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MuZero: Mastering Go, chess, shogi and Atari without rules

Julian Schrittwieser,, DeepMind, Dec 25, 2020

There is a longstanding debate between rules-based and non-rules representations of knowledge, learning and intelligence in both humans and AI. The core of the rules-based argument is based in what Chomsky called "Plato's problem" and is in effect a claim that it is impossible for humans to learn open-ended principles. So they must be built-in - for humans, that means innate grammars, and for computers, that means rules-based AI. Systems like MuZero contradict that claim by mastering rules-based systems without ever needing to be told the rules. This has wide implications, because even if rules remain helpful (and they are!) they are not essential, which means we select rules to teach arbitrarily, and not because they are in some important sense foundational. See also: TechCrunch, BBC, and from Julian Schrittwieser a high-level description of the algorithm.

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Learning and teaching reimagined

David Maguire, Louisa Dale, Michelle Pauli, JISC, Dec 25, 2020

This is a report (42 page PDF) from Jisc that concludes, "The findings clearly show an expansion of online learning and that blended learning across different modes – in-person, online, on campus, at home and at work – is the preferred model for university students, staff and leaders." In particular, I would note that "Students prefer blended learning that incorporates extensive online components alongside in-person learning because it’s more convenient, saves time and makes it easier to access course material." Once again, it would be useful if a survey like this sampled non-students as well as students to better understand their preferences. This would probably tilt the scale more toward digital. The recommendations for 2021 and beyond are not surprising: "embed digital at the heart of university culture," look at economic models for scaling online learning, expand digital skills, and address digital inequality.

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Education's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals Online Education’s Three Enduring Challenges

Jason Openo, Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, Dec 25, 2020

The three challenges are: being authentic, authentic assessment, and support. I can't deny that these are challenges and that they are enduring. With respect to the first, Jason Openo writes, "nothing happens naturally online." True, but let's note that we invest billions in salaries and infrastructure to facilitate that which happens 'naturally' offline. What are 'office hours' without an office? With respect to assessment, while little has changed in the past, perhaps the pandemic has forced professors to finally rethink the practice. And finally, support for everybody has long been an issue. "The continuum of care from the learning environment to the support infrastructure often breaks down." Good short article (13 page PDF). Image: WEForum.

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A Vision Towards Indigenous Education Sovereignty in Northwestern Ontario

Melissa Oskineegish, Leisa Desmoulins, in education, Dec 25, 2020

I think it's pretty clear that "the educational system founded in colonial assimilative practices does not serve the needs of Indigenous communities," but it's a lot harder to say what it should be instead. This article (18 page PDF) brings together six perspectives from indigenous communities in North-Western Ontario. The result is "a call for Indigenous pedagogies that are grounded within the contexts of their communities and the longstanding need for equitable education; employ Indigenous knowledges that anchor Indigenous-led instruction and pedagogies for land-based teachings, traditional practices, and languages that hold cultural and sacred knowledge; and implement Indigenous community-based accountabilities." That feels like a good framework for education that respects culture and community no matter what community we're talking about. At the same time, there is a need, as one principal stated, for systems "'that respond to the vision of communities and students.' As one example, he explained that students want the option to take academic courses... to aid Indigenous students’ with success in the broader world once they leave PFFNHS to pursue higher education for themselves and their communities." Image: Our Nations, Our Future, Our Vision.

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