Virtual fences and teaching maths

Here are 2 very different articles; virtual Fences, teaching maths.

They are both worth a read on their own merits, and are both fascinating. However, I am bringing them to your attention as a pair for a reason. Which is that they both, in very different ways, make a similar observation, one that is often overlooked by commentary that explores the worlds of our technological futures.

That observation is this.

Automation, or other varieties of technological advance, in certain fields, will draw greater attention to skills that we might previously have referred to as the ‘craft’ of a profession, and that those skills will actually become more respected and valued as a result.

The first link is an exploration of a technology that will allow farmers to set virtual fences across their land. Fences that are movable via internet technology, and hence enable land management from a distance. The writer points out that to some this means that they can be farmers while living a top flight urban life in New York.


The technology can be used to move animals away from overly grazed land, temporary and dangerous events (flooding, landslips) and to encourage managed cycling of land between fallow and active states without the need to physically uproot and rebuild extensive block and wire fencing. The technology is focused on moving animals or warding animals away from land using electric shocks and tightly focused sonic frights. It is a developing technology and all very fascinating, however, the man developing the technology is not a Silicon Valley type, he’s a farmer. He has a deep and experienced knowledge of land management, animal management and the various risks and objectives therein.

If he makes his point once he makes it 10 times.

This technology can only be valuable if you have an expert on the ground, on the farm, assessing what is happening along essential, and traditional, farming vectors. You could manage your farm from New York, but in truth you are just doing what the man you hired to run your farm in Montana tells you to do. If you have no expert, with experience and craft, actually living at the pinch point, the technology is useless. The men and women with those skills will become valuable and well remunerated individuals if this technology takes off.

The second link is looking at adaptive analytics, and particularly those used in modern education, a world which is of particular interest, right now, to anyone who fancies watching technology driven disruption at work in real time.

The point is made that the craft of teaching, one to one, is sorely missing from debates about the frontiers of educational technology and the analytics that are being enabled as a result. As the data can do little more than signpost issues, as in point out where a student is suffering a failure, the ability to diagnose the cause of the failure and as a result prescribe the remedy becomes the real value add. That role is still only able to be filled by a human teacher.

It is very likely that the quality of the various different analytical tools will improve, and significantly too. As usage drives positive feedback loops we will see the technological frontier open up and take a stronger and stronger foothold in this sector. The question is twofold, do we need greater precision, an improvement in the quality of current tools, or do we need development of new functionality that can start to challenge the traditional role of human teaching?

I suspect that real time intensive access to human teaching will become an ever greater luxury as our world changes. However, there is encouragement to be had from the opening salvo of the article. Hopefully development will be more exciting that it is today.      

it shouldn’t cost $100 million to figure out that Johnny thinks textbooks are boring


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