Saturday, 4 August 2018

The Fourth Education Revolution – Anthony Seldon – Book Summary - Part One

The Fourth Education Revolution is about likely impact of Artificial Intelligence on society. Sir Anthony Seldon, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham and previously Headteacher of two top HMC boarding schools, Brighton and Wellington Colleges, not only discusses the (AI) on education, but, perhaps more importantly, explores the philosophical and moral debates about the place of AI in society. Thus, this is an important book not just for those of us in education, but also beyond the profession. We could not be in better hands.
The book forms a logical structure argument for change. The first six chapters set the context for the debate by:
  1. reviewing the first three educational revolutions; 
  2. discussing what it means to be an educated person; 
  3. discussing Five Intractable Problems with Conventional Education: 
  4. discussing What is Intelligence? 
  5. discussing What is Artificial Intelligence? 
  6. reviewing the state of AI in the USA and the UK 
(Each of these chapters is worthy of consideration and is an interesting introduction and summary of these important areas)

The key chapter for secondary school educationists is his discussion of ‘The future of AI in Schools’ (Chapter 7). Here Seldon’s methodology (after Suskind and Suskind) is to establish a ten-part model for education by aggregating the tasks of the teacher and the student:
Five Traditional Tasks in Teaching: 
    1. Preparation of material; 
    2. Organisation of the classroom/ learning space; 
    3. Ensuring that all students are engaged in learning; 
    4. Setting and marking assignments; 
    5. Preparation for terminal examinations and writing summative reports. 
Five Traditional Activities in Learning: 
    1. Memorising knowledge; 
    2. Applying the knowledge; 
    3. Turning knowledge into understanding; 
    4. Self-assessment and diagnosis; 
    5. Reflection and the development of autonomous learning.
He then argues how each of five traditional factors in teaching will be transformed by AI over the coming decades: 
  1. Preparation of material will be done by ‘Curation specialists . . whose job it is to work with AI machines to author and identify the most appropriate material for particular student profiles.’ p.189 
  2. Organisation of the learning space: ‘Separate classrooms will disappear in time and replaced by pods and wide open, flexible spaces which can be configured for individual and flexible collective learning. Sensors will monitor individual students, measuring their physiological and psychological state, picking up on changes faster and more accurately than any teacher could.’ p.191 
  3. Presentation of material to optimise learning/deeper understanding: ‘The flexibility of visual representation with AI allows material to be presented to students which renders much teacher exposition redundant.’ p.192 
  4. Setting assignments and assessing/self-assessing progress: ‘Advances in real-time assessment enabled by AI will virtually eliminate this waiting period [the time lag between students being assessed and them receiving feedback on their performance} and ensure feedback comes when most useful for learning.’ pp.194-5. 
  5. Preparation for terminal examinations and writing summative reports: ‘All this will be swept away by AI. . . . In its place will be attention to continuous data reporting, and real time feedback that will help students discover how to learn autonomously and how to address any deficiencies on their own.’ p.196 
And so to the $100.000.000 question: Will we need teachers in the future? Seldon is clear ‘We do not believe that it is either possible or desirable for AI to eliminate teachers from education’ but he goes on to point out that ‘the application of AI places more responsibility for learning in the hands of the student, for how their time is spent and on what, even from a young age.’ p.205. ‘AI will change however the job of the teacher forever. By supporting teaching in all their five traditional tasks, AI will usher in the biggest change the profession has ever seen.’ p.206. Interestingly Seldon recognises that remote teaching is a distinct possibility: ‘Imminent advances in virtual technologies will mean too that teachers no longer have to be physically present to offer their services.’ p.206

This is well drafted and highly informed argument. It was a joy to read. The only surprise and disappointment for me was that he did not address the 'Elephant-in-the-room' questions of how the traditional examination structures (especially GCSE and A-level in the UK) will be dismembered and on what time-scale. We can all see that the direction of travel is that GCSE and A-level will probably 'will be swept away by AI ' in twenty years' time, but how we get there and what the drivers will be is one of the greatest questions facing UK education over the coming years. These are essentially political questions and ones on which he, given his intimate knowledge of UK politics, Sir Anthony is uniquely qualified to comment - let's hope he does in due course.

Part Two to follow

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