Although the current educational system might have a ways to go in measuring up to our current realities concerning the learning patterns of the younger generation and the modern workplace, education in the 21st century is still slowly but surely evolving. The educational system is gradually accepting and adapting to the truth of diversified learning and the influence of many factors on the learning process, hence the adoption of technologies like AR and VR. These technologies enhance classroom and virtual learning through immersive, interactive, and engaging experiences. Furthermore, opportunities at all levels of education are being expanded by adopting technology in various fields ranging from STEM courses, arts and humanities, and technical training to medical simulations.
In this episode of The Future Of, Jeff is joined by Katrina Stevens, President, and CEO at The Tech Interactive, Dr. Alex Young, Founder and CEO of Verti, Sujeeth Kanuganti, Founder and CEO of AspectO Technologies, and Steve Dineen, Founder and CEO of Fuse Universal.
Katrina Stevens: Kids need to be in a place to be able to learn. It may seem like you’re paying attention to the wrong things, but in fact, you are paying exactly attention because as a learner, we’re human first.
Jeff Dance: Welcome to The Future Of, a podcast by Fresh Consulting, where we discuss and learn about the future of different industries, markets, and technology verticals. Together we’ll chat with leaders and experts in the field and discuss how we can shape the future human experience. I’m your host Jeff Dance.
In this episode of The Future Of, we’re joined by Katrina Stevens. Welcome Katrina, it’s a pleasure to have you on this episode, focus on the future of education. Such a fascinating topic given how much has changed in the last decade with all this digital transformation. How much has changed in the last two years? Thinking about what the future holds is really exciting. Excited to have you not only as an experienced educator but a leader and a thought leader. For those who don’t know Katrina, would you care to give the listeners a little bit more about yourself and your background?
Katrina: Sure. I started my career as an educator. I was in classrooms for close to two decades before I started getting interested in how do we create things for schools. Right now I am the CEO and president for Tech Interactive. I run a science center. It’s family-friendly. We focus primarily on 8 to 18. What we do is teach problem-solving skills. How do kids understand how Silicon Valley works and innovation in general and how do they solve those kinds of problems? It’s also about taking the complex ideas and making them simple and engaging for folks. It’s sort of like disguising learning through play.
Jeff: Awesome. The Tech’s been around for a while.
Katrina: The Tech has been around in one iteration or another for about 35 years.
Jeff: Wow. I saw that you were the fourth president and CEO.
Katrina: I am, and I’m the first educator.
Jeff: Nice. That’s great. I also noticed in your background that you were the director of learning at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative where you oversaw some serious grants like 67 grants that sell like $200 million. Tell us more about your experience there.
Katrina: I was the director of learning science and what that meant is that I had a team working closely with folks around, how do we get what we know about how people learn? How do we actually get that into tools, into professional development, into schools? Over the past number of years, in fact, even in the last 10 years, we’ve had significant increases in what we understand about how we learn, how the brain works and how do we do that in culturally responsive settings, but it’s not getting into schools and it’s not getting into our tools or the way that teachers are trained.
The portfolio is really around finding folks who are working on some of those questions and looking at how you can design things with community. One of our big projects was standing up, essentially it’s called AERDETH t’s essentially like an ARPA for education, where you tackle big, huge challenges by bringing technologists and researchers and educators, everybody together to be able to design solutions instead of passing it from one person to the other to another.
Jeff: Sounds really relevant for today’s workplace and how we prepare kids to enter the workplace. That’s awesome. I also noticed I thought this was really significant that you were the deputy director and senior advisor in the US Department of Educational Technology where you led the future-ready schools. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? That seemed significant.
Katrina: I was appointed by Obama during his administration. ConnectED was one of the big projects that was coming out of the White House. Obama famously said, “If you can have wifi in every coffee house, why can’t you have it in every school?” [chuckles] A lot of our efforts were around moving– There was about 30% of schools had broadband when I first started. We left and it was closer to 90%. You can get the connectivity, but that doesn’t matter [chuckles] if teachers don’t know how to use it. Future-ready schools was really our partnership around how do we help districts and schools get ready for that? What does it mean? It’s fine to have technology in your classroom, but how do you use that effectively?
At the end of the administration, we had 3,200 districts who had signed a pledge and had gone through a lot of our training and worked with our resources. That’s about a fifth of all the school districts in the country. Trying to get even a handful of superintendents to agree to something is difficult, but having that many, and what was pretty amazing. For me, it was wonderful to look back and recognize that all of those schools, I’ve heard from a number of those districts, they were prepared.
They might not have Zoom for everyone, but all their teachers knew how to use technology more effectively and how to integrate it, and to think about it as a tool, rather than just a thing that you do when you add it into your classroom. I felt good about having a lot of those districts being prepared.
