Algorithmic Leader An Education Perspective


A cornerstone statement I took from my first #AI class

This last ISTE Conference, I got the privilege to listen to Mike Walsh talk about re-imagining education in light of the technology advances we are making as a society. I loved it - it rang loud to me as a technology leader and seeing my own kids grow up in a time of innovation pushing an ever connectedness to each of us in every moment of our lives. Soon after that, my life would change as I transitioned to a new role in a different district and state. As a going away present, one of my good friends, Wendy Loewenstein, bought me Mike Walsh's book, Algorithmic Leader. I would read through this book with Wendy Loewenstein and Eileen Heller, both leaders in technology in Omaha Public Schools.

Times are changing. The old model of education where you go to college for four years and then cost for the remaining 40, that just does not work anymore into these rapidly changing world. Technology is advancing at a rate that is faster than our current systems can prep for. According to Nasdaq vice chairman Bruce Aust, by 2020, there will be one million more computing jobs than there will be graduates to fill them, resulting in a $500 billion opportunity gap. Changes have to be made to succeed.

When I think of my own kids, college for college’s sake no longer offers students a ticket into the middle class and ongoing job security. There is an increasing need to aim for sustainable, life-long learning. That is something our old structures aren't designed to do. With the rapid changing landscape advanced by technology, much of our learning has a lifecycle. For the last hundred years, the formula has been 16 to 20 years of education, followed by 40 years of work; the new rule is 60 years (or more) of earn and learn. I am tapping into my Star Wars knowledge of what Yoda said:

It becomes more of a micro-learning model. As you learn new concepts, there is maybe a time that when you no longer apply those concepts to a normal skill. In Chapter 9 of Algorithmic Leader, Mike Walsh explains the example of a radiologist. Instead of looking at lumps, they will become more like "data wranglers".

This quote from the chapter, "They will be looking at the outputs from various algorithms all at once, combining these and making an inference and a diagnostic judgment based on the data" paints a different picture for someone who learned how to be a traditional radiologist. AI will change the work being done, not replacing the radiologist.

I think this change will happen throughout every industry, including education. AI is automation on steroids. No one can predict with certainty exactly what will happen in in the future with AI, but there is a sense that the impact of jobs worldwide will be significant.

From Mike Walsh's Presentation at ISTE 2019

Change Your Mind

From Week 3 of my #AI class from DeepLearning.ai

Eileen Heller is an Instructional Technology Trainer for Omaha Public Schools. She has presented at ISTE, Microsoft's Hack the Classroom, NETA, and other conferences, focusing on Universal Design for Learning, Global Goals (SDGs) , and digital citizenship. Her perspective on AI in this blog is to give us an insight at the classroom level.

Eileen's Thoughts

AI is talked more and more about because it is becoming ingrained in our everyday and as we progress it keeps getting better. Along with more awareness comes a number of myths. One being that it will replace jobs. In education we need to look at the value it can provide. The teacher that understands what it can do and knows the right time to use it, will emerge as an algorithmic leader in their school and also enhance their students' ability to learn.

Machine learning as a subset of AI is a method of data analysis that can identify patterns and provide insights. More data leads to more patterns leading to better insights. It has arrived in many areas of life, and in education there are great possibilities yet some shy away from it. In education we need to find areas that it can add value. If I was selecting a doctor and I had a choice of two doctors that have the same experience, but one chooses to use insights from analysis of 3 million patients health profiles to support decisions, and the other doctor didn't want to use the data, I would go with the one that has the support of the data. If I was making a choice between two mechanics with the same experience and one used the power of technology with diagnostic tools and the other just continued to do what they always did, I would choose the one that used the diagnostic tool to support decisions. We need to look at the same expectation with our teachers. If I have the choice to send my two young boys to a classroom, I would expect the teacher to be open to using technology that provides insight into data of my child's learning profile based on 6 million other data profiles of learners. The data insights augment a teacher's skills, but do not replace their skills.

Beyond the classroom, parent's have an impact on their child's learning. Mike Walsh shared in Chapter 1 of his book research conducted by Alexandra Samuel of 10,000 parents. In the study they looked at how they were managing the challenges of raising kids in a digital world. From the study she found three distinct parenting styles. The first group of parents she called digital enablers. These parents allow their kids to manage their own technology use, with lots of access to devices and screen time, if the kids so desire. Digital limiters, by contrast, are parents who will use the off switch, restricting technology use for fear of the potential impact on their children’s attention spans and how they interact with others. The final group are digital mentors, who take an active role in guiding their kids in the digital world. Thee parents that are serving as digital mentors are preparing their children for success, and we need to serve them in the same way in the classroom.

By now, most of us are aware of artificial intelligence (AI) being an increasingly present part of our everyday lives. When was the last time you said, "Hey Siri" or "Alexa"? There is one industry in particular that offers incredible potential for the application of AI technologies: education.

