Google executive: AI could ‘turn’ school into a ‘personal learning experience’

The idea of ​​personalized learning in K-12 education is definitely not new. But in recent years, there has been an increased focus on ensuring students have more personalized learning experiences to help them catch up or accelerate their learning.

With the recent advances in artificial intelligence and other adaptive technologiesthere are more ways to transform the future of school into a more personal learning experience, suggests Shantanu Sinha, vice president and general manager of Google for Education.

Google’s products are very popular with K-12 educators. Many teachers use Google Classroom to share assignments with students, and most districts have turned to Chromebooks during the pandemic to provide the 1 to 1 calculation.

However, some critics have raised concerns about the downsides of a big tech company like Google having so much influence over K-12 education, especially the potential for data privacy problems. Those concerns carry over to the growing use of digital tools to personalize learning.

In an email interview with Education Week, Sinha discussed how the adoption of personalized learning in K-12 has changed, the role of technology in personalized learning, and how artificial intelligence is likely to have a impact on efforts to personalize learning.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How has the adoption of personalized learning changed in K-12 schools over the past 5 to 10 years?

Shantanu Sinha is vice president and general manager of Google for Education.

What has changed is that teachers now have the tools to make it easier. The pandemic hasn’t changed the trajectory of education, but it has forced people to adapt quickly to a new reality and established new baselines that open up exciting avenues for learning.

During the pandemic, as schools have become remote, many districts have invested in a Chromebook for every student. What does it mean to provide all students in a class with more continuous access to a variety of apps and learning experiences? What happens when we provide the flexibility to learn from anywhere? We open up possibilities both in the classroom and outside.

We [also] have more tools to provide truly personalized 1-to-1 support. For example, students can get real-time prompts whenever they don’t know how to solve a problem, whether they’re in the classroom or at home. In the past, a student could finish an entire math test by slightly misunderstanding a concept and ingraining the wrong habits before getting the assignment graded back. Practice can make perfect, but practicing it right is important.

If we bring them distracting or useless technologies, we do them a disservice.

Shantanu Sinha, vice president and general manager of Google for Education

Too often discussions of personalized learning focus too much on technology. What role do you think technology plays in personalized learning?

It’s a great point to be aware of. At the end of the day, teachers are and always will be at the heart of the learning experience. Every classroom is different, and educators are experimenting with many different approaches, whether it’s small-group instruction, high-dose mentoring, or more goal-oriented work. Technology is simply an enabler and can help give teachers more time back and allow them to scale better.

At Google, we believe that technology can help elevate the teacher and give them back the time to invest in themselves and their students. This is not about technology for technology’s sake, we are in a time where education leaders are faced with teacher shortages, student learning loss, and tighter budgets. If we bring them distracting or useless technologies, we do them a disservice.

It is also important because the teacher’s role is changing from knowledge provider to learning designer. Teachers still provide access to information, but now they also have to choreograph students’ learning experiences. So when we talk about how technology can support personal learning, it’s mostly about helping teachers help themselves and their students.

How do you think Generative AI will impact personalized learning?

First, when it comes to any AI application, we ask ourselves: How are we benefiting teachers and students? Is what we are doing appropriate for education, responsible, safe and secure? We are very active in remaining close to the teaching community in listening to feature requests and testing new ideas. Of course, we get requests from educators to apply generative AI in our tools, but we need to be mindful of balancing innovation with accountability.

For educators looking to start using AI to support personalized learning, what steps should they take?

Regardless of the tools you use, I urge anyone interested in thinking about AI to stay focused on the ultimate goal of the technology: help students learn particular concepts? Is it to help teachers get creative and scale themselves? Does it bring a new dimension to education that you sorely need? Relentlessly focus on availability and always consider the positives and potential shortcomings of any new technology.

Again, it all depends on the educator and their students: we trust those who do the hard work of teaching and if they find value in technology, we follow their instincts and intuitions. We do our best to build technology in service of helping you bring out the best.

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