Jeff: Sounds super important given where we’ve been recently. I wanted to talk about today a little bit and then jump more dedicated to the future, and then at the end get just some personal advice. If we look at today, innovation often centers around problem solving, and you mentioned a lot of your curriculum right now is focused on problem solving. What are some of the big problems and challenges in education today at a macro level?
Katrina: There’s different problems in the US than in other countries, but the biggest problem I see is that we still have significant divides in terms of inequity. I sit on the board for a learn platform and they have data around when the pandemic hit, who is actually using technology even in the same district, and it’s what you expect. Kids who are coming from lower socioeconomic regions, kids who are kids of color were less likely to be engaged during the pandemic.
I think that we saw the stark contrast to that, and we’ve known this and we’re still not closing those gaps. I think that’s one of our biggest challenges. We’re also just not designing for why the world works. We’re still doing the same classes that I took, it’s like you have your English, you have your math, you have your science and the world doesn’t work that way. We have a big disconnect between what’s happening and how we are getting kids ready, and then what we’re preparing them for.
There are other countries that do a significantly better in terms of that transition. We also, and this is more of a policy thing, I think this is connected. Our funding is locally based, and until that really changes significantly, you’re always going to have inequities in terms of how schools are resourced.
Jeff: Those sound like big challenges. One of my questions was, do you think educational institutions are preparing students for today’s modern workplace? What I’m hearing is not as much here in the US at least.
Katrina: There are many, many, many bright spots. There are amazing schools and teachers out there who are doing some phenomenal work, but as a whole, that’s not really how we think about it. There’s a country that takes– They look at what their needs are, what they think jobs what they will look like. Then they go back all the way to the middle school curriculum and make sure that they’re preparing enough young people to fill those jobs.
We don’t have anything like that. We don’t think about how many people are going to need and need. We have huge gaps in our workforce where we can’t hire, and then we have folks who can’t get jobs. There’s this huge mismatch that we’re not paying attention to.
Alex Young: This is Alex Young the founder and CEO at Virti, and former trauma and orthopedic surgeon. What are the big problems or challenges in education today? Some of the biggest challenges facing education today are that we don’t really prepare our learners for what The future of work is going to look like. If you think about what you learn in school or at university often it’s very technical. I think back to my career in medicine where I learned how to treat the disease and a lot of the theory and how to apply it, but I didn’t necessarily learn a huge amount about skills like leadership or teamwork, or communication.
That was really learned on the job when I was a practicing doctor, and then when I was leading operative teams. It was these skills that really helped me to translate my ability to lead and to manage people effectively into business and to scale my company Virti.
Sujeeth Kanuganti: Hello, this is Sujeeth Kanuganti, CEO at AspectO Technologies an AI/ML-based SaaS platform for enhancing efficiency in education. One key observation or challenge that I personally saw is education is not developing the students to be job ready. Education is being impacted, but there is always a gap of all the graduate students or postgraduate students who are coming out of the colleges and there is knowledge gap in terms of them being job ready.
Some of the tech companies are trying to fill in this gap by creating content which is specific for the students to be job-ready in specific fields, but there is a challenge with the enterprises having to rely on these resources right away so there is cost associated to it and the learning effort associated to it.
Steve Dineen: Hi, I’m Steven Dineen, president and founder of Fuse Universal. The biggest challenge to education I think is in terms of how we think about designing it to create the end goal. I think if we look at corporate education, the analogy we all I often use is drivers of how people who get driving license for black taxis in London get their license. They’re taught the same method that they’ve been taught since Victorian age. They have to actually learn and remember every single street, route across London.
Takes about three, four years. For me, that’s quite a good analogy metaphor for what happens in a lot of education whether that’s kids’ education or whether that’s corporate education. We still have this mindset that we want to continue to use the same way of delivering learning, and delivering education which is this brain staffing type of approach. We’re going to teach you all this stuff up front in the hope that you are going to retain this and have somehow work on how to apply it. I think if you then look at Uber who don’t do that, who, obviously, we google-ize the whole of the streets across the world an Uber driver is able to apply and in 10 days get a license to drive in any city across the world. If you look at those two companies, the black taxi company is still limited to London, and I think actually bought by Geely, versus Uber is a multi-billion-dollar company growing at ridiculous rates as an organization. For us, I think you look at that and see how technology has changed the paradigm of education in that particular industry. I think that’s the opportunity to use that same level of transformation and how we think about learning for the kids and for adults too.
Jeff: What are some influential trends that are happening right now that are impacting education?
Katrina: I do think there’s a work-based scale. There’s lots of attention that’s being paid to that, mostly because on the higher ed side and in workforce, you’re seeing significant more attention paid to upscaling right now. We’ve always known we had an upscale problem, but right now, everyone else, including me, are struggling to hire folks. It’s a more competitive market, and so companies are recognizing they really have to start doing something in terms of the upscaling piece.
