Nader Qaimari, President, Follett School Solutions
Educational technology is clearly here to stay, although at every turn it seems what we anticipate will happen is exactly the opposite of what actually occurs.
Take ebooks, for example. “Books will soon be obsolete in public schools. Scholars will be instructed through the eye. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years,” Thomas Edison said 115 years ago. For many years since then, futurists continued to purport that the entire print industry would soon be overturned in favor of a fully digital classroom. Some even went so far to say teachers would no longer be needed.
"Instructing a class full of students staring at laptops is very different than guiding a class through a traditional lesson"
Now, in 2018, ebooks have barely made a mark on the classroom. Even my two-year-old, who would love to spend her entire day on YouTube if allowed, still puts our iPad down and walks over to pick up hardcover picture books when given a choice.
The reality in our educational system is highly complicated, and significant change is not arrived at easily. First, there are hardware issues. But that is usually the easiest problem to solve as witnessed by the myriad of districts with 1:1 initiatives. Second, there are broadband issues, where slow internet, or lack of access altogether, is still a problem in many classrooms. Third, and most importantly, there are professional development and workflow issues. Technology cannot just be “implemented.” Teachers, curriculum departments, IT departments, and everyone in between have to completely change their behavior and workflow to ensure students don’t regress when technology is introduced.
Instructing a class full of students staring at laptops is very different than guiding a class through a traditional lesson. Success happens when all aspects are redesigned.
Part of the problem with “edtech” is we don’t always know what problem we are trying to solve. A lot of the ebook noise was actually driven by publishers, who saw it as an opportunity to reinvent their business and generate more revenue through new channels. This is especially evident in the textbook industry, which has been consistently declining for the past 10 years and looked toebooks to help eliminate the used-book business. In reality, students never had issues comprehending content in a print medium; in fact, studies have shown ebooks lead to less comprehension.
It’s actually the workflow around instruction that is broken. There are so many inefficiencies in a teacher’s day that cause him or her to have so little time to actually teach. Teachers deal with disciplinary problems, grading, lesson creation and planning, state testing, inattentive parents, lack of professional development, and so many other things that it is laughable to really expect them to fully differentiate, personalize, engage and teach—all things that likely drove them to the profession in the first place.
This is where technology can truly make a difference. One of the most exciting developments of recent times, and one that has the potential to change how we learn and live, is the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). While machine learning has been around for a long time, its implementation is getting tremendously sophisticated, and more importantly, helpful. First, accept that AI will not replace teachers. But when you couple teachers with systems that use AI to automate different aspects of their workflow, you create more time for teachers to teach.
Imagine if …
• … a system could handle 80 percent of the alignments of content to standards for teachers, making the implementation of Open Educational Resources and other available materials completely useful in instruction.
• … such content also could be aligned to assessment questions of various types, measuring the mastery of concepts and progress.
• … this worked with any content, be it a print book in the classroom or library, a video, an OER website, or a chapter from a textbook. All the time currently spent on building instruction could be reallocated to so many other things.
• … the system learned about students’ interests, proficiencies and deficiencies, and their goals, with the ability to recommend the right piece of content at the right moment, all the time. If it knew everything about them, their learning style, and what they need to succeed, the teacher would then be there to support and reinforce the student’s personal journey.
Limited time is the problem. If we can use artificial intelligence to create more time for teachers to teach, students will succeed.
There’s no doubt that technology has potential in education. We just need to focus it on the right problems that need solving.