Education on the Cheap: No AI Required

January 26, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

I don’t write about education too often. I do like to mention the plagiarizing methods of some academics. What fun! I located a true research gem (probably non-reproducible, hallucinogenic, or just synthetic but I don’t care). “Emergency-Hired Teachers Do Just as Well as Those Who Go Through Normal Training” states:

New research from Massachusetts and New Jersey suggests maybe not. In both states, teachers who entered the profession without completing the full requirements performed no worse than their normally trained peers.


A sanitation worker with a high school diploma is teaching advanced seventh graders about linear equations. The students are engaged… with their mobile phones. Hey, good enough, MSFT Copilot Bing thing. Good enough.

Then a modest question:

The better question now is why these temporary waivers aren’t being made permanent.

And what’s the write up say? I quote:

In other words, making it harder to become a teacher will reduce the supply but offers no guarantee that those who meet the bar will actually be effective in the classroom.


Using people who did not slog through college and learned something (one hopes) is expensive. Think of the cost savings when using those who are untrained and unencumbered with expectations of big money! When good enough is the benchmark of excellence, embrace those without an comprehensive four-year or more education. Ooops. Who wants that?

I thought that I once heard that the best, most educated teaching professionals should work with the youngest students. I must have been doing some of that AI-addled thinking common among some in the old age home. When’s lunch?

Stephen E Arnold, January 26, 2024

iPad and Zoom Learning: Not Working As Well As Expected

November 10, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

It seemed (to many) like the best option at the time. As COVID-19 shuttered brick-and-mortar schools, it was educational technology to the rescue around the world! Or at least that was the idea. In reality, kids with no tech, online access, informed guidance, or a nurturing environment were left behind. Who knew? UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has put out a book that documents what went wrong, questions the dominant ed-tech narratives from the pandemic, and explores what we can do better going forward. The full text of "An Ed-Tech Tragedy?" can be read or downloaded for free here. The press release states:

"The COVID-19 pandemic pushed education from schools to educational technologies at a pace and scale with no historical precedent. For hundreds of millions of students formal learning became fully dependent on technology – whether internet-connected digital devices, televisions or radios. An Ed-Tech Tragedy? examines the numerous adverse and unintended consequences of the shift to ed-tech. It documents how technology-first solutions left a global majority of learners behind and details the many ways education was diminished even when technology was available and worked as intended. In unpacking what went wrong, the book extracts lessons and recommendations to ensure that technology facilitates, rather than subverts, efforts to ensure the universal provision of inclusive, equitable and human-centered public education."

The book is divided into four parts. Act 1 recalls the hopes and promises behind the push to move quarantined students online. Act 2 details the unintended consequences: The hundreds of millions of students without access to or knowledge of technology who were left behind. The widened disparity between privileged and underprivileged households in parental time and attention. The decreased engagement of students with subject matter. The environmental impact. The increased acceptance of in-home surveillance and breaches of privacy. And finally, the corporate stranglehold on education, which was dramatically strengthened and may now prove nigh impossible to dislodge.

Next an "Inter-Act" section questions what we were told about online learning during the pandemic and explores three options we could have pursued instead. The book concludes with a hopeful Act 3, a vision of how we might move forward with education technology in a more constructive and equitable manner. One thing remains to be seen: will we learn our lesson?

Cynthia Murrell, November 10, 2023

Gen Z and Retro Tech

March 7, 2023

I read an interesting write up about people who are younger than I. Keep in mind, please, that I am a dinobaby. “Gen Z Apparently Baffled by Basic Technology.” The write up says:

But when it comes to using a scanner or printer — or even a file system on a computer — things become a lot more challenging to a generation that has spent much of their lives online

Does this mean that a younger employee will not be able to make a photocopy of a receipt for an alleged business expense?

I learned that a 25-year-old wizard was unable to get the photocopy to produce something other than a blank page.

Okay, the idea of turning over the page eluded the budding captain of social media.

Will these future leaders ask for assistance? Nah, there’s something called tech shame. Who wants to look stupid and not get promoted.

Need another example? No, well, too bad. The write up points out that these world beaters cannot schedule meetings? Like time is hard. Follow ups are almost like work.

I am glad I am old.

