STEM education will likely involve some shiny bells and whistles, such as AI or even new funding streams for coding courses, but what’s most essential about the future is that we are now building upon our successes in a way that’s different from building the plane as we fly it.

With more than a decade of experience and experimentation behind us, the next steps in STEM education look brighter than ever and, together, we can light the way towards global solutions that can collectively advance us all — with our foot on the accelerator.


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…