Thinking About Bots

ramos alejandro via flickr
bot-bot by ramos alejandro via flickr

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking more and more about bots. I have gotten used to asking Siri simple searchable questions. I also find I don’t type text messages anymore, instead I am using the voice typing found in the Android keyboard and “OK Google” is something I catch myself saying quite often. I even talk to my car to change the station or temperature. Voice is becoming a normal method for me to interact with technology.

The newest generation of devices and initiatives by the big technology companies have got me speculating about the power of bots and how we might use them in the future. I am really looking forward to when we talk to our rooms like in Star Trek. I was immediately impressed when I looked at what Amazon’s Alexa is capable of, then disappointed it was not available in Canada. I found the Microsoft Bot Framework announcement intriguing. Google is also getting into the picture with CleverBot. All of these bots are experiments and very early in their development so we can expect them to have some issues. For example it only took a few hours for the Microsoft chatbot, Tay, to be “pwned“.

I am looking forward to my “personal assistant bot” to listen to me and automate parts of my life. For example, I am hoping I can say to my phone, “Set up a dinner appointment with Sharon next week.” Then my bot will talk to Sharon’s bot and they will exchange calendar information to determine the best time to meet. Then do some deep data analysis of my GPS history and other data to determine when and where we like to eat and compromise on a time and cuisine. Once a time is established, my bot will make a reservation using an API for an app like OpenTable. Once the reservation is made it will confirm the reservation with Sharon’s bot and then both bots will add the event to our personal calendars.

It does not sound all that exciting, but the time it will save is huge. For example, I am currently trying to find a good meeting time with 8 people. We are using Doodle to schedule the meeting but it will likely take days and a reminder email before everyone inputs their information. Using a bot, this could happen in minutes (or even seconds). Of course we will have to give up some privacy as this data will have to be stored somewhere and there is always a risk that the information will get out in a data breach.

I guess the big question we will have to address on an individual level, how important is our personal information and is it worth surrendering it for additional benefits and convenience. I know what I am willing to surrender.


New Podcast: Three Questions with Sarah Bowler

This week I met with Sarah Bowler at Waterloo Collegiate and I asked her about her love of physical education and how we can motivate our students into adopting a healthy lifestyle. You can follow Sarah on Twitter at @SZagorskiBowler.

Listen to the interview on Soundcloud or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

New Podcast: Three Questions With…Scott McKenzie

This week I decided to try my hand at podcasting again. I went back and looked at the video podcasts that Jane (@JMitchinson) and I made a few years ago. They were pretty good, but I can tell you that I learned a whole lot about producing podcasts. I now think I can do a better job. With that in mind I decided to try my hand at producing a new podcast.

Three Questions With... Free Listening on SoundCloudThree Questions With… was born. It is an interview podcast where I will be asking interesting people 3 questions. The format will be pretty standardized. The first question, “What can you tell the listeners about yourself?” The second, “What are you most passionate about?” Finally the third, will be based on their answer to the second question. My goal is to have “bite sized” podcast that is 2-5 minutes in length. The podcast is hosted on SoundCloud and I have submitted it to iTunes, Stitcher, and TuneIn so you can subscribe to it using your favourite podcast listening device.

For my first interview, I met with Scott McKenzie (@ScottMcKenzie27) at a local diner. Scott is a teacher with the WRDSB and I asked him questions about what he finds important in Primary Education.



I hope you subscribe and don’t be afraid to suggest someone you would like me to interview.

Take care and happy listening.

Tech and Teachers

While scrolling through Twitter I came across this tweet from David Warlick (@dwarlick):

It got me thinking about changes in “edtech”. Over the past decade I have attending various conferences and I have noticed a steady change in the content of the presentations. What I am most impressed by is how educators who have embrace “edtech” have moved away from gadgets and doodads and have shifted to looking at technology to innovate education. In other words, my colleagues are not just looking for the next shiny new tool to try out. Instead, they are trying to improve their teaching by taking a pedagogical sound approach to learning. Only then are they trying to find the right “edtech” tool to enhance the experience for students. Sometimes the tool might be a new mobile app, while at other times, it is the use of coloured pencils and chart paper.

To me it looks like teachers are moving away from the shiny new gadget and are instead looking at these tools with the same critical eye we look at chalk or whiteboard markers. The questions about “edtech” tools have also changed from, “How do I fit this into my lesson?” to “Will this help my student to learn?” It is becoming less about the “latest and greatest” and more about how “edtech” enhances the learning experience.

Back to conferences. I have really notice a shift here in Ontario. At a recent conference, the majority of the sessions I attended where facilitated by Ontario educators for whom the pedagogy came first. As the sessions progressed, the “edtech” was demonstrated and explained to the audience while at the same time continually tied back to sound pedagogy. At the same conference I was left feeling puzzled at the end of a keynote that mostly consisted of a list of “edtech” tools. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have done these same presentations, but that was almost a decade ago when “edtech” was still in its infancy. I did not expect it from high profile speakers.

I continue to be amazed at the quality of speakers at Ontario education conferences. Congratulations to all the Ontario educators out there who are modernizing student learning from a factory model to a problem solving model that is more inline with a technological age. I look forward to learning from you at the next conference.

GAFE and Google Classroom

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend EdCampWR with educators from both elementary and secondary schools. They were from both the public and separate school systems. There were even a few administrators, a Google Engineer, an independent school educator, and a few business people. Not a bad mix of people for a Saturday Un-Conference to talk about education.

EdCampWaterlooRegion About Ed Camp Waterloo

There were a couple of discussion I participated in where people were interested in integrating technology into their teaching. Flipped classrooms came up a number of times and I was able to provide a link to my previous blog post about “Flipping the Library” that demonstrated many of the techniques useful to the classroom teacher.

Another topic that came up was how to use Google Classroom. Over the past few weeks I have been working on a collection of video tutorials to show my colleagues the benefits of Google Classroom and how to integrate it into their teaching. These videos along with other resources were collected onto a website to share at an upcoming PD session I will be leading in the near future for the WRDSB. I will be adding a few more videos later this week to finish the video series. I hope you find it useful.