Peak Connectivity and Social Resilience

The “intersection” in this blog entry on social resilience involves computer science and brain science. Combining the social aspect of resilience with the human-computer interface and education has potential to enhance sophisticated problem-solving around the globe. For instance, what if we gamed Twitter?

The “intersection” in this blog entry on social resilience involves computer science and brain science.

What if we gamed Twitter?
What if we gamed Twitter?

While Professor Beverly Woolf and colleagues from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst presented on smart tutoring at the Artificial Intelligence in Education conference, I listened to a webinar from Dr Dennis S. Charney, MD, from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai present data supporting his “resilience prescription” for individuals.

Stimulating processes of social resilience

Two of Charney’s eight resilience principles, however, involve other people: role models and a supportive social network. Combining the social aspect of resilience with the human-computer interface and education has potential to enhance sophisticated problem-solving around the globe.

The developing world has 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions. In Africa, average penetration is a third of the population, and in north Africa it is almost two-thirds. South Africa now has almost 100% penetration. In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phone ownership is 30%. ~ Dr Beverly P. Woolf

The potentials for knowledge communication through savvy tele-education exceed youth. These technologies can also enable adults who care about intercultural social networking and mass organizing for social justice.

Knowledge Communication in Children’s Education

Professor Beverly Woolf and colleagues reported on research about children’s learning through interaction with computers. You may have heard of the laptop-for-every-child initiative, which has reported some success. There’s also the Hole-in-the-Wall effort, in which kids in poverty-ridden neighborhoods in rural India teach themselves. Both of these experimental projects prove children’s innate curiosity and ability to learn even though neither initiative provides intentional instruction.

arrival of vanThe champion of intelligent computer-assisted teaching is Dr Imran  Zualkernan, who delivers tutoring in rural Pakistan through a satellite-enabled learning van equipped with the hardware to connect the students automatically to the web. The model is called “sparse blended learning” – the model is so new there isn’t a youtube on it yet! Dr Zualkernan repeats a route of several schools every two months with tablets, computers, mobiles, a learning management infrastructure and content management curriculum (drawn from the wildly popular Khan Academy). Students participate in virtual classes, collaborate in forums, discuss performance via a grading tool (assessment) and conduct teacher/learner reporting.

Intelligent Tutoring, Avatars, and Help-Seeking Behavior

Some of Imran Zualkernan's students in rural Pakistan.
Some of Imran Zualkernan’s students in rural Pakistan.

“We’re going all social and cultural this year!” proclaimed Dr. Ivon Arroyo after presenting findings, with Melissa John, on some universal gender effects and particular cross-nation effects in children’s drawings of avatars. Issues of interpretation among the three languages used in their study (Arabic, English, and Spanish) was not originally mentioned. As with early research in public health, the use of interpreters (professional and casual) is easily dropped from discussion of research findings. Adequately describing the dimensionality of pluralingualism remains a qualitative challenge in intercultural research.

Minghui Tai described findings of research with high school students using the Wayang Outpost math program. Comparing 49 girls and 48 boys, there was no significant gain in learning per se from including a hint-giving tutor, although there was a significant increase in help-seeking behavior. I was impressed with the socialization process: even if an intelligent tutor does not—yet—improve topical learning, they may be instrumental in training youth to be better collaborators in real-life problem-solving situations.

Game Mechanics aid adult learning, too

Mark Florian reported on the intelligent tutoring System Rashi as a tool in medical education.

Comparing automated knowledge acquisition with human expert knowledge.
Comparing automated knowledge acquisition with human expert knowledge.

Dr Doctor is a knowledge refinement game (KRG) stemming from the concept of games with a purpose (GWAPS). Students contribute data following an inquiry cycle to build an expert knowledge base (EKB). Including an avatar to generate a game-like feel improved the scores. An EKB provides intelligent feedback to the learner. The pilot demonstrated 70% accuracy, and had a lower rate of recall than an individual human expert but can be built 35% faster….the math suggests greater efficiency over time, theoretically improving eventual accuracy too.

As author of this blog and interpreter of the intersections written about at reflexivity, this last paragraph represents me alone—the scholars cited above have not endorsed this view and may even disagree with it.

Social health, civil society and social resilience

While wary of some ways that ““the machine is using us,” I am motivated by the potential of peak connectivity to enable humanity to avert omnicide. The urgency of the climate crisis and the need to begin implementing institutional-level solutions now provide the paramount context for everything I write about here. Although many of us remain buffered by privilege, the evidence of global warming is all around us; eventually the reality will pierce our peace of mind.

Rather than delaying wallows in despair, let us rise to confront the greatest challenge of our species: hurry up and connect!

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