Wednesday, July 17, 2024

AI is not going to implement itself, but governments can help

The AI hype has passed, and the overexcited futurists' voices are mercifully fading away. We're now entering a practical era where AI is leveraged to boost productivity in businesses, non-profit, and public organizations. This shift brings a sobering realization: AI integration requires a meticulous, pragmatic approach to build reliable and trustworthy systems. It's a lot of work and requires some strategy.

When a single person manages a well-defined workflow, integrating AI is relatively straightforward. It's easy to incorporate AI tools like ChatGPT or Claude to assist with ad copy, reports, or applications. The beauty of these scenarios lies in their simplicity - the user acts as both operator and quality controller, immediately judging the output's effectiveness.

However, the story changes dramatically when we shift to multi-user workflows or more complex processes, where both inputs and outputs are more of a collective responsibility. I recently spoke with an Accounts Payable team who posed a challenging question: "Yes, we can see that AI can help review travel claims, but can you guarantee it's going to be 100% accurate?" I couldn't provide that guarantee; I don't have time to conduct a hundred tests, and I don't even have access to a hundred travel reports. They emphasized their need for completely audit-proof outcomes. This conversation highlighted the trust issues that arise when moving from AI enthusiasts to skeptics in larger organizations. And organizations should have a healthy group of skeptics to remain viable.

I've also recently been a fly on the wall during discussions between healthcare executives and a U.S. lawmaker. The executives explained that each AI-assisted medical procedure needs validation, which is expensive and often duplicated across multiple hospital systems. This challenge extends beyond healthcare. For instance, when using AI to crunch data in all organizations, we need to understand its reliability in analyzing large datasets, cleaning them, and handling outliers.

The problem is that no private institution can conduct the kind of comprehensive testing and validation needed to establish trust in AI systems across various industries. We cannot seriously trust claims of startups who are trying to sell a specialized product to an industry or a government organization. It's not clear how a hypothetical validation private service would monetize such an endeavor.

This is where I believe government involvement becomes crucial. Instead of obsessing with deep fakes and ethics, that's what governments should be doing. Governments can collaborate with industry experts to develop standardized benchmarks for AI reliability and performance. They could establish certification programs that act as quality marks, assuring users that AI systems have undergone rigorous testing. Moreover, government funding could support businesses, NGOs, and government agencies in conducting extensive AI testing, especially benefiting smaller organizations lacking the necessary resources.

In my view, public-private partnerships are key to navigating these challenges. By leveraging expertise from both sectors, we can develop robust testing frameworks and create dependable AI systems. This approach would pave the way for more efficient and innovative workflows across industries, ensuring that the benefits of AI are realized while maintaining trust and reliability. 

Monday, July 15, 2024

Effort in Learning: The Good, the Bad, and the AI Advantage

Many educators argue that AI makes learning too easy, suggesting that students need to apply effort to truly learn. This perspective, however, confuses the notion of effort with the process of learning itself. The belief that every kind of effort leads to learning overlooks a significant aspect of cognitive psychology: the nature and impact of cognitive load.

Cognitive load theory, developed by John Sweller, offers a crucial framework for understanding how students learn. It posits that the human brain has a limited capacity for processing information. Sweller distinguished between three types of cognitive load: intrinsic, extraneous, and germane. Intrinsic cognitive load is inherent to the task itself. For instance, solving a complex mathematical problem has a high intrinsic load due to the complexity of the content. Germane cognitive load, on the other hand, refers to the mental resources devoted to processing, construction, and automation of schemas, which are structures that help solve problems within a specific domain. 

The most problematic, however, is extraneous cognitive load. This type of load is not related to the task but to the way information is presented or to the extraneous demands placed on learners. High extraneous cognitive load can distract and stunt learning, making it harder for students to engage meaningfully with the material. For example, a poorly designed textbook that requires constant cross-referencing can add unnecessary cognitive load, detracting from the student's ability to learn. A terrible lecture or a busy-work assignments do the same. If you think that every effort by a student is valuable, you are a hazer, not a teacher.

The challenge, therefore, is not to eliminate all effort but to ensure that the effort students exert is directed towards productive ends. In other words, we need to reduce extraneous cognitive load and increase germane cognitive load. The true aim is to leverage AI to enhance germane cognitive load, directly aiding in the acquisition of schemas necessary for solving discipline-specific problems.

Every academic discipline has core problems that students are expected to solve by the end of their programs. The first step is to mercilessly clean the language of learning outcomes from wishy-washy jargon and focus on these fundamental problems. By identifying these top-level problems, educators can better understand the sequences of skills and knowledge students need to acquire.

Once these core problems are identified, it is crucial to examine how professionals in the field solve them. This involves a detailed analysis of the mental schemas that experts use. Schemas are cognitive structures that allow individuals to organize and interpret information. They enable professionals to recognize patterns, make decisions, and solve problems efficiently. For example, a doctor has schemas for diagnosing illnesses based on symptoms and test results, while an engineer has schemas for designing structures that withstand specific stresses. It is very important to understand if the field is changing and people solve those problems with AI allready, or will be doing so soon. 

AI can play a pivotal role in helping students develop these schemas. These technologies can identify where a student is struggling and provide targeted support, ensuring that cognitive resources are directed towards germane learning activities rather than being wasted on extraneous tasks.

