London Festival of Learning 2018

I attended the London Festival of Learning this year from June 22nd-30th, which brought together three conferences: the 13th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS), the Fifth Annual ACM Conference on Learning at Scale (L@S) and the 19th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIED).  It was great to see the convergence of ideas and academics from these three fields that generally work towards enhancing educational practices with technology. I could see overlaps and similarities in the topics of research being studied by these communities, but I also noticed they were divergent in terms of the main foci of their research. The festival was huge with over a 1000 attendees, and also involved edtech companies that wanted to develop evidence-informed products.

Throughout the conferences, I found an emphasis and move towards making more use of human ability and intelligence to augment what artificial intelligence can do for education in many keynotes and talks. This included concepts like giving importance to our internally persuasive voice and the power of negotiation in addition to “datafied” learning, and embracing imperfections from machines by adding in human context. A critical stance on what Artificial Intelligence can and cannot do was seen, with more conversations happening around the ethical use of learner’s data.

(Excuse me for the blurry pictures, I was not in a good spot to take pictures)

In the sessions, I could see a lot of research on developing intelligent tutoring systems, agents, intervention designs and adaptive learning systems for teaching specific skills, and advances made in their techniques. The majority of data comes from online settings i.e, students’ trace data from their usage with such systems. Recently, multi-modal data is getting more attention where sensors and wearables collect data from learner’s physical spaces as well. One best paper award winning work on Teacher-AI hybrid systems showcased the power of mixed-reality systems for real-time classroom orchestration. The cross-over session and the ALLIANCE best paper session showcased interesting research cutting across the three communities; it’s a shame we couldn’t attend both sessions since they ran in parallel.

Simon Knight presented our work on Augmenting Formative Writing Assessment with Learning Analytics: A Design Abstraction Approach at the cross-over session where he explained how we can augment existing good practices with learning analytics, and use design representations for standardizing these learning designs. I presented our poster on studying the revision process in writing in AIED, where I used snapshots of students’ writing data to study their drafting process at certain time intervals. I also participated in the collaborative writing workshop earlier in ICLS where many interesting tools to support writing were discussed. I shared about AcaWriter – a writing analytics tool providing automated feedback on rhetorical moves, developed by the Connected Intelligence Centre, UTS  which is now released open-source.

Overall, it was a great place to learn, network and follow work from related disciplines (with some catching up to do on the presented work, coz we can only be at one place at one time during the parallel sessions). I did feel a bit exhausted a the end of it (maybe I’m better off attending one conference at a time 🙂 ), but I guess that’s natural, and you can’t complain when your brain gets so much to learn in a week!

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