Alelo CEO Lewis Johnson Lectures at Penn State on Using AI to Teach Culture

This informative recorded lecture for Penn State discusses the intersection of technology, culture, and learning. In it, you’ll:

  • Learn why the U.S. government provides mandatory cultural training to U.S. personnel deploying to 86 countries with AI technology and explore an example from Ukraine.
  • Understand how cultural training of U.S. personnel dropped insurgent attacks from multiple attacks per day to two per month in Afghanistan.
  • Discover the difference between cultural awareness and cultural competence, and why cognitive fluency is so important for the latter.
  • See why cultural training is most effective when designed around narratives.
  • Explore how cultural training through technology can be applied in education and in corporations for teaching organizational values, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Plus, learn much more!

Listen to the recorded video above, or continue reading for a full transcript of the recording.

Transcript

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:00:05 Thank you for that lovely introduction. A little bit more background about Alelo and what we do. We teach communication skills around the world – that is teaching language skills, teaching cultural skills, teaching interpersonal skills.
  • 00:00:28 We provide training to learners in the United States as well as around the world. So an understanding of culture and the impact of the design of our systems is critical. So what we’ll be talking about is an interesting intersection of technology, culture, and learning. I’m going to focus today on what we’re doing a using technology to teach culture.
  • 00:01:02 Particularly teaching culture in the military. And you might ask, why is it important in the military to have an understanding of culture. And the reason is that people in the US military work with people in other countries around the world constantly. So for example, the Pennsylvania National Guard has a state partnership program with Lithuania, so they’re sending people over to Lithuania to work with the Lithuanians, training them in the latest techniques. Similarly, California has a state partnership program with Ukraine.
  • 00:01:43 So, this means that people go to Lithuania, they have to have an understanding of the Lithuanian culture because they are going to be working with the Lithuanians and they are going to be training the Lithuanians. So again, if you’re going to be teaching or training people from other culture, you need to have an understanding of that culture so that you can be more effective in doing that.
  • 00:02:11 So you’ve got a taste of one of our cultural training products. The VCAT Ukraine, which we just released. I’m going to talk a little bit about the educational methodology and design methodology behind that, and also talk a little bit about what we’ve done to ensure adoption of this technology. These are all issues that I think will be of great interest to this class.
  • 00:02:58 So the core technology that we utilize is AI-driven simulations, where students role play with avatars in immersive simulations of realistic situations… where the situation and the behavior of the avatars reflect the culture and behavior of people in various countries. What students gain from this is they understand the relevance and applicability of cultural competence in what they are going to do in their work. By cultural competence, I mean, not just the knowledge of another culture which we might call cultural awareness, but the ability to apply cultural knowledge in performing tasks in interacting with other people – so to apply cultural knowledge at a higher level in Bloom’s Taxonomy, if you will.
  • 00:04:14 We find that the simulations aid in the transfer to real-life situations and the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve. First of all, to help the students gain cognitive fluency in their cultural competence. So here’s what I mean by this. Whenever you put somebody in a culturally unfamiliar situation, it is a very cognitively demanding situation. There’s a lot of things going on that may be unfamiliar to the person.
  • 00:04:52 So they’re applying a lot of cognitive resources, just to try to understand what’s going on: what people are doing, why the people are doing it.
  • 00:05:02 But as you gain cognitive fluency. Then basically you are a automatizing this cultural knowledge. So you can apply it without a lot of cognitive effort.
  • 00:05:15 And that frees up cognitive resources for your main task, be it training or negotiating or what have you. So acquiring cognitive fluency is very key for our learners. We’re hoping to achieve retention, because we have a situation where people are learning about the culture before they go overseas. And then when they get overseas, they have to apply what they learned previously. So retention is critical.
  • 00:05:53 And self-confidence is also critical. So, we’re looking at an affective learning outcomes as well as cognitive learning outcomes here, and this is important for a couple of reasons. One is if learners gain self-confidence, then they’re going to be more effective in applying what they learned and they will come across to the people they interact with as being more confident in what they do. And so that’s going to help them in their job, be it one of training or preparing for disaster response.
