The Science of Improvement: Understanding Human Augmentation Technologies

Introduction

A widely acknowledged definition of human augmentation is: the permanent or temporary improvement of human performance through the use of science and technologies (Alicea, 2018). The field of human augmentation can be broadly divided into two: human performance enhancement and human performance optimization. Human performance optimization is concerned with improving human performance up to the extent that is biologically possible without contributing to new abilities, while human performance enhancement enhances human performance beyond its biological potential limit and could include the addition of capabilities that transcend innate human capabilities (Raisamo et al., 2019). The effects of the various human augmentation technologies are temporary or permanent, invasive or non-invasive - this makes permanence and the level of invasiveness key components of human augmentation.

Whereas human augmentation has been practiced since the inception of humankind, the developments in human-digital augmentation are rather recent and have been incremental since direct manipulation and graphical user interfaces were invented (Farooq and Grudin, 2016). The increasing human and digital/technological interactions have brought about consequences that impact on human developments both positively and negatively.

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Impacts of Human-Digital Augmentation

Digital human augmentation, is without a doubt, a positive development for humanity. Digital human augmentation is an examination field whose aims are to improve the capacities of human beings through medication and innovation. Modern technology advancements have led to the advent of human augmentation, a market of human augmentation that is aimed at improving the way people do different things and the perceptions they have of the environment. Digital technologies and human augmentation have proven to be rather useful for medical related purposes. These advantages are evident in prosthetics, pace makers, dialysis machines, and technological practice. Likewise, expanded capabilities have been accomplished through the use of outside environments, for instance, optics, eyeglasses, magnifying lens and other types of leading technologies which have the capabilities of providing humans with seamless experiences. With the most recent technological advancements, advancements in augmented reality and multimodal association, have empowered non-intrusive ways of augmenting humans with new innovative technologies.

Through the advancements of the use of these technologies, it has been possible for people going through different types of medically related challenges to enjoy their lives and additionally thrive. It is worth noting that the most recent technologies have been doing more than just helping those who are not fortunate, and has been leading towards the advancement of humans. With the rapid use of advanced technologies, it is safe to say that over time, the distinction between humans and digitals will not be distinguishable.

Through technological advances like electronics and the manipulation of genes, the existing gap between nature and technology has been narrowed and this makes it not so hard to believe the possibility of the idea of artificial life and synthesised intelligence.

Human-digital augmentation has demonstrated extreme usefulness in the field of medicine, through developments such as prosthetics, pace makers, dialysis machines, technological practice, online doctors and telemedicine. These technological advancements have contributed to improving health care by facilitating effective diagnosis and treatment of patients, as well as enabling the aging citizens to thrive and lead fuller and healthier lives (Lupton, 2017). Additionally, human-digital augmentation demonstrates the potential of producing wider public-health programs that rest on huge data amounts that are continuously being captured on multiple issues such as nutrition, genomes and so on (Topol, 2019). Crossmodal interaction, which allows the transformation of one sensory modality’s attributes for another, is the other contribution of human-digital augmentation to health, and which is useful to the elderly and people with disabilities whose sensory abilities are deteriorating. Lacey and Sathian (2015) suggests the practicability of using crossmodal interaction moderate and produce cognitive information, as well as contribute to access to humans’ socio-emotional and voluntary processes.

The other impact of human-digital augmentation is the development and advancement of social media. According to McFarlene (2014) social media is a vital development as it enables us to easily communicate with people all over the world unlike before, to find and share with people we share common interests with, thereby improving our perceptions and experiences. Whereas finding people with shared interests anywhere in the globe is perhaps the greatest strength of social media (McFarlene, 2014), it also significantly contributes to shaping opinions, the emergence of social movements and creation of collective action. Through its ability to reach a wider audience, social media enables the easy correction of ignorance and marginalizations, and activists and civil rights groups to better/easily ensure that discriminations do not occur, thereby facilitating social change (Gerbaudo, 2012). Although social media contributes to a significant proportion of the information we consume, and which plays a key role in shaping our perceptions and view on the position of the world, recent technological developments have resulted in people becoming more engrossed in social media and other entertainment technologies, such as television, computers, video games and so on, resulting in addiction and dependence (Coburn, 2018). Additionally, whereas social media technologies have the potential of providing useful information, it also exposes us (and especially teenagers) to improper, disastrous and non-beneficial information in a manner that is difficult to control.