On the K-12 side, there’s some really interesting things happening that I think if we pay attention to them and look forward to moving forward, the technology is advancing to such a degree that we’re able to do things that we could never do before. We’re looking at VR and AR and AI and all of those, each separately, have real possibilities. People are doing some interesting things with those. Those are things that I see coming forward. I’ll give an example. I had a great conversation with a gentleman who runs Accenture in the western part of the country.
He’s the biggest purchaser of Oculus because they do all of their training now in VR. All of their onboarding and training are actually in a VR environment. When I think about that, I was like, “Are we preparing kids to be able to do that and are we preparing all kids to be able to be in those environments?” You start to see pop-ups of things that are happening, which means that we could have this achievement divide actually get bigger and bigger if some folks have even more access to it. They’re really cutting edge. Then so we can end up having people even further behind because they just don’t have the opportunities to get into these things.
Jeff: That makes sense. You’ve taken us into the future, which is awesome. If we look forward 10 to 20 years from now? What do we see changing dramatically? You mentioned some of the challenges of today but give us 10 to 20 years. What do you think education will be like for K-12 and beyond?
Katrina: I’m going to answer that question two ways. There’s the question of what I hope and could happen and what I worry. [chuckles] I worry that even though we had a worldwide experiment that we never would have planned intentionally, but did we learn anything? There are schools that are essentially like, “Oh, that’s over.” [chuckles] We’re back to it without actually changing any practice. You hear this all the time, but the topics and the content is exactly the same as what we were teaching 100 plus years ago. Even though we’ve had many, many, many movements and many moments where we thought education was going to change significantly, it’s stubborn.
On the macro level, we’re not actually [chuckles] moving in any way, but I’m hoping even things like– Right now, I think one of our biggest problems is that we’ve designed education in K-12 for adults. It’s not designed for kids. If you think about it, it’s about caretaking. It’s babysitting. It’s designed around the workday. It’s not designed around when kids learn best. Younger kids learn best earlier in the morning. If you have children, they’re up at 6:00 AM, and they are ready to go. [chuckles] If you work with teens, not so much. The brain actually has different development in terms of attention.
When our days are scheduled, it’s based on busing. The younger kids actually start school later, usually, and high school kids really can be starting school at 7:15 in the morning. That’s an example. We’re also designing our classes around– I was a teacher for a long time, and so I just completely understand this and as an administrator as well. It’s very complex, but we designed the day around what’s easier for teachers sort of like, “I know math. I have my math book. I have my content and I’m going to teach all of the kids at once.” That’s not how we learn. That’s not how kids learn.
Just because you’re the same age and actually you might not even be the same age because we do– New Zealand has kids come in every three months when they’re younger because developmentally, three months is actually a big deal when you’re three, four, or five. In the US, it’s a cut-off and then you’re in the same classroom. We are not tailoring that education. There’s real potential given the level of ability for technology to be able to give insights to teachers for them to be able to adjust, but right now, it’s still really intensive. It takes a lot of time for teachers.
They’re still having to take all the different kinds of tools that they’re using and figure out how those connect and whether that actually means about changing something for a particular child. It’s also on a high school level driven by teacher passion. I was an English teacher. I love books. You can see that. [chuckles] I love teaching books. I trained to teach English. That’s what I love to do. The world isn’t organized that way. The world is organized around– Let’s talk about climate. Let’s talk about how all of the different kinds of components. How to use math for that? How to use storytelling? How do you use those? That’s really hard. It’s harder for teachers to know how to be able to create that project-based calendar and scheduling.
I understand the challenge of that, but we really, really want all kids to learn. We need to start shifting and be driven by how kids think about things. Young people come into the world. Little kids, they love to learn. They play and they learn through play, which is actually why I love working at a science center. Somehow by middle school, we’ve knocked it out of them that joy, and that interest as it is because it’s like, “Go sit in the seat for many hours,” when, in terms of human development, that is not appropriate for little kids. Little kids actually should be moving.
There’s a lot of that, that I’m hoping that we start to pay attention to as we move forward. The other trend that I do actually see and I think we’ll stick is paying more attention to the whole child. There’s been a lot of attention to mental health and social-emotional well-being right now. We’ve had phases of that. I remember the last little child movement. I think that some pieces of this are going to, I think, one because we understand much more about how the brain works and how if you were dealing with things outside of the school, how those impact you? Literally, not your brain can’t absorb and can’t function as well. I think we’re going to start seeing more schools paying more attention to that as well.
Alex: What does education look like 10 to 20 years from now? What might be really different to our kids of all ages? In 10 to 20 years, we’re going to be looking at a big evolution in the learning space. We’re going to be looking at technologies that we’re seeing today like virtual reality and augmented reality and the metaverse and AI and blockchain or much, much more mature and really applying these to solve real-world problems. We’re seeing a little bit of that now. I suspect in the future, these will be integrated into the core curriculum of most education settings, whether that’s at schools or corporates.