  • 00:06:41 Now, we actually learned this and started developing this approach, early on when we started developing immersive games for people deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. Basically, we created games which you role-played a Soldier or a Marine in the country that you’re being deployed and you had to apply your language and culture in interacting with avatars in the virtual scenario. So here, for example, is a quote from a retired army colonel I met who learned Arabic using our tactical Iraqi game before going to Iraq.
  • 00:07:33 And he found it so effective that when he later on took a battalion to Afghanistan. He had everybody in his battalion train to learn Pashto or Dari using our Tactical Pashto or Tactical Dari games. So they’re learning the language, they’re learning the culture, they were learning to be more culturally confident… acquired cultural fluency. And this had the effect of helping the soldiers build trust and it really made progress toward peace and stability. What Colonel Wilson observed is before he arrived, there were multiple insurgent attacks per day. By the time they left it was down to one or two per month. So it’s really a dramatic example of how cultural competence and cultural training can have a real impact on world affairs, basically.
  • 00:08:43 And Dan commented on what he found the technology to be so effective. He said, what makes Alelo products so powerful is that you practice in realistic situations.
  • 00:08:55 When you experience it for real, you feel like you have already done it before. So this is an example of the self-confidence having direct impact in promoting transfer to real life.
  • 00:09:11 So, you all had a chance to take a look at one of our courses, VCAT Ukraine, and Ukraine is a very interesting case of where cultural knowledge has a real impact on your ability to work effectively with people in that country. Ukraine has a complex history. It was part of the Soviet Union, part of Russia, for many years. And a result of that, is that how you interact with people can unintentionally imply attitudes that you might have toward Ukraine, toward Russia. And that can have an impact on how people respond to you.
  • 00:10:07 So this comes up, for example, in one of the videos in the course you saw. A service member who discusses the point – the importance – of using Ukrainian place names. So, this is an interesting case.
  • 00:10:25 Prior to Ukrainian independence, we in the United States used Russian place names for cities in Ukraine. So it would call Kyiv, Kiev – we would call Lviv, Lvov.
  • 00:10:41 So Americans unintentionally might go into Ukraine, use the Russian place names, and that immediately gives a negative impression on the part of the people that you’re interacting with.
  • 00:10:57 It actually gives the impression that you’re somehow biased against Ukraine culture. So this is part of what people have to learn. They have to acquire cultural competence so that they’re not inadvertently using the wrong pronunciation.
  • 00:11:19 Also a factor here is how do we convey to people the importance of what we are teaching. So in this case we interviewed a soldier who had spent quite a bit of time over there. And one thing that we’ve learned is that to get this information across, first of all, it’s important to rely on stories. So these videos that talk about the culture from a first person perspective are extremely important. Also [that they come] from somebody who clearly has experience that the trainee would respect. So this here is a senior enlisted man. He’s clearly had a lot of experience and knows what to do. And so the trainees will naturally look up to this kind of person and understand, and take in what they are saying. So these are some examples.
  • 00:12:27 You may have seen some videos in VCAT Ukraine, but you have to understand that there were design decisions behind that – what those videos would be about, what they would be conveying, who would be doing the conveying – that is all part of the of the learning design.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:12:49 Lewis, I have to pause real quick because you said something important, “and it was a design decision”. And I want you to explain: you said “we wanted to rely on narratives”.
  • 00:13:02 You’re trying to convince someone that this training is important and you’ve made the design decision in your training to rely on narratives when you could have decided to rely on graphs or, you know, statistical analyses, or whatever the case might be. And there’s an important decision that you made there. Can you explain why it is you are focusing on narrative.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:13:28 As I see it, and in our experience, narratives if you will take the lead in this type of learning or presentation. So, you have to convince people that what you’re telling them is important and something that they can relate to. And something they can relate to emotionally.
