When classrooms and conference rooms abruptly moved online three years ago, we all experienced moments of technical frustration. Whether dealing with connectivity issues or clumsy virtual interactions, which were sometimes accompanied by awkward background noises, we persisted. Fortunately, the education sector had time to smooth out some of these wrinkles, especially with improved connectivity and advancing technology such as artificial intelligence (AI).
Having seen such positive changes firsthand, Elliott Levine, director of worldwide public sector and education at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. is excited about the newest technologies and their impact on the learning experience. Before transitioning to EdTech, Levine enjoyed 30 years working in various positions in K-12 and higher ed. Levine’s wealth of experience has enabled him to understand what technology teachers and students need to foster 21st-century skills. Recently, EdSurge sat down with Levine to discuss how AI can enhance the learning experience.
EdSurge: How does Qualcomm fit into the equation of advancing the education sector?
Levine: Qualcomm brings connectivity, efficient processing and artificial intelligence to the edge. Connectivity is probably how Qualcomm offers the greatest impact in education. Most of your cellular networks—even a lot of your wireless networks—often rely on Qualcomm innovations. So 5G, 4G, LTE … those were technologies developed by Qualcomm that are used across the globe. And we introduce technologies in ways to make them more affordable and accessible to schools, districts and educational agencies.
Through our Qualcomm Wireless Reach Initiative, we work closely with partners to collaborate and identify local schools that need high-quality technology with the goal of bringing in connected solutions to drastically improve teaching and learning outcomes. The school is not only getting advanced devices powered by our latest processor technology and access to connectivity—many of these schools don’t even have WiFi available—but also introduced to curriculum teacher training and assessment elements to model the embracing of digital learning that can occur. This innovative approach has been working for well over 10 years. And I think it really demonstrates what’s possible when we look at connected learning not as a luxury but as a basic human right.
We are making advances with more embedded cellular devices, which include our platforms designed for Always On, Always Connected PCs. In addition to being built with 4G or 5G modems, they perform unlike other processors that can really consume a lot of power: what we’ve seen with Snapdragon technology is more like “sipping” power. So, while typical devices may get up to 10 hours of battery life before needing a charge, Chromebooks and PCs powered by Snapdragon get up to 20 hours of battery life. My Windows on Snapdragon laptop gets up to 28 hours of battery life, which helps me as I’m constantly on the go. But what this means is that students can check out a laptop from school to complete homework without the worry of lugging around or losing the charger. Classes can move outdoors since students and teachers don’t need to be tethered to an outlet. We’ve even seen instances where mobility-restricted students struggle in classrooms where power cords are dangling from desks to outlets. These are very tangible improvements that also help ensure learning continues after class.
How else does Qualcomm address the digital divide among students?
If we look at K-12 education on a worldwide level, the majority of learners don’t have internet access at home. We’re still contending with what is sometimes called digital poverty because a child without these resources and tools will face a lifetime of disadvantages. We’re very passionate about addressing digital poverty by bringing more connected solutions to the market. And at the same time, we’re trying to bring better computing experiences for those already with devices, as well as introduce mixed reality—both virtual and augmented—as key facets of immersive learning. We feel this is what’s next for digital education.
What teacher supports or professional learning community does Qualcomm offer?
With any new technology initiative in schools, you must think about a digital initiative like a stool. And any good stool has four legs on it. One of those legs is the hardware and the infrastructure. The second leg is technical knowledge and support. The third is the curriculum tools. The fourth leg is professional development, mentoring and coaching. If you leave any one of those legs out of the equation and try to sit on that stool, you’re going to end up on the floor. But Qualcomm is the whole package; we offer all four legs of the stool to provide a robust foundation of support for teachers and professionals in the learning community.
How does AI augment an educator’s role?
Great question. It can be hard to conceptualize AI, so I’ve started doing ‘60 seconds on Snapdragon’ videos to explain some of the AI functionality in our devices these days. As I mentioned, one of the things I love about the new devices running Windows on Snapdragon platforms, such as the newest ThinkPad X13s, isn’t just the battery life but the AI functionality that exists on the unit itself. One of those features is the built-in noise cancellation. Some of the other companies have tried to build a database of noises that they will analyze and block, which is more machine learning. We instead have true AI, and it works in a matter of TOPS—trillions of operations per second.
I wanted to show how well this noise cancellation worked. So I shot a video where I went into the middle of Times Square with all that noise. For the first 30 seconds, I was on my phone explaining it. For the next 30 seconds, I switched to my laptop and recorded the video to show exactly what it sounds like with the AI. No tricks. No prototype. It made such a difference! This is a big game changer, especially for teachers who create content, do virtual tutoring, hold virtual office hours or interact with parents online. This sort of functionality makes a world of difference.
What is your advice for educators who are hesitant to implement AI in the classroom?
First, start looking at some of the simple AI tools that could really help enhance a custom experience—just the littlest bit. Don’t be afraid to fail. We have some of our best learning take place in the midst of mistakes. Next, encourage the students to explore AI technology and try to apply it in the projects they’re doing. Not all AI is cloud-based, and much of it runs in the background on everyday devices we use, such as laptops and smartphones. Lastly, we must remember this will be the world today’s children are growing up in. These are the tools and resources they will need to rely upon. We can’t ignore them. We must embrace advancing technology and show students how to gain mastery in even higher critical thinking skills. Nonetheless, educators reading this are already off to a great start in researching what’s possible and learning what Qualcomm, in particular, is doing to help educators and students improve the teaching and learning experience in and outside the classroom.
Snapdragon is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.