Stephen E Arnold, March 7, 2023

Learning Is Supposed to Be Easy. Says Who?

October 26, 2022

I am not sure what a GenZ is. I do know that if I provide cash and change for a bill at a drug store or local grocery store, the person running the cash register looks like a deer in headlights. I have a premonition that if I had my Digital Infrared Thermometer, I could watch the person’s temperature rise. Many of these young people struggle to make change. My wife had a $0.50 cent piece and gave it to the cashier at the garden center along with some bills. The GenZ or GenX or whatever young person called the manager and asked, “What is this coin?”

I read “ Survey Shows 87 Percent of College Students Think Classes Are Too Difficult, But Most Fail to Study Regularly.” I know little about the sponsor of the research, the sampling methodology, or the statistical procedures used to calculate the data. Caution is advised when “real news” trots out data. Let’s assume that the information is close enough for horseshoes. After all, this is the statistical yardstick for mathematical excellence in use at synthetic data companies, Google-type outfits, and many artificial intelligence experts hot for cheap training data. Yep, close enough is good enough. I should create a T shit with this silkscreened on the front. But that’s work, which I don’t do.

The findings reported in the article include some gems which appear to bolster my perception that quite a few GenZ etc. cohort members are not particularly skilled in some facets of information manipulation. I would wager that their TikTok skills are excellent. Other knowledge based functions may lag. Let’s look at these numbers:

65 percent of respondents say they put a lot of effort into their studies. However, research findings also show that one-third of students who claim to put a lot of effort into their schoolwork spend less than 5 hours a week studying.

This is the academic equivalent of a young MBAs saying, “I will have the two pager ready tomorrow morning.” The perception of task completion is sufficient for these young millionaires to be. Doing the work is irrelevant because the individual thinks the work will be done. When reminded, the excuses fly. I want to remind you that some high-tech companies trot out the well worn “the dog ate my homework” excuse when testifying.

And this finding:

Thirty-one percent of respondents spend 1-5 hours, and 37 percent spend 6-10 hours studying for classes each week. Comparatively, 8 percent of students spend 15-20 hours, and 5 percent spend more than 20 hours studying.

I have been working on Hopf fibrations for a couple of years. Sorry, I am not at the finish line yet. Those in the sample compute studying with a few hours in a week. Nope, that time commitment is plotted on flawed timeline, not the real world timeline for learning and becoming proficient in a subject.

I loved this finding:

Twenty-eight percent of students have asked a professor to change their grade, while 31 percent admit they cheated to get better grades. Almost 50 percent of college students believe a pass or fail system should replace the current academic grading system.


Net net: No wonder young people struggle with making change and thinking clearly. Bring back the dinobabies even though there are some dull normals in that set of cohorts as well. But when one learns by watching TikToks what can one expect in the currency recognition department? Answer: Not much.

Stephen E Arnold, October 26, 2022

Australian Study: Not Likely to Be Popular at Apple

June 12, 2020

Australia’s published “Study Casts Doubt on School iPad Benefits.” Although narrow, the information appears to confirm what DarkCyber has believed for a long time: A technology bandage does not fix underlying systemic failures. Example: Students without a home, a knowledge supporting peer group, and capable human instructors may not magically learn when equipped with a computing device. Bummer. Silver bullets, magic wands, and next big things are just supposed to solve problems. At least, that is how the logic appears to go when apparently educated people try to remediate the things schools do wrong.

The write up states:

New research has found using iPads and other technology in schools may not support brain development particularly in young children, according to James Cook University’s Professor Helen Boon.

Yikes. The write up continues:

The study found the technology did not enhance specific school learning areas such as mathematics, English, and science.

“Some studies have suggested that mobile technology promotes collaborative learning, communication and access to information,” Dr Boon said. “On the other hand, the potential for mobile technology to be a distraction in the classroom has also been frequently reported.” Dr Boon says another concern is the effect their physical use has on young brains.

Imagine. Books, paper, pencils, drills, and old-fashioned methods may deliver skills while computing devices teach distraction.

The fix? Order up more Chromebooks, iPads, and smartphones.

