SXSWEdu Reflections: Technology with a Sense of Purpose

Amidst the array of game-changing technologies on display at SXSWEdu 18, I was pleased to see more than one keynote speaker remind attendees that learning always starts with a purpose and is driven by a passion.

There’s no doubt that the Automation, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence technologies being discussed at SXSWEdu have the potential to transform learning, but they’ll only help you if they serve your learning purpose.

Student Success

The Western Governors University (WGU) is in no doubt of their purpose: Student Success. Their entire organization is designed around the needs of the student, and they have built an impressive real-time data gathering system to optimize for Student Success.

At the conference they shared how the ongoing tracking of low-level metrics can be used to develop insights against 16 learner profiles to continuously improve the learning experience for individual students across the institution.

They also shared the importance of an ethical approach to data collection with a commitment to complete transparency across administrators, teachers and students. “If you can know, you should know. No excuses.” is the program mantra.

This ongoing resolution to “free the data” has also fueled a collective passion for ongoing improvement that has unleashed the data scientist within students and faculty alike.

Data With a Purpose

This diligence in data collection is critical to unlock the full potential of Artificial Intelligence in education. And an ethical approach to data usage is critical to customer acceptance.

Adobe’s CTO, Abhay Parasnis, was recently asked to give his case for AI against the current backdrop of angst around data collection and fears of losing control to robots and algorithms.

He gave a compelling case for embracing AI, by bringing it back to purpose.

Adobe’s purpose has always been to change the world through digital experiences by giving everyone better tools to tell their stories. But of course, not everyone has the skills to use complex tools like Photoshop.

Parasnis explained that the Holy Grail for them with AI is to use the data they have from decades of users to democratize who can use their tools to tell better stories, by simplifying the experience of using their products.

This idea of using technology to make learning more accessible, so that more people can achieve their goals, is central to our philosophy at GlobalEnglish. And I know that expanding the opportunity for successful learning from the few to the many is one shared by many of us in the learning industry.

It’s through this lens that we should look at the opportunities of Automation, Machine Learning and AI to improve every aspect of the learner experience, which in turn can increase the chances of successful learning outcomes.

AI from Administration to Personalization

Back at SWSXEdu, two of the exhibitors to catch my eye with practical demonstrations of AI at work today to improve the learner experience were Ellucian and Sana.

Ellucian showed how AI is being used to improve the student experience by transforming class registrations, with intelligence course scheduling based a student’s preferences and goals.

But what I found most intriguing was their Registration Assistant Chatbot which provides tuition fees information, recommends classes and even advises on pass/fail risks based on historical data.

Sana presented a knowledge tracing tool as an API which can optimize any content served to a learner based on a prediction of their performance, calculated from past learning patterns.

Sana says that serving up exercises with a 70% likelihood of successful completion hits a “sweet spot” that can significantly boost continued learner engagement.

It felt like Machine Learning and AI had come of age at this year’s SXSWEdu, with many examples like the two above of solutions ready for prime time out in the field.

Now’s the time to data-fuel your purpose.


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