“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” (John Dewey; American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer; 1859-1952.)
“The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing.” (Chris Dede; American computer educator and futurist; from written statement to the PCAST panel, 1997.)
TThis newsletter has two purposes. The first is to publicize my new book, The Future of AI in Our Schools. The book is based on the previous nine newsletters that subscribers to the IAE Newsletter have received. The second is begin to explore possible changes we can (and probably should) make in our educational systems as we humans continue to make technological progress in developing tools to aid our physical and cognitive capabilities. The next two paragraphs accomplish my first goal. The remainder of this newsletter and the next one focus on the second.
The Future of AI in Our Schools is a substantial rewrite of the nine IAE Newsletters. Thus, even if you have read the newsletters, I believe you will want to read the book. During my long career, I have authored and co-authored a very large number of books. In my personal opinion, this is the most important and best book I have ever written. The chapter titles are: Artificial Intelligence, Goals of Education, Overview of Artificial Intelligence, The Future of Education in a World of AI, More About the Future of Education in a World of AI, A Gift to Humanity, Concerns About the Uses of AI in Education, and Major Changes Are On the Horizon.
I hope that you will read the book and share it with others. As you do this, I hope you will share with me your thoughts and suggestions about ideas in the book, and also details of the distribution efforts you have made on behalf of the book.
The English language version of this short 75-page book is available free online at:
Here are three questions faced by our world’s schools.
- What constitute a good modern education?
- How do we go about providing this good modern education to all of the children of our world?
- Looking further into the future, how do we provide the children of today’s children with a good modern education, as the current rapid pace of change in our world continues, and perhaps accelerates?
I am reminded of the quote from Robert Christy, “A fool can ask more questions than seven wise men can answer.” (Bartleby.com, n.d., link.) You and I, along with my many other readers and many of the people you know, constitute a very large number of wise people. Together, we can provide answers and courses of action that will indeed contribute to making substantial progress in addressing these very important educational questions.
Today’s schools face the challenge of making the changes needed in order to take full advantage of the increasingly rapid advances that are occurring during our current Information Age. Computers and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are fueling these changes. The computers continue to become more and more capable, and the progress with AI is almost unbelievable.
You have heard the quotation, “Think globally, act locally.” Historically, schools have been a local activity. Children learned reading writing, and arithmetic in a local school, typically one within easy walking distance of their homes. In school, they associated with other children who were their neighbors. Student received little exposure to the world outside of their local neighborhood.
Technology, such as trains, cars, airplanes (and more recent transportation innovations), telephone, radio, television, audio and video recording and playback devoices, and today’s computer and Internet certainly have changed this long-stable situation. As a computer educator, I have found it to be interesting and enlightening to watch efforts being made to bring Computer-assisted Learning (CAL) into children’s homes, especially during the year-long rush to online teaching brought on by the COVID pandemic. This has not been very successful.
Other changes have occurred. In the “Good Old Days,” a typical family with children had two or more parents, grandparents, and/or close relatives helping to raise the children. We know this creates one-on-one learning situations that can be a very good approach to education. Over the past hundred years, changes in family life patterns have brought us to a time when a steadily growing number of school-age children are living with only one parent and far away from other family members. Many others live in two-parent households, but with both parents working outside the home.
We now expect schools to play a major role in the education of children, teaching many of the skills and information they learned at home in earlier times. However, typical U.S. schools nowadays have class sizes of 20 to 30 (often more) students. In terms of student learning, this is very far from ideal.
We can argue about what an appropriate class size might be. I think a good starting point for this discussion would be a class size of about eight to ten students. That size gives students the opportunity to interact with each other both socially and academically, and allows the teacher the opportunity to provide considerable one-on-one help for students as needed and/or appropriate.
It also is important to be aware of research on the effectiveness of individual tutoring. If the only goal of school were for students to make academic progress in the subjects they study, then providing each student with an individual tutor would be the “gold standard.” However, our schools cannot afford this approach, and it may well not be the ideal in terms of students making good progress in becoming independent, self-sufficient, and socially adept learners. In the next newsletter I will discuss current and possible futures of the computer-as-tutor. I easily can envision a time when every student has this type of individualized tutoring.
Our current approach to education places considerable emphasis on students first learning to read and then learning how to read to learn. Reading materials can be thought of as a partial substitute for a human teacher. Indeed, with a little stretch of the imagination one might think of a book as an individual tutor. While many students do reasonably well in this book-assisted instructional environment, a great many do not.
