Approaches to Learning that Equip Students

This week Lee Se-dol, 18 times world champion in the Chinese strategy game of Go, retired from competition citing the rise of AI as an unbeatable force that means “I’m not at the top even if I become number one.”. When reading this I was once again excited and saddened at the thought of the power of AI and what it can achieve whilst also pondering what it means to us as humankind.

I’m not at the top even if I become number one.

Recently, I brought 22 students to visit multiple companies in San Francisco/Silicon Valley and the mantra coming out of many of them was AI, Machine Learning and Quantum Computing as the expected, indeed, the existing new trends. Mindful of our mission to nurture life-long learners and innovative thinkers I was thinking how can we as an institution and more widely as a community help nurture these assets in us and our students/children?

What struck me on my visits and my observations upon ‘Silicon Valley’ culture is the fast pace of life and the need for quick decisions and large amounts of speculation. This suits a technology industry that thrives on development and disruption. Can those characteristics be somehow amended to nurture innovative thinking in the school setting? When students are told that the future employment landscape will be vastly different to the one that they see before them it is challenging for them to look for a more vocational route in higher education. Therefore one must assume transferable skills, such as ‘Students Learning How to Learn’ will become the key assets that employers and indeed global contributors will be looking for as the likely pace of change in the world is set to increase. Adaptable, creative, ethical and well-balanced thinkers will be key components to the success of projects and in turn society’s happiness.

Could I now have a beer? Could I now play games with the children? Could I catch up on emails for work? Could I post TikTok of my steering wheel moving whilst I am sitting in the back?

When I saw driverless cars ride their way around the Silicon Valley my mind went racing as to what I could do instead of driving in the future, which could in turn lead to a more productive use of time whilst commuting or taking long road trips to visit family. Could I now have a beer? Could I now play games with the children? Could I catch up on emails for work? Could I post a TikTok of my steering wheel moving whilst I am sitting in the back? All valid and personal alternatives to the action of driving. When I landed back in Munich I saw the slightly sleeker German automobiles on the road, driving significantly faster, and I was reminded of the romance of driving and the excitement of passing my test and learning to drive in multiple cities, even Rome! How can algorithms move forward respecting and valuing both aspects of driving culture amongst many others?

With the reliance of the algorithm and coupled with the opaque methodology behind with which algorithms operate, we were once again confronted with questions when accusations were leveled at Apple’s credit card, where it was said that the credit card’s credit limits were skewed higher for male than for female counterparts sharing the same bank accounts. Even Steve Wozniak was supposedly affected! This again points to current limitations and the need for those in and around the bloating world of technology to understand more the how, in this case, the algorithms work, to be a critical thinker of the impact of any new technology, perhaps ensure that good principled laws are written that can regulate effectively as well as acting as ethical councils as an active member of the community, whilst attempting to co-exist with the technology in our society. This rather daunting task is being left to future generations and it is through teaching them their approaches to learning (so-called ATL) that we here at MIS believe we can prepare our students appropriately.

MIS future ready learners will be adaptable, and show a, critical, open mind to new ideas and thought patterns. Students will be able to articulate methods to their learning which will be effective in this new world. ATL skills acquired, honed and mastered by students will be the skills that allow them to ride the wave of change that will wash over many decades to come.

Finally, if I could talk to Lee Se-dol today I would ask him to consider that, although a machine/algorithm has conquered him in a game he has obviously committed much of his life towards, it is his thinking, his knowledge, his ability in strategic risk taking and the way he has developed his mind beyond what most others would dream of, is his achievement and not the victory of a game. It is these skills that he has acquired, honed and duly mastered that render him a candidate for future brilliant thinking and not for retirement.

Daragh Comerford,
Director of Learning Technologies