  • 00:13:55 And so narrative achieves all of that. Once you have laid that groundwork, then you can present statistics, you can present evidence in support of the narrative.
  • 00:14:09 Because basically once you have the narrative, then people will understand, well why is that. Tell me more about that. But if you have not laid that groundwork, then it is just a bunch of dry statistics to go over the person’s head. So this has really been important for us.
  • 00:14:32 You can go online, you can go to the CIA Factbook, and read up a lot of statistics about Ukraine. But someone can look at that and not take anything away from that because they don’t understand how does that apply to what I am doing.
  • 00:14:48 One more thing is remember we’re trying to apply this knowledge in performing tasks in-country. So, the narratives provide examples of how you are applying the knowledge rather than just presenting the knowledge.
  • 00:15:09 So that was a long answer to your question, Marcella, but I think there are number of factors of why narrative is so important here. Now, one more thing to how this relates to simulations is that now you’re putting the person in a narrative and then they have to think, well, what am I going to do in this situation. So that then takes from observing how somebody else applied knowledge to how am I going to apply that knowledge. So that takes the learners toward cultural competence which is our objective here.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:15:55 Thank you for explaining that. I think one of the downsides of education is that we think about learning very cognitively and very dryly.
  • 00:16:03 And it’s important for students in this class, especially as they take on their own projects that they understand the importance of emotion and the role that emotion and affect are going to play both in persuasion and also in the learning process.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:16:19 And in presenting this so you shark tankers, keep this in mind don’t present a bunch of statistics. Present an evocative story of why your innovation is important, that will get people hooked. And then you can use the statistics to reel them in.
  • 00:16:39 Okay, so let’s proceed, a little bit further here.
  • 00:16:44 So, what you saw in the design of the VCAT Ukraine is you saw that there’s a set of lesson materials that present cultural information. You saw that was personalized based upon the particular training goals of each learner. So you know we asked people before they start, what kind of mission are you going to be training for?
  • 00:17:19 Some of the missions could be providing training to partner military forces, some of it could be training in disaster relief, humanitarian assistance. There are many types of missions that American personnel are engaged in overseas that involve working with host nations. And so then we employed a design approach where we first present the information using a combination of the stories and the statistics.
  • 00:18:00 And then we put somebody in a scenario where you have to apply what you learn. So, one of the scenarios in VCAT Ukraine is your meeting with your counterpart.
  • 00:18:12 And you’re going to train them about how to use new technology to help in the removal of unexploded landmines. And it’s very interesting how this goes. If you haven’t gone through this scenario I really encourage it.
  • 00:18:35 Because it takes this issue of culture off in interesting directions. So in this scenario, you find yourself talking with your host national about Ukrainian poetry.
  • 00:18:51 And you might think, well, why on earth would we need to know about Ukrainian poetry in order to remove landmines? Well, that is in part to convey your understanding and appreciation of Ukrainian culture, and understanding what is important about that culture from the perspective of somebody in that culture. So this relates to a term that we sometimes referred to in anthropology as emic versus an etic perspective of the culture. So what we mean by that, and this is derived from the linguistic terms of phonemics versus phonetics.
  • 00:19:42 So an emic perspective is viewing the culture from the perspective of somebody in that culture, whereas an etic perspective is viewing the culture from the standpoint of somebody outside the culture, an outside observer.
  • 00:19:56 And it’s important to be aware of this because making the transition from from etic to emic is, part of what you’re doing is putting aside your own cultural biases, your own cultural lenses to understand the culture.
  • 00:20:18 So I don’t know what your attitude is about poetry, but you need to understand that from a Ukrainian perspective, the National poets have a very important voice in expression of the of the Ukrainian national identity.
  • 00:20:34 And the national identity itself is important because Ukrainians are busy, if you will, trying to develop and establish that identity. So these are all things that you need to understand when you’re working with somebody in that culture. This is what’s important to them about their culture. So therefore you need to convey that.
  • 00:20:58 It doesn’t matter whether you like culture, whether you like poetry or not, it’s your understanding of that and hopefully you actually might acquire an appreciation for Ukrainian poetry. Who knows.
