Sinead Bovell, a futurist and keynote speaker at ISTELive 24, says artificial intelligence will cause a sea change that schools cannot ignore.

Jun 24 2024

ISTELive 2024: Educators Must Give Students a Competitive Advantage Over AI

Failing to adopt this transformational technology is no longer acceptable, speakers say.

To help her audience better understand the earthshaking impact of generative artificial intelligence, futurist Sinead Bovell, one of the keynote speakers at ISTELive 24 in Denver, compared AI to electricity.

Bovell — the founder of WAYE (Weekly Advice for Young Entrepreneurs)— told attendees at the conference’s opening session on Sunday that AI, like electricity, will soon become so deeply embedded in the fabric of society that educators must prepare students to work with it.

“Would you send your child to school if the school was having electrical troubles?” she asked conferencegoers. “Would we deem it to be wildly unethical that kids can't get stable access to electricity? That is the power of general-purpose technologies.”

Ultimately, people will not be able to imagine life without general-purpose technologies such as AI and “will have to reconfigure our entire existence around them,” she said.

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“We don’t decide to lean in or out of electricity,” Bovell said, adding that society will be so radically transformed by AI that instead of preparing students for specific jobs, educators will need to train them to solve problems. That will require rethinking the foundational skills that students need in the future.

“Kids need to learn how to read better, more deeply and at younger ages,” Bovell said. “They need to think more critically about ideas and what they're reading. And when we think about the sophistication of some of these AI systems that are coming in the future, imagination and play will become a competitive advantage.”

EXPLORE: Why generative AI is a tech enabler.

Educators Have a Responsibility to Understand AI

What will this mean for educators? Speaking from the main stage, Richard Culatta, CEO of ISTE+ASCD, posed this question to the audience.

“As educators, we have the responsibility to become really deeply informed of what AI is, and how it works,” he answered, adding that one of the most common concerns about AI is that students will use the tool to cheat.

“Cheating is a cultural problem, not a technological one,” Culatta said. “We have research from Stanford that's been tracking this for many years, showing that 70 percent of high school students regularly cheat.”

Notably, when those researchers looked at cheating after the introduction of AI, the rate of cheating remained the same.

“Giving or banning access to a tool doesn't actually make much of a difference” Culatta explained. “If we want to do something about cheating, we can make sure assessments are relevant. We need to ask, what are the possibilities and limitations of AI? How can we use it to adapt learning? This means that as educators, we have to understand how AI really works.”

To help students succeed in a world where AI is a keystone technology, Culatta said, educators must focus on honing uniquely human skills.

“AI is really good at generating lots of options, but humans are far better at discerning what the right options are,” Culatta said. “The cool part is, when we know what we need in terms of human skills, we can start designing school around those things, and we can practice using AI to help us be better at being human.”

RELATED: Students who know how to use AI will become employable adults.

Start Slow When Bringing AI into Schools

How do schools start the journey of integrating AI into learning, purposefully and meaningfully? They might want to begin by taking time to “win hearts and minds” as to why learning AI is necessary — and that takes time, said Amos Fodchuk, founder and president of Advanced Learning Partnerships, an educational consultant firm that has been helping schools implement AI.

“Generative AI is not just another ed tech tool,” Fodchuk said in his session on scaling generative AI. For successful AI integration, “schools will need an actual, thoughtful, systems-aligned approach to taking this likely transformative technology and aligning it with policy, with frameworks, with guidelines and with principles.”

He went on to share examples of resources that schools are using to adopt AI, and recommended that schools develop a year-of-learning plan with low-stakes opportunities for educators to try out generative AI tools and develop practical but rigorous practices to achieve generative AI integration goals.

Instead of letting the technology lead, Fodchuk said, educators need to be good stewards of their communities when implementing AI. He also compared AI to the transformational power that social media had when it first emerged 15 years ago. Being thoughtful about AI can help schools avoid some of the pitfalls of social media, he added.

“If you try to go too quickly, you're going to leave people behind,” he explained. “You're going to be making up policy once events happen, as opposed to being proactive about setting your guidelines and frameworks first.”

To stay up to date on everything at this year’s ISTE conference, bookmark this page and follow along on the social platform X at @EdTech_K12 or with the hashtag #ISTELive.

Photography by Taashi Rowe

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