Orwellian Echoes

The article by Etchells et al. in The Guardian in 2017 presents a subject that is polarizing in its extremes. Particularly as the issue in this case is specifically about children. The article is in response to a letter written by “writers, psychologists and charity heads” asking for policies to be created in the UK regarding children’s access to “screen time” (Etchells et al., para 1). Although I do not have children of my own, I do very much care about the other beings who share this planet, so I understand the responsibility inherent in this topic. However, the other, very concerning issue is the idea of government-imposed guidelines. As Etchells et al. observe, the authors of the letter requesting guidelines should be implemented, without adequate research could be disastrous.

It is likely that most of us could provide a number of examples of the results of unresearched government intervention. And for this reason, the concerns of Etchells et al. are noteworthy regardless of any one position on the spectrum of this issue. Instead of attempting to enforce restrictions on consumption of screen time, a commodity like any other, we would be better served by educating ourselves to make informed decisions based on in-depth research. Afterall, digital technologies are part of our lives and will be for the foreseeable future so managing their impact, rather than ‘outlawing’ their use will likely be more productive in terms of ethics as well as physical well-being.


Etchells, P., et al. (January 6, 2017). Screen time guidelines should be built on evidence, not hype. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2017/jan/06/screen-time-guidelines-need-to-be-built-on-evidence-not-hype

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

The Role of Chatbots in Education. Assignment 2, Part 2.

Throughout our known history, humans have used other beings to help us complete tasks and accomplish our goals with greater ease. Beginning with domesticating animals as a means of transportation and food, we then created machines to replace them. As our sophistication in the area of machinery has evolved, we have progressed to computers and other technologies that continue to expand our capabilities. In the past fifty years we have investigated the area of mechanical agents to create machines that emulate human characteristics. This essay explores the use of machines, robots, conversational pedagogical agents, social agents, and chatbots in the area of education drawing on the research of five articles and connecting their findings. For the purpose of this essay, the term ‘chatbot’ will be used throughout regardless of the various terms used in the articles. While some may believe that using chatbots in educational settings is not valuable, research shows that the use of chatbots improves the learner’s experience. Despite the controversy, chatbots are here to stay.

The authors of each article agree that chatbots and humans can interact and build relationships with each other to achieve learning objectives. Specifically, Riel (2019) suggests that three critical functions of educational chatbots are necessary to achieve educational objectives in a principled way. Conversational functionality: to engage in conversation with a human being. Educational goals: designed to meet intended educational goals. Pedagogical roles: assume a pedagogical role in its design if it will teach students. Furthermore, he states, “…an educational chatbot must also actively play a role in the learner’s education towards achieving the educational goals established by a chatbot’s designer (much like the work of a teacher, coach, or tutor)” (p. 3).  The idea of chatbots aiding in the process of learning by assisting humans is also discussed by Gulz, Haake, Silvervarg, Sjoden, & Veletsianos (2011), through the illustration of a math game in which students “teach their agents to play” (p. 134). In doing so, the agent assumes the role of a Teachable Agent (TA) which “constructs a mathematical model by means of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms” (p. 134). Further to this, Dale (2016) suggests that chatbots and humans can, and more importantly, do, engage in relationships. In fact, he believes we have already reached the point of being unconcerned if we are dealing with a real person or not. Brahnam & De Angeli (2008) expand this further, stating that chatbots have the ability to act as social stimuli, which are, “…animated, they perceive while they are perceiving, change while inducing change in others, have and elicit intents, motives, desires, and emotions” (p. 1). Bull, Hall, & Kerly (2007) employ the methodology of learner modelling which creates a model based on individual learners and allows for customization and interaction between the learner and a system that is collaborative and also, adaptive. The insights of each article provide an overarching opinion that chatbots can interact with learners in ways that resemble human interaction with other humans. However, human interactions are not solely positive in their nature and in this regard, relationships between chatbots and humans also reflects some of the negative outcomes of our engagement.

Brahnam & De Angeli (2008) write about the ‘dark’ side of human and chatbot interaction raising the questions about potential abuse of chatbots by humans. They argue that relationships can be developed with chatbots and can incorporate emotions such as rage and anger towards chatbots in the same way humans can experience emotions with one another. They state that chatbots can be abused and misused citing the examples of “cyberbullying, electronic spam, and frauds (p.5). This idea is also discussed by Gulz, Haake, Silvervarg, Sjoden, & Veletsianos (2011) in reference to a study conducted in 2008 by Doering, Scharber and Veletsianos which found significant instances of learners abusing chatbots. The authors’ opinion based on their subsequent study is that this issue is not as prevalent, however, they acknowledge the variables between the two studies and caution that their findings should be viewed in light of this caveat. The opinions expressed by Brahnam & De Angeli (2008) however, suggest that negative findings in studies are often framed in a more positive manner. Instead, their research determined “…that verbal abuses (e.g., insults, threats, foul language, sexual advances, and pornographic sex-talk) abound in user interactions” (p. 2). Given that violence between humans is a reality of our modern world, it would make sense that this would also be factor in the relationships between chatbots and humans and bears further consideration.

