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A Decentralized Approach to AI Integration

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Part of the VISTA project is to provide school leaders with more than just surface level discussion of AI integration. My goal is to dive deep into the nitty-gritty, the practical, the real-world educational context of implementing AI in a school setting. Actually doing the work of implementing AI into a school setting is something that isn't being done at the moment at scale leaving many to figure out for themselves. While I certainly don't have all the answers, I will be sharing those insights, reflections, and resources that gather as I work on the integration of AI into my school district.

While I hope this series will become, in time, a comprehensive account on how schools can implement AI, i's important to note that context matters as much or more than your knowledge of AI. Knowing the landscape can make or break any initiative, and so my path may not be the best path forward for your district. I simply hope to offer one perspective on how Technology leaders can begin to approach the integration of AI into an educational setting.

Being a school Technology Director means that you are focusing on a lot of different projects all at the same time. From security, to HVAC, to instruction, to Student Information Systems, to Network Architecture, the responsibilities of Technology Directors can be vast. The reason I mention this is not to complain but rather make the case that though Technology leaders are often the first to play with new technologies, but the reality is the responsibility of integration of AI is far to big to take on alone.

Integrating such a transformative technology into educational settings is not a simple task. Recognizing the complexity of such a task we chose to deliberate and decentralized approach to integrating AI into our school system.

Seeding the Leadership Team: The First Step

Years ago I wrote an blog post titled Technology Leaders: Modern Day Farmers, and feel that the writing landed surprisingly well even for today. As technology leaders, we can be faced with many challenges when trying to move the needle forward. Planting seeds as I like to call it can be a really effective way to get the ball rolling. So before anything else, our leadership team needed to understand the vital role AI could play in our educational setting. Through sharing of resources, short demonstrations, and small touch points (conversation here and there), we began building a foundational understanding among our leadership, underlining the importance of AI in education.

Demystifying AI: Cutting Through the Noise

While most of our leadership team were familiar with AI prior to our first discussions, it was important to dispell hype from reality. While generative AI tools are a big leap forward, it was important to clearly define what was different about generative AI and how that might have implications for education.

Developing a shared understanding of generative AI is helped clear up misconceptions and fears surrounding it. We created this understanding through the sharing information and most importantly actually looking at some AI tools as a leadership team and having some initial discussion on what AI's role in education could look like. We're talking personalized learning, automated administrative tasks, and data analytics to monitor student progress—topics that help our leadership see the real-world implications of AI.

The next step was to figure out how we begin to start a broader conversation in the organization about AI.

A Decentralized Approach

The integration of AI into education has signifanct implications for all aspects of the education process and even those supporting services that make schooling possible. With that in mind it is important to acknowledge that the distribution of leadership and the engagement of stakeholders is critical.

So rather than taking a more top down approach where leadership dictates the direction we opted for a more decentralized approach. By going with a more decentralized approach we found a few advantages including:

Nimbleness and Agility

The realm of AI is marked by rapid iterations and developments. A decentralized approach can help make us agile, enabling us to adapt to new technologies and methods as they emerge.

Nuanced Implementation

Decentralization allows for more nuanced decisions about how and where to implement AI, thanks to input from the educators who are directly impacted by these technologies. Here the organization benefits from cognitive diversity through soliciting ideas from a broader contributor base.

Shared Ownership and Trust

Distributing the decision-making process across different levels and departments in our school community helps build trust and collective ownership in the AI journey. The importance of transparency and voice can't be understated here. By opening the door for broad contributions, the process is more visible and voices form around the organization can be heard leading to greater sense of ownership. You may be surprised what can happen sometimes when you give up control and empower those around you.

Teacher Training: Grassroots Powerhouse

Our teachers are the agents of change on the ground. That's why the next phase of our plan involves comprehensive teacher training workshops designed to demystify AI. Our first step was to develop a workshop that could be used to give teachers a hands on experience where demonstration, collaboration, and exploration helped build a foundation of understanding form which we can further explore the implications for teaching and learning. We planned a roughly two hour workshop that was conducted in 3 phases:

  • Introduce generative AI and demonstrate its use

  • Explore a list of curated tools and provide some structure for how to use them

  • Debrief and collaboration on what was learned and areas of further interest were established.

Through hands-on activities and discussions, we empowered our teachers to understand and in time wield AI tools in their classrooms.

The Power of Collective Wisdom: Making Informed Decisions

Our decentralized approach invites insights from our teachers and our leadership team and together we will be better able to identify the most impactful use cases in our schools. In the future regular meetings and feedback loops ensure that we can be agile, nuanced, and collectively wise in our decision-making process. It's not just about being technologically updated; it's about being pedagogically sound and culturally accepted.

The Journey Has Just Begun

This decentralized, deliberate strategy has already shown promise. Our leadership team is engaged, our teachers are becoming AI-literate, and most importantly, a culture of shared ownership and trust is taking root. We firmly believe that AI has the potential to be a transformative force in education, and with our inclusive and nimble approach, we're making strides in unlocking its full potential.

The steps we're taking today aren't just about keeping up with technological trends; they're about shaping the future of education in a way that benefits us all. So if you're navigating the complex but promising world of AI in education, consider taking a leaf from our book—a decentralized approach may be the key to a brighter educational future.

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