  • 00:21:16 Through the process of teaching culture we learn a lot about, if you will, the structure of the culture, the meaning of culture, that again to what we were saying before, if you just present a bunch of facts about culture, you just sort of go over your head. But if you’re really trying to apply it to help people to learn, to become culturally competent, it really requires a much deeper understanding of what culture is about and how it impacts design, impacts learning, interpersonal relations.
  • 00:21:54 It really has a number of aspects you have to take into account. So, that’ll hopefully give you a bit of a background, I would encourage some of you if you have the time, you’ve gone through it –  the VCAT Ukraine – once. You might go back and take another look at it and see if you can pick out some of the design choices that I talked about, and how they impacted the way we structured that information. You probably will pick up some nuances of the design that you wouldn’t have noticed the first time through.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:22:31 So a quick question, Lewis, because when I went through the VCAT, right off the bat it had me make some choices about what modules I wanted to take.
  • 00:22:44 And I may have picked the wrong ones and so perhaps if we can go back and re-book, you might make some suggestions as to which modules we should definitely do.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:22:57 Absolutely I guess what I would say is that there are really two parts to it. One is it taught working with the host nation military and the other is the study abroad. So if you looked at one, take a look at the other. And then look at the modules relating to that, and then look at the supporting learning material. So, you know, preparing for partnering with host nation military.
  • 00:23:35 There’s a lesson before that, that provides background information. So look at how that was designed and presented and how it prepares you for applying what you learn. I think throughout, you know, look for ways which we have presented things in a way that you’re not just learning to understand, but you’re getting ready to apply what you’re learning. That really is a theme throughout. I think once you start looking for that, you will recognize, aha, they use this story here. Aha, they, are they talking about, you know, host national exchange to prepare you for that kind of thing.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:24:28 What you’re asking them to do is to go back and look at the modules, not as a student that’s learning things but as a designer trying to figure out what types of choices you’ve made as a designer of how to present information, how to order information and what types of information might be necessary for them to actually be able to apply some competence when they go out into the field.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:25:00 Yeah, in fact, let me go back to the slide at the beginning. So, you know, I talked about aiding transfer to real life. So how do we promote that transfer – gaining cognitive fluency – how do we do that. Helping learners build self-confidence – how is that achieved. So these affective and cognitive learning objectives manifest themselves in various ways as part of the product and I think if you start looking for it, you start to recognize the reflection of that in the design.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:25:46 Now the issue of transfer is somewhat controversial. It’s interesting because it seems, well, so there’s many people who argue that, you know, transfer doesn’t happen, blah, blah, blah. But you’re finding that, in the ways in which you’ve designed your technology, you are supporting transfer, and you are seeing that they are applying what they’re learning to real situations. And that’s what transfer means…new and novel situations.
  • 00:26:19 What types of methods have you uses. Like are you having them engage in reflection or are you primarily having them sort of immersed in this embodied experience.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:26:35Very good question. So it really is a combination, or rather, and interleaving of action and reflection.
  • 00:26:44 I’ll use the word interleaving because we find that if you do too much reflection in the middle of action, then it stops becoming action and this is manifested itself in various ways.
  • 00:27:03 What we do want to do is to make people aware say of when they’ve made a mistake. So take a case here. Let’s say that going back to the example I talked about where, you know, your role playing an exchange with this Ukrainian officer and let’s say you make some sort of disparaging comment about Ukrainian poetry.
  • 00:27:28 Now you might see the Ukrainian officer react negatively, you might see that he’s seems less willing to work with you. What we do is we have people see that reaction. And then when the scenario is done, then we reflect. Okay what happened there and why. That’s the time to do reflection. So, during action, be aware that there are some things that require reflection and then reflect on them later. Does that make sense?

