Sympathy for the Learner post-COVID

One thing is certain, COVID-19 has upended traditional relationships within our data. Even if the economy returns to a more normal rhythm how we interact with others, react to stimuli and even our lifelong aspirations, have changed forever. We will adjust and find a new normal, just as humanity has in times of crisis and great tragedy before, but we must recognize, this change will also have an impact on our new workplace partners, Artificial Intelligence (AI).  And now that AI is becoming a ubiquitous part of everyone’s daily lives when your AI gets confused, it may do real-world harm to an already struggling populace. 

As we adjust and learn how to navigate this new world we have access to a well-educated brain, creativity, and intuition that AI does not have. The world they see, the topology of their training data, has shifted drastically to show unfamiliar terrains and broken fundamental relationships. For example, what served as an incentive for human behavior (a crowded beach) might now cause fear in a large segment of the population. This is a time to make sure you continuously measure your AI’s performance, focus your data scientist on understanding the impact of COVID-19, and be open-minded to a variety of AI methods. You must have sympathy for your learner (AI) but you should also make sure the right one is being used to answer your questions and solve your problems. 

Post Covid-19, sympathy for the learner is not just required for high-quality models but necessary to assure minimum-performing models. The world has changed, quite dramatically. The learner you choose (or how you present the data to the learner) needs to be able to adjust rapidly to this ever-changing landscape in production. Severe concept drift, when fundamental drivers to target relationships change, is now expected with all models. Key drivers of our economy, behavior, and relationships are rapidly evolving but our historical data still see the old world order. Even something as simple as toilet paper purchases is now distorted. A sudden peak in toilet paper purchases for a given household prior to COVID-19 might mean a particularly good sale, more people moving into the household or purchases for a small business. Now it probably means run-of-the-mill hoarding. Recommendation engines, risk models, and segmentation scores will collapse as this new data enters the system. Worse still, as the data distorted by the shelter-in-place order enters the training data the AI will try to use it to project into the future rather than understand this was a transitory event. Care must be taken when presenting this data to your learner. The learner has not been following the news, does not understand the concept of a global pandemic, and has no ability to imagine the future post Covid19. While this is frustrating, as long as you recognize the limitations of AI you can mitigate the impact of Covid19 on your modeling data and, again, get back to looking into the future with AI.


COVID 19 and Home Schooling

This is a time when forgotten skills are awoken to help us survive, and hopefully thrive, under challenging circumstances. From, cooking to yoga, we all are reaching back to our prior lives to reinvent what is normal. For us, how we teach our children at home is evolving as remote schooling continues. At first, remote classes were engaging, but soon both of my daughters yearned for more. Luckily, I taught at the University of Oregon where we explored student-led instruction with the students driving the goals for the course. For my courses, Micro Economics, students chose topics and I guided them to use Economic principles to answer their questions. Here are some examples:

  • How can we migrate to renewable energy faster?

  • Why are tuition and books so expensive?

This was more challenging than traditional methods but the rewards were great. True, my ratings improve but, more importantly, many students embraced Economics. Fast forward to today, my kids want more. Teaching is a stressful endeavor. We feel pressured to make sure our kids meet goals, deadlines, and milestones. What I learned, from my students, mentors, and daughter’s teachers is a simple truth, there are no set milestones. Milestones create walls when we need to create paths.

The first major project was which I talked about in a prior post. This project, a website outlining rules to a game they created was spawned by asking them how to resolve a dispute over the game. They saw the need to define and write down all the rules. This gave them ownership and well-defined goals. They pushed their language and math skills to make sure they could explain the game to their friends. When crafting posts, they took photos and consider how to best present the material to a general audience. The trick was to make sure they were not blocked in achieving their vision without taking over and marginalizing them. While my eldest embraced the project and quickly took command my youngest had difficulties once the initial rules were created.

In the prior post we created a curriculum that, after the initial set up, was not engaging for our youngest daughter who was just beginning to read. So, we focused on helping her achieve a long time goal of hers, creating a graphic novel. She picked a topic (for example, enchanted forest) and we created sentences, mostly using words we knew she understood, based on that topic. It was her job was to read each sentence and create a drawing based on it. We framed this as working together to create a book rather than an assignment. After several days she had a book of sentences with pictures that she drew. She then used this as reference material to create her own stories and even wrote her own sentences that we would have to draw for her. While these examples sounded like organized plans, they were not. Both grew organically with the children contributing as much to the plan as us. The truth is all kids want to learn. As parents, we can choose to guide them rather than educate them. Both paths are challenging. For us, working to help our daughters meet their goals made homeschooling more fun it brought us closer together.