To achieve this, we need to revisit the basic principles of instructional design. While these principles remain fundamentally the same, they require new thinking in light of AI capabilities. Instructional design should focus on reducing extraneous cognitive load by simplifying the learning environment and minimizing distractions. Simultaneously, it should increase germane cognitive load by providing challenging and meaningful tasks that promote the construction of schemas.

Moreover, educators need to recognize where cognitive load is not useful and should focus exclusively on the germane kind. This might mean redesigning courses to incorporate AI tools that can automate routine tasks, provide instant feedback, and offer complex, real-world problems for students to solve. Such an approach ensures that students are engaged in deep, meaningful learning activities rather than busywork.

Ad summam, the integration of AI in education is not about making learning easier in a superficial sense. It is about making learning more effective by ensuring that students' cognitive resources are directed towards activities that genuinely promote understanding and skill acquisition. By focusing on germane cognitive load and leveraging AI to support instructional design, we can create learning environments that foster deep, meaningful learning and prepare students to solve the complex problems of their disciplines. This calls for a rigorous rethinking of educational practices and a commitment to harnessing AI's potential to enhance, rather than hinder, the learning process.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

AI-Positive Pedagogy: Navigating the Great Disruption

AI has disrupted the educational landscape. This disruption threatens the established sequence of skill development, from simple to mid-range to higher-level skills, by eroding traditional curriculum principles, particularly in the realm of student activities and assessment. As a profession, we face a critical decision: limit AI use or develop an AI-positive pedagogy.

While limiting AI use may seem tempting, it is ultimately unfeasible and fails to prepare students for the AI-infused world they will live in. Attempting to enforce strict limitations on AI use is not only impractical but also fails to acknowledge the potential benefits that AI can bring to education.

The only plausible path forward is to adapt a new pedagogy to harness the power of AI for the benefit of our students. This involves a shift towards authentic, discipline-specific assessments that mirror real-world applications of AI within various fields. By focusing on how AI is used in different disciplines, educators can create assessments that evaluate students' ability to effectively utilize AI tools in relevant contexts.

AI-positive pedagogy emphasizes the cultivation of higher-order thinking skills, such as prompt engineering and discerning thinking. Prompt engineering involves crafting effective queries and instructions for AI systems, while discerning thinking emphasizes the critical evaluation of AI-generated information and the ability to make informed decisions by combining AI insights with human judgment. These meta-AI skills are crucial for students to navigate and thrive in an AI-populated world.

AI-positive pedagogy should prepare students to work effectively in environments where human and artificial intelligence coexist and complement each other. By fostering skills in collaborating with AI systems, understanding the strengths of both human and artificial intelligence, and developing strategies for distributed problem-solving, educators can equip students to succeed in the AI-infused workplace.

The shift towards AI-positive pedagogy is well-rooted in past pedagogy and curriculum theory. Educators have long prioritized conceptual and higher-level skills over mechanical and procedural knowledge. The disruption caused by AI may serve as a catalyst for educators to finally achieve what they have been striving for over the past century. As we embrace AI-positive pedagogy, it is essential to re-evaluate the assumption that all effort leads to learning. Cognitive Load Theory suggests that learning can be optimized by managing the three types of cognitive load: intrinsic (inherent complexity of the learning material), extraneous (caused by ineffective instructional design), and germane (effort required to process and construct mental schemas). In the context of AI-positive pedagogy, this involves using AI tools to provide appropriate support and scaffolding as learners progress from lower-level to higher-level skills, while minimizing extraneous load and promoting germane load. Not all loss of effort by students is bad. If we are honest, much of learning work is extraneous, busy, or compliance/submission work anyway. By investigating the limits and structure of leapfrogging - skipping over mid-range skills to move from basic literacies and numeracies to creative, theoretical, and critical thinking - educators can harness the power of AI to accelerate student growth.

To develop a robust AI-positive pedagogy, educators and cognitive psychologists must collaborate to investigate how students interact with and perceive AI tools - alone or under teacher's guidance. This research should focus on understanding the mental models students develop when engaging with AI, and how these models differ from those associated with other educational tools. By exploring students' cognitive processes, researchers can identify the unique challenges and opportunities presented by AI in the learning environment.

It is also crucial to examine the emotional and motivational factors that influence students' engagement with AI tools. Understanding how students' attitudes, beliefs, and self-efficacy impact their willingness to adopt and effectively use AI in their learning can inform the design of AI-positive pedagogical strategies.

In addition to investigating student cognition and affect, researchers should also explore the social and cultural dimensions of AI use in education. This includes examining how AI tools can be leveraged to promote collaborative learning, foster inclusive learning environments, and bridge educational inequities.

To build a comprehensive AI-positive pedagogy, researchers and educators must also develop and validate practices for integrating AI into various disciplines and educational contexts. This involves creating guidelines for the use of AI in education, as well as establishing professional development programs to support educators in effectively implementing AI-positive pedagogical strategies.

The development of an evidence-based AI-positive pedagogy requires a concerted effort from the educational community. By investing in basic research, collaboration, and innovation, we can harness the potential of AI to transform education and empower students to thrive in an AI-infused world.

AI is not going to implement itself, but governments can help

The AI hype has passed, and the overexcited futurists' voices are mercifully fading away. We're now entering a practical era where A...