Can We Create Machines to Scale Teaching and Care?

Using machines/algorithms/computers to teach seems to be popping up a lot recently, with many people expressing concern over the idea that we can program computers/machines to make qualitative decisions (ie – care about the students enough to effectively teach them). The reason we want to create teaching machines is, of course, based on the seemingly insatiable desire to scale human behavior to thousands… while hiring less people to do so.

Of course, using machines to scale our empathy and care is nothing new. Answering machines are one example of scaling care – those that use answering machines care about catching phone calls while they are gone, but don’t want to hire a personal assistant to stay at their house and take messages. So in way, they are able to scale the care that they have for talking on the phone to the number of incoming phone messages that they can’t cover. Generally, if you know the person that owns the machine and you know they want to hear what you have to say, you feel that this machine is extending the communication of that empathy into the times when that person is not physically present to answer the phone.

Something about the intent, design, and personalization of answering machines makes some aspect of communicating care scalable beyond the person behind the machine.

However, somewhere between the answering machine and computerized teachers, there is a disconnect for many in feeling what they see as the necessary level of real care and empathy. Despite this, some people just want to continue down the path of computerized teaching, feeling that perfecting the program/numbers behind the system will change that disconnect. They are spending millions of dollars to create program to write custom curriculum for each student, which is ironic seeing that we used to pay human beings $10-15 an hour at Sylan Learning Center to hand write personalized curriculum plans for each learner. Maybe instead of trying to perfect computerized teaching to the point that most actually feel “cared” for – what if we tried to figure out what people actually want to have computerized and what they don’t?

For example, many people really hate how answering machines are scaled to take care of customer service calls at large companies. So what makes that usage different than the basic home consumer answering machine? There are times when people want a person and times when they don’t. For example, if you just want your account details confirmed over the phone, you may not want to talk to a person who might have no business knowing those details.

So instead of trying to force all teaching into a computer algorithm that many might not be happy with, maybe we should look at what parts learners want to have automated and what parts they don’t.

For example, if you teach online, you have probably run into at least a few posts in the Help forum that start with “I’m embarrassed to post this here, but…” followed by a basic question about procedure or other things in the syllabus. Maybe that person would prefer an automated system that answers their question without public embarrassment?

edugeek-journal-avatarOf course, what learners want automated is often different for each learner. But it seems that the general idea is that we need to focus our research and money more on “answering machines” and less on “virtual teachers.” We need things that help us connect with people at a distance, not that replaces the people in the distance process with virtual non-people.

(image credit: Sanja Gjenero, obtained from

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane

We change a lot around here at EduGeek Journal, so I decided to create a page for archiving the old looks.  See the Memory Lane link under the header banner to relive or greatest hits and misses.  Some of the functions on the v1.0 archive still need to be repaired, and not every link works, but you can get general ideas in this archive.  Other new pages and features are coming in the future, but probably after the Christmas break.

Speaking of which – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the EduGeeks!  We’ll probably be back after the holidays…  depending on how much eggnog we consume….

Welcome to the Brand New EduGeek Journal 3.0!

Now powered by WordPress!  Moodle is a great tool for delivering online courses, but they really don’t do much with their blog feature.  We needed some more flexibility, so I have spent the last month or so transferring everything over to this new WordPress.  All that and a spiffy new theme, based on the Fervens – C Theme.  Most of the posts and comments have been migrated over – if you see anything missing, please let me know.  I migrated most users over that had at least 2 comments or recent (non-spam) activity.  You should be able to go in and request a password reset for your old username to get a new password (because the passwords wouldn’t transfer over).  If not, you can create a new account or contact me to transfer your old account over.

Old RSS feeds and permalinks should work just fine.  The RSS feed is the same, and there is a script that forwards old permalinks to the new permalink system.

