A line of questions that will take your breath away.
GUEST COLUMN | by Andrew Pass
The year is 2030. An edtech company has unveiled a new product, a personal learning device, or PLD. The PLD uses artificial intelligence to support individual student learning. Every student has her own such device. The tool develops a deep understanding of its student so that it can provide just the right kind of learning resources and activities to promote the highest level of academic success.
‘The tool develops a deep understanding of its student so that it can provide just the right kind of learning resources and activities to promote the highest level of academic success.’
To accomplish its objective the tool must literally know everything about the student. How does the student access information and think about information? How much does the student know about any particular topic before it is studied? How much does he think he knows about this topic? What kinds of experiences has the student had throughout his life? What are her interests? What does she think about when she is bored? What movies, music, and cuisines does the student like? Who are her closest friends? What are his fantasies? This device would literally know more about the student than anybody in the student’s life.
Using the PLD would enable educational content presentation to fit the precise needs of the student. The PLD would connect to the cloud, ensuring that its features remain current. The use of this device would guarantee the highest level educational achievement for each learner.
Would you let your child use it?
Far-Fetched—or Already Here
The amount of information needed by the PLD might seem a bit far fetched. But we already allow technology tools based in the cloud to collect much of this information. Social media algorithms already know more about the typical middle school student than the student’s own teachers. At the conclusion of each month, many people receive an email from Google telling them exactly where they have been over the month. Together, Google and Amazon know what books people read and when they read them. Amazon has a good idea of the products that people have in their houses. These companies can certainly identify with whom people spend most of their time and the times of day they do this. Facebook and other social networks know about friendships, political inclinations, and more. The list of information that technology companies have goes on.
Personally, this has never bothered me because I consider myself a fairly typical individual. I know that these companies have information on millions of people. So, I figure that I meld right into the collective. I also value the benefits that I receive in exchange for this information. I like seeing where I’ve been and receiving content that seems tailored for my interests.
I am also not a child. I can make decisions for myself, as can all adults. School children cannot make these decisions for themselves. Parents or guardians must decide for them.
Imagine the Power
Imagine the power of enabling every student to learn at the highest level because of the information that the PLD has. School boredom might cease to exist. Time would be spent in the most productive ways possible. Every student would be able to reach their potential. This would likely allow for greater success after school. Recognize that not every student wants to pursue or should pursue higher education. An effective PLD would enable every student to find her own best pathway.
Consider the Consequences
The device certainly seems idyllic. However, consider the potential negative ways in which it might influence an individual’s education or even life. Marketers already target ads at people based on the interests they know they have. But, in considering a PLD that knows everything about a student there are so many additional variables to ponder.
Could the information stored on the PLD be used to determine opportunities available to students in unfair ways? Perhaps an unintentional, or even intentional, bias would be built into it favoring some student characteristics over others. Would the device be flexible enough to enable serendipitous learning experiences? Sometimes these types of experiences promote the greatest transformation within learners.
Imagine the negative consequences if this information were to fall into the wrong hands. Today, some parents will not write their children’s names on social media because they fear nefarious things that others could do. Imagine a potential kidnapper who not only knows the child’s name but everything about the child. Imagine one adult using this information against another adult in court, divorce court or otherwise.
One Thing is Certain
One thing is certain – the personal learning device, or something very similar to it, will one day be made available to schools. Those who make purchasing decisions and society at large will then have an important question to answer. What is more important, student achievement or privacy? The answer will be ours to make.
Andrew Pass is the founder of A Pass Educational Group, LLC. A Pass partners with organizations to develop customized educational content. Their 2,400 associates include writers, editors, subject matter experts, instructional designers, artists, producers, and world language experts. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.