Developments in human-digital augmentation have also resulted in the invention of smart systems in multiple aspects of human life, including in the society, in buildings, in utilities, on farms, in vehicles and in business processes, that contribute to saving time and money, promote safety, and enable humans to enjoy a more-customized experience.

However, going by the current trends regarding the massive use of advanced technologies, it is argues that it may eventually be impossible to distinguish humans from digitals, due to what Pepperell (2003) describes as ‘posthumanism’- whereby (post) humans- who overcome the neurological, biological and psychological limitations- demonstrate unequalled physical, psychological and intellectual ability, are self-defining, self-programming, unlimited and likely immortal.

Human-digital augmentation is also faced with other concerns. Regarding human agency, humans are increasingly losing control over their lives. This is due to automation whose tools to which man has ceded his decision-making. People give up their privacy, independence and power over choice given that they have no control over the digital processes (Raisch and Krakowski, 2021). Data abuse, following the use of data and surveillance in intricate systems aimed at profit or for power, which has resulted in ethics and values not being baked into digital decision-making systems is the other concern. The ability of organizations to collect big data from users for profit impacts on the privacy of individuals, raising key issues regarding the ownership of the collected data, its use and third party access (Glenn and Monteith, 2014). Potential job loss in future as technologies take over jobs presently done by humans is a major source of concern, along with the broadening economic divides that would lead to social upheavals, arising from human-digital augmentation (Peng, Wang and Han, 2018). Additionally, human-digital augmentation has resulted in increased dependence on technological systems that pose the risk of eroding people’s social, cognitive and survival skills.

Conclusion

In conclusion, whereas human-digital augmentation has created value and benefits for users and amplified their effectiveness, it has also resulted in threats to human agency, autonomy and capabilities. However, the benefits can be described as outweighing the disadvantages. Therefore, if used as appropriate, human-digital augmentation is a positive development for humanity.

Analysis of digital teaching materials

In education, the integration of multimedia in teaching is aimed at connecting different multimedia elements, including animation, audio, image, text and video for purposes of creating digital teaching environments. Digital teaching materials bring together pictures, word, audio-visual films and cartoons for transfer of information into a digital form (Kreijns et al., 2013). Teachers are required to re-examine the instruction contents in the traditional teaching materials and subsequently add to them or present them as digital teaching materials. The utilisation of digital teaching materials has numerous benefits and these include, effective teaching and improvement of learning methods. According to Drijvers (2015), the precise way of using the different digital teaching materials and the extent to which digital instruction is combined with in-person instruction is dependent on the needs of every specific course that is taught.

Recorded lecture videos are an example of digital teaching materials. Teachers using this material, record themselves giving out instructions and passing different lessons. This is without a doubt, a relatively simple digital approach. The recorded videos are shared with students who then go ahead to consume them as per their own schedules and on their own pace, something that augurs well with the students (Moro, 2018). These materials are also increasingly accessible. They can either be sped up or slowed down, dependent on the learner’s comprehension pace. It is also possible to add additional accessibility features with relative ease, including transcriptions and automated closed captioning. However, while it is quite easy to create video recording and while they are also quite effective for quick sharing of information, often, production is not as ideal and there is always the possibility of videos being minimally engaging (Gonzalez et al., 2010). Generally, this digital approach fails to reach the full potential that could possibly be reached with digital learning.

Edited video lessons are another type of digital teaching materials. Through the introduction of editing to enable smoother delivery and transitions, editing videos sure take recorded lectures a step further. Edited videos additionally add graphics and other interesting visuals that come in handy in increasing the engagement of the videos (Yerrick et al., 2011). Yerrick et al. (2011) also ass that while these edited videos could require substantial amounts of time to edit as compared to recorded lecture videos, they retain the advantages of recorded lectures and provide learning experiences that are of a higher quality. Edited videos possess all the advantages of recorded lessons, for example, they are self-paced (O’Loughlin, Chroinin and O’Grady, 2013). They also provide students with the opportunities of watching several short videos in a row, as permissible by their schedules.

