John Cripps Clark

Can humans and machines co-exist in education? And read on to discover why STEM matters

Here is another of our intermittent blogs during the #AARE2022 conferenceIf you want to cover a session at the conference, please email to check in. Thanks!

Sarah Langman, PhD candidate , Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education (ILSTE), Australian Catholic University (ACU), writes:

The fifth concurrent session in Politics and Policy in Education was abuzz with thoughts and questions contemplating the complex relationship between humans and machines and the broader impacts of this tension on policy. These papers reflected largely on the conditions that are created when we combine machinic and human sensibilities in a typically social space, like education.

First, Dr Carlo Perotta from Monash University shared his thoughts around the consequences and considerations of educational responsibility in the age of automation. Carlo explained that the intensification of reductive tendencies as a direct result of the prevalence of quantitative logics has led to algorithms becoming a central part of governance in schooling systems. He shared how we are witnessing a growing number of educational processes being “offloaded” onto private tech companies. Amazon Web Services was used as an example of this delegation, showing how their business literature invites this offloading of responsibility from schools to these technical delegates.

Of particular interest in this presentation was the conceptualisation of harms within automated processes, which often become intertwined with professional expertise. Misplaced trust can lead to errors which have tangible real-life consequences that can be enormous for both teachers and students. While these harms can be unintended, they are still harms nonetheless that need to be weighed up alongside the perceived benefits of automated processes. Carlo concluded his presentation on a positive note, reiterating the role of critical researchers is to entertain possibilities for positive impact, a positionality that is often hard to grapple with in the face of desire for resistance. 

Next, Professor Kalervo (Kal) Gulson from the University of Sydney reflected on the culmination of four years of thinking around the connections between mobility, artificial intelligence (AI) and education policy. He connected his research with his fundamental passion for geography to explain central problems of understanding AI in terms of where it is made, how this policy knowledge “moves” and how it can fundamentally change policy implementation. Kal referenced his work on synthetic governance from his latest book Algorithms of Education (2022) with fellow authors Sam Sellar and P. Taylor Webb to ask the vital question, what does policy mobility look like when there are human and non-human actors? 

Inspired by the work of Paul Rabinow, Kal grounded his theory in ethnographic work to see how researchers can co-create concepts and problems experimenting with non-traditional methodologies in other contexts. He pointed to the role of EdTech in producing and reproducing new figures and data that become educational in the sense that they change the way schools govern and operate. Like Carlo, Kal concluded his presentation with the hopeful stance that data science can be drawn on to answer enduring problems surrounding sociology of education that have long remained wicked and unanswerable problems. 

This session was also accompanied by a presentation by Dr Elise Hunkin from La Trobe University. Elise highlighted the discursive and material changes that happened in the early childhood space as a case study of pandemic-induced policy discourses. She too highlighted tensions in policy, with regard to federal responsibilities around childcare and state responsibilities around schools. This ultimately creates a messy in-between space, not dissimilar to the tensional space created between machine and human relationships. 

There was an obvious synergy between the papers, with presenters making connections with one another’s work, demonstrating both excellent engagement with the broader field as well as the necessity of this work. What was most encouraging about this session was the turn towards hopeful provocations in and around technology even in the midst of criticality. This positionality is difficult to grapple with in the face of the rhetoric of doom and gloom, but also necessary to forge ahead and think about the future possibilities of education when human and machine collide.

Ben Zunica, secondary mathematics educator and researcher in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney, writes on the STEM sessions:

1st talk – Tech-Oriented Learning in Integrated STEM Education – Dr Farha Sattar and Dr Muhammad Nawaz

STEM education is important for young people in the job market. Students need to be able to use technology and this talk was centred around how to use technology well in teacher pedagogy. STEM supports problem solving and critical analysis. STEM education needs to not only integrate its component disciplines, but also integrate learning skills, literacy skills and life skills. How do you bring all the STEM disciplines together, with the other skills that were brought up earlier.

Technology can be used to help bring the STEM disciplines together. Technologies like drones, AR, VR can be useful but there is some difficulty in their effective use in the classroom. Ideas were given about how teachers can use these technologies effectively to reach their goals of integrating STEM disciplines. For example, using drones to help teach geometry. Several applications were given as a help to engage students in STEM education, for example, Google Earth and z-space are useful for engaging in the learning of natural sciences. 

A range of technologies are available, from basic to quite sophisticated and a range of applications to STEM learning were discussed to help students develop 21st century skills that are needed for jobs of today.

2nd Talk – Professional regeneration of Out-of-Field teachers of Mathematics and Science – Prof. Russell Tytler, Dr Peta White, A/Prof. Linda Hobbs, A/Prof. Julianne Lynch, Dr John Cripps Clark

There are issues with many teachers that are teaching maths and science even though they are not qualified. The government is becoming increasingly concerned about this problem and decided that they would partner with Universities to fast-track out of field teachers to become teachers of Maths and Science through a graduate certificate course.

The course is focused on content knowledge and PCK. It is fully funded to allow teachers to do the study for the equivalent of 1 day per week. The team asked the questions about the challenges that were faced and how could this inform system wide reform. The findings show that maths in particular was being taught by out of field teachers most commonly. There were some challenges for teachers in the program – school support was sometimes problematic, along with teaching and learning culture, and personal challenges, such as the busyness of life and considerable school responsibilities.

The course has been challenging for many participants but as time goes by it seems they are becoming more used to how the course was shaped. There was some clash of cultures between traditional practices and what was presented in the course. There has been some success – 240 teachers are now re-trained and there has been much positive commentary on the program from those taking the course, the challenge now is to make it work seamlessly with schools.