One example of that is how we can actually immerse people in real-world stressful environments before they get there. Whether that is a stressful sales call, where a customer is argumentative, and the sales professional needs to actually navigate some of the objections, stick to a framework and win them over to practice their soft skills under pressure, or whether it’s a school student who can really be transported into a work experience environment, perhaps an operating theater if they want to do medicine in a much more meaningful and relevant way than what they might get access to now.
What that’s going to do is really democratize access to some of the skills that are only learned on the job. If we think about books like Mastery, or Carol Dweck’s, The Growth Mindset, really a lot of learning is about repetition and stretching your brain and your memory muscles in order to learn things as quickly as possible. There’s a term called experiential learning, which is basically learning through experience.
Technologies like AI and the metaverse can put people into these situations that mimic the real world, but allow it to be reproducible, and for training to be delivered in a safe space where people can fail and develop that growth mindset and reflect on what they could do better next time, and then immediately jump back in, and better their schools and better their ability to get better really, really quickly. What this means, for both learners and corporate educators, is that your learning cycle and the time it takes to learn anything can be massively reduced.
For some things like soft skills, which are a little bit esoteric in how they’re taught, they lack data and they’re quite subjectively assessed, this can have data applied to it. We can really analyze what good soft skills looks like, whether that’s leadership, whether it’s communication skills, whether it’s providing feedback in a corporate setting, or developing empathy. We can actually start to understand what the best communicators look like, what the best and most appropriate way to deliver feedback is, and look at any biases in that process by actually looking at the data, rather than just seeing that happen in the real world where a lot of that information is lost.
That’s really important for instigating behavior change, for consolidating long-term memories, and for really making learning meaningful and improving people’s real workforce skills for the future of work.
Sujeeth: Education 10 to 20 years from now, all the educational institutions will be, I think, fully digitally transformed. All the education, I think, will be through technology-first approach. Content delivery, teaching, practicals, examination, everything will be based on technology. Even books, I think, will be delivered on technology through digital media. There will be highly personalized content for individual needs, probably traditional graduation might become a little redundant, I would say, and the content will be tailored made or highly personalized to individuals’ choices and their preferences.
In a regulatory year, a four-year degree might go away, I would say, more bespoke courses would be delivered to meet individual needs. With respect to business or carrier aspirations and one technology that might play a big role in AR/VR and pedagogy power through AR/VR.
Any content there will be huge content that will be doubled for these two technologies. One risk that I would say is to what level we can use AR/VR because of the other challenges that it might impact in terms of mental health issues, AIML and AR/VR are going to be significantly changing the future of education.
Steve: I think we’re already starting now to see a shift towards, I guess, in the corporate world, we talk about push learning versus pull learning. The push is we’re going to learn on a Thursday afternoon when you attend a course versus pullers, you’re choosing to learn something either because you need to solve a problem here and now. I want to search and find it. I don’t want to learn a course a year away and actually try to retain all that type of stuff.
If as a new parent, I want to figure out how I assemble my pram, the brand new pram I’ve got, then I want to probably know how to do that at the minute I’m assembling it. I want to search and apply and find that information and learn it there and then. I think what we are seeing now is a different way to design learning and to move a lot of the knowledge that happens in a course and move that outside of that so it’s instantly available.
Probably the number one and number two learning platforms in the world are probably YouTube and Google. YouTube is the place where you go to get the actual concepts or the procedure and actually be able to watch that and understand that when you need it. Google is, I need that instant answer. It’s Google maps. Do I go left and right, I just need a text, or do I need the actual answer to a question.
I think those technologies are now available, obviously, for companies who build technology, that AI, that drives of the Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and now available, for example, in our technology, in our product and we’re obviously trying to do exactly the same thing. We’re trying to say, well, how do we now use this level of technology to understand the content, help people digitize and organizations or the teachers, but best freight, best practice then how do you get that to people when they need it?
That changes all that whole– I think your upfront training because now your upfront training is more practical, more practice and rather than focus on, let me try and stuff everything into your brain because the cloud is now your extended brain and available within seconds.
Jeff: What I’m hearing just to share back, see if I got it right. The hope is that it’ll be a lot more user-centered around how individual groups and age groups of students learn and catering it more to them and thinking about maybe some more immersive and blended experiences that aren’t quite as regimented as our schools are today.
Katrina: Absolutely. As you get older, that should be connected to the workforce or problem-based when you talk to teens, I have a student board, they tell us their biggest thing. One, they want to have a well-paying job but the other big thing is they and their parents actually care more about that than they do but young people care about wanting to make a difference, and so we should be leveraging that and helping young people get the skills they need to be able to tackle those things that they care about. That idea of more purpose-driven approaches and in a connection to real-life kids. How many people do as adults actually use calculus in their life?
Jeff: Right, not many.
Katrina: I did go all the way to BC calculus in high school and did not need that. We need data science. We’re teaching the wrong curriculum to prepare kids for what they actually need to do.
Jeff: Where do you see you mentioned, I think your background mentioned a focus on the stem. How are things evolving there knowing that that’s a big part of our future?
Katrina: I think the science and the math part, people cover more at the tech. We focus a lot more on the T and E, so the technology and the engineering because those are parts that are a lot harder for teachers to be able to integrate. For me, the biggest reason that I’m in this is being able to change the next generation of who is going into STEM. It’s not just that you want to have a diverse team. You talk about this all the time. You have better results.
If you have a diverse team, I would argue further that you get better problems if you have a diverse team. If you have different lived experience, you’re going to look at, you’re going to choose a different problem and frame it differently in terms of how you solve it and so some of our fields like software engineering, it’s going to be really hard to catch up in terms of creating it much more diverse but we’re at the beginnings of some of these other fields, like we’re at the beginning of what data science can do or what AI and what AR/VR. How do I get kids who don’t have engineers in their family? How do we get them to be able to see like, oh, I could go into this field? For me, that’s the reason I’m doing a lot more in the stem. I think that we will have different problem solving if we get different folks with different lived experiences going into those fields.
Jeff: Thank you. Let’s dive a little bit deeper into those three you mentioned AI and then AR/VR, my two youngest kids, their first 10 words were Alexa, in the first 10 words. This notion of conversational AI and them naturally getting answers right has been really interesting for folks that are just growing up with that and thinking that, oh, that’s the way things are. Tell us more about your thoughts on how AI could shape education and then let’s dive a little bit into the immersive side of like AR/VR.
Katrina: I think AI has significant potential and I think we need to be cautious. One of the thing, and you’re seeing this in the workplace as well as products are starting come out, AIitself is agnostic, but it’s designed by humans. All of the biases that can go into something can get amplified. You have to be at every stage, be paying attention to how– You can’t just let an algorithm run. You have to often frequently step in and actually counter a human bias to be able to make sure that it’s giving you the same things. There was one of my grants that I was really excited about, what we call the feedback prize it’s like, I show you about to close right now, but it was around.
How do you use AI to be able to give more feedback to students on writing? One of the things that when project was first brought to me that I added a whole year and before we even launched that part of a competition design and algorithm had designed a whole year of working with teachers. You need to be working with teachers and watching how they’re using tools and understand what they need and looking at what are the differences? We in terms of like students who are ESL, for example, for English language learners, what does that look like? We tried to make sure our understanding of what was actually needed went into those, into the planning for that algorithm, and went into the training set that we used.
We made sure that the training set had a much more diverse group of writers so that we were able to actually have it better equipped to be able to help kids that are learning English as a second language. It’s like really think being very thoughtful about what that process looks like and some of the more recent with machine learning, deeper learning, and some of those are a little bit of a black box. That’s a little worrisome. Again, power we can actually do a lot more with a smaller data set than we used to, but it’s harder to then be able to know where to look for, what’s happening in terms of what bias is being built in.
I’ll give you one example on Facebook marketplace. It’s an algorithm that the more folks who sell things and get good feedback, they rise to the top. In the US, unfortunately, actually, there’s a bias towards wanting to buy from someone who’s White? The algorithm started positioning folks who were White ahead. Facebook saw that and started to do countering for that. That’s just one example of how that shows up all over the place.
Being really careful to make s ure that these advances are not hurting people. At the same time, we need to teach young people how this stuff works. That’s one of the things that we are at the tech we really want to make sure is that this isn’t just a thing that happens. [chuckles] This is created by humans and you could actually create an AI or use AI to do something if you wanted to. Having that mentality of when you’re interacting with it, to recognize there are humans behind that who are making decisions, I think that’s an important piece that needs to get included into K-12.
Jeff: I think the ethical side of AI, I think, is really important as we think about how it can be so natural. We’ve seen this with the proliferation of voice AI. I think there are like three billion devices now and that happened in years, just a short amount of years.
Katrina: There’s another project that I was working on, or grant where that had to do with the voice recognition piece. It was about helping kids be able to identify reading issues in the early age. We ended up going with a group called soapbox labs, that’s coming out of Dublin because they had a much broader worldwide range of terms of how English is spoken.
That training set again is going to be, we have to be really careful otherwise when young kids who are in it probably from a different country or have a different language spoken home or different accent. There’s a bias built in and saying like they, and it doesn’t catch the things that they might need help with, or it over says that they actually don’t have some of the skills that they do.
Jeff: Makes sense. Tell us more about your thoughts with AR/VR, I’m imagining these immersive experiences where kids can like go to Mars or walk with dinosaurs, see a map that jumps off the page, or something like that. Any trends you’re seeing in education where things are really sticking there?
Katrina: Yes, Dreamscape Learn is at ASU, Arizona State University. It’s a completely immersive VR experience. At ASU now, all kids take their biology labs in a VR environment, and it’s called an Alien Zoo. One of the things that’s interesting about that is that it actually levels the playing field a little bit because no one has ever worked with aliens in terms of diagnosing a biological. It’s about learning the skills of how you diagnose and understand what might cause something.
You’re in an environment, one of the alien babies, this creature, that’s sort of like a frog cat is sick and you have to figure out why. Is it environmental? Is it this or is it that? They are showing incredible retention on these exercises, significantly more than when young people are in labs.
There’s moments for where I think an immersive environment can be really, really powerful. There are people right now who are creating immersive experiences around immigration and looking at like, what is, and those– Then you go through that experience of what is it like as you’re crossing a border, and it just changes how you think about what that– It gives you empathy in ways that other things cannot do.
You have to be cautious because there’s a lot of research around saying if I were to take on the persona of someone who’s African-American, for example, that is actually not a healthy thing to do. There are moments when it’s useful to be able to go into that thing and then there are places where it seems like a good idea, but actually really not a good idea.
Jeff: There’s unintended consequences.
Katrina: Yes, there’s a lot of– One of the things for me, I think that this has real potential, but at the same time, we need to be making sure that we’re looking at what does that do developmentally? Is it appropriate for which age groups and what kinds of experiences?
There’s a group that is using AI and avatars in China to teach reading in rural areas. One, it’s amazing. If kids who don’t have access to reading teacher now have access, but in practice it, you’ve got kids who are very young with an avatar for three hours a day, and what does that mean developmentally in terms of how they think about what reality is and what relationships are.
I mean, if you think about just– When I first got my GPS, I named her. Sort of like, we have a natural propensity to kind of like to do that way, to personify inanimate objects. I want to make sure that as we roll these things out that we are paying attention to what’s the impact, how is this doing it, and how are we making sure that we’re not creating more inequities.
One way I’m thinking about that is that the same thing that Dreamscape I’m looking at being able to bring that to the tech. I have over 85% of all the school districts in the Silicon Valley who come to me, and those are primarily Title I schools.
If VR gets put into– The schools that can afford to bring it into theirs are schools that probably are going to be middle or upper class, which means that those are the kids are going to get the experiences. When they go off to ASU, they already know what they’re doing. They’re already part of it. I’m more of a community resource if I can bring it here, then, because I can build something at scale in a way that individual schools can’t. Thinking about, like, how is there a way to be able to make it, that there’s more access to these kinds of experiences.
One of the things I’m really interested in is, what things are good for what kinds of learning? What kinds of learning should be really conceptually difficult things to wrap your head around? If the size of the universe is really difficult to wrap your head around, for example, even for adults, like is that better taught in a VR experience where you can get a different sense of that?
What kinds of things should be hands-on? Yes, I’m going to run a hands-on museum. I want to make sure that it’s really important that we learn tactically, your tactile, that’s a component. What kinds of things should be in a conversation. We’re not doing as much with that.
It’s more like here’s the cool technology rather than here’s the concept is probably better taught in that environment and whereas these concepts that are taught in this kind of environment, and really making this kind of skilled, thoughtful decisions around like, how we teach what and to whom and in what context.
Sujeeth: I think AR/VR in education, students will be able to understand the concepts by seeing and not just by listening and imagining, which was the case before. Though there was some charts and working models that were helping the students and videos lately, but with AR/VR, it gives more of a 3D visualization of all the real-world scenarios, be it infrastructure, the machinery, even healthcare. The real world, the virtual immersion, of students into these practical applications will increase the learning levels of these students and make them job-ready.
Alex: What role do you see AR and VR playing in immersive education? Well as the founder of a virtual reality company, I’m a little bit biased on this, but I think it’s going to be absolutely revolutionary. I think there are a number of extremely good applications that we can use now that will show that virtual reality and augmented reality can massively expedite learning in pretty much every sector.
If we go all the way back to school and how we might learn on something like a field trip, if you’re reading a textbook about Roman civilization or ancient Egypt, it’s quite difficult actually picturing what that looks like and getting into the brains of people who used to live in that time. When you’re then quizzed about it, you don’t really have that kind of emotional connection, you can’t really visualize it, and the learning isn’t that meaningful.
Whereas with something like virtual reality, we’re now able to get people to actually walk in the footsteps of people who’ve lived in ancient Rome or ancient Egypt, show them these computer-generated environments, mock-up these life-size replicas of the pyramid in a classroom, without teachers and schools needing to send people on very expensive field trips for them to really understand that and lock in that memory into people’s long term memories and make it remembered for a long time.
Equally, for things like surgery and medicine, we’re actually getting access to training environments like an operating theater is limited both by access resources and geography. It really opens up an equity of access for learning of all different varieties. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are a handful of medical schools which is spread out over a huge distance. That access to actual learning is really limited by that geography and their resources but even in the West, in the UK, or the United States, one hospital and operating theater in one country might have very, very different clinical cases and patient cases to one just down the road.
What we can do with virtual reality is we can standardize a lot of those experiences, whether it’s a clinical encounter in a hospital, whether it’s a surgical procedure, and we can allow people to practice them safely and repetitively on demand, while also collecting data about how they do.
That does a couple of things. Firstly, it feeds back that data to the learner, so they get immediate feedback, whereas, in the real world, they might not get that. They might just go through an operation, they might just go through a clinical encounter, and then have to spend time reflecting on it if they do that. Or they might also find that just the process of being able to access these experiences on-demand makes them a little bit less scary when they see them in the real world, and therefore, they’ll take more from those real-world encounters because they’ve got a baseline of meaningful knowledge that their brain can then connect new knowledge to.
Jeff: One of the things you mentioned was the impact on the brain and TikTok now has more than 1,000,000 users and we have even more seems like lack of attention or ability to kind of keep attention especially with the younger generation that are being given phones at a young age. Any thoughts on that impact and how we cater to this new generation of learners or help them learn differently with more and more interpersonal skills?
Katrina: Yes, I know a few things about that because it’s not going away. [laughs] Social media is here to stay and I worry about the impact it has on young girls, for example, young women, or folks who are non-binary. How just what they see impact how they think about themselves. That I think means that we’ve got to be essentially creating digital citizens. We need to be teaching and preparing young people to understand what they’re seeing, how they’re posting, how they interact, and how that impacts how they think about themselves. They themselves have the tools to be able to interpret those things.
We actually blew up on TikTok. We had over 250,000 views on a TikTok that was on data science. It’s data science. It’s opportunity insights. We were highlighting how you can look and use data to understand poverty, and well over 200 comments from teens who are talking about it.
You can use technology and all these mediums to be able to– Not everybody who’s on TikTok is using it to see the latest dance number. For us, it’s sort of, well, if the kids are there, that’s how I’m going to go. What we see is that they’ll engage with that, and then they’ll engage and then they continue to go into the next pieces of it. I do worry about the attention span issue in this.
We need to intentionally put time into schools where– You think about it like a tech break. A friend of mine wrote a book called, it’s actually right here, Digital For Good, Richard Culatta. At the end of each chapter, it actually has these kinds of recommendations for parents. One of them is that you just take tech breaks. It’s not like tech is bad or tech is forbidden but, hey, what should we do instead? Let’s go for a walk.
Instead of being, “Oh, these things are bad. You shouldn’t be on them.” It’s more like, “What do you think about your diet?” You want a mix of things.
How much time and what kinds of technology you’re using and being thoughtful in helping our kids actually be able to learn how to navigate that too.
Jeff: I think that’s super, super important because we see even more technology coming and it’s coming fast. We don’t have time sometimes to figure out the impacts. This principle of connecting intentionally and also disconnecting intentionally, I think is super important. Fresh actually developed a site called balancetech.org which actually just focuses on resources around this topic of connecting with tech which is part of what we do.
Working in AR/VR, that’s one of our biggest spaces, robotics, AI, et-cetera, but we also realize like, “Hey, the disconnection is really important. How do we help our team think about disconnection?” We put that into a resource for others and hope to keep adding more there, but definitely a passionate topic for us. I think this side of technology is often not talked about. I think in the last five years, we’re talking about a lot more is, how technology can get in the way or the ethics of technology.
It’s not that we hadn’t been talking about it, but we’re talking about it a lot more because we’re realizing the impact of how this has changed our lives dramatically in the workplace and in our family lives and our personal lives, how we react and interact with people. Any other thoughts on that and how technology can get in the way of learning and things that people are doing to show the different side of skills that our kids also need to develop and learn.
Katrina: What’s funny is that I was one of those anti-tech teachers. Again, I love my books and I love to have classroom discussion about books and topics and really what they taught was race, class, and gender through storytelling and through these narratives. I was the last person to get a cell phone. All my friends had cell phones. I finally got one in the car because I was driving students and that’s all I’m going to use it for now. Of course, it’s like glued to me.
I ended up being the deputy director for the office of a tech. For me, what brought me into being a technologist is I worked in Bermuda for three years and I wanted to bring in experiences for my kids the only way I could bring them in, because we were literally on an island, it was through using technology. For me, technology became this, it was about opportunities. Like being able to bring opportunities and access to people who didn’t have access to that.
Saying that, your question was really around can technology get in the way? That’s where we go back to the idea of the balance. When do you need breaks from that? I live in Silicon Valley now and families who work at the Googles, the Adobes, the Apples of the world, they take their kids on vacations where they’re not allowed to use technology, where there’s hours like they’re being really thoughtful around like, it shouldn’t be glued to you.
When people worry about things like, now kids don’t remember things or they can’t do math. I don’t actually worry about that stuff, because that level of technology will exist. What we want young people is to have that additional layer of– For me, it’s like, how does the calculator work? I want young people to be able to learn how to create those things and to be able to understand those things, not actually be able to have those kinds of road skills. We really don’t need them to the same degree that we used to.
There’s a big huge debate on handwriting for example. Greatest people are forgetting it and questions like does that matter? When I was talking about technology getting in the way is often when it is designed, not with a community. I have seen examples of Angela Duckworth for example, does an amazing work on Grit. She was one of our former grantees for Character Lab. Some of her material got used poorly in the environment. Again, so really important to understand perseverance and grit and how that impacts how we learn.
Some of the tools that got made around measures, again these were digital measures, really almost were weaponized for young people. Because what does it mean to have grit? There’s bias built into those questions.
I would argue that some of our young kids who were coming from challenging circumstances actually have way more grit than others but they were appearing to it. That real issue was the curriculum didn’t match who they were in their context and it didn’t matter to them. That wasn’t a kid problem, that was an adult problem, but the tool is being– If you look at the tool and it’s just like it pumps out this, this kid has this score. Suddenly now he’s in this category, that’s when technology can really go awry.
You still always have to have that human component of making a decision and going– I understand that kid took that test that day, but I knew what was going on with that kid and I actually think this kid’s really talented and we should still think about putting them into a different class. You still have to have that human insight and really understand what’s going on with the child.
Jeff: Thank you. More personalized learning and more insights into that user experience as we think about these different age groups will be really important to the future.
Katrina: I was saying with that, so using those tools for personalized learning but also making sure that the adult looks at it, and does that make sense. Giving who I know about this child, does it make sense?
Jeff: That it’s not handled by– It’s not all AI driven?
Jeff: Makes sense. What about testing? Testing I think has gotten a lot of heat for the narrow focus of the type of testing. We know there’s not really a correlation between someone’s GPA and how well they do in their career as an example, but this notion of being creative smart, or social smart or street smart or business smart, just all these different types of smart. Do you see testing changing a lot in the future?
Katrina: I do, and already starting to see it shift. I will say like going back to like no child left behind. By the end of that really significant problems like we were, because what happened is you had a– You had a teacher who was doing a test and then you got to do the practice, so suddenly schools are doing a practice test and then the state has a practice test. Suddenly kids are getting a ridiculous number of tests to get ready for a federal test.
What that did do is it made schools pay attention to kids of color, lower socioeconomic and special ed. I literally was in schools where you just tucked the special ed kids over here and just let them do their thing. Some of that testing did create some accountability. Testing in and of itself is not a bad thing.
In fact, a good assessment in a classroom is a form of teaching and learning. As you’re asked a question on a test, it actually reinforces the learning. Testing and on itself is or assessment in itself is actually not a bad thing. I am starting to see much better measures that are being developed that are capturing some of these other things like I was just talking about the grit. There’s some really good ones, and in fact, Angela basically was like, “Oh, I want to make sure my stuff is used properly and was starting to get in and work with those.” They work well when they’re designed with the community. You have to understand what does that community care about.
Hawaii, for example, has a concept of this idea of “Ha” or spirit and integrating that into their assessments there in terms of how they think about what is important, those are very different assessments and very contextualized that have real meaning for that community. One size does not actually fit all, and so I think we’re going to get better and better about being able to do that at scale in a way that we couldn’t.
Jeff: Many opportunities in the future as we think about where we are today and where things need to go, what would be some advice you would give to educational institutions? You have such a depth of experience. If you’re like, “Hey, here’s three things or two main things I would be focusing on right now,” what would be some near-term advice that you would give?
Katrina: Well, it’s interesting right now I have districts in my region who are going two different directions. One set are saying our kids lost learning for the last two years and we are going to like drill and make sure that those kids get those remedial skills. You can tell from my tone of voice I don’t think that’s the right approach. Then another set that is like, our kids have been on screens for the last two years. They need to get back and get the joy of learning, and those were kids that were coming in for field trips and experiences.
One, I would go back to, sometimes we do things that win the battle, but not the war. If you get a young person who like yes, finally gets that math skill but hates math now, then you’ve lost really in the long term. My advice, one, is keep your eye on the long term. Yes, there are like right now, you’ve got a COVID case in your