Zoom sessions are another different type of digital teaching materials. Whenever courses are entirely held remotely, with some students either participating virtually or in person, or in hybrid sessions, the majority of class sessions and discussions happen over zoom or other videoconferencing platforms that are similar to zoom (Ren et al., 2017). These live virtual sessions facilitate synchronous learning experiences that are enhanced by other digital tools, including whiteboards, among other display technologies. It is, however, worth noting that at no point can they be viewed as replacements for in-person discussions (Dharma, Asmarani and Dewi, 2017). For those teachers who entirely teach in person, it is still possible to use zoom for other instruction related issues like inviting other instructors from afar. Zoom also comes in handy for students in the coordination of project work outside the classroom environments. Zoom makes it possible for students to synchronously interact with one another even when they are in different places (Alameri et al., 2020). The technology also gives room for unique interaction and discussion modes, including breakout rooms, which can instantaneously be configured and also chat channels (Singh et al., 2020). Zoom also makes it easy to invite remote guest speakers who are otherwise not in a position to physically present themselves in the classroom, or are in faraway lands. It is, however, worth noting that while zoom calls are interactive in nature, they do not provide crucial opportunities for interactions of a casual and social nature.

The other digital teaching material is online discussion boards. There are multiple instructors who have made efforts to replace in-person discussions with online discussion boards that are asynchronous. These boards are however best used together with synchronous forms of discussion like zoom meetings or in person teaching (Ferri, Grifoni and Guzzo, 2020). Rapanta et al. (2020) suggest that it is possible to pick up concepts and points that have been introduced through discussions held online and subsequently utilise them as the base for synchronous discussions, where credit is given to those students who raised them. With such a flow, a greater understanding of material is facilitated. Online discussion boards are quite instrumental as teaching tools as they encourage the interaction of students and give the students the choice to decide when to participate (Khalil et al., 2020). Generally, there is also no limit to the number of ideas that could possibly be contributed by a student, and this implies that it is possible for a larger number of students to take part in them. Through these online contributions, those students who are otherwise shy, are provided with a platform to build on their confidence, and that is especially in those scenarios where the points of the shy students are picked up and they are subsequently credited during the course of synchronous discussions (Jena, 2020). However, while online discussion boards do provide instructors the opportunities of dropping questions and comments in online chats, guiding and focusing the discussions becomes relatively hard and that is because the instructor is not constantly present (Rapanta et al., 2020). In such a case, there does not exist any guarantee that the students would hold meaningful discussions and eventually arrive at the desired conclusions, or attain the desired learning outcomes.

Simulations are also used as digital teaching materials. Just like case studies, simulations facilitate student’s immersion into very specific experiences, even though with stimulations, information unfolds in real time (Poultsakis et al., 2021). Simulations are useful as they invite students into interacting directly with course material, and often, interacting with one another, such that they are better placed to deal with different types of problems that they would likely face in real business environments (Allcoat et al., 2021). Simulations also provide students with the opportunities of taking direct control of their own. Verkuyl and Hughes (2019) therefore posit that they are able to reach their own conclusions, after which they connect what they learn to framework material that is presented by their teachers to rescue them from different struggles they could be going through, and also to provide assistance in structuring and systemisation. However, the preparation of simulations for use for teaching purposes is rather effort intensive on the part of instructors.

