Archive for the ‘Talks’ Category

SoCS Computational Models and Techniques: A Case Study

I spoke today at the NSF Workshop on Social-Computational Systems (SoCS) on Mike Pazzani‘s Computational Models and Techniques panel with Tuomas Sandholm, Lise Getoor, and Tina Eliassi. We were asked to address the questions of what computation can teach us about socially intelligent systems, and what problems are encountered when applying existing technologies to such systems.

I focused on two key SoCS challenges : impedance mismatch, and research-at-scale. Let me explain.

What can computation teach us about SoCS? If we begin with technology, we’ll encounter the key challenge of “impedance mismatch” between people and technology. The technology, however good, may not address people’s needs. Instead, let’s reverse the question: What do socially intelligent systems teach us about computational technology?

Consider, as a case study, the problem of education: building a SoCS system to help students learn. Our first pass was a collaborative learning site with a state-of-the-art collaboration platform, a kind of “Google Docs meets WebEx meets Etherpad meets Skype on steroids”. While the site was useful, we learned that students didn’t use most of the features we had built. The issue was impedance mismatch: the technology did not address education problems from a student perspective.

What, then, are these problems? There are two: Access (scale) and engagement. To tackle the impedance mismatch, we need to design technology that provides the right affordances (in the Gibsonian sense) for student behaviors that address those problems.

We created a vision for Open Social Learning that blends, not Google Docs and WebEx, but Facebook and World of Warcraft. With funding from NSF, NIH, GRA, and Gates/Hewlett NextGenLC, and partnerships with MIT, Yale, NYU, and many others, we rethought the site from Education to SoCS to Learning Theories to Design Principles to Affordances to Architecture to User Experience (UX) to Mechanisms. (See slides and references below.) This process resulted in a fundamentally disruptive idea, one driven not by technology but by the SoCS it was to support.

Only then did it make sense to think about Computation: really real-time collaboration technologies for a highly interactive experience; intelligent recommender systems to help learners connect with relevant content and other learners; mining and analytics to assess learner outcomes; and reputation techniques to establish social capital.

The new OpenStudy.com is an Open Peer-to-Peer Social Learning Community, a place that matches learners studying the same things into live “massively multiplayer study sessions“. The problems of access (scale) and engagement are addressed through two mechanisms: A Luis von Ahn approach where the social community scales itself, and a kind of gamification in which everyone is on the same team.

Great idea—but how do we know it works? The education literature is full of great ideas that don’t work in practice. SoCS data research involves studying large-scale communities; the same applies to SoCS technology design. This is the research-at-scale challenge. Laboratory studies don’t prove much; the research fundamentally requires scale.

After 9 months, OpenStudy has grown into a vibrant community that both provides value to its users and serves as a “living lab” to study and validate the ideas. We’re continuing to research how new technologies can be combined to address the problem of education in a manner that is highly scalable yet interactive and engaging.

To understand what socially intelligent systems teach us about computation, then, requires a new methodology comprised of old ideas about design thinking brought into the new world of Social-Computational Systems at a massive scale.

READINGS

P Adams (2009). Designing for Social Interactions.

Terry Anderson (2007). Distance Learning: Social Software’s Killer App?

J Daniel (1996), cited in JS Brown (2007). Minds on Fire: Open Education, The Long Tail, and Learning 2.0.

RA DeMillo (2011). Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities in the Twenty-First Century.

R Friedrich, M Peterson, A Koster (2011). The Rise of Generation C.

Gates Foundation study: JM Bridgeland, JJ Dilulio Jr, KB Morrison (2006), The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts.

D Thomas & JS Brown (2011). A New Culture of Learning.

More readings at: Massively Multiplayer Online—Learning?

SLIDES

Open Social Learning Communities

With the advent of open education resources, social networking technologies and new pedagogies for online and blended learning, we are in the early stages of a significant disruption in current models of education. The disruption is fueled by a staggering growth in demand. It is estimated that there will be 100 million students qualified to enter universities over the next decade. To educate them, a major university would need to be created every week.

Universities have responded to this need with Open Education Resources—thousands of free, high quality courses, developed by hundreds of faculty, used by millions worldwide. Unfortunately, online courseware does not offer a supporting learning experience or the engagement needed to keep students motivated. Students read less when using e-textbooks; video lectures are boring; and retention and course completion rates are low.

