Home > Uncategorized > AI Helps Achieve “Personalization” in Shoe Purchases… Can AI Do the Same for Schools?

AI Helps Achieve “Personalization” in Shoe Purchases… Can AI Do the Same for Schools?

November 17, 2015

I have been fascinated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) for years. Like nuclear energy, which can be used for good or evil, AI is both promising and scary: a genie we MIGHT want to put back in a bottle.

Today’s NYTimes “Bits” section, which offers insights into the latest developments in technology, describes how a Canadian company is using AI developed in the US to “personalize” shoe purchases by providing customers with an ever narrowing range of options that fulfill their immediate desires. Here’s a description of how it works:

Customers browse pictures of shoes, choosing a favorite type among a dozen images, which leads to a dozen more images, searching for the look someone is after. An initial page of boots might lead to a page with more low-cut items over high, or laces over buckles. The next options could affirm those choices. Or the search could go off in another direction.

From a sales point of view, it could be considered the next step in the A.I. of personalization. Typically, personalization relies on historic associations, or the familiar “customers also bought” suggestion. In this case, the computer is looking at 100 or more factors, and trying to judge how someone feels about them in real time.

“What makes this attractive is that people can get to the shoe they love without knowing what brand it is,” said Roger Hardy, chairman and co-founder of Shoes.com. “If I told you there was an Italian company with the perfect heel, toe and lacing for you, but didn’t know the brand, it wouldn’t do you any good.”

In early customer tests, Mr. Hardy said, the A.I. increased sales, though he declined to say by how much.

An earlier paragraph in the article led me to think of ways this kind of AI application might be used in education:

While (this AI application) is — at least for the moment — limited to retail, over the long haul the technology could demonstrate how important it is for companies to be sitting on vast warehouses of information.

Of late several articles have been written about the vast trove of electronic records we are keeping on students and the fact that some school districts have unwittingly allowed this data to be used for commercial purposes. However, as I’ve noted in earlier posts on this issue, public schools have been keeping written records on children for decades, records that could arguably provide teachers with data on a student’s learning patterns in the same way. Using the highlighted sentence above and making a few substitutions, here’s the result:

…personalization in the classroom relies on a student’s optimal learning modality by using an analysis of  100 or more factors that reveal previous classroom successes when a student was struggling to master a concept and linking them to the how student feels about this learning obstacle in real time. As a result, the teacher is able to see what approach they might take to intervene. 

Is the development of such an algorithm for learning possible? If it were, it would clearly benefit schools who, like the shoe companies cited above, sit on “..vast warehouses of information”. And… if the presumed goal of personalization is to customize learning experiences to help each child define their goals and provide teachers with the tools to meet the needs of each child, why wouldn’t we use the “..vast warehouses of information” we’ve been collecting for decades to the best effect possible?

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