Embracing AI as an education tool

Charles Fadel, founder and chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, dismisses predictions that artificial intelligence will take over all work tasks. (Photo: Rachel Covello)

Charles Fadel, founder and chairman of the Center for Curriculum Redesign, began his speech at the 2019 Advanced Technological Education Principal Investigators’ Conference by expressing admiration for the educators — mostly community college faculty — who lead innovative technician education programs.

“You are the tip of the arrow,” Fadel said, referring to the leaders of curriculum revisions that he says are necessary for people to thrive in a world where algorithms affect what people need to know and the sort of work they will do in their careers.

He dismissed as fearmongering predictions that artificial intelligence (AI) will take over all work tasks and explained that the most “robust jobs” in the future will be those that require high knowledge and high interpersonal skills.

There was a ripple of laughter among the 900 people in the ballroom when Fadel said, “Teaching, if done right, can’t be offshored or automated.”

His list of new jobs with staying power includes Uber driver, YouTube star, big-data analyst and cloud-computing specialist.

More important than knowledge

Although necessary, knowledge alone will not be sufficient for most future occupations. He ranks resilience, courage, collaboration, critical-thinking, communication and creativity as more important competencies than knowledge.

“The challenge is to weave competencies within the (existing academic) disciplines,” he said.

Given the “hyperbolic progression” of AI learning, education must prepare students to be both broad and deep.

“If you don’t know what the world has in store for you in 10 years, wouldn’t you want to be as versatile as possible?” he asked.

Adding depth and breadth to curriculum is challenging and requires rethinking about how instruction is delivered, but Fadel pointed out that the United States’ initiation of mass public education in the 1800s was a “more preposterous” proposition when it started.

AI in tech ed

Expanding on the curriculum redesign that Fadel proposed in his book Four-Dimensional Education, his newest book — Artificial Intelligence in Education — offers a framework for educators to use “augmented intelligence” technologies to enhance their teaching and students’ learning.

Several ATE projects and centers are already experimenting with AI to improve technician education.

Students are involved as creators and users of AI for STEM workforce preparation in a project led by the Advanced Technology Environmental and Education Center (ATEEC) at Eastern Iowa Community College in Davenport. Graphic design and computer science students work with faculty there to create augmented reality simulations that students use in the wastewater technology program.

Related ATE article: Problem, meet solution

The 3D simulation shared at the conference allowed viewers to see into “working” pumps where they could inspect seals and hear the sounds of damage from cavitation.

ATEEC Principal Investigator Ellen Bluth said the analysis of various tests of the simulations will determine whether more simulations will be made for other technician education programs.

Among those doing the beta tests are students at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts. They have liked the simulations so much that they have shared them with their families, according to Robert Rak, the college’s environmental science and technology coordinator. He is also principal investigator of the New England Water Treatment Training Project.

Other innovative programs

Northwest State Community College in Archbold, Ohio, is working with industry partners to create virtual training scenarios that focus on the challenges that occur in manufacturing environments. Educators leading the Cyber Security for Advanced Manufacturing and Organizations project plan to share the scenarios on the Ohio Cyber Range for other colleges and companies to access.

Excelsior College in Albany, New York, and Polk State College in Winter Haven, Florida, have woven virtual reality simulations into online courses that lead to certification from the Center for Energy Workforce. The project’s simulation scenarios include safety and personal protective equipment; job task/troubleshooting; and blueprint reading.

The Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education Using Virtual E-Schools at Clemson University (CA2VES) in Clemson, South Carolina, shares its digital learning tools with high schools, colleges and businesses on EducateWorkforce.com.

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.