A time to test innovative instructional techniques

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Entrepreneur Amber Mac urged educators at the 2020 Virtual ATE Conference to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to test their most creative ideas for new curricula and innovative instructional techniques.  

“I believe there is more sort of forgiveness right now than ever in terms of failure. So if you fail, a project doesn’t work — kids can learn from that, students can learn from that,” she said.

Mac, the author of two bestselling business books, is the co-host of the award-winning podcast series The AI Effect and host of the AmberMac Show, a podcast series that has had episodes dedicated to education topics.

Accepting technologies more quickly

During her plenary address to educators and employers involved in technician education improvement efforts funded by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program, Mac explained how the need for contactless interactions during the pandemic is shortening the time it typically takes for people to accept new technologies.

“Humans have been really good at adapting to change,” she said, pointing to how quickly educators, students and millions of other people became adept at using Zoom since March.

The “internet of things evolution” and “artificial intelligence revolution” that were both underway before 2020 undergird the pandemic-fueled escalation of voice-assisted technologies, artificial intelligence, wellness technologies, robots and autonomous vehicles — which she cheekily refers to as “machines in the wild.”

For educators to prepare students for rapidly changing workplaces that will use a mix of emerging technologies, Mac recommended adopting a “relentless adaptation” mindset that embraces constant learning and reconsideration. She then quoted futurist Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

She recommended reading Loonshots by Safi Bahcall for insights in how to reframe the concept of “what is a crazy idea” and then “find the courage inside to try new things and pilot new projects.”

“The thing that is most exciting to me is this idea of creativity and piloting things, right, and collaboration, that’s a part of it. I think you can still do that at a distance,” she said.

Testing new ideas

Although she acknowledged that she’s not an educator, Mac made the case that now, in the midst of the pandemic, is a good time to experiment with teaching methods and to rework curricula to encourage students’ creativity. Some ideas she floated during her speech included:

  • using podcasts to teach courses and for audio notes
  • having student teams test and revise new technologies
  • employing robots to keep people safe on campus
  • distributing smart speakers to make access to digital information more equitable 

“I’m a big fan of things not being prescriptive, but seeing what people come up with and putting them in environments that allow for creativity and just thinking outside the box with new ideas,” she said.

Mac does not think “crazy, out-of-the-box ideas” will emerge from a set curriculum: “It has to be a much more creative, collaborative opportunity.”

Sidebar article: ATE’s community and connectedness

Resources that Mac recommends include:   

The World Economic Forum emphasized these points in its Future of Jobs Report 2020 released this month:

  • Half of employers will accelerate the automation of their work as a result of COVID-19.
  • By 2025, the hours of work performed by machines and people will be equal.
  • 97 million new jobs of tomorrow will emerge by 2025.
  • The most in-demand skills are a mix of hard and soft skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving and self-management.
  • Human capital is increasingly important with 66% of employers reporting they expect to get a return on investment from training employees within a year.

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About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.