The SAMR model is quite useful in underpinning digital teaching. The model is presented in four tiers that are roughly presented in the order of their sophistication and transformative power: substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition (Budiman, Rahmawati and Ulfa, 2018). Often, whenever teachers shift to online formats of teaching, they focus on the first two levels that involve the replacement of traditional materials with materials that are digital. That involves the conversion of lessons and worksheets into PDFs and subsequently posting them online, or the recording lecture videos and subsequently making them available for purposes of asynchronous learning (Pfaffe, 2017). It is worth noting that these are relatively important steps and that is especially when teaching online is happening for the first time. However, within classrooms where the integration of technology has moved to the mastery level, the other last two levels of the SAMR model that are modification and redefinition, also have to be in the mix (Romrell, Kidder and Wood, 2014). Students who sit in classes where this type of mastery is embedded find uses for technology that are increasingly novel and immersive. They create and publish their own work across multiple media forms, and they also invite professionals, to give feedback on the work they produce, or participate in digital forums with their peers drawn from different parts of the world (Pfaffe, 2017). Additionally, Pfaffe (2017) suggests that while it is tempting to view SaMR as a mountain that requires to be summited, sound integration of technology requires more than just living at the top of the model, but also requires having an awareness of the available range of options and selection of the appropriate strategy – or strategies – for the lesson being taught.

Potential of digital technology to transform assessment of learning

Chiou, Lee and Liu (2012) report that the used frameworks and tools for classroom assessment significantly impact on the practices of teachers and student achievement. As such, it is quite important to get assessment right as that goes a long way in creating positive learning experiences and enabling success in academics. Technology offers avenues that are quite important for enhancement of the administration of tests, test scoring, test reporting, and interpretation, in addition to linking with curriculum for purposes of individualised learning (Henderson, Selwyn and Aston, 2017). Assessment is quite instrumental in the teacher-learning process and has been found to be a powerful tool for the enhancement of student progress and further facilitation of progress within societies.

Recently, there have been extensive interruptions to students learning, with the advent of Covid-19, and this increases the importance of accurate information on a student`s level of understanding. Such accurate information goes a long way in ensuring that all learners are able to achieve their full potential. Understanding what is known by a student, and what they do not know is rather crucial for effective learning (van der Keylen et al., 2020). The scholars further argue that whenever students attempt tasks that are too hard, the likelihood of them failing goes up, and on the other hand, being assigned easy tasks limits their abilities to progress as required.

It is possible to utilise technology for instantaneous assessment in multiple ways and this includes tracking the progress of the student over a period of time. Even more compelling, according to Walan (2020), is the possibility to use educational technology for purposes of aiding formative assessment which helps boost engagement, identify gaps in knowledge, and support deeper learning. As witnessed over the lockdown period, cloud-based learning offers increased flexibility, as pupils are able to access and go on to complete online assessments at times that are most suitable to their individual learning needs and styles.

Assessment is within the context of education considered as an ongoing process where evidence of learning is collected, and subsequently interpreted and acted upon facilitating the improvement of future learning and performance (Faber, Luyten and Visscher, 2017). Assessment is therefore understood as a social-cultural activity that is embedded in the processes of teaching and learning. Additionally, those processes that are utilised in assessment have close links with learner`s social interaction with their teachers, and knowledge construction is achieved by a novice-expert relationship (Hendripides and Hikman, 2018). The quality and individualisation of feedback is relatively important for the assessment process. Therefore, those assessments that incorporate both individualised and social perspectives are better placed to help student learning (Hendripides and Hikman, 2018). In the future, successful assessment systems will closely embody the needs and perspectives of teachers together with their students.

Generally, applying assessment in the educational context falls into two categories, summative assessment and formative assessment. The purpose, timing, the target of administration, and in test construction and design, distinguishes these two types of assessment (Farrell and Rushby, 2016). It is however, worth noting that there is the possibility of the presence of instances when the same tests are utilised for multiple application, which may not be necessarily appropriate, in the event the design of the test was meant for this (Brown, 2014). Summative assessments are by their design meant to quantify how much a learner has achieved to the present day and they are aimed at assessment of learning (AoL) (Farrell and Rushby, 2016). They are a measure of a student`s level of success by the time they end an instructional unit.

