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Automation Technology is the New Panacea of Education

By Sam Farsaii, CTO, Coppell ISD

Sam Farsaii, CTO, Coppell ISD

Steps schools can take to foster innovation and growth

Innovation is the latest vogue in education. How can we promote creativity and innovation? Sometimes the issue is deeper than what it seems. The reality is that automation is forcing us to be creative. The storm of change is brewing and I think our educational belief will dictate our fate.

Automation is nothing new. It constantly changes most aspects of our lives from farming and factories to the office workspace. However, intelligent automation is taking a new and larger slice out of the workforce. I recall teaching my computer science students back in the 80’s about algorithms. If you can write a step-by-step description for a job, then those jobs will probably be automated soon. However, today the more complex tasks that require intricate thinking and just-in-time decision-making are being automated and the realm is fast expanding. IBM Cognitive Business Solutions such as Watson will be pervasive according to Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM. Organizations who are seeking data scientists and white collar workers such as system analysts, engineer, lawyers, accountants, or doctors are no exception. As MIT management professors, Brynjolfsson and McAfee have articulated in their recent research studies, we are in the second age of automation, where thinking is now in the realm of the machine. Thinking is no longer a niche-market just for the humans.

For years, educators have been encouraged to help students scaffold learning using great frameworks such as Bloom’s Taxonomy (remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create). The premise being that there should be less emphasis on remembering facts that are available at our smartphone fingertips and more emphasis on applying the knowledge. Unfortunately today that is not enough. Now that the thinking machines can apply, analyze, and evaluate, we are only left with the creating phase, the highest level of the blooms taxonomy.

To be creative, one must be passionate and fully engaged in the subject at hand. To engage students, teachers need not only to teach at the highest level, but also to incorporate authentic, age-appropriate, and real-life experiences. If it is not relevant and meaningful to students, it is readily dismissed. This is a formidable task for a classroom teacher, but technology can help.

As the price of student devices drop (now cheaper than a pair of athletic shoes), we have to grapple with the new realities. Today’s incoming tech-savvy kindergartners, who have learned to swipe and navigate the screen before mastering their alphabet, will have neither the interest nor the attention span to hear a teacher lecture for one solid hour. Is there a wonder why kids hate school? Is it even conceivable to question the appropriateness of technology as an integral part of teaching and learning?

Many schools have adopted technology integration as the new panacea. Some with great emphasis and planning, others are jumping on the “me-too” technology bandwagon. They are hoping the technology magic wand will solve all their inherent complex problems. While some schools integrate technology successfully, others fail miserably. Media, pundits, and experts next philosophize, “Is technology good for schools?” Technology is just the tool! What we do with it determines the outcome. There is no shortcut, or substitute for planning. The scrutiny should not be about technology; the proof is already out there. Technology impacts all aspects of our lives. Like it or not, it is here to stay.

Technology can empower teachers and students to reduce the gaps and barriers to individualized learning. Hence, many schools have adopted technology in a one-to-one setting to help eradicate these challenges. Learning-how-to-learn using a vast array of resources helps students overcome what they are lacking. It also helps them become self-sufficient problem solvers - a skill set that will serve them well throughout their dynamic and fast-changing careers in the future.

I believe the most important factor in success of technology integration is the alignment of the community and the schools. Designing a plan and realizing that a well-planned program will run into unanticipated obstacles, but advanced planning, goals, and milestones help keep us on the true target and remove the obstacles.The question should be framed around what is the plan, what is the expected outcome, then measure the millstones.

"Technology can empower teachers and students to reduce the gaps and barriers to individualized learning"

Next, the school leadership buy-in is a critical factor in the success of the program. If the buy-in, team building and conviction are not in place, the program will fail miserably. To develop teachers who still do not feel comfortable with technol­ogy requires patience paired with milestones and high ex­pectations. Despite the com­mon notion, there are experienced teachers with buy-in who are more effective those younger, tech-savvy teachers who do not see the value of technology in the classroom. It is a belief system that needs to be cultivated overtime. Patience and appropriate frameworks help teachers measure their own progress on the continuum of the blooms tax­onomy. Individualized learning applies to teachers as well as students. A self-di­rected teacher supported by clearly defined goals and expectations, guided by a nurtur­ing campus leader will succeed.

Regardless of whether a school chooses to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) or the school provides one (1:1), the infrastructure has to be in place to support this enormous effort. Schools and districts need to plan strategically. This includes building on the knowledge and experience of existing successful programs, defining the needs, the gaps, and the goals through collaboration between the administration and the community to cultivate the buy-in and success criteria.

Let’s create a nurturing learning environment for students and teachers. An atmosphere where they can safely make mis­takes, and develop those into valuable experiences to become creative successful leaders. Today, every student should have a global learning community, a social network of collaborative partners. Students need to explore solutions to complex prob­lems with others across the continents, tackle solving real world issues, and touch people’s lives in real time. We need relation workers as well as knowledge workers of tomorrow. Not only does technology empower just-in-time learning, but also helps students break race, ethnicity, economics, and culture barriers locally and globally.

There is a vast need for support and educators can’t do it all alone:
• Fast Internet and wireless technology need to be ubiquitous across schools.
• Universities that realize this infinite potential have a long road ahead restructuring teacher development programs to remain relevant.
• The media needs to focus on what works and celebrate successes too.
• Textbook publishers should stop pushing outdated and archaic paper products.
• Digital content is here to stay but standards are lacking and frustrating schools. There is a need to promote transparent authentication and interoperability.
• Disparate and unstructured student data needs to be harnessed and analyzed to help discover students innate potential. There is too much assessment and not enough insight.

The true assessment of learning is to help students develop creative solutions to complex problems, leading into economic growth through innovation while nourishing their souls. It is at this level that we can harness the machines to follow our lead into innovation and  train them to take over our present mundane jobs.. Create and lead innovation, or follow in the footsteps of automation. The choice is ours.

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