Stephen E Arnold, June 12, 2020

The Online Cohorts: A Potential Blind Sport

April 15, 2020

In a conversation last week, a teacher told me, “We are not prepared to teach classes online.” I sympathized. What appears trivial to a person who routinely uses a range of technology, a person accustomed to automatic teller machines, a mobile phone, and an Alexa device may be befuddled. Add to the sense of having to learn about procedures, there is the challenge of adopting in person skills to instructing students via a different method; for example, Google Hangouts, Zoom, and other video conferencing services. How is that shift going? There are anecdotal reports that the shift is not going smoothly.

That’s understandable. More data will become available as researchers and hopefully some teachers report the efficacy of the great shift from a high touch classroom to a no touch digital setting.

I noted “Students Often Do Not Question Online Information.” The article provides a summary of research that suggests:

students struggle to critically assess information from the Internet and are often influenced by unreliable sources.

Again, understandable.

The article points out a related issue:

“Having a critical attitude alone is not enough. Instead, Internet users need skills that enable them to distinguish reliable from incorrect and manipulative information. It is therefore particularly important for students to question and critically examine online information so they can build their own knowledge and expertise on reliable information,” stated Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia. [Professor Olga Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia from JGU. The study was carried out as part of the Rhine-Main Universities (RMU) alliance.]

Online is a catalyst. The original compound is traditional classroom teaching methodologies. The new element is online. The result appears to raise the possibility of a loss of certain thinking skills.

Net net: A long period of adaptation may be ahead. The problem of humans who cannot do math or think in a manner that allows certain statements to be classified as bunk and others as not bunk is likely to have a number of downstream consequences.

In short, certain types of thinking and critical analysis may become quite rare. Informed decisions may not be helpful if the information upon which a choice is based operates from a different type of fact base.

Maybe not so good?

Stephen E Arnold, April 15, 2020

Poisoning Smart Software: More Than Sparkley Sunglasses

March 22, 2020

DarkCyber noted “FYI: You Can Trick Image-Recog AI into, Say, Mixing Up Cats and Dogs – by Abusing Scaling Code to Poison Training Data.” The article provides some information about a method “to subvert neural network frameworks so they misidentify images without any telltale signs of tampering.”

Kudos to the Register for providing links to the papers referenced in the article: “Adversarial Preprocessing: Understanding and preventing Image Scaling Attacks in Machine Learning” and “Backdooring and Poisoning Neural Networks with Image Scaling Attacks.”

The Register article points out:

Their key insight is that algorithms used by AI frameworks for image scaling – a common preprocessing step to resize images in a dataset so they all have the same dimensions – do not treat every pixel equally. Instead, these algorithms, in the imaging libraries of Caffe’s OpenCV, TensorFlow’s tf.image, and PyTorch’s Pillow, specifically, consider only a third of the pixels to compute scaling.

DarkCyber wants to point out:

  • The method can be implemented by bad actors seeking to reduce precision of certain types of specialized software. Example: Compromising Anduril’s system
  • Smart software is vulnerable to training data procedures. Some companies train once and forget it. Smart software can drift even with well crafted training data.
  • Information which may have national security implications finds its way into what seems to be a dry, academic analysis. If one does not read these papers, is it possible for one to be unaware of impending or actual issues.

Net net: Cutting corners on training or failing to retrain systems is a problem. However, failing to apply rigor to the entire training process does more than reduce the precision of outputs. Systems simply fail to deliver what users assume a system provides.

Stephen E Arnold, March 22, 2020

AI Education: India Emulates UAE

November 17, 2019

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) located in Madras, India is dedicated to helping its students advance their knowledge and careers. India is the second most populous country in the world and it is still considered a developing nation, but it has one of the fastest growing technology economies. IIT Madras wants to help young Indians succeed and plans to double the amount of students enrolled in their Inter-Disciplinary Dual Degree for Data Science, which is an ambitious goal. IIT Madras is even more ambitious with its recent announcement published in Analytics India Mag: “IIT Madras Researches Develop ‘AISoft,” An Algorithm To Solve Engineering Problems.”