Generally, technology-based assessments provide increased variety in the presentation of stimuli than is available when paper based booklets and flip books are used. There are multimodal features in touch screen tablets, virtual modalities, and computers, which present students with the opportunities of strengthening learning, motivation, engagement, collaboration, and productivity, and can possibly be utilised for multiple assessment formats (Faber and Visscher, 2018). The incorporation of technology in assessment leads to improvements in measurement of higher-order understanding and performance, as a result of the flexibility of technology in the integration of media and exploration of new item types. The use of plain assessments, is often criticised as being over-reliant on multiple choice items, which suggests a lack of rigor (Kulasegaram and Rangachari, 2018). Technology can come in handy in the enhancement and facilitation of administration of these and other types of items, with the use of touch screen technologies as they can possibly be used in multiple formats (Confrey and Maloney, 2012). For instance, students can be presented with the opportunities of touching hot spots on a graphic as their choice. Additionally, students could also highlight texts for purposes of assessment and subsequently get assessed on their abilities to draw and make marks. It is also possible to utilise drag and drop features for selection and moving of objects, ordering objects, connecting objects, and sorting objects (Confrey and Maloney, 2012). It is further possible to further explore the limits of traditional item types through the use of touch screen technologies, which could additionally get enhanced through the integration of media-based features including animations and sounds.

The adaptation of multiple-choice paper-based tests into formats that are computerised is seen as a natural evolution, during the transition to assessments that are technology-based, even though there have been growing calls for greater innovation (Nardi and Ranieri, 2019). Using media forms including graphics, video and audio are seen as ideal for emergent readers who are yet to be become fluent readers. There are rather exciting opportunities in the advancements in the field of behavioural monitoring, for increasingly diverse ways through which students can possibly demonstrate their level of learning (Washburn, Herman and Stewart, 2017). For instance, there is the possibility of group administered expressive tests growing into a reality to the extent that advancements in voice recognition software are able to accommodate differences in dialect, and multilingual influences on tone and articulation (Nardi and Ranieri, 2019). In the same breath, facial expression recognition and gesture recognition provide extra non-verbal modalities that come in handy in the reduction of the reliance on the verbal skills that are common to the majority of the traditional approaches to assessment.

Incorporating movement through animation and video clips can also readily offer support for assessing verbs on vocabulary tests, which traditionally have been rather difficult to elicit from the static illustrations of traditional paper-based assessments. Computer-based storytelling for kids in kindergarten through the use of music, sounds, video and animation, has been found to be highly effective in offering support for the development of language as compared to computer administered stories that utilise still images (Boeve et al., 2015). Therefore, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (Aar), and mixed reality (MR) presentations provide stimulus presentation that is highly engaging in the foreground, controlling the background experimentally, and means of responding that are truly interactive (Dede, Jacobson and Richards, 2017). Panchenko and Muzyka (2020) suggest that in the coming future, interactive computer tasks will be inclusive multiple assessment modes and there is need to jump on those opportunities for the development of interactive computer tasks when they offer advantage to modes of assessment that are static.

Applying technology in assessment, holds the potential of providing an avenue through which the intricacies of classroom assessment can possibly be resolved. Using technologies for purposes of classroom assessment promises advanced features that are otherwise not available with paper and pencil tests, and these include, faster student feedback and computer generated next steps that provide teachers with opportunities of making real-time data-driven decisions for informing any instructional changes they make (Hartell and Skogh, 2015).

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Technology additionally holds the potential of adding value in other respects including the improvement of the assessment and feedback experience. According to Akbar (2016), multimedia technologies hold significant potential of increasing the richness of feedback and increasingly personal and for a range of learner skills and attributes that are wider and that are demonstrated through assignments, and this involves, for instance, blogs, e-portfolios, and wikis. Additionally, online tools are also capable of supporting peer and self-assessment in any given location and at times that are suitable for learners – the value of peer and self-assessment in the development of the abilities of learners in regulating their learning is recognised increasingly (Hartell and Skogh, 2015).

It is however, worth noting that technology only provides the potential for enhancement of assessment and feedback. There is a higher likelihood that transformative effects only come about when there are clear education related purposes behind the innovation that is proposed, for instance, for purposes of increasing the autonomy of learners, enhancement of the quality of feedback, and even for improvement of the efficiency of teaching and when there is skilful contextualisation of the use of technology within wider social and academic contexts (Akbar, 2016). Even with the larger scope that technology provides, those principles that underpin proper assessment and feedback are still applicable. The design of effective assessment and feedback, explores in a detailed manner the value that is held by the principle-based approach to assessing and providing feedback.

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