Therein lies the core problem: How to engage a generation of learners who live on the Internet yet tune out of school, who seek interaction on Facebook yet find none on iTunes U, who need community yet are only offered content. We propose a new approach to this problem: open social learning communities, anchored with open content, providing an interactive online study group experience akin to sitting with study buddies on a world-wide campus quad.

This solution is enabled by state-of-the-art web technologies: really real-time collaboration technologies for a highly interactive experience; intelligent recommender systems to help learners connect with relevant content and other learners; mining and analytics to assess learner outcomes; and reputation techniques to establish social capital.  We will discuss these technologies and how they can be combined to address the problem of education in a manner that is highly scalable yet interactive and engaging.

This approach can be used for other types of learning communities. We will show an application to healthcare information access to help consumers learn about their healthcare questions and needs.

Keynote talk at SIPA Conference: Entrepreneurship—Idea Wave 3.0, Mountain View, CA, November 12, 2011.
 
Keynote talk at the International Conference on Web Intelligence, Mining and Semantics (WIMS-11), Sogndal, Norway, May 27, 2011.
 

View the talk:

videolectures.net/wims2011_ram_learning

Read the paper:

www.cc.gatech.edu/faculty/ashwin/papers/er-11-04.pdf

View the slides:

 

 
 

Towards A National Study Guild

New post on blog@CACM: My presentation to President Obama’s Science & Technology advisory council (PCAST) on Education.

“Imagine a Facebook where the point is to study together, not trade pictures and jokes. Imagine a World of Warcraft where students earn levels and points by helping each other learn. Not a video game that teaches physics; instead, let’s create an educational experience that is social and game-like.”

READ IT HERE:
cacm.acm.org/blogs/blog-cacm/109290-our-big-idea-open-social-learning/

SLIDES:

Augmenting Human Innovation with Social Cognition

Social Media is everywhere: photos, videos, news, blogs, art, music, games… even business, finance, healthcare, government, design, and other serious applications are going social. These social media gave given rise to Social Cognition. What began with sharing has moved to creation. Consumers have become producers, and commerce has become a conversation.

Due to these conversations, individuals are no longer alone; whether you’re making a life decision, solving a critical business problem, or merely looking for a restaurant, your social graphs are available to augment your decision making process. These graphs have no geographic boundaries; professional networks are worldwide, and information streams from far corners of the globe into the palm of your hand.

Beyond media and commerce, the next big disruption is innovation. Humans everywhere want to innovate, and Social Cognition can augment human innovation in many everyday and expert domains.

I discuss three human capabilities that are amenable to social augmentation: problem solving, learning, and creativity. I illustrate them with challenge problems from my work: 1) healthcare: helping consumers find relevant health information without search; 2) energy: helping experts troubleshoot complex turbine failures; 3) learning: scaling education to a hundred million people; and 4) creativity: enabling average users to create artificial intelligence agents without programming, and 2) learning: scaling education to a hundred million people.

These technologies blend Cognitive Systems (artificial intelligence) and Cognitive Science (human cognition) in products that both exhibit and support cognition in large-scale social communities. This research not only provides scientific insight but also creates disruptive business opportunities.

Invited talk at PARC, Palo Alto, CA, April 7, 2011.
 
Invited talk at Wright State University, Center of Excellence in Human-Centered Innovation, Dayton, OH, October 24, 2010.
 

View the slides:

Make the World your Study Group

CNN Chalk Talk: A new website called OpenStudy allows students to share resources and learn with one another from all over the world.

Click the image to watch the video (3 min.)

Read the transcript: CNN Chalk Talk, October 1, 2010

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, coming up, calling all college students. There’s now a group online that allows you to study in a unique way. You can get help from across the globe. You don’t even need a passport.

(BREAK)

HOLMES: Well, we turn to “Chalk Talk” today, now.

We are checking out a new study group that’s geared toward helping college students succeed. It’s an online study group called OpenStudy, and it’s linking students from around the world, helping them pass some tough courses.

Joining me now is Ashwin Ram. He’s the director of Georgia Tech’s Cognitive Computing Lab, one of the founders of OpenStudy.

Sir, thank you for being here.

OpenStudy, this is a worldwide study group. Do I kind of have that right?

ASHWIN RAM, DIRECTOR, GEORGIA TECH’S COGNITIVE COMPUTING LAB: That’s right. Open Study is a match.com for studying. It’s a social learning network that enables students to connect and study together, and get help when they need it.

