Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Digital Technologies, and Blockchain: Musings on Education and Language Acquisition in the Digital Age

by Jasmin Bey Cowin, EdD, drcowinj@locationindependentteach.org
Assistant Professor and Practicum Coordinator, TESOL and Bilingual Department
Graduate School of Education
Touro College
VP and Chair-Elect 2021
New York State TESOL Organization
EPFP alumni (NY 2018-2019)
Columbia University/Teachers College
New York, USA

Gen Z and Gen Alpha continue to drive the expansion of augmented reality digital technologies (ARDTs) into all industries from corporate environments and marketing to health care, from gaming to language acquisition. Location-independent virtual environments hold the promise of exponential expansion beyond the brick-and-mortar presence of schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions of learning, such as virtual schools and universities. Learning centers are being transformed by computer-based intelligent systems. Algorithmic approaches to decision making are starting to permeate both institutional and personal spheres through decision support systems. In education, artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent systems will become change agents with deep impacts not only on assessment, administrative functions, organizational strategic planning, student acquisition, and retention but also on curriculum design, personal learning networks, and the global competitiveness of educational institutions and their graduates.

The convergence of three areas: data, computation, and education has far-reaching consequences in the field of education and language acquisition, raising fundamental questions about the nature of education and educators: what is taught, by whom it is taught, how it is taught, and where is it taught. Keywords and changing terminology, such as Fourth Industrial Revolution, exponential technology, blockchain, deep learning, personalized learning, competency-based learning, individualized learning, adaptive learning, and automated translations, are indicators of a changing dialogue within the education landscape and among its professionals. In addition, the learning profile of Gen Z and the entering Gen Alpha is fundamentally different from that of prior generations.

The areas in which AI is already entwined in education include smart content, intelligent tutoring systems, virtual facilitators, and learning environments with the distinct possibility of blockchain integration for administrative organizational purposes. Blockchain integration has the potential to disrupt through the automatic recognition and transfer of credits, the tracking of intellectual property, the use of verified sovereign identities for student identification, and immutable certificates/micro-credentials.

Learners’ diminishing knowledge half-life seems to be intertwined with Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns in conjunction with his six epochs. According to Kurzweil, four out of the six epochs have already happened: Physics and Chemistry, Biology and DNA, Brains, and Technology. He predicts the Singularity emerging within the next epoch: The Merger of Human Technology with Human Intelligence. After the Singularity, Kurzweil predicts a final epoch: The Universe Wakes Up. Given such dystopian predictions of a postindustrial world, echoing apocalyptic myths, it is necessary to take a closer look at the present.

With regard to second language acquisition, 21st-century ARDTs and computer-assisted language learning present significant challenges and ethical issues for educational institutions planning to incorporate immersive language-learning scenarios into their campus-wide learning management platforms. There are yet-to-be-analyzed dangers around pervasive information capture, which is more than tracking a user’s browsing history. Madary and Metzinger predict a “kinematic fingerprint” that could be used to uniquely identify and analyze anyone based on their speech patterns, pronunciation, intonation, or body movements, both inside and outside their virtual reality environment (see https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frobt.2016.00003/full). However, virtual educational spaces also have the potential to foster language learning through simulations, digital kiosks, live virtual events, live interactivity, instructor-facilitated learning, AI-driven chatbots, and hyper-realistic experiences.

The mitigation of possible ethical issues for educational institutions working with ARDTs to further virtual language-learning environments while complying with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 should center at a minimum around a universal promise throughout the United States for all vendors working with any educational or language-learning institution: The Student Privacy Pledge (see https://studentprivacypledge.org/).

 

 

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