This is just the first stage of some changes, with the basic old stuff being transgferred over.  You should see some new stuff in the side bars popping up soon, as well as some new pages being added to the top.  Also, hopefully I can coax the non-active EduGeeks out of hibernation and get some more activity here other than my own.  That may be hoping too much – but it is the season of miracles, right?  :)

Become a Fan of EduGeek Journal on FaceBook

Or tell us how much we stink! Some of our attempts at becoming an actual “online community” have pretty much tanked (ahem… that Ning site of ours… has anyone actually had any real success using Ning? I hope so – it’s pretty cool). Katrina brought up how there is no EGJ page on FaceBook – so we started one! Join us for discussions, post on our wall, upload a video or picture or just add us to the millions of groups of pages you might already have on FaceBook!

Click on the “Network” tab above, the FaceBook badge in the side bar, or this link:

EduGeek Journal on FaceBook

You’ve Been EduPunk’d!

I’m a little surprised by the number of people that asked me who hacked our site and messed up the header. If someone did hack the site, I think they would do more than a little graffiti. Just a little joke to let people know what a true EduPunk mentality would do :) Here’s the banner for those that missed it:

EduPunk Header Repairs Are Under Way

Boy – shouldn’t have pressed that button! Issues with permalinks and archives not working have now been repaired. The comments problem is going to be fixed soon. Sorry for the three people that tried to comment and couldn’t… we upgraded to php 5 here and apparently weren’t ready. Guess we loose some Geek cred for that one….

Where in the World is Darren Crone?

We know the whereabouts of Katrina and Erin. Erin just finished up a Master’s thesis and Katrina is on maternity leave. But what has happened to Darren? Since his favorite team suffered a crushing defeat with the Super Bowl (by not even making it there), all things EduGeeky and Darren-related have been quiet. I told him that his scathing post comparing Blackboard to Galactus might have some repercussions, but I didn’t think disappearance was one of them!

Please leave a comment if you have any proof of the where-abouts of the elusive being known as “Darren“. Due to the high number of comments that we receive (at least, I don’t know, 4 per month?), we request that photo evidence accompany any responses.

In other totally unrelated news, I updated the EduGeek look a little. The main deal was that I wanted to use an original banner image instead of a stock photo. I have found that you might have to do a ctrl-refresh to see the new image.

Upcoming EduGeek Events

Not only do the EduGeeks keep a vigilant eye on the cutting edge of Ed Tech news, but we also break free from our computers every once and a while and interact with the real world. If you happen to be at any of the upcoming events, feel free to stop by and say “Hi.”  Here are some recent and upcoming events:

Katrina has been the busiest of all, getting ready to welcome a new EduGeek into the world.  She also recently presented on Second Life at the T-BUG 2007 conference.

Darren recently had an article (“10 Tips to Extend the Shelf Life of your Course”) published in the Online Classroom journal. He also presented on the “Educational Applications of Second Life” at WCET 2007 conference.  His article and presentations can be found on the presentations page of his personal site.  Coming up in 2008 for Darren:

  • March 2008: presenting on “SACS & Online Learning” at TxDLA 2008

Erin has been busy finishing up a Masters degree and getting several presentations ready for 2008:

  • February 2008: presenting on “Second Life for Administrators” at the E-Learning Conference with the Dallas County Community College District.
  • March 2008: presenting on “Second Life for Administrators” at TxDLA 2008, also with DCCCD.
  • March 2008: presenting on Second Life at DCCCD Conference Day.

Matt was recently interviewed by Online Classroom.  He answered some questions about the differences between blogs and discussion boards in online learning.  He also seems to start a new blog about every two months.  Coming up in 2008 for Matt:

  • March 2008: hands-on presentation at TxDLA 2008: “Effective Instructional Design Techniques in Moodle and Second Life.”
  • June 2008: presenting on “The Future of the Internet – Web 3.0 and 3-D Web” at NUTN 2008.
  • Finishing up his first book: “Everything I Ever Learned in Life I Posted on a Blog Somewhere: Confessions of an Online Publishing Addict.