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Re-Imagining Education In An Automating World

These are live notes written at the Re-Imagining Education In An Automating World at George Brown College.

Note: these notes are written live and therefore represent an interpretation and a distraction. Typos galore.

One of the things that struck me about the conference as it proceeded was that this was designed by a team interested in the philosophy of education as part of a dialogue going from conference to conference.


The conference began with a fabulous territorial acknowledgement by the Indegenous Councellor, Bob Crawford. He talked about the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and how it framed the way we are all treaty people.

We then had a philosopher talk about Socrates and questioning. He asked us to think about our feelings toward automation:

  • How do I feel about a future with more automation?
  • Does this feeling inform my daily practices?

(I feel cautious. Some concerns and some anticipations. My feelings often lead to fascination or irritation depending on which way the feeling goes.)

The President then welcomed us and talked about how she is both excited and challenged. How will automation affect educators.

The Future of Work: Charlotte Sobolewski (Deloitte), Caroline Konrad (Ryerson University)

Sobolewski started by talking about future of work. There is a lot of doom in the media. A lot of people are worried about their kids.

  • The angle of the worker
  • How is work being redefined
  • Look around the workplace - the environment and how people work together

What is driving the change?

  • Tech is everywhere
  • Massive growth in AI
  • Jobs & tasks vulnerable to automation
  • Tsunami of data
  • Change in careers
  • Diversity, demographic and generational change
  • Explosion in contingent work

She recommended a report called "Mr Robot". Many of the jobs vulnerable to automation are the entry level jobs. How do we train people to feel they have an entry into meaningful work.

She reported an interesting question: "Would you report to a bot?"

Just because we can do something doesn't mean we have to. What do you trust? What is the role we can play? What does it mean to be human?

Emilia, the blond-haired chatbot

Work to learn rather than learn to work. How can we be flexible.

Caroline Konrad of Ryerson then talked about automation. She talked about how we are accepting of data being part of our life. Automation doesn't surprise us.

She talked about what the employment outlook:

  • Gig economy - growth of self-employment. Students will have multiple career paths
  • Retirement may happen after 75
  • Lifelong learning - we have to prepare students to learn to learn
  • Policies and

How this will affect us:

  • From hierarchy to multi-teaming
  • How can we support colleagues so that we all continue to learn

Skills needed including Critical Thinking, Communications, Creativity, and Cultural Fluency.

We hear a lot of solutions, but no one size fits all. Co-ops and placements aren't the only solution. We need things like tailored programming that meet difficult needs.

They have "Faculty and labour market support" teams that specialize in career options for different programs that advise on curriculum and "drip-feed" career ideas in later years. The co-curricular activities are important. So are the needs of our student backgrounds. These initiatives lead to greater take-up of career education opportunities.

The last speaker in this first panel was Heather Lash. She called for us to pause and to look at all things digital and automatic. Education trains us to think despite how thinking is undervalued today. Can philosophy be a public activity? Philosophy is slow? Deliberation and analysis always take time.

She talked about the values of waiting. Fast and close is our ecosystem - we need an island to step out and reflect back. Isn't the place for that a school? Real leadership is not just about trying to keep up.

Ask questions that are really questions for which you don't have the answers. Questions are not comments in disguise.

(I found it hard to come up with real questions as opposed to questions that guide thinking. My best was "what don't we know?")

The questions others had were great. There was one about how we can weather these changes without treating people as an externality. I can't help thinking that Canada is a resource economy and the automation of resources management is what we have to look at. The automation of the service industries will affect us, but will probably be pioneered in other economies. Will Canada investing in AI make a difference or will the industries that really see cost savings be elsewhere? Will we end up contributing research, but not implementation? Is that a bad thing?

Leading Change: Rick Huijbregts and Cory Ross

The next panel included two leaders from George Brown who engaged in a conversation. The convenor asked if we should eavesdrop, which is, after all, how we follow Socrates in the Platonic dialogues. It is eavesdropping all the way down.

Huijbregts did an exercise identifying the generations in the room.

Cory talked about how in China they can't do things the way we do because of the size of the population. This leads to changes in service delivery.

Massive change and disruption is not new, it is normal. Change isn't new, it is normal. The question is how we manage it.

They talked about micro-credentials and how getting a job is changing. We need to let student get micro-credentials.

"Strategy eats technology and culture eats strategy." How can educational institutions create the right sort of culture?

Then we heard from Ed Ksenych who responded to the conversation. He started with the Matrix and Jean Baudrillard and how everthing takes place in a social world with a history! We construct life worlds (mostly in work). It shows and hides. (What is hidden?) Despite it being natural we tend to think it is "natural".

Somethings we can change and what can we not? What can we direct attention to as changeable? What is being treated as unchangeable or natural? Think of money. No one talks about whether we should get rid of money? So many assume that cybercurrencies are the way.

How can we change the life worlds we are in to encourage collaboration? The college is based on an industrial model. Can it really change or are we just dressing up the surface and talking the talk.

Time is laced through this discussion. What conception of time? There is never enough time? What does that mean? What's driving this conversation is a business agenda? Is education time the same as business time, engineering time?

He ended with "my time is up."

In the question period after we heard people asking about how to keep up when fields are changing faster than education can. I wondered what the percentage of adult students are? What about the students who aren't studying for a career, but for leisure?

If educational programs can't move fast enough how could we change education? Must we?

Lightning Talks

After lunch there were a series of lightning talks by George Brown faculty. I was focusing on my talk so I didn't take a lot of notes. Here are some of the issues that struck me:

  • There was a general agreement that the human-to-human was still important to teaching. AIs can help automate some things, but not the whole engagement.
  • There was talk about intelligence and whether it is an attribute of the individual of or of groups, and importantly diverse groups.
  • AI is affecting liesure - like travel. Cognitive cooking with chef Watson!
  • Computing is now affecting denturism (as in dentures) - 3D printing of dentures
  • The robots are here and have been with us for a while, doing things we don't want to do. Now they may start doing things we do want to do.
  • We shouldn't worry, things are not really moving that fast.
  • Humans are underrated (admission by Elon Musk)
  • Students are still overwhelmed by the challenge of finding information
  • Students need to get out of digital bubble and actually deal with the material
  • Content master is dead - students need to own their learning
  • Professors are no longer the only experts - the internet lets all sorts of others establish authority
  • Students can learn through learning materials for each other - sitting around a circle rather than in a pyramid
  • What is creativity? How can it be taught if this is what students really need?
  • What is design? Framing, problem solving, form and function and style.
  • Teaching is about letting go of being the expert and learning with students
  • How do we teach critical thinking? The big corporations are the new religion that need to be critiqued. We got to watch these guys.
  • Students should question us.

The lightning talks were broken up by a short on the spot exercise break where someone led us in what seemed a lot like a pilates session for conferencers.

I can't help wondering who benefits from discourse about AI and the dangers of automation?

Digital Citizenship and Big Data: Preparing Students: Geoffrey Rockwell

I gave the final talk on digital citizenship and literacy. This wall follows by an interview by Nora Young of CBC Spark. Here is the abstract.

Since Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong and started sharing thousands of documents in 2013 it has become clear that big data is being used in all sorts of ways to manage us. It is no longer enough to leave data analytics to specialists. We have to prepare our students to understand how they can use data in their lives and how their data will be used to influence them. Digital literacy is the new media literacy.

In this presentation I will first make the case that data literacy is important to citizenship and then present ways in which all students can be taught about data and analytics across the curriculum. In particular I will focus on empowering students to build their own datasets and then helping them explore and use tools like Voyant ( on their data.



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