In each of the articles the authors highlight areas and make recommendations for future study and/or development. Riel (2019) expresses the concern that “…algorithms used in automated and personalized educational software disproportionately place underrepresented students into less-productive paths” due to “inherently biases in the system” (p. 10). He recommends that designers need to be aware of this and to account for it in the analysis of the data. Gulz et al. (2011) identify the need for longer term studies to be conducted to provide data that examines the effects of chatbot use overtime.  Bull et al. (2007) state that designing “specific scripts”, “a chatbot can provide the necessary negotiation facilities for an enhanced” learner experience (p. 12). Overall, the authors present positive viewpoints on the use of chatbots and the benefits that could be achieved while also suggesting further research is required. As Riel (2019) observes, “Such research is timely, as chatbots are poised to provide unique benefits and new possibilities to learning environments that are not achievable in more traditional learning situations” (p. 11).

Chatbots have a role to play in educational environments that will add tremendous value, however, attention needs to be paid to the specifics of that role. In that, chatbots should act as assistants, aiding humans, rather than replacing them. By examining the nuances of human relationships, we can use this data to create chatbot profiles that meet the needs of learners. Most importantly, given the trend and increasing use of chatbots, it is crucial that educators expand their research parameters to comprehensively study the positive, and negative impacts. Failing to do so distorts the full picture and results in a biased and inaccurate view. Whereas, endeavoring to examine the research findings meticulously will enable designers to make adjustments that improve the experience for the learner.


Brahnam, S., & De Angeli, A. (2008). Special issue on the abuse and misuse of social agents.Interacting with Computers, 20 (3), 287-291.

Bull, S., Hall, P., & Kerly, A. (2007). Bringing Chatbots into education: Towards Natural Language Negotiation of Open Learner Models. In: Ellis, R., Allen, T., & Tuson, A. (eds). Applications and Innovations in Intelligent Systems XIV. SGAI 2006. Springer, London Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-84628-666-7_14

Dale, R. (2016). The return of the chatbots. Natural Language Engineering, 22(5), 811-817. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1017/S1351324916000243

Gulz, A., Haake, M., Silvervarg, A., Sjoden, B., & Veletsianos, G. (2011). Building a Social Conversational Pedagogical Agent: Design Challenges and Methodological approaches. In Perez-Marin, D., & I. Pascual-Nieto (Eds.), Conversational Agents and Natural Language Interaction: Techniques and Effective Practices. 128-155. IGI Global. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287623730_Building_a_social_conversational_pedagogical_agent_Design_challenges_and_methodological_approaches

Riel, J. (2019). Essential Features and Critical Issues with Educational Chatbots: Toward Personalized Learning via Digital Agents. In Khosrow-Pour, M. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Organizational Knowledge, Administration, and Technologies. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. Retrieved from https://ssrn.com/abstract=3361302

Image retrieved from https://fr.snatchbot.me/insight/186/chatbots-in-education-applications-of-chatbot-technologies


The Influence of Technology in the Education Industry – Group Activity

The claim of no-learning benefit has been made and substantiated by Clark (1986). He acknowledges that media has economic benefits but not learning benefits. His theory on research and data is collected throughout many different research projects. He analyzed research that started in the 1960s and was tracked all the way up to the 1980s, but the data did not indicate how different teachers instructed.Clark (1986) also mentioned that authentic problems or tasks seem to be the most effective influence on learning. Since he believed that the media had no learning benefits, he stressed that a moratorium on further research dealing with media’s influence on learning was necessary (Clark, 1983).

Contrary to Clark’s (1986) research, the article “The Influence of Technology in the Education Industry” Dr Eliatamby (2018) says use of technology is, at its very core, blended learning. At its simplest, blended learning is “the integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences” (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004, p. 96). The use of blended learning creates space for students to actively participate in the interplay between their learning environment and their own cognitive processes (Kozma, 1994). Use of technology also allows for learning on the job or real-world learning to take place, or better generalization of student learning to real-world contexts (Kozma, 1994). This is supercritical in the age of industry 4.0.