Assistant professor Vishal Nandigana, based in the Fluid Systems Laboratory in the Mechanical Engineering Department, led the development team that designed AISoft. AISoft was designed to solve problems across all engineering fields, including semiconductors, automobiles, thermal management, aerospace, and electronics cooling applications. It has already been used to solve problems in thermal management and the test group said it was faster at solving problems compared to existing solutions, such as CNN or C-GAN.

IIT Madras believes there is a brand new market for AI that has not been developed yet:

“The institute believes that AI, Machine Learning and Deep Learning are now being used for over a decade but traditionally only in areas such as signal processing, speech recognition, image reconstruction and prediction. Very limited attempts have been made globally in using these algorithms in solving engineering problems such as thermal management, electronics cooling industries, automobile problems like fluid dynamics prediction over a bonnet or inside the engine, aerospace industries like aerodynamics and fluid dynamics problems across an aero-foil or turbine engine.”

AISoft offers solutions on generalized rectilinear and curvilinear input geometry, but its biggest advantage is saving computational time. Computational time eats up a lot of hours, but AISoft can eliminate some of that time which can be better spent on research and applying knowledge.

IIT Madras hopes its startup plans will assist industries as well as be used in education. AISoft, if the costs are kept low, would also generate income for IIT Madras that can be used for scholarships, growing educational programs, and on research projects.

Whitney Grace, November 17, 2019

UAE: More AI, Less PE

November 9, 2019

The field of artificial intelligence has reached a milestone—the first graduate-level university dedicated to it is set to open next year. Interesting Engineering reports, “World’s First AI University Has More than 3200 Applicants Already.” The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence is being built in Abu Dhabi. It is named for the country’s crown prince, who is big on using science to build up his nation’s human capital. The school received those thousands of applications in its first week of admissions. The aspiring grad students are located around the world, but most are in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, India, and China. It is no surprise interest is so high—students will get a sweet deal. Reporter Donna Fuscaldo writes:

“The school aims to create a new model of academia and research for AI and to ‘unleash AI’s full potential.’ Students get access to some of the most advanced AI systems as part of the program. Students can earn a Master of Science (MSc) and PhD level programs in machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing. All admitted students get a full scholarship, monthly allowance, health insurance, and accommodation. The first class will commence in September 2020.”

The time is ripe for such an institution. With AI now permeating nearly every industry, research firm PwC Global predicts that by 2030 it will have a $25.7 trillion impact on the global economy ($6.6 trillion from increased productivity and $9.1 trillion from “consumption-side effects”) and provide a 26% GDP boost for local economies. It is no wonder many students are eager to get in on the ground floor.

Cynthia Murrell, November 09, 2019

Even Genius Kids Need Teachers

November 14, 2017

Geniuses are supposed to have the innate ability to quickly learn and apply information without being taught.  It is almost like magic what they can do, but even with their awe-inspiring intellects, geniuses need their own mentors.  The Independent wrote about a study that proved geniuses need guidance, “Psychologists Studies 5000 Genius Kids For 45 Years-Here Are Their 6 Takeaways.”

Started in 1971, the “Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth” (SMPY) followed 5000 American children with intelligence measured in the 0.01%, 0.1%, and 1% of all students.  The study’s facilitators learned that the children led extraordinary lives that ranged from them being patent holders, they earned doctorates or graduate degrees, and are in the top 5% of income earners.  One problem is that these children were often ignored by their teachers because they were already meeting their potential.  Teachers had to spend more time helping lower students achieve their academic requirements.

They also learned that skipping a grade can help and intelligence is varied.  The latter means that intelligence cannot be prepackaged, one size fits all, instead, it comes in different forms.  Also despite how much they are loathed, standardized tests do have some predictive ability to measure genius kids success in life.  Perhaps the most interesting factoid is something that is taught in business classes, mindfulness, and other life coaching strategies:

The psychologist Carol Dweck has found that successful people tend to keep what’s known as a “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset.” They view themselves as fluid, changing beings that can adapt and grow — they are not static.


SMPY agrees with that assessment, but it also has found that the earliest signs of cognitive ability in kids can predict how well they’ll do later in life, ignoring all the practice that may or may not come in between.

Genius kids are valuable as individuals and their intellect can help the world, but the bigger problem is trying to find ways to help them achieve when the rest of the world is trying to catch up.

Whitney Grace, November 14, 2017

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