1-to-1 Devices & AI in Schools: Is EdTech in 2024 Too Techy?

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Over the years we've been lucky to have had the opportunity to work with some really amazing K-12 schools, helping them with their IT infrastructure, as well as their faculty, student and teacher devices. I particularly like working with schools because they present unique challenges from an implementation perspective but also, from a service delivery perspective. Helping an office user with a printer is a wholly different task from helping a teacher help their grade 2 student with a Chromebook issue. There's also a certain satisfaction that's derived from knowing the work we're doing is directly helping educators in their mission to prepare their students for the world ahead.

I recently attended the Future of Educational Technology Conference in Orlando. It's a nationwide conference that connects educators and those who support educators (administrators, counselors etc.) to one another. One of the focuses of the conference is to provide educators with opportunities to fulfill CPE requirements. This means that there were a lot of interesting sessions and workshops around supporting the diversity of students, managing and working within the resource limits of campuses, leadership discussions, using new tools to support learning and more.

As an aside, one of the coolest things I saw at the conference was the Lego booth where they had middle-school solutions for teaching students basic engineering and programming using Lego bricks connected to actuators and motors which can be programmed. As someone who played with Lego growing up, my inner child was ecstatic at the idea that one could in theory go to school and play nee, learn with Lego. If you're interested check out https://education.lego.com/en-us/.

The first trend in educational technology I'd like to discuss is One-to-One student devices. We started helping schools with 1-to-1 programs in the mid-2010's as devices became a little more affordable and the industry as a whole was extolling the advantages of each student having their own laptop or tablet. This was the seemingly natural next step as schools went from having one or two computers that students could access and use to having computer labs, to shared devices, the student-to-device ratio shrinking each time. One of the arguments for 1-to-1 programs was that they democratized access to technology. There would always be inequalities between students who had access to technology at home and those who did not. If schools assigned devices to each student, not to share or borrow but to have and use as their own for the duration of a school year then, the thinking was, that all students had a more equal foundation of tools and materials to start from. It didn't solve every problem, like ensuring all students had internet access or a quiet place to do homework and study but it was a start.

In 2020 when everything closed and students were sent home, 1-to-1 programs went from a slow multi-year roll-out to an urgent and immediate need, these devices being necessary to enable remote learning. Millions of devices were purchased and distributed to students and now, four years on, 1-to-1 programs have moved from trend to status-quo. This was certainly demonstrated at the conference with sessions dedicated specifically to device management or vendors holding sessions specifically focused on using their devices in the classroom to improve students' learning experience. Interestingly, we're starting to see pushback in some regions on the heavy reliance on devices for student education, especially for younger learners. Sweden for example just approved legislation that will remove 1-to-1 devices from classrooms for kindergarten students [1].

The other trend I must mention is "AI". This education conference was chock full of sessions, and products; even the second-day keynote was dedicated entirely to Chat GPT. "AI" is the new blockchain and everyone can't help but talk about it even in education. The Education Week homepage, for example, currently has seven stories about AI. I was skeptical of the practical uses of generative "AI" in education and in the classroom specifically but one of the sessions I attended that was given by two members of Microsoft's Education technology team did get me to think of the practical uses.

My primary reservation with the current "generative AI" craze is that I believe that while it's very well branded the "AI" part is exceedingly misleading. There's nothing "intelligent" in the way Large Language Models work. We've just gotten a computer program to guess which word is likely to come next in a sentence given the word came previously. Impressive? Sure. Intelligent? I don't think so but the branding is so good that it leads one to want to believe there are some "smarts" , some actual "thinking" being done by the machine. Seems like, on the surface, like a disaster waiting to happen if it's used in an educational environment. All tools, however, are very powerful if used judiciously. The Microsoft session demonstrated how middle-school teachers could use Microsoft's generative "AI" product to help with lesson planning while ensuring that those lesson plans adhered to education and testing standards required by the state. The keyword in the previous sentence, in case you missed it, is help. I liken it to having a high school student create a first rough draft of a lesson plan for you. It should be a good place to start but you're going to need to put some work into getting it ready to actually teach in class to your students. In helping, generative "AI" can also help with ideation which educators can then apply their experience and knowledge to build the complete and compliant lesson.

Certainly, I can see the advantages of using generative "AI '' as an educator to help do more with less and it seems more schools, districts and counties are coming to the same conclusion. Australia recently released a framework for guiding the use of "AI'' in their schools [2] and late last year New York Public Schools announced the creation of an Artificial Intelligence Policy Lab to help figure out how to best implement and use the burgeoning technology, in stark contrast to their previous decision to ban its use entirely [3].

We'll continue to observe where and how educational technology continues to evolve and what trends emerge throughout the year. In the meantime, we love working with educators and schools. If you have any questions or just want to chat about technology please reach out to us on LinkedIn or email us at solutions@invizio.com


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/11/sweden-says-back-to-basics-schooling-works-on-paper

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2024/jan/23/chatgpt-in-australian-schools-what-you-need-to-know-law-changes

[3] https://www.edweek.org/technology/180-degree-turn-nyc-schools-goes-from-banning-chatgpt-to-exploring-ais-potential/2023/10


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