In her article for Campus Technology, Reynard (2019) states the importance of understanding that how students’ think and learn has changed due to ongoing use of technology and talks about the integration of technology into design for learning. She falls firmly on the side of Kozma (1994) in advocating that course design should be done interdisciplinarily, setting out contextual problem-solving tasks for students, with an emphasis on the process of learning as opposed to the product (p.21). Use of technology in design for learning is not just about a method of delivering the information to the students, but also building utility with technology. Learning has to leave students equipped for the workplace, with skills that “involve thinking and processing information, including possible diversions of thought, redirection of focus and the integration of new ideas and trends,” and the ability to function within the technological world that they will be working in (Reynard, 2019).

In line with Eliatamby’s take on Technology and its role in learning Dalto (2018) adds that incorporating technology into a blended learning environment boosts learner retention.   Dalto touches on technological applications such a mobile learning, AR, VR and 3D simulated environments.  Clark (1994) argued that “. . . the usual uses of a medium do not limit the methods or content it is capable of presenting”, but his argument does not consider immersive environments that did not exist at the time of his writing.  These new technologies also allow for freedom of instruction did not Clark did not take into account, these technologies “. . . provide[s] the ability to train in situations that would otherwise be too dangerous or expensive in real life.” (Dalto, 2018. p.5)

As Hastings and Tracey suggested in 2005 and even more applicable now media capabilities have changed dramatically over the last generation and the focus of the conversation should not be if, but how media affect learning. “Computers have unique, non replicable capabilities and therefore can support instructional methods that other media cannot” (Hastings and Tracey, 2005).  The most important thing about the debate is to acknowledge that the instructional methods and the delivery medium must be aligned to facilitate learning.

Another consideration is raised by Watters in a recent blog post. Commenting on the function of computers in education, Watters  quotes Weizenbaum (1995), “It is much nicer, it is much more comfortable, to have some device, say the computer, with which to flood the schools, and then to sit back and say, “You see, we are doing something about it, we are helping,” than to confront ugly social realities” (2019, para. 10). Indeed, based on Watter’s blog about Sesame Street moving from PBS to HBO in 2015 and then in October, 2019 to HPO Max echoes Weizenbaum’s observation in 1995 as this move results in restricting access due to socio-economic barriers. It could be argued that Sesame Street has moved so far from their original goal which was to, “…create a show for public (not commercial) television that would develop school readiness of viewers age 3 to 5, with particular emphasis on the needs of low-income children and children of color” (2019, para. 11) that it would appear Sesame Street has ‘sold out’. The implication being that they sold out in favour of higher profit rather than remaining accessible to its original, marginalised audience. Instead, the programming is available to only those who have the means to pay for it.

It is possible that Clark would agree that Weisenbaum is correct in his observation that computers could be used as a superficial solution to a much deeper problem. Whereas, Kozma might suggest that educators must consider media’s impact on educational outcomes while also exploring the far-reaching impacts as technology continues to advance. Regardless, the question of whether media will, or will not, influence learning is also about the accessibility of media.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29. Retrieved from Potential_in_Higher_Education

Dalto, J. (2018). Ar, vr and 3-d can make workers better. Ise ; Industrial and Systems Engineering at Work, 50(9), 42-47. Retrieved from https://royalroads.on.worldcat.org/oclc/7862472750 

Eliatamby, M. (2018, July 02).The Influence of Technology in the Education Industry [blog post] (2018, July 02). Retrieved from  https://theknowledgereview.com/the-influence-of-technology-in-the-education-industry

Garrison & Kanuka (2004). The Internet and Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222863721_Blended_Learning_Uncovering_Its_Transformative_

Hastings, N.B. & Tracey, M.W.  Does media affect learning: Where are we now?  TECHTRENDS TECH TRENDS (2005) 49: 28. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02773968

Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning: Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19.

Reynard, Ruth (2019) Why Integrated Instruction is a Must For Today’s Tech Enabled Learning [blog post]. Retrieved from https://campustechnology.com/articles/2019/05/29/why-integrated-instruction-is-a-must-for-todays-tech-enabled-learning.aspx

Watters, A. (2019, October 04). Hewn, no. 324. [blog post]. Retrieved from https://hewn.substack.com/p/hewn-no-324

The Influence of Technology in the Education Industry [blog post]. Retrieved from  https://theknowledgereview.com/the-influence-of-technology-in-the-education-industry

Chatbots. Assignment 2, annotated bibliography, part 1

In this assignment, we were asked to identify a  topic/issue of historical significance, technology of historical significance, problem of historical significance, or person of historical significance to the field and create an annotated summary of 5 scholarly sources. Initially, I intended to explore the impact of chatbots on edtech, however, as a result of my research, my topic has evolved into a question. Do  chatbots have a place in education?
Stay tuned for part 2…i’m still thinking.
Assignment 2, part 1

Pepicq, B. (n.d). [digital image]. Retrieved from https://www.androidpit.com/tbt-early-chatbot-eliza