Editor’s Note: Thanks to Microsoft Education for supporting this event
With the explosion of generative AI on the scene, it’s important to be intentional both as a technology leader and as an educator. What is “new and shiny” isn’t always what’s best for students and their learning, at least not right away. With the constant innovation in technology, it can also be overwhelming for educators to keep up with the pace of change.
This past month, I met with educational experts from various fields to discuss what is next in education and why the impact of generative AI like ChatGPT means that more than ever we need to keep our eye on the prize—student learning.
Please view the full recording here to hear directly from these amazing experts:
How do we keep educators from feeling overwhelmed?
As was mentioned at the beginning, the pace of change and innovation in education around technology is almost dizzying. It’s impossible to keep up with every new tool or idea that enters the fray. Educators can easily feel overwhelmed, which is why it’s important to sometimes “scale back” on initiatives and tools. I call this “strategic abandonment” a vital solution to combat teacher capacity issues. Martha Bongiorno, Media and Education Technology Instructor for Fulton County Schools, mentions that new technology “isn’t replacing good teaching, it’s just making it more personalized for our students.”
For staff that support teachers, it’s important to be vulnerable. They need to model the use of new tools and also be comfortable failing in front of staff and students to model the growth mindset needed when working with any technology. By model teaching or co-teaching, it provides an extra layer of comfort and confidence to the staff member that might be more reluctant or reticent to trying something new.
Technology hardware refreshes are a part of the life of the modern educator. Rob Dickson, Chief Information Officer at Wichita Public Schools, recently updated all staff devices to new Microsoft Surface Pro tablets. This represented a significant change in what they were used to from previous devices, which means a new learning curve. At the classroom level, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the steps that drive a change in device. For Rob and his staff, his primary focus was improving the learning outcomes for students and providing a consistent experience for teachers. For those teachers in Wichita Public Schools, his staff knew how important a device change like this would be if done well. As such, they dedicated time training staff on the Surface Pro devices. While some of this professional learning was showing them the ins and outs of the device, they also focused on how it could help “untether” their teaching through wireless display.
We must allocate time for this support and training, but we also need to allocate time for educators to adjust to the change. “Change takes time,” says Joe Brazier, Senior Business Strategy Manager for K12 Education at Microsoft. “We need to reduce the barriers to entry but also support and give teachers time to adjust to the change.” Implementation is so much more than just handing out a device and giving some training. That’s really just an introduction. To truly have full implementation, it takes years of consistent support and professional learning to truly embed a new tool in the classroom.
Keeping intention as the focal point
The pandemic caused all staff to rapidly innovate and, in some cases, adopt tools quickly to support learning. Now that we are somewhat past the pandemic and remote learning experience, we need to take a step back and reflect on what tools we are using and why. “We need to be more intentional,” Rob adds. As we reflect on the apps that we use, we should be analyzing large data sets to see what experiences truly make a difference with student learning.
In Fulton County Schools where Martha Bongiorno teaches, after analyzing the wide variety of tools in use, they decided to utilize Microsoft Teams as a platform for teaching and learning. As teachers quickly became overwhelmed with the flurry of tools and apps thrown their way during the pandemic, her district saw the need to create some level of uniformity with staff and students. Rather than spending precious time on learning new tools, having a uniform learning platform like Teams means educators can spend more time focusing on teaching students rather than a bevy of new tools that may or may not make an impact on learning outcomes.
Having some level of consistency with a platform and device from year to year also helps battle capacity concerns with staff. Coming out of the pandemic, a common narrative is that staff are overwhelmed with student behavior and lack of engagement. It becomes much more difficult to learn new things when they have reached their mental and emotional capacity.
Focusing on creativity and hands-on learning
The pandemic made educators focus on helping students understand the core standards. They used remote learning tools to disseminate information quickly and have students memorize and repeat that information back to them. However, as Martha points out, empowering students to create and demonstrate their learning should be the major focus now going forward. As most students now have access to a device and the internet, we are seeing some new gaps emerge in the digital divide. There may not be a gap in access, but there is a gap forming in how the tools are being used. Some schools promote creativity and collaboration through the use of technology, while others focus on rote memorization and reteaching through programmatic platforms.