Marcela Borge

  • 00:28:06 Absolutely, and I want to take a moment here because I know that many of you out there are early education.
  • 00:28:15 You are an educational program. Some of you are in HCI and whatever the case, this aspect of being a, I’m going to say, Reflective Practitioner, but sort of the importance of paying attention to these things is paramount and universal to all the things that you are doing. And one example that I’ll give is, you know, Lewis just talked about the ways in which it’s important that military understand, to sort of incorporate and validate the values, and get to know what these people value, so that they can establish these relationships.
  • 00:28:53 And build relationships and rapport, so that they can then get on with the tasks that are hand in the learning that needs to happen.
  • 00:29:01 The very same thing is true in education, where as a teacher, you would want to establish the same sort of rapport with students.
  • 00:29:10 And be able to understand what they value and also understand their culture so that you can do the same things. So I want you, as you listen to Lewis, to think about it from that perspective as well.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:29:46 All right, so, let me move on to the next part of what I wanted to cover with you guys.
  • 00:29:55 Well, a couple things just to make you aware, for those of you who are interested. So we spent a lot of time talking about the cultural training. Those cultural training courses really just scratched the surface of the full technology capabilities that we have developed at Alelo. We’ve developed a whole platform we call Enskill® where you can practice with avatars.
  • 00:30:30 Where things get really interesting is for the courses – the scenarios where we incorporate speech and language technology – you’re not just role playing, you are actually saying what somebody would say in that situation, as opposed to simply selecting from a menu of choices.
  • 00:30:55 So I have to tell you, I am not a fan of multiple choice items. I think that they have really had a bad influence on education and whenever I see multiple choice items, I think, well, what’s going on here. Well, part of it is, you’re taking away the opportunity of the learner to make their own choices. Basically you’re presenting them with a set of choices to choose from.
  • 00:31:36 So it is less applicative in nature. You’re not applying the knowledge the same way. And you have the risk of giving the choices away. One thing that you will see as you go through the VCAT Ukraine scenarios, you kind of look at the choices and you say something about poetry, and you think, well, they probably want me to ask about poetry. Although that wasn’t what you had thought of before you went through it. So we like actually using speech technology so that there we put somebody in a scenario and then we just tell them, okay, respond to what that person just said.
  • 00:32:11 And then you’re really applying what you know. So that takes knowledge up to a higher level.
  • 00:32:18 Also we’re able to provide more feedback, generate more analytics on learner performance – and I won’t be able to go into this in too much detail here, but I think that this is this is really been revelatory to me – that is having continual access to data on learner behavior and learner performance that technologies like this make possible.
  • 00:32:50 In this case, we’re constantly collecting examples of people talking, what they say, what their responses are. This provides great insight into how people learn, people’s learning trajectories.
  • 00:33:07 It provides us the opportunity to measure improvements in learning. A lot of things that people do subjectively as teachers in the classroom, we now can provide objective tools for measures. It really provides teachers with new insights in what their students are doing.
  • 00:33:33 If you’re interested and you have further time, we can give you access to one of our English language courses. So you can actually sort of see how that’s actually applying this in further detail. But what I wanted to be sure to cover is the issue of adoption.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:34:02 I’m going to pause here because I want to explain what you mean by adoption.
  • 00:34:11 Because there’s a canonical sort of meaning, but I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about here. So what do you mean when you say adoption.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:34:22 So that gets to the point where instructors educational systems adopt the technology as part of their learning practice. Okay. It is not enough to create an innovative learning product, but the educational organization has to recognize the value of this learning product and make the organizational changes necessary to implement and embrace that learning product.
  • 00:35:00 These are important questions for anybody who is developing learning technology. You might think, oh, I just create this great technology and it’s obvious that it’s better, that you should use it. Right? Well, no, because there are all kinds of reasons why people would much rather just keep doing what they’re doing than adopt something new.
  • 00:35:28 Interestingly, we are finding the COVID crisis as being a catalyst for adoption, because people are discovering, well, gee, the way I taught before, I can’t do that anymore. I gotta do something different.
  • 00:35:47 What can I do? So people are coming to us and saying, well, gee, you know, we’re not together in classes anymore. I need technology and I need asynchronous technology because I’m going crazy talking in Zoom all day.
  • 00:36:06 So, this is now facilitating adoption.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:36:10 And if I can tie that in, you know, we were talking about systems thinking and the educational system in and of itself with its values, rules, and practices and everything tied up in that system, prevent innovation. Right?
  • 00:36:25 Sometimes you’ll get a technology that’s so powerful that will disrupt that system. But right now we have a virus that has disrupted that system, and has forced people to change their practices, has forced people to give up sort of certain expectations, and function and do things in new ways. And so because of that, it might facilitate, sort of, you know, these new technologies to come into this disrupted system.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:36:54 Absolutely, absolutely. So, we’ve seen both of these in play. So first of all, a point I want to stress in terms of adoption, the VCAT courses like what you saw, not yet VCAT Ukraine because it’s brand new, but other existing courses are now required training for US Defense personnel deploying to 86 countries around the world. So here’s what I mean by adoption.
  • 00:37:27 The organization is now saying you must use this technology for training. That took a lot of effort over a long period of time to get to that point. So prior to that point it was available. It was optional if you wanted. But to get from that to being institutionalized, that was a big challenge. And, you know, for those of you developing learning technology, it’s going to be a similar transition for you. Maybe start out, say, okay, here’s a new technology that people can use if you want. So then how do we get it to they’re actually going to embrace it.
  • 00:38:23 We also saw under COVID a huge increase in the usage of our courses. So that the number of people registering went up four times when the COVID lockdown hit. And it relates to what we just talked about a moment ago, is that suddenly in-class training was no longer possible. So suddenly people were looking for alternatives. And so here the alternative was there, and people have embraced it. So, what are some of the factors.
  • 00:39:07 I would say one of the big factors for us is getting stakeholder buy-in early in the process. So, what made the VCATs so effective is our sponsor – the Defense Human Resources Agency – they did something that was very smart, which is say, we’ll give you money to build these courses, but you have to find partners in the Combatant Commands who actually send people into those countries. You have to get them to commit subject matter experts to work with you, to advise you on the content, to review the content, to ultimately sign off on the content as being meaningful and appropriate.
  • 00:40:08 And so the videos that you see of people in our VCAT courses, those are some of those subject matter experts that, what are known as the Combatant Command, actually volunteered their participation.
  • 00:40:25 This is now so critical because, and I’ll be honest with you, the current political climate is not as favorable to cultural exchange, as was the case in the past.
  • 00:40:46 But we have these stakeholders in these military organizations saying this is really important. This is a very important program, you have to keep it going. And so now we have these advocates supporting us. So this is extremely important.
  • 00:41:05 Of course, it’s difficult in a classroom context, in the context of Marcela’s course, but when you’re designing learning technologies in the real world, you have to think, okay, how are we going to bring stakeholders into this process so that you have that necessary buy in.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:41:27 Lewis, can you for everyone out there, tell them what you mean by a stakeholder

