EdTech Engage 2017

I had the opportunity to attend EdTech Engage 2017 on October 5 and 6 at Penn State. The goal of the symposium was to "bring together students, faculty, tech partners, and industry thinkers to explore the innovative space where Artificial Intelligence (AI) intersects with higher education, within and beyond Penn State."

Before I go into depth about the symposium, I need to cover what AI is and ways you may currently engage with it in every day life. According to Simple English Wikipedia, "Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of a computer program or a machine to think and learn. It is also a field of study which tries to make computers 'smart'."  "What does that have to do with me?" you ask. Whether your realize it or not AI is all around us in every day life:

  • Commuting: identifying the fastest routes
  • Email: sorting spam and categorizing email
  • Banking: Decipher and convert handwriting for mobile deposits
  • Social Networking: face recognition and news personalization
  • Online shopping: Product recommendations
  • Around the house: Smart personal assistants

Because of its potential, the EdTech Network is focusing intensely on this topic and how it can improve teaching and learning at Penn State.

The Symposium started on Thursday night with a networking reception and a dinner. We were treated to a presentation from Nick Jones on "Driving the Transformation of Higher Education" and a talk from Jonathan Crane, the Chief Commercial Officer of IPSoft (Creator of Amelia) on "Preparing Students for Success in an AI World." These discussions primed us on ways education could change for the better. Crane emphasized that using AI would not replace human resources, but rather augment important human resources. By utilizing "Amelia" to automate the general, we can start focusing on the things we are really passionate about.

On Friday morning, Cat Solazzo, Vice President, Worldwide Developer Engagement of IBM Digital Business Group spoke to "Transforming Learning in the Cognitive Era." Education is a product of both teaching and learning. With the vast amount of data and information in the world of AI, teachers can personalize and accelerate learning. Students access this information on their own terms and develop their own meaning. These learning experiences are infused with technology and analytics that allows for a cognitive based curriculum that transforms how students learn. Ultimately, it's man AND machine...not man vs. machine. AI allows for MORE.

After Cat, we were treated to five lightning talks from folks across Penn State who shared their innovative work that's pushing the boundaries of AI and its educational applications.

  • John Cheslock, Leveraging Human Interactions Alongside AI to Promote Student Success
  • Jan Reimann, Improving Conceptual Understanding of Calculus Concepts via Machine Learning
  • Jungwoo Ryoo, Building a Big Data Analytics Workforce in iSchools
  • Conrad Tucker, A Deep Learning Approach to Advancing Personalized, Adaptive Learning
  • Peter Wilf, AI as a Tool to Identify Living and Fossil Leaves

Jan Reimann of the Eberly College of Science is looking to develop a problem-solving platform for calculus that provides immediate feedback to students. He spoke to three components of the system: an algebraic component, a logic component, and a conceptual component. While there are solutions surrounding the algebraic and logic components, work needs to be done on the conceptual component. Ultimately, it would be amazing if all three components could be brought together in an app to support student learning.

Jan's Lightning Talk

After the lightning talks, I attended a session with Marcos Novaes from Google on "Machine Learning and Its Impact in Computer Science and Mathematics." Dr. Novaes explained that machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are not the same: machine learning is a subset of AI.  He then showed how machines have increased the power usage effectiveness (PUE) at Google. This system can be taken and placed at any other organization because "machines can be retrained" and they can "transfer learning." Once you create a sustainable system, the system can be reused and modified over and over again! Additionally, Dr. Noveas also showcased the tools that Google has developed to leverage machine learning at scale, such as Tensorflow. Some of this talk was way beyond my comprehension, but I could easily see how powerful it could be develop something that only hinged on programming and machine learning.

After lunch, we were treated to the presentation of the Nittany Watson Challenge Awards.  The Nittany Watson Challenge offered teams of students, faculty, and staff the chance to compete for awards totaling $100,000 in grant money by utilizing IBM Watson to improve the student experience at Penn State. Here are the Top 5 who all received funding. It was inspiring to see such innovation at Penn State!

Our final session was a panel discussion on the "Promise and Peril of IA in Education" with Renata Engel, Interim Vice Provost for Online Education, Penn State; Alan Wagner, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering & Rock Ethics Research Associate, Penn State; and Beverly Woolf, Research Professor, College of Information and Computer Sciences, University of Massachusetts. All brought enlightening and unique perspectives to AI. Beverly Woolf commented that "Big data is not about the size, it's about the analysis." We need to find and tackle the "wicked problems." Ultimately, it was agreed that AI was useful, but "human-to-human interaction is essential to education." No matter how many machines we introduce, we still rely on the humanity.

In the end, I was overwhelmed with so much amazing information and new ways to think about AI. When you think of AI as something like "Amazon recommendations," it doesn't seem too over the top. But to think of ways we could leverage machine learning and AI to improve education is mind-boggling. The growth of AI and ML is becoming exponential. It's time to jump in the saddle and figure out ways we can harness it to transform education.

Save the date for next year's EdTech Engage: October 16-17, 2018!

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