Key points:

The edtech industry is experiencing explosive growth, especially with the rapid emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), which is projected to hit $3.68 billion in sales by the end of the year. It is increasingly clear that a key question we will all be answering in the coming school year will be: What should the role of technology be in K-12 education? This isn’t a new question, but one that is likely to take center stage this year.

Despite new technology solutions, teachers are still burned out, test scores remain sluggish, and pedagogical innovation is stifled. Many educators are overwhelmed by the revolving door of products and lack the resources and guidance to use digital tools to address students’ needs.

When properly integrated, AI can amplify the work of teachers, shrink equity and accessibility gaps, and provide unrestricted access to information. But for technology to make a meaningful change in K-12 education, we need to address the true source of the problem: broken instructional models.

Even though countless technology tools have been introduced into the market, classroom practice looks eerily similar to how it did a hundred years ago. That’s because educators are still equipped with an antiquated model of teaching that isn’t designed to be responsive to students’ learning styles. By leveraging AI and technology to rethink traditional teaching methodologies, we can level-set our classrooms to more effectively empower educators and personalize student learning.

A new approach to blended learning that benefits teachers and students

Research has found that when compared with traditional forms of teaching,self-paced learning enables students to develop a deeper understanding of academic material, and is correlated with higher achievement. Yet, most classrooms today are still dependent on live lectures and fixed-paced learning. 

In my high school math classroom, I struggled to meet my students’ needs using an obsolete, one-size-fits-all instructional model. Students were falling behind because they lacked the foundational skills to grasp new material, others felt unchallenged and unmotivated because they already understood the material, and some were continually playing catch-up due to chronic absenteeism or other extenuating circumstances.

I decided to embrace digital tools in a way that was opposite of what I – and the majority of my professional peers – were taught in training. I learned how to leverage technology to improve the student learning experience. Instead of employing a rigid, lecture-based teaching model, I utilized edtech to unleash my capacity to engage in more one-on-one and small-group interactions with students to effectively address their needs.

Whole class lectures were replaced by bite-sized recorded instructional videos I created, so my students could watch, rewind, and repeat as many times as needed, whether at school or at home, until they digested the material. To help students better retain information, I embedded guided questions as they watched. Rather than sit passively, students were fully engaged in the learning process.

When I was no longer tethered to whole-class lectures, I could spend class time working with students who required extra support individually or in small groups. In addition, students were able to pace themselves based on their current needs – students who understood a skill could skip ahead or help their classmates, while those who struggled with the material or were frequently absent, had the time and scaffolding they required to master the content.

What made a self-paced classroom so advantageous for students was that the class no longer progressed through content based on the day of the week. Instead, each student built foundational skills and only moved on to subsequent material after successfully demonstrating mastery on end-of-lesson assessments. I was able to clearly define goals for my students, and with the benefits of technology, could focus on the most important elements of teaching: data-driven, one-on-one, and small-group instruction.

Educators understand our students more than any digital solution ever could. While AI introduces a whole new level of functionality to the classroom, great teaching will always be based on building relationships with students and supporting them as they apply new information to complex tasks. AI will help teachers be great, but it won’t replace them.

To unlock the benefits of today’s technology in K-12 education, educators must be equipped with new instructional models that create differentiated student-learning environments, offer the freedom to leave class-wide lectures behind for one-on-one and small-group interactions, and make the teaching profession more sustainable. Only then can teachers truly leverage the advantages of emerging AI and technology.

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