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:41:37 Well, let me give you a different example outside the military. So one of our great stakeholders for our English as a foreign language course is, there is a program director at a university in Mexico.
  • 00:41:58 She is the head of an English language learning program at UVM Toluca and she is a huge advocate of us. So we’re working together all the time. So she puts together like, you know, teacher training professional development materials and she shares them with us. She has her people, her teachers, use the technology.
  • 00:42:36 She is a huge advocate for us within their organization for using this technology. So not only is she playing the role, of course she’s a decision maker, she is the head of that program, but she also is part of that community of practice to help disseminate and promote wider adoption of the technological innovation. So that’s one example of a stakeholder.
  • 00:43:21 It’s very analogous to what I was talking about a moment ago, of having these experienced military officers that speak from first person perspective of why this is important.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:43:39 If I could just summarize for the students really quickly. And again, tie this back into our systems thinking lesson.
  • 00:43:48 You’re developing a technology and it’s going to be used in a particular place and for a particular purpose. And so you want to understand who are the key and important people within that system of usage. Right?
  • 00:44:02 And so you’re going to have your users, which are going to be the people who already use the system, you’re going to have experts within the domain that you’re going to be teaching that will, you know, be important people to consider, you’re going to have people in power who are responsible for making sure that system is running properly. And so really, you want to start thinking about and identifying who all your important stakeholders are, right?

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:44:30 Have you guys talked about the idea of diffusion of innovation?

Marcela Borge

  • 00:44:34 No, not yet. That is coming with the disruptive technologies.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:44:39 Stay tuned, that’s going to be very important, but the basic idea is that innovations go through an adoption curve. There are early adopters. There are kind of mainstream adopters. There are laggards.
  • 00:44:56 So the stakeholders we’re really talking about here are the early adopters, the ones who see early on, the importance of the innovation and are willing to embrace it. And again because they’re influential within their own community, they can help bring along the more laggard members of the community. So this is part of what we were talking about

