#NRC01PL Personal Learning Assistants

noa-aldebaran

Source of image (see Footnote)

This week I have lost my wonderful personal trainer who has been coming to me twice a week for the past three years or so. She was wonderful because in all that time no two sessions were ever exactly the same, she talked throughout the sessions making them seem like social events rather than gruelling exercise, she knew exactly what I needed to keep me fit and also what would motivate me. She personalized my fitness training. I will miss her, even though I will still have my twice weekly circuit training sessions in our village hall. I might have to step that up to three times a week. The circuit training sessions are for a group; as such they are not individualised/personalized for me.

So it has been interesting to listen to Stephen Downes and George Siemens talking about personal learning assistants this week in the Personal Learning MOOC. Stephen illustrated the idea of a digital personal learning assistant very well by showing us how he uses an online Food tracker, into which he records the details of all his food intake and his online Fitness tracker into which he records his walking and cycling sessions. The point was that these are his personal learning assistants. He can set targets for how many daily calories he will eat or how much weekly exercise he does, and by inputting his data, he will receive feedback on how well he is meeting his targets. I have to say that my immediate reaction was that I wouldn’t want to spend the time on inputting the data – and as for targets – being interested in emergent learning, targets isn’t a word I easily relate to, although I can easily relate to the idea of challenge.

Not so long ago I bought myself a Fitbit  to count my daily steps – a target driven device. My enthusiasm for it was very short-lived and I didn’t even have to enter data for that – just wear it and it recorded my steps automatically. The wonderful thing about my personal trainer was that I rarely had to provide her with any data, but I received the exact sessions and feedback I needed, there were no targets, and it felt like a social event. This aligns with Stephen’s comment that automation should take out the drudgery.

Stephen and George discussed what automation of personal learning should and shouldn’t do (see the video). Automation should not only remove the drudgery of tasks (for me that would include inputting data!) but also enable choice, honour autonomy, respect human agency, provide appropriate support and most importantly provide feedback. Basically we are talking about what good teachers have always done. This is what my personal trainer did for me. She planned my training sessions, but I was always able to say to her ‘No, I don’t want to, or I am not able to do that today’ and then she would modify the activity. She listened and her plans were highly adaptable. She always left me with next steps, but it was up to me whether I took those steps and she never judged me if I didn’t.

But my personal trainer was not an automaton. I learned as much about her as she did about me and whilst I learned a lot from her, I know that she also learned from me. Could this be the case for a digital personal trainer? Yes I expect so, but my gut feeling tells me that now that I have ‘lost’ her, (she has moved on in her life and I am pleased for her) I don’t think she could be replaced by a machine.

Meanwhile research seems to be turning towards investigating what aspects of a teacher’s role could be automated. See for example:

Bayne, S. (2015). Teacherbot: interventions in automated teaching. Teaching in Higher Education, 20(4), 455–467. doi:10.1080/13562517.2015.1020783 – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13562517.2015.1020783

and

Lim, S. L., & Goh, O. S. (2016). Intelligent Conversational Bot for Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs). doi:10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004 – http://arxiv.org/pdf/1601.07065v1.pdf

And at the end of his talk with Stephen, George said that he thought that those working on developing machine learning will be the ones to become wealthy in the future, which for some reason at this point in time feels a bit depressing, but hopefully won’t be so.

Footnote

A few years ago, whilst working as a consultant for the University of Birmingham, I saw these robots (the ones in the first image in this post) being used to support children on the autism spectrum in a forward thinking Birmingham school. Research into this programme showed that these children were able to relate to these robots and that the robots helped them develop their communication skills.

Further resources related to Week 6 in the Personal Learning MOOC

Levy, D. M. (2007). No Time to Think. Ethics & Information Technology, 9(4), 1–24. doi:10.1007/s10676 – http://faculty.washington.edu/dmlevy/Levy_No_Time_to_Think.pdf

Halevy, A., Norvig, P., & Pereira, F. (2009). The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Data. IEEE Intelligent Systems, 24(2), 8–12. doi:10.1109/MIS.2009.36 – http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/research.google.com/en//pubs/archive/35179.pdf 

 

#NRC01PL – What does personal learning mean to me?

personal learning

This is the question we have been asked to respond to in Week 4 of the Personal Learning MOOC (#NRC01PL). This is a quick response.

The word that immediately came into my mind in response to this question was ‘Freedom’. Freedom to decide whether or not I want to answer that question; where, how and when I want to answer that question. In other words, freedom to learn when, where, how, and with whom I want to. Of course I know that that is a bit of a utopian view. There will be elements of my PLE which may not offer me unlimited freedom. For example, if part of my PLE is a learning management system (LMS), then I will experience constraints within that system, but ideally it will have been my choice to have an LMS within my PLE.

Perhaps autonomy is a better word, or perhaps autonomy is a result of freedom.

So I have decided to answer that question here on my blog. I saw it first on the EdX course site, then on Facebook. I wondered whether it would make a good Twitter chat. It probably would – but I don’t want to do that. That’s what personal means. I can choose.

To choose I don’t have to be super tech saavy. I am not a technologist. I am not even particularly interested in technology. I have a fairly standard set of tools that I use all the time. These are – in no particular order

  • Email: I use this a lot but I am not overwhelmed by it
  • WordPress: My blog is where I feel at home online
  • Twitter: I use Tweetdeck to follow Twitter streams and private messaging
  • Facebook: I really don’t like Facebook, but it’s the only way to keep in touch with some long-term distant friends
  • Flickr: I am not interested in the Flickr game of promoting photos by commenting on everyone else’s. I use it as a personal photo back up store
  • LinkedIn: Only for professional contact and sharing my CV
  • PbWiki: I have lots of wikis, but only for invited people, so not public. Wikis are where I do all my research work
  • Pinterest: This is a very recent addition to my PLE and only because I have started art classes so it’s a good way of collecting images of art from the artists mentioned in the class
  • Mendeley: I couldn’t manage without this for my research. I have a huge library of papers
  • Evernote: As above. I have collected a whole library of links useful for my research
  • Youtube: I create Youtube videos because that’s the only way I know of getting an embed code for my blog and also because for work purposes it is quite easy to privately share videos.
  • Google+: I only use this to share blog posts. I do not interact there. I don’t find Google+ intuitive. It reminds me of my reaction to Elgg. I always feel lost in it.

These are the tools that currently make up my personal learning environment. But personal learning for me is a lot more than online environments. A lot of my personal learning is not public. Privacy and solitude are extremely important to me. So a lot of my learning really is personal. i.e. for my eyes only, or only for the eyes of very close and trusted friends/colleagues. Ironically some of those friends are online friends who I have never met face-to-face and others are friends/colleagues who I do not interact with online.

So what does personal learning mean to me? It’s complex – and personal!