Why should school leaders care about Artificial Intelligence?

March 30, 2019


Artificial Intelligence has the promise to be the next step change in technology’s impact on human life. What should school leaders know and do? This post walks through the basics of what AI is, why it’s important for student life and learning, and five practical steps leaders can take to prepare their communities to succeed.

So, what AI is and why is it important to our kids? Here’s a 5-minute primer:

What is AI?

Pierce and Hathaway from T.H.E. Journal offer this concise definition

Artificial intelligence is a broad term used to describe any technology that emulates human intelligence, such as by understanding complex information, drawing its own conclusions and engaging in natural dialog with people. 

Machine learning is a subset of AI in which the software can learn or adapt like a human can. Essentially, it analyzes huge amounts of data and looks for patterns in order to classify information or make predictions. The addition of a feedback loop allows the software to “learn” as it goes by modifying its approach based on whether the conclusions it draws are right or wrong.”

Why is AI important to students’ lives?

We want our kids to be the magicians, not the ones watching the show.

“The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You’re going to look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else.” – Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve.  

In the 1990’s, the “magicians” were those who could create a website. Today, they’re providing translation of presentations in real-time. They’re giving robots the ability to learn to walk. They’re surprising us with what we need before we even ask. We owe our kids the opportunity to be the magicians rather than be those amazed, and perhaps controlled, by the technologies that will surround them.

Our kids must be able to identify what types of work will be automated and what work will endure.

In the World Economic Forum’s “Top 10 Ethical Issues” in AI, unemployment is the first issue listed. In a world where computers can learn repetitive tasks, students must train themselves towards fields that depend on uniquely human abilities. Princeton’s head of computer science, Jennifer Rexford, identifies critical, non-automated skills as “creativity and social perceptiveness and design and working in teams.” If advances in AI are not on their radar, students may pour time and resources into training for roles that have a 5- to 10-year lifespan.

Why is AI important to students’ learning?

AI has the potential to take on both distribution and assessment of rote learning concepts. Early trials indicate that machine learning can more effectively and efficiently “teach” this sort of content to students. AI is learning to take on a range of teaching tasks – everything from entry-level questions about the syllabus to full essay scoring. Where does this leave the teacher? More and more firmly in the seat of learning coordinator and unit designer. Teachers must realize the inherent biases that can come with AI, training their students to recognize these and design better systems in their places.

Where could a leader start?

  1. Sign up for AI Family Challenge and learn with your own family
  2. Invite a tech-interested teacher to present to your faculty the 5 big ideas presented in the article “Envisioning AI for K-12: What should every child know about AI?
  3. Talk with students about how a diverse team protects code from bias
  4. Ask your curriculum leaders to what degree AI is being leveraged in software programs used to deliver customized learning paths to your students.
  5. Request details from technology providers about what data they access and what they do with it. 

School leaders should care about artificial intelligence because AI is going to dramatically change the world their students see 10 to 15 years from now. At their best, our schools provide students choice-filled lives, and we must prepare for those choices in light of a technology as disruptive as AI.