HOLMES: Now, you said you’ve all been thinking about this for a while, for the past couple of years. What were you trying to work out, make sure there was a market for it, or is there some complicated technology you had to work out as well?

RAM: It was actually both. We wanted to get the value proposition right for students. We spent a lot of time researching the core need that students have, and that resulted in OpenStudy.

HOLMES: What did you determine was that core need? What did you find that students out there needed?

RAM: So, students all over the world are hitting their textbooks late at night cramming for exams. Maybe they’re working on review problems, watching video lectures on iTunes or MIT.

When these students need help, who can they turn to? The core need was to be able to find someone who can help them and give them help right there, right then, no matter what time they needed that help.

HOLMES: All right. And this is, again, supposed to link students with students. Essentially a study group like at the library.

RAM: It’s a worldwide study group. Our mantra is “We want to make the entire world your study group.” So there’s always someone who can help you.

HOLMES: How does this thing work? It looks like a social network page almost here.

RAM: It does. So let’s say that you are a student, and you’re one of 10,000 students studying computer science on MIT’s web site. And you’re working on video lectures or problem sets, and you have a question.

HOLMES: OK.

RAM: What do you do? You join a study group. When you do that, you get dropped into the MIT OpenStudy Group.

As you can see, we have over 2,200 people out there. Think of them as your classmates that can help you any time you want.

I noticed that we’ve just had someone join us from Kenya.

HOLMES: Oh, wow.

RAM: We actually have students from 138 countries from around the world. That’s 71 percent of the world’s countries.

HOLMES: Now, does this cost the kids anything to sign up for?

RAM: No, it’s completely free.

HOLMES: I’ll be danged. So you can pretty much — as well, you’re talking about kids up all hours of the night. No matter — somewhere in the world somebody is going to be up, somebody’s going to be logged on, somebody’s going to be studying.

RAM: Someone will always help you. And so if you have — you can go in and help somebody, but if you have a question, or you want to just study together with someone, you click on “Ask a Question,” type some question in that you want help with, and say, “Ask Now.”

The question is posted. Everything updates in real time. And you go back to the site, and then someone will be available to start answering you.

HOLMES: Will start answering you.

All right. Are you ready for growth? Because this might catch on. Are you ready for what might come?

RAM: We are ready for growth.

HOLMES: OK.

RAM: We’ve had remarkable growth already. We’ve only been live two weeks. We have over 6,000 people already using the site.

HOLMES: All right. This is going to be the next Facebook, 500 million. Come back when you get 500 million members in there. All right?

RAM: Thank you.

HOLMES: All right.

Ashwin Ram from Georgia Tech.

Thank you so much. Cool concept.

RAM: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Real-Time Case-Based Reasoning for Interactive Digital Entertainment

(Click image to view the video – it’s near the bottom of the new page.)

User-generated content is everywhere: photos, videos, news, blogs, art, music, and every other type of digital media on the Social Web. Games are no exception. From strategy games to immersive virtual worlds, game players are increasingly engaged in creating and sharing nearly all aspects of the gaming experience: maps, quests, artifacts, avatars, clothing, even games themselves. Yet, there is one aspect of computer games that is not created and shared by game players: the AI. Building sophisticated personalities, behaviors, and strategies requires expertise in both AI and programming, and remains outside the purview of the end user.

To understand why authoring Game AI is hard, we need to understand how it works. AI can take digital entertainment beyond scripted interactions into the arena of truly interactive systems that are responsive, adaptive, and intelligent. I will discuss examples of AI techniques for character-level AI (in embedded NPCs, for example) and game-level AI (in the drama manager, for example). These types of AI enhance the player experience in different ways. The techniques are complicated and are usually implemented by expert game designers.

I propose an alternative approach to designing Game AI: Real-Time CBR. This approach extends CBR to real-time systems that operate asynchronously during game play, planning, adapting, and learning in an online manner. Originally developed for robotic control, Real-Time CBR can be used for interactive games ranging from multiplayer strategy games to interactive believable avatars in virtual worlds.

As with any CBR technique, Real-Time CBR integrates problem solving with learning. This property can be used to address the authoring problem. I will show the first Web 2.0 application that allows average users to create AIs and challenge their friends to play them—without programming. I conclude with some thoughts about the role of CBR in AI-based Interactive Digital Entertainment.

