🪶 Ledgers and Intelligence: Thoughts On The Nature Of Education For 2023 And Beyond
AI and crypto find themselves to be of frequent use in the vernacular of the 2020's. People write them off as buzzwords, as is the case with most new things. I want to think through their potential impacts to education, so I'm writing about it.
For crypto, my interest is in the aspect of a distributed ledger. For AI, I'm more interested in the effects that cheap and accessible intelligence will have on the development of our own. Two technologies that have already influenced capital markets, talent markets, and will continue to do so moving forward. Two
The following questions served as a form of guidance for thought surrounding the subjects.
1. How can distributed ledgers change the way we account for a persons learning experience?
2. How can AI tools be incorporated into pedagogical practices?
Nature of Education
So, education as we know it. What is that?
College. It is baked into the dream of a happy and successful life in the US. Harvard University was the first in 1636, and after the American Revolution, a number of colleges were established to provide an educational foundation for our new nation. Today, the industry has found itself to be heavily relied on for research, certification of ability by employers, amateur athletics, and a shared social experience that has represented a right of passage to the professional world.
However, things are changing in the professional world. The reason most of the populous goes to university in the first place. Employers are beginning to shed the requirement of a degree for entry-level positions. A trend that began with tech companies, and will spread to other industries. As the degree loses value each quarter as companies no longer require them, the industry ripens for disruption and innovation.
To be clear. Not having a degree does not mean you have the same chance as getting the job vs someone who does. A degree still holds some weight in regards to the signifier of "college experience." You still need to learn applicable knowledge, know how to work and communicate with others - things a college education can provide, but so can other experiences. But what does any of this have to do with distributed ledgers or AI?
A distributed ledger is like a special kind of book that everyone can use to keep track of things. In a distributed ledger, everyone has a copy of the book, and they can all write in it or make changes to it. This way, everyone always has the most up-to-date information, and they can all see what's happening. A distributed ledger is called "distributed" because the book is spread out and shared among many different people, instead of being kept in one place. It's called a "ledger" because it's used to keep track of things, like money or important information. You may have heard this term used with blockchains or cryptocurrencies.
How can distributed ledgers change the way we account for a persons learning experience?
I mentioned it before, but the ability to account for multiple paths to competency is now possible. Meaning we can now account for each individual's learning path as they navigate a large quantity of learning material. Traditionally we learn the same things, at the same time, in the same way because it is easiest for administration to test and track; to account for. This is where the case for distributed ledger technology comes in.
The accountability a distributed ledger enables is a huge reason for its use case in cryptocurrency. For education, it has the potential to completely change the way an education is administered. We can account for every learning experience, regardless of an interaction with an institution or not. Regardless of being inside a classroom or not. What is read, watched, or heard can be accounted for in some fashion. The best part is that teachers are free to do what they do best.
The teacher provides and/or explains material. Their role becomes very similar to that of an artist. In other words they try to evoke the observer to try and understand, ask questions, become interested in whatever it is they are teaching. No longer strapped with deadlines and the need to shovel information to students, the educator can simply educate. The word educate comes from the latin word educere, which means to "to bring out, lead forth." This ability is what good artists and teachers share. An ability that can be enhanced by the following topic.
It is like a robot that can think and do things on its own. It's not a real person, but it can act like one. AI can be programmed to do lots of different things, like help people with their work or play games with them. Some AI is really smart and can learn new things on their own, just like a human. Some people think AI is really cool because it can make our lives easier, but others are worried about what might happen if it gets too smart.
How can AI be incorporated into pedagogical practices?
The word pedagogical comes from pedagogy. A field that has housed names like Socrates, Confucius, and Plato among others. The underlying characteristics of academia's pedagogy is structured around the style of assessment that is used. The tools coming out of ventures like OpenAI, DeepMind, Meta AI, and the like can be used to help automate current methods of assessment, but also create new ones.
The current styles of assessment are partly economic.1 Essays and paper-tests are cheap, and take less time to grade than more interactive forms of assessment like conversation or reflective work. Administrative bloat is already a big issue in higher ed2, and the case to add more admin for support in forms of assessment that undermine entire operations makes little sense. AI tools are a scaleable solution to new forms of assessment, but the system is so rooted in its current form of assessment that change is nowhere to be seen on the horizon.
We have seen the AI buzz amongst artists, musicians, and the greater public. But as mentioned above, teachers are very similar to artists in the sense that the nature of their work parallels. AI can aid in the creation of exercises, transcription of conversations amongst learners, and other ways to let teachers focus on the goal, development. The teachers who adapt will benefit greatly from the advancements in this field. Yet the will of the teacher is not enough to the bureaucracy of academia.
Academia is frustratingly slow at acknowledging change, but students are blazingly fast. The process of change goes like so - ignore it, reject it, ban it, and then accommodate it.3 This happened with calculators, mobile phones, and will happen again with AI. We'll see an arms race against AI tools before we see acceptance.
The educational renaissance is not likely to happen in the halls of universities, but rather in the realm of bits. A place that draws more people, more information, and more activity for intellectual engagement. A place where change is canon. Our institutions of learning have a huge demand for change from the populous, but no incentive to do so. The incentive of the entrepreneur is that of disruption to the trillion dollar industry of higher education. On a 15-20 year time horizon we will see this change right in front of us, and it will come from the private sector. Education will take a new form as energy costs drop, and new forms of intelligence aid in the development of our own.