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10 Questions Worth Asking to Help Every Student Succeed

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Education writers gathered at Georgetown University last week to compare notes. I discussed three megatrends and suggested 10 related questions for reporters, parents, and teachers.

1. AI and exponential technology. Computing, storage, and access are almost free. It's most evident in global Internet access. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is less evident but is becoming ubiquitous and ultimately even more important. We live, work, and play (and are starting to learn) on digital platforms that incorporate AI (listen to a podcast with Platform Revolution author Sangeet Chowdary).

AI and related enabling technologies (robotics, sensors, diagnostics, CRISPR) will lead to a tremendous benefit in all aspects of life--better health, more convenient transportation, a reduction in repetitive tasks, and more personalized services.

Most jobs will be augmented with smart technology, then in waves, many will be replaced. Pew Research reported "artificial intelligence (AI) in recent times have shown they can do equal or sometimes even better work than humans who are dermatologists, insurance claims adjusters, lawyers, seismic testers in oil fields, sports journalists and financial reporters, crew members on guided-missile destroyers, hiring managers, psychological testers, retail salespeople, and border patrol agents. Moreover, there is growing anxiety that technology developments on the near horizon will crush the jobs of the millions who drive cars and trucks, analyze medical tests and data, perform middle management chores, dispense medicine, trade stocks and evaluate markets, fight on battlefields, perform government functions, and even replace those who program software - that is, the creators of algorithms."

As smart machines augment and then replace labor, financial returns are shifting from labor to capital--the winners in the automation economy will be the developers, owners, and financiers of robots and other enabling technology that deploys AI. This makes more income inequality inevitable. Think people are ticked now, just wait.

What's the solution? Well, that's complicated but it is worth discussing. It's why we're scheduling regional summits around the country to discuss the implications of AI as part of our #AskAboutAI series. After discussing what's happening, we'll ask these questions:


  • How is your community responding to the rise of smart machines and the automation economy?

  • Is there a conversation about income inequality?

  • How is your region strengthening job training and social services?


2. Redefining readiness. As discussed last week, the ability to self-manage, interact successfully and make good decisions (often called social emotional learning) pays big life dividends. The ability to apply creative know-how in new situations is at least as important as historical and technical knowledge. States, districts, and networks are adopting broader aims including growth mindset, social emotional learning, and character strengths. In March, EdLeader21 launched the Profile of a Graduate campaign (#profileofagraduate); the new website includes a gallery of adopted profiles and an implementation guide.

The mash-up of urbanization, globalization, and automation--and the resulting collision with natural systems-- is creating waves of unexpected events. We think building agency, resourcefulness, and creativity is particularly important right now. Design thinking is the swiss army knife of the automation economy. Extended, collaborative, community connected challenges can help (we identified 13 onramps to the new economy). Job #1: help kids figure out how they learn best.

Questions worth asking:


  • Are districts and networks rethinking graduate profiles?

  • Are they asking how AI should change expectations and experiences?

  • Are schools providing feedback on mindsets and habits of success?


3. Personalized learning. If you're a teacher or parent, you know that no two kids develop in the same way, at the same rate, and for the same reasons. The chance to help every child learn in the best way for them is right around the corner. Most U.S. schools are at or beyond an Internet device for every student but, in most schools, use remains partial and has not been transformational.

The good news is that most intermediate and middle-grade students are getting lots of literacy and numeracy feedback, the bad news is that it's not easy to combine into easy to use data visualizations with suggested next steps. That will take interoperability--a set of sector agreements that define access to and combinations of student data.

Erin Mote, CEO of InnovateEDU, and co-founder of Brooklyn LAB, noted that personalization goes well beyond technology to a culture that respects differences, tailored supports, and voice and choice in the work.

Personalized learning is promising but challenging today. Add project-based learning to better engage students, build agency, promote collaboration and the combo is really challenging. Add aligned student supports, teacher learning opportunities, and technology tools and you have a set of challenges that individual schools should not take on alone. We think schools networks (or districts that act like one) are a big part of the solution. Networks that share a learning model, EdTech tools, and professional learning experiences (like New Tech Network, Summit Learning and program networks like AVID and PLTW) are promising.

Questions worth asking:


  • How are schools providing equitable access to technology? Take home technology? WiFi partnerships?

  • Do all students get access to powerful learning experiences including integrated projects, coding, and maker opportunities?

  • Are students asked to do challenging work and produce products they and their communities can be proud of?

  • Are they using design thinking to attack new challenge?


We are at a powerful time in history as exponential technology and AI change how we live, work and learn faster than ever before. This shift is causing schools, educators and parents to redefine what ready means for our students and truly personalize learning for all students. As these trends shape how we live and learn, it's time to start asking these questions and participating in conversations in our communities.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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