Keynote talk at the Eighteenth Conference on Pattern Recognition and Artificial Intelligence (RFIA-12), Lyon, France, February 5, 2012.
Slides and video here: rfia2012.liris.cnrs.fr/doku.php?id=pub:ram
 
Keynote talk at the Eleventh Scandinavian Conference on Artificial Intelligence (SCAI-11), Trondheim, Norway, May 25, 2011.
 
Keynote talk at the 2010 International Conference on Case-Based Reasoning (ICCBR-10), Alessandria, Italy, July 22, 2010.
 
GVU Brown Bag talk, October 14, 2010. Watch the talk here: www.gvu.gatech.edu/node/4320 
 
Try it yourself:
Learn more about the algorithms:
View the talk:
www.sais.se/blog/?p=57

View the slides:

Massively Multiplayer Online—Learning?

Massively Multiplayer Online—Learning?
aka, Are social networks disrupting models of education?

I spoke recently at a panel on Rebooting the University: Disruptions in Models of Learning.[1] In preparing my presentation, I found myself thinking about the topic of the panel. Are there new “models of learning”? The brain hasn’t changed all that much, has it?

The real disruption is not in models but modes of learning. Let me explain. Students today care about their education, perhaps more so than ever. In fact, 4 out of 5 students stress about their grades.[2] Yet class attendance is down. The more technology is used, the less likely students are to attend.[3] After all, why sit in a one-hour lecture when one can download the powerpoint and skim it the night before the exam? 60% of students find lectures “boring” and powerpoint “sleep inducing”.[4]

Students aren’t reading their textbooks either.[5] That’s an easy problem, you say—this is the digital generation, let’s digitize their books. Surely textbooks will be more accessible (and affordable) on their laptops, their Kindles, their iPhones? It turns out 60% of students read less when using e-textbooks instead of physical textbooks.[6] 600-page PDFs do not make the grade with today’s youngsters. Frankly, I can’t read 600-page PDFs either.

The problem starts well before the university. In the recent Silent Epidemic study[7] funded by the Gates Foundation, 47% of high school dropouts said a major reason for dropping out was that “classes were not interesting” and they were “bored”. Remarkably, 88% of dropouts had passing grades. These kids are not failing out of school; they are simply disengaging.

But wait, you say. Students are bored, they don’t go to class, they don’t read their textbooks—how in the world do they learn enough to get passing grades? That’s where modes of learning come in. Students do learn—but from Wikipedia, nearly 80% of them.[8] They learn from MIT’s OpenCourseware—50 million and counting[9], over 200 thousand visitors a month. That is a lot of engagement. And most significantly, they learn from their peers. 55% of teenagers report using IM to discuss homeworks—a larger percentage than dating.[10] Students are studying, but the web is their classroom.

But wait, you say again. Universities offer more than knowledge delivery; they offer community. As George Siemens says of Open Yale, “Great video and talented presenters. My only complaint: I’d like to interact with others who are viewing the resources. Creating a one-way flow of information significantly misses the point of interacting online.”[11] Don’t universities provide this interaction? Isn’t that their value?

Students do need community. But let’s look at where their communities are. 95% of college students are spending up to 10 hours a week in social networks[12]—blogging, updating their profiles, trading pictures, and—yes—talking about schoolwork. “With so many hunched over their laptops and cell phones”, as Preetha Ram says, “who is left on the college quad?”[13]

The college quad. The very phrase conjures up images of the walled gardens of academia, laced with ivy, filled with knowledge, brimming with students eager to absorb that knowledge. But, as my former student Chris Sprague puts it, today’s students are casting a wider net. The web is their classroom, Facebook is their community, the world is their study group. The days of walled gardens are over. That is the true disruption.

Modes of learning have changed. George Siemens talks about connectivism—the new mode learning in the digital age.[14] The university is no longer a walled garden; it is a hub that connects students to the world around them. It is open. Not just in the sense of free video lectures; rather, the community (which, after all, is the real value of the university) is open.

My colleagues and I have been building an online community called OpenStudy.[15] Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Georgia Research Alliance, OpenStudy is a kind of Facebook for learning. A place where students come, not to trade pictures and jokes, but to study. A place that connects them to other students in their university, to students in other universities, so they can study together.