Change Your Work

In education, the term personalized learning has been a bit of a buzz word. But with the capabilities of AI, this could be right around the corner. With a personalized learning experience, every student would enjoy a completely unique educational approach that’s fully tailored to his or her individual abilities and needs.

This could directly increase students’ motivation and reduce their likelihood of dropping out. It could also offer teachers a better understanding of each student’s learning process, which could enable them to teach more effectively. Here’s what this could look like: AI-based learning systems, I hate to label it a learning management system, that would be able to give teachers useful information about their students’ learning styles, abilities, and progress, and provide suggestions for how to customize their teaching methods to students’ individual needs. For example, some students might be experiencing learning difficulties or challenges that require extra attention or tutoring to keep up. It is that "just in time" mechanism needed to really help teachers differentiate.

Nothing will replace a teacher. As artificial intelligence is applied to education, the best results will come from combining the strengths of AI and human abilities. There will never be a time when humans aren’t necessary for the tasks related to education. For example, teachers will always play a crucial role in our society, as we must never underestimate the value of human interaction and critical thinking in the field of education.

Eileen's Thoughts

We're looking at just what Rob is talking about currently in Omaha Public Schools. Through our English Language Arts field test we are testing a program with our K-3 students that uses AI to analyze a student as they read a passage of text. The student is given a fluency assessment which provides the system the chance to determine passages that it should provide in the Zone of Proximal Development. It listens as the student reads the passage and determines scaffolded practice based on needs. This is all powered through the high amount of data that comes from capturing the student reading with the power of speech recognition. The AI takes the ocean of data and creates insights to personalize learning and send reports to the teacher. Many hours would be spent by a teacher to do the same. Some may worry about the accuracy of a machine, and some may worry about it replacing the teacher. However, the one thing a machine can not do is build a true relationship with the student like a teacher can. The teacher understands the daily nuances of a student, the additional skills or challenges that the machine does not pick up on, and can provide other assessments and interventions that the system may not pick up on. What the machine learning can do, is provide support to the teacher to release the precious time to do all that.

Change The World

So which are the jobs that are most likely or least likely to be displaced through AI and automation? The OECD, looked at the number of job types to estimate which of them are most and least likely to be automated. The future is hard to predict with certainty, but not surprisingly, many other jobs that comprise more routine repetitive work are more susceptible to automation, whereas many of the tasks that are less repetitive, also that involve more social interaction with people maybe less susceptible to automation. Teachers have a very significant, lifelong impact on all of their students. This impact involves not only the teaching of particular academic skills, but as importantly, the fostering of student self-esteem. Reinforcing self-esteem in the classroom is associated with increased motivation and learning. It is the human centered approach that makes me believe our future for education is one that is informed by AI, but is rooted in the relationships and memories we build that produces student success. 

Eileen's Thoughts

One of the biggest sources of anxiety about AI is not that it will turn against us but that we simply cannot understand how it works.

The above video is a great introduction into Machine Learning and the power it provides to AI. Jennifer Marksman, a software engineer that specializes in AI shares that how it can provide a service for anything that is too dull, too dirty, or too dangerous for a human. She includes in the video examples of each to help us understand the possibilities. Mike Walsh shared deeper how an algorithmic leader will be called to to create rich, immersive, personalized, and ultimately human experiences for their customers. In education those customers are our students. We need to build in opportunities for them to learn how to design solutions to simple and complex problems. This will build skills that will be essential to working and living in a world with artificial intelligence as a driving force. We will always need humans to be involved in the process.

Quote from Chapter 9 Algorithmic Leader


When you think about the future 10 years from now, and you imagine how things might be different than they are today, what's one thing you're HOPEFUL will change or be possible that isn't possible today?

Rob's Reflection

Eileen's Reflection

In the K-12 education realm I'm hopeful that true personalized learning is natural for all teachers. Personalized learning has been the ideal for all learners and good teachers have always taken a humanistic approach to learning and empathizing with students needs. However, with the introduction of AI, it can make it more possible. In ten years, I want to see districts having a singular platform that tracks data year from year on student work and progress. This would give the teacher insight on a student as they move through the grades to instantly help them know the student's learning needs when they enter that classroom. This same platform would pinpoint those needs and offer timely intervention resources as a pathway to their learning and additional strategies for the teacher to include in lessons. Teacher spend the bulk of a new school year getting to know the strengths and challenges of each student. We could reduce that time to get the student on the right path from the start leading to a higher potential of growth. If this platform is built in a way that the learning could continue to the home over the summer months, it would reduce the gap of instruction and learning that takes place between grade levels.


Mike Walsh's book Algorithmic Leader is a great perspective of our changing times. Netflix, Amazon, Uber, and others have changed the way we consume entertainment, shop and move. We have to constantly think about how to reinvent ourselves during the life of our careers, as those 20-30 year careers may not be around. In the end, we always talk about building life long learners. It will be life long learning that will be key to navigating an ocean of change that will continue to happen in our lifetimes.

Created By
Rob Dickson