Maintaining a secure learning environment is a team effort
New and shiny technology tools can be thrown at our district leaders on a regular basis. Districts should be encouraging staff to look at new and innovative tools, but they should be doing so through a lens of security as well.
Joe brings up a useful analogy when it comes to digital tools and security. “It doesn’t matter if I get new windows in my house, if I don’t put locks on them then anyone can get in,” he mentions.
Besides making sure the back end of the system is secure, we also need to continually educate our teachers and students about the importance of digital literacy and cyber security. Part of this challenge is making it a priority that we continually work with students and embed opportunities for lessons on digital citizenship and wellness. Martha mentioned that her district relies heavily on resources like Common Sense Media to help frame the daily discussion in the classroom around the use of devices and interaction on the internet.
While a majority of the responsibility in cyber security falls onto school CTOs, online safety should be owned by every member of the learning organization. Having a cohesive ecosystem from the cloud to authentication through app deployment can help put things in place to create an idyllic secure environment, but that needs to be supported at the classroom level as well.
Within the school organization, there needs to be cohesion between the CTO and the classroom teacher to truly make an impact on security and safety. Joe again revisits the windows analogy (appropriate given he works at Microsoft). “If we have someone watch our house but don’t show them how to lock the windows and set the alarms, then all the securities we put in place doesn’t really matter if they aren’t being used.” It truly takes a village to keep our data safe and our searches secure.
The skills students need for the future
Data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence and computer science are an important part of our students’ future. Rob mentions how important having a digital mindset is to prepare our students for the digital transformation happening throughout the industry going forward. With the influx of generative AI, we are on the precipice of an even larger digital transformation that will force our students and educators to be nimble and adaptable.
That said, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we necessarily should. Our students will continue to experience a rapid increase of media and tools thrown at them. As educators, we need to focus on the ethics behind the use of technology. Martha stresses that one future skill that will continue to rise in level of importance is the emotional intelligence of students. The ethics of what students use these new tools for will be even more important as we move into the age of generative AI.
Using generative AI ethically means that we need to constantly be asking questions like “why do we think this way or why did I do it this way,” Joe states. He stresses that now more than ever, we need teachers to be in front of students to model asking critical questions about all these new platforms. The educational industry is built through teaching and learning through the path of asking questions to build knowledge. This won’t change with the age of generative AI, it will just look different.
Preparing for What is Next in Education
Students now have access to devices like never before as well as tools like robotics, AR, VR, and the new AI tools like Microsoft’s Copilot that will help us become more adaptable and nimble in the future. We are literally just scratching the surface of generative AI and how it will impact education.
As we enter the exploratory phase of these tools, we don’t yet know the long-term impact they will have on learning and the classroom experience. Joe uses the gaming industry as an analogy for what is happening in education. “In the past, the game was very 2-dimensional, and you were forced to move on a certain path in a certain direction. Now with new games, you can explore in any direction.” Education is built on scope and sequences working students down a certain path given their age and subject area. But with the introduction of generative AI tools and increased access, students can now truly explore and design learning around subjects they are interested in.
Martha believes this means schools will finally have the opportunity to create a true personalized learning experience for students. They can work on authentic, real-world challenges to truly help those around them. The tools will change rapidly, but if we continue to focus on skills like creativity, empathy, and critical thinking, it doesn’t matter what the next tool will be, our students will be ready.
“We are about to re-humanize the education machine,” Rob adds. The impact generative AI will have on the workforce is particularly impressive. With these new tools, front-line workers will now have access to the knowledge work from before. This “democratized” access to knowledge is becoming more widespread and commonplace throughout the educational landscape. This means our focus will shift from what we do with new tools to how new tools can be used to make the world a better place.
If you are interested in more resources around the topics discussed on the show, please be sure to check out the full recording here. Additionally, Microsoft has tremendous resources to help schools navigate the educational landscape with tools like Surface and Teams. Check out those resources here.