Moreover, book-assisted instruction is becoming more and more outdated. Over the years, we have added a wide variety of audio and video media as supplements to reading. This helps, but still does not create a learning environment nearly as good as we would like for it to be.
The CAL that we have been developing for more than fifty years can be thought of as a modernization of book-assisted instruction, and it still has substantial room for improvement. One of CAL’s benefits over traditional academic books is that we can gather research data as students participate in CAL. In fact, CAL lends itself to improvement through research much more than do traditional print books.
A second challenge is the combination of computers and AI designed to aid our physical and cognitive capabilities. This affects teaching and learning in two major ways. First, AI-using computers and machines can solve many of the problems and accomplish many of the tasks that students traditionally learned to handle by using their human capabilities combined with simpler aids such as pencil and paper. This possible change to curriculum content is controversial. Although we have had inexpensive calculators for more than fifty years, we still do not have full agreement on the extent that their use should be allowed on tests. Can you stretch your mind to considering the possibility of students taking open Web-connected tests as a routine tool for assessing their academic progress? This is, after all, the environment that they will function in as adults.
Here is another part of the AI-based computer challenge to our educational system. Suppose that an AI-based computer system can be a major aid in solving a type of problem or accomplishing a type of task that students previously learned to handle without the use of computers and AI. Suppose even further that the problem or task is one that we believe our students should be learning about and perhaps solving in school. What should our schools be doing about this situation? As a simple example, when I was in high school, advanced math courses taught us how to calculate the square root of a number using a paper-and-pencil algorithm. This has disappeared from the math curriculum, replaced by students learning to use the square root key on an inexpensive calculator.
A third challenge is the rapidly growing worldwide accessibility to the constantly expanding collection of human knowledge. When my children were beginning school, my wife and I were proud of our ability to provide them with set of encyclopedias to use at home. This amazing collection of books offered so much information on so many subjects! A typical school classroom of that time had perhaps one set of encyclopedias, or the encyclopedia(s) could be found only in the school library. Today’s Web has many million times the content of that set of encyclopedias, and our schools are making good progress in providing every student with online computer access to the Web, both at home and at school.
Personally, I find this amazing. In my everyday life, I have the Web at my fingertips or at my voice command. Here I can access the Wikipedia that now serves as an encyclopedia for much of the world’s population, and yet it is only a very small part of the Web. Just as the English version of the Wikipedia alone requires about 150 gigabytes of storage. Very roughly speaking, one gigabyte is about the equivalent of a thousand full-length books with some illustrations. So, when I access the Wikipedia, I am making use of a collection of documents that is thousands of times as long as the set of encyclopedias my wife and I were so proud to own and make available to our children.
Easy access to the Web via a computer, cell phone, or another device is a potentially huge change agent for schools. Before we had reading and writing, people learned by a combination of memorization, understanding, and practice. These same skills are still very useful, but reading and writing now provide an important aid to one’s brain in locating and using acquired knowledge and understanding. Reading-based online information retrieval certainly has become a useful partial substitute for rote memory.
Today’s interactive multimedia-based Web is both an aid to learning and an aid to using one’s learning. Moreover, as AI continues to make progress, these computer-based systems will be able to accomplish many more of the tasks that we formerly had to do by using only our own personal brain and body. This huge change is and will continue to be a challenge as we strive to adjust the current curriculum, instructional materials, teaching strategies, and assessments to make effective use of the possibilities now being made available in our educational systems and in everyday life outside of school.
It took about 5,300 years to develop the types of schools that were serving us at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. These schools were based mainly on reading and writing text. Since then, schools have made progress in adapting to the many new non-computer-based technologies made available over the past 200 years. We now face the task of making the changes necessary to take full advantage of today’s AI-based computer aids to teaching and learning. This challenge is occurring at a time when we are making rapid progress in increasing the capabilities of AI-based computer systems. This is a formidable challenge that we will continue to explore in the next newsletter.
Bartleby.com (n.d.). Proverbs, maxims and phrases of all ages. Retrieved 5/2/2021 from https://www.bartleby.com/89/660.html.
Kramer, S. (12/12/2019). U.S. has world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. Pew Research Center. Retrieved 5/4/2021 from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/12/12/u-s-children-more-likely-than-children-in-other-countries-to-live-with-just-one-parent/.
My Typewriter.com. The classic typewriter store. Retrieved 5/6/2021 from http://mytypewriter.com/explorelearn/.
SchoolMart. (3/29/2017). The calculator: A brief history. Retrieved 5/5/2021 from https://www.schoolmart.com/blog/.
David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology (now published by ISTE as Empowered Learner). He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles.