As part of the AAAS Leshner Public Engagement Fellowship, AAAS encourages fellows to advocate for change and promote public engagement in the scientific communities and institutions they’re a part of. Carolyn Rosé wanted to use her role as a founding chair of the International Alliance to Advance Learning in a Digital Era (IAALDE), which brings together education researchers from ten different scientific societies, to do just that. After considering many options, the group decided as a first step to hold a workshop to bring together researchers using artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology to develop educational tools, with education policymakers (such as those deciding what technology to use in schools, and school board members) and practitioners (such as curriculum developers and education non-profits), to understand how research could better serve educators.
In advance of the workshop, Rosé organized a AAAS-led Science Communication and Public Engagement Fundamentals training for panelists who would be presenting. The team aimed to make the subsequent April 2021 workshop less like a typical scientific conference and more like a working session. The workshop began with an interactive, focus-setting panel and transitioned into breakout sessions. In order to capture the perspectives of attendees, all sessions were recorded, and surveys and collaborative notetaking software were used. It proved challenging to engage as many policymakers and practitioners as researchers, and realized they “needed to have a better balance of people in order for the conversations to really be mutually beneficial.”
Nevertheless, key insights came from the discussions. “For it to be meaningful to practitioners, it needed to be focused on problems they are dealing with here and now,” Rosé reflected. She noted that many interesting conversations did happen between practitioners and researchers during the breakout sessions. Sufficient synergy emerged between the needs of policymakers, practitioners, and researchers to form four cross-society writing teams on the following topics: fostering equitable educational technology in low resource environments; training teachers for effective data-driven instruction; challenging fears and over-expectations of technology in the classroom; and creating social presence in online and hybrid teaching. Their goal is to produce materials for use by policymakers and practitioners by 2022.
In addition to mentoring the four writing teams, Rosé has also circled back with researchers to share insights from the journey in an AI Matters learning webinar, with hundreds of online viewers joining in for the event. Rosé says one of the lessons she took away was that many researchers are already effectively engaging with practitioners in their own work, but often not in a formal way, and the lessons they learn aren’t necessarily captured and shared more broadly. Ongoing discussions aim to address this issue.
Rosé has also been engaging with end users of education technology through the AI4K12 initiative and helped to implement AI curriculum at the state level, with the most intensive engagement in Maryland and Massachusetts. She says that her interests evolved during the AAAS Leshner Fellowship, particularly in the monthly check-ins with a small group of other fellows and AAAS staff -- she became even more excited about working with teachers, which wasn’t part of her original plan. She says many teachers don’t have the background or training to teach AI and machine learning, and she wants to expand the number of schools that are able to offer this to their students, especially those with fewer resources.
“I’m finding myself much more energized and willing to put time into this because I see how strategic it is to raise the level of awareness of AI in a functional way…The aim is to foster an AI-prepared workforce, but to get there, it makes sense to begin with students and teachers.” Rosé is excited about being part of discussions to organize a training workshop for teachers about text mining, and to “learn from them about what they want to understand better.”
A central goal for Rosé is to help teachers, students, and product developers see that the algorithms are not the most important thing – what is critical is human responsibility in both creating and also using the algorithms. “We need to understand the role we play in making the world what we want it to be,” she says.
The AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute was founded in 2015 and operates through philanthropic gifts in honor of CEO Emeritus Alan I. Leshner. Each year the Institute provides public engagement training and support to 10-15 mid-career scientists from an area of research at the nexus of science and society.