Marcela Borge

  • 00:45:22 All right, thank you. I think that we’re all on the same page.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:45:27 I think this is an important thing… I alluded to it before but just want to go into a little bit more detail. so
  • 00:45:41 So we really employ a data driven development approach in the design of our systems, particularly our AI-driven learning systems.
  • 00:45:57 And this is in my view really kind of a sea change in how we conceive of instructional design. So classical instructional design is where you get together a bunch of people, you build an instructional system or innovate intervention, you deliver it.
  • 00:46:23 Maybe you do some studies to see how well it works. But you don’t really get any data on how things work until it has been delivered.
  • 00:46:33 So what we try to do is say, well, let’s regard our learning tools to be data collection tools as much as learning tools. Basically they are vehicles for collecting data on learner behavior and on common learner mistakes, and so we are constantly utilizing that data to understand what learners are doing, what the important design considerations are, and to inform iterative design of the system. And so this is happening all the time and it’s particularly important for incorporating AI technologies into learning innovations because AI technologies need data.
  • 00:47:26 And so you need to start collecting that data. And there’s a bootstrapping process of starting to collect data and then use that to further refine the development of the intervention. And so, we employ this all the time.
  • 00:47:47 Throughout my career, I’ve always been fascinated by looking at data of what students actually do. I’m continually amazed by things that students do that you wouldn’t expect. And so, it’s really important as designers to really have a clear view of what students actually do. And so now that we have recourse to tools, to technology that actually capture that data, it enables us to analyze the data and then use that in iterative design. I think it’s extremely powerful. So again, something to think about in the design of your learning and interventions, is there a way that you can incorporate Data Driven iterative design into your process. It will help you get to an innovation that is going to have better effect on your learning. So I’ll just throw that out. But it’s increasingly possible now that technology runs in the cloud to deliver systems that are collecting data, and that you can then utilize as you go forward.
  • 00:49:15 I’ll invite you Marcela to respond to that. I’m sure that some thoughts come to mind.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:49:20 Absolutely. And so first of all, before you all get stressed, you’re not going to actually be building the technology, but as part of this course, you will be drawing a lot of the presentations and things that we presented to propose a technology, make a pitch, and show that you can pay attention to different elements in an educational system.
  • 00:49:41 It will be a lot of fun because one person from each group will be a shark, and your goal will be to ask questions of each of these teams’ innovations and the people to make sure whether they’re paying attention to: Well, how do you know that you’re going to get stakeholder buy in.
  • 00:49:57 How are you going to make sure that this is going to work. And one of the things that you can ask is, are you going to be collecting data and making changes iteratively? And what we say when we use the word iteratively is that, way back when computer science is first coming out, people were making computers, they spent huge amounts of money building systems that didn’t actually work for the people for which those systems were intended.
  • 00:50:26 And so they lost a lot of money. And so what started happening over time, was that rather than spending huge amounts of money to build these giant things, they would build prototypes.
  • 00:50:38 Or they would build smaller things and then they would test them and they would see what was working what wasn’t working.
  • 00:50:44 And make minor changes and then improve it over time, over multiple cycles of design and development. And that’s what we mean by iterations.
  • 00:50:53 And so this is one of the things that, you know, we will be able to challenge each other and your peers. Really good sharks in the past have come up with some amazing questions, but all of you need to be prepared to discuss, for example, what is your plan, how are you going to make sure this is going to work.
  • 00:51:14 How are you going to implement this in a way where you can collect some quick data and figure out what’s working.
  • 00:51:20 And so this is why I want you guys to all really pay attention to the things that Lewis is saying because he’s actually been through this for real. And he’s laying down some wisdom which you can all use to do really well on your project.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:51:36 Well, great. So I’m at the end of my slides here. But, I have just a slide here to kind of summarize what we’ve done and what we see as the impact of that.
  • 00:51:57 So we’ve developed a set of capabilities in terms of AI simulations that we can make available to people anywhere, anytime provide immediate feedback, personalized learning, automated assessments. And here are the things that we’re aiming for from this. and I’ve actually not touched on all of them. So let me sort of go through it so you have the full picture here.
  • 00:52:23 Part of it is helping achieve rapid progress toward proficiency, toward competence.
  • 00:52:31 The affective benefit of students gaining self-confidence.
  • 00:52:39 In a blended learning setting – and we talked mainly about about autonomous learning – but in a blended learning setting, what we see as the benefits are reduced workload for teachers.
  • 00:52:51 A huge issue in the COVID-19 experience. More efficient use of classroom time. So there’s an interesting benefit, that if students are able to build their competencies on their own working with a technology, when they come to class everybody is more prepared. Everybody has a common foundation of learning. And so that then makes it possible for teachers to be able to focus on the specific areas where the data shows the students are having difficulty – or whether students have mastered then that teacher can help take them to the next level. So this achieves better learning outcomes, better student engagement and satisfaction.
  • 00:53:46 And we see that this has impact more broadly in terms of supporting larger enrollments as more people go online. We need technology be able to help more students get quality learning. And it can lower a lot of the costs associated with providing instruction individually to people. So I will stop there, stop my slides and be happy to take any further questions or continue the discussion as appropriate.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:54:24 So does anybody have any questions for Lewis.
  • 00:54:33 And I’ll say that normally I put them into groups and have them come up with questions because they think it’s easier to do it that way, then to ask it to the entire class. But just because of time, anybody have questions with regards to how he has worked the stakeholders, how he began, presenting the materials, why he decided to go down this road, whatever questions you might have for him.