We’ve seen this disruption in other areas. People collaborate online to create everything from music[16] to software[17]. Is creating knowledge any different?[18] As Rich DeMillo says, “social networks are well adapted to producing value in higher education.  The hubs and spokes of social networks reflect the long-tail effects that influencers have on learning.”[19]

I do research on games[20] and collaborative learning[21]. Anyone with a teenager at home knows how engaging massively multiplayer online games can be.[22] Stephen Downes and George Siemens are experimenting with massively multiplayer online courses.[23] OpenStudy can be thought of as a kind of massively multiplayer online learning—a world wide “guild” (if I may borrow a gaming term) of students interacting, helping, collaborating, studying together. A place for “user generated learning”, if you will.

Students get this. The world is their social graph, their gaming guild, and now, their study group. Student response to OpenStudy has been very positive. University response has also been positive, but many want to know if they can create a private network for their students. A closed network. AKA a walled garden. Universities still don’t get it.

The topic of the panel is Rebooting the University. My point is simple. The university is no longer a closed system, located in a tiny land-grant town a hundred miles from civilization. The days of isolation are over.[24] The university must be a hub for students to explore the world, expand their horizons, reach out to others. Students are doing this anyway, and if universities won’t adapt[25], students will do it without them.


[1] B Konsynski (2010), Knowledge Futures. http://halleinstitute.emory.edu/Research/knowledge_futures/2010forum.html

[2] SJ Cech (2008), Poll of U.S. teens finds heavier homework load, more stress over grades, Education Week. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/08/13/45youth.h27.html

[3] Personally, I have abandoned technology in favor of the good old whiteboard. It is more work than flipping through powerpoints, but (speaking purely anecdotally) attendance is up, students are more engaged, grades have improved. And students seem to like it—I get more Thank A Teacher awards now J.

[4] S Mann (2009), Why do 60% of students find their lectures boring?, The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/may/12/university-teaching

[5] Clump, Bauer & Bradley, 2004; Burchfield & Sapington, 2000; Murden & Gillepsie, 1997; McCabe, 2003.

[6] JT Rickman, J Von Holzen,  PG Klute, & T Tobin (2009), A campus-wide e-textbook initiative, EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 32(2). http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/ACampusWideETextbookInitiative/174581

[7] JM Bridgeland, JJ Dilulio Jr, KB Morrison (2006), The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. http://www.civicenterprises.net/pdfs/thesilentepidemic3-06.pdf

[8] MH Miller (2010). Students use Wikipedia early and often, The Chronicle: Wired Campus. http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Students-Use-Wikipedia-Early/21850

[9] MIT OpenCourseWare marks 50 million visitors, The Boston Globe: Business News, 2008. http://www.boston.com/business/ticker/2008/12/mit_opencoursew.html

[10] 2007 AP-AOL Instant Messaging Trends Survey, reported in: http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/index.jsp?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20071115005196

[11] G Siemens (2007). Open Yale. http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/archives/003188.html

[12] National School Board Association (2008). Creating and Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social—and Educational—Networking. http://www.scribd.com/doc/12836118/NSBA-Social-Networking-Study

[13] P Ram (2009). An Empty College Quad? http://preetharam.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/an-empty-college-quad

[14] G Siemens (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. eLearnSpace. http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

[15] http://openstudy.com

[16] http://tunerooms.com, http://thounds.com, and others

[17] http://sourceforge.net, http://github.com, and many others

[18] D Wiley. Open source, openness, and higher education. Innovate Journal of Online Education. http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=354

[19] RA DeMillo (2011). Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities in the Twenty-First Century, MIT Press, in press.

[20] https://cognitivecomputing.wordpress.com/tag/games

[21] https://cognitivecomputing.wordpress.com/tag/educational-technology

[22] Actually, the average age of gamers is 35 [ESA 2009: http://www.theesa.com/facts] so this holds for adults too. This is good; universities will need to engage adults too as they begin to address lifelong learning seriously.

[23] Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs): http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/connectivism/?p=53

[24] It is no surprise to me that student-voted “best college towns” are no longer Ann Arbor and College Park, but places like Georgetown and our very own Emory [Princeton Review]. The campus town isn’t Emory Village, it is Atlanta, it is Washington DC, it is Greenwich Village. Students today are indeed casting a wider net, in more ways than one.

[25] Rich DeMillo (ibid.) describes one such vision: open courseware, hacked degrees, no brick walls, and above all an increased emphasis on access and a de-emphasis on selectivity and exclusion.