In early March, my colleagues Robert Lue, Gaurav Vazirani, and I traveled to Paris to attend UNESCO’s annual Mobile Learning Week. This year’s conference, organized around the theme of Artificial Intelligence and Sustainable Development, examined opportunities and threats linked to the use of AI in education. We presented the LabXchange concept, conversed with leaders in education, technology, and government, and found new clarity in how we communicate our vision and goals.
For the most part, we heard broad optimism about how AI can transform education at scale. AI offers many exciting opportunities for education, whether that means offering instant translation, easing teachers’ workloads, or increasing engagement among young learners. On the other hand, participants often interjected sobering reminders of how AI technology exacerbates the global digital divide. Nearly half of the world’s population is not connected to the internet, and while 68% of the world’s population operates a mobile phone, not all mobile phones are internet-enabled. Accordingly, many NGOs and foundations at Mobile Learning Week address this last mile challenge by building and supporting offline access to digital tools in the Global South.
At the event, we were often asked about LabXchange’s own plans for offline access. The reality is that our platform is not currently being configured for offline access, and we realize that our most immediate short-term impact will be in under-resourced communities here in the US. But as our faculty director Robert pointed out in his presentation, we have to start somewhere – we can’t solve every problem from the get-go. We hope that by building strong partnerships (thus supporting SDG 17), we’ll be able to contribute to building access to digital resources worldwide.
In the meantime, we are focusing on a theme often raised at the conference, one of UNESCO’s top priorities and enshrined in SDG 4C: how to better train and empower educators. Every day, our team is working on content and onboarding materials that will help teachers use our tool in their classrooms more effectively. We are recruiting science teachers from the local community for a May 2019 pilot, and planning to present at several upcoming professional development conferences. And teachers have been active co-developers, offering valuable feedback and guidance as we build our platform. People often associate innovation in STEM education with coding bootcamps and robotics workshops, so we’re also excited to provide a new and much-needed digital resource for the life sciences.
Attending UNESCO Mobile Learning Week was an invigorating reminder of just how many sectors, organizations, and individuals are engaged in transforming global education — with or without the help of AI. As a free and open-source platform in this crowded space, we’ve learned that one of LabXchange’s main distinguishing features is that we view educators, learners, and peer institutions as partners, not customers. This perspective not only helps us to connect with the real needs of users all around the world, but also to stay true to our mission.
To watch the full presentation, please visit the following link: http://webcast.unesco.org/live/vod/2019/ed/20190603_ed_room-01/en/