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:55:05 I’ll take one of your comments as a question Marcela.
  • 00:55:10 So why did I go down this route of teaching culture, teaching language? So this was really kind of a career move that I made pretty early on. I was looking where a lot of technology was being applied to, like teaching mathematics.
  • 00:55:33 And teaching sort of well-defined skills. And I thought to myself, there’s really a need and opportunity to use technology to teach competencies that people sometimes think of as soft and squishy, and culture is a is a good example of this. I think you will see that going through this process, we’ve really kind of developed, if you will, a good conceptual framework for understanding culture, for understanding the teaching of culture, for understanding the application of culture. That has been a consequence of going through this process and so I’m glad that it developed that way. I kind of had a feeling that the technology based interventions would really help to actually move the field forward in the in these areas. And I think it has.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:56:34 Can I ask you a follow up question?
  • 00:56:36 Because it’s interesting that you’re focusing on the development of cultural competence. In this class we’ve been talking about culture beginning sort of locally. And I’ve been doing some work sort of looking at multi-cultural competence.
  • 00:56:54 And I wonder whether you think that the types of things that you’re doing right now could lend themselves the development of technology that might develop multi-cultural competence as it relates to people’s understanding of race, and religion, and the difficult conversations that are happening right now in this country. So how would you engage in these types of conversations?

Lewis Johnson

  • 00:57:20 Absolutely. So, I’ll give you an example that you might kind of find funny, but there’s some truth behind it. So one thing that we did is looked at how this technology could help develop better intergenerational understanding, or how to get past the the “okay Boomer” meme or vice versa. So, we did some research in what are some of the differences in the ways people of different generations behave in the workplace. And so we created a role play simulation where we put people in a situation where you’re interacting with somebody from a different generational background.
  • 00:58:18 And then we have them swap roles. Okay, if you’re the millennial or you’re the Gen Z, now you play the baby boomer and see how your millennial employee responds to you.
  • 00:58:34 And what this teaches is the skill, known as perspective taking which we regard as fundamental to everything we’ve talked about today. You know, emic versus etic, how to look at a situation from the perspective of another person – to put aside your own lens and apply this new lens. This is fundamental for multi-cultural competence and this is a transferable skill I believe. If you develop the ability to engage in perspective taking, then that’s going to prepare you for all kinds of issues of diversity and inclusion and multiculturalism.
  • 00:59:25 Once you recognize it, you discover, oh this is everywhere. This is human nature in a diverse society, applying perspective taking skills. So that’s one example.

Marcela Borge

  • 00:59:43 Okay, so one of the things I’ll say, because we’re getting to the end of class. Ashley says, how has this program impacted you personally – your lifestyle, interactions, etc? Do you think this program would evolve into anything else related to education?

Lewis Johnson

  • 01:00:00 How has this program impacted me personally?
  • 01:00:06 Oh well, I guess I’ve become much more aware of cultural issues through this process and it has certainly affected how I really approach a multicultural world. I guess I find myself much more reflective of people with different cultural backgrounds and how to appeal to them. So, for example, Tugce on this call, when I first met her, I figured, oh, she’s probably Turkish she would probably would like it if I showed some appreciation for Turkish culture.

Marcela Borge

  • 01:01:03 And she did.

Lewis Johnson

  • 01:01:08 So that’s an example of how what I’ve learned applies in ways you wouldn’t expect – but in ways that you would expect because we are in a multicultural world and I’m just looking at the people in this class, people from a lot of different cultural backgrounds. So we could be applying these skills. You guys should apply these skills in this class. I think it will help you going forward.

Marcela Borge

  • 01:01:41 Absolutely. So if all of us, we could just do like a thumbs up or a clap emoji just to thank Lewis for being here today.
  • 01:01:53 We’re so thankful that you could join us, and to talk to us about your work, and about sort of your approach to your work.

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