In the Classroom with Ashok Goel
Professor Ashok Goel never had any doubt that he would enter the family business: education.
“I always wanted to teach,” said Goel. “Growing up in (Kurukshetra) India, my grandfather was a primary school teacher, and my father was a professor of physics. Teaching runs in my blood, I suppose. In my family, teaching and research were considered the things to do.”
He came to the U.S. to attend The Ohio State University and pursue a Ph.D. in physics, but he instead earned a degree in computer science after working for a few years.
“Some people are like arrows. They know exactly what they want to do in life and they shoot like this,” Goel said, demonstrating a straight shot.
“I’m afraid I was more like a spiral,” he joked, referring to the fact that he went from physics to computing.
Now a professor of computer science and cognitive science in the College of Computing’s School of Interactive Computing, Goel also is the director of the School’s Ph.D. program in Human-Centered Computing.
He serves as director of Interactive Computing’s Design & Intelligence Laboratory, co-director of Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design, and a fellow of the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems.
He has been at Georgia Tech for 26 years.
“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why haven’t you moved?’ My answer is Georgia Tech changes into a new place every five years,” he said. “The changes here are so rapid.”
Online education is one area where Goel has seen many changes in the past five years. Another is interdisciplinary research.
“Interdisciplinary research has always been a major focus of Georgia Tech. It’s challenging,” he said. “The big difficulty is that we all speak different languages."
"I do a lot of work with biologists, engineers, and designers, and we all talk different languages. Sometimes, it takes a special effort to understand and appreciate each other. Going in you respect them, but that’s different from being able to understand them.”
One of Goel’s classes is Knowledge-Based Artificial Intelligence. He also teaches an online version of the course through Udacity. The class focuses on cognitive systems, examining human-level, human-like, and human-centered artificial intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence Course Creates AI Teaching Assistant
Professor Goel used IBM's Watson platform to design
Jill Watson, a virtual teaching assistant.
He has three learning outcomes for students in the course. The first one is for them to be able to understand and appreciate the new developments in artificial intelligence.
“We want them to be able to understand the basic concepts, methods, ideas and techniques so well that if tomorrow someone comes up with a new invention, the students will know what’s going on because of their deep understanding,” said Goel.
The second goal is to ensure the students are knowledgeable enough to use artificial intelligence in their own work, whether a company hires them or if they start their own company.
“The third learning outcome is we want students to be able to appreciate the majesty of their own intelligence,” Goel said.
“Artificial intelligence is very closely connected to human cognition. By building these AI machines, they will begin to appreciate how awesome human intelligence is.”
Throughout the semester, Goel administers three anonymous surveys to the class to find out what is working, what improvements could be made, and how the course compares to other courses they are taking. He also asks for feedback regarding the pace of the class.
“I want frequent feedback, so I’ll have an idea of what the students are thinking,” Goel said. “We take the feedback very seriously.”