Our plenary speakers for the ACM SIGUCCS 2019 Conference delighted the attendees and sparked us with endless ideas for discussions.
Opening Plenary: Audrey Watters, Cybernetic Education: The History of the Future of Teaching Machines
In 1950, Claude Shannon, “the father of information theory,” built a robotic mouse called Theseus that could navigate a puzzle box, the type of maze that behavioral psychologists had long used to train and test real mice. Built from electromechanical relays (used by his employer Bell Labs in the telephone system), Shannon’s mouse would bump into the walls and sense its way to the “cheese,” a movable metallic goal. Demonstrating cybernetics’ interest in feedback loops, Theseus could be set back in the maze to find the cheese again without bumping into walls, and according to Shannon, this meant that the robot learned from experience.
This keynote will explore cybernetics and its connection to behaviorism and to post-war theories of learning. It will use this history to examine how metaphors about machines that teach and learn remain pervasive in our understanding and our imagination of education technology.
Audrey Watters is a writer and independent scholar who focuses on education technology – its politics and its pedagogical implications. Although she was two chapters into her Comparative Literature dissertation, she decided to abandon academia, and she now happily fulfills the one job recommended to her by a junior high aptitude test: freelance writer. She has written for The Baffler, The Atlantic, Vice, Edutopia, Hybrid Pedagogy, Inside Higher Ed, The School Library Journal, and elsewhere across the Web, but she is best known for her work on her own website Hack Education.
Audrey has given keynotes and presentations on education technology around the world and is the author of several books, including The Monsters of Education Technology, The Revenge of the Monsters of Education Technology, The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology, The Monsters of Education Technology 4, and Claim Your Domain. She is currently at work on her next book, Teaching Machines, which will be published by MIT Press. Audrey was a recipient of the Spencer Education Journalism Fellowship at Columbia University for the 2017–2018 academic year.
We are living in extraordinary times. As the world gets more digitalized, it also gets more complicated. Learning can happen faster today than at any time in history, and this is both exciting and critically important to get right. The idea of “lifelong learning” has been around for a generation, but we haven’t ever really put in practices to make this idea a reality. Today, not only do we have the tools and technology to bring this idea to life, our students will not survive the future without the ability to learn new skills continually. Jaime’s presentation will explore these ideas and make a case for the ability to learn as the most important skill students need to master.
Jaime Casap is the Education Evangelist at Google. Jaime evangelizes the power and potential of technology and the web as enabling and supporting tools in pursuit of promoting inquiry-driven learning models. Jaime collaborates with school systems, educational organizations, and leaders focused on building innovation and iteration into our education policies and practices. He speaks on diverse topics, such as education, technology, innovation, and Generation Z, at events around the world.
In addition to his role at Google, Jaime is also an author and serves on a number of boards for organizations focused on education, innovation, and equity. Jaime teaches a 10th-grade communication class at the Phoenix Coding Academy in Phoenix and is an adjunct professor at Arizona State University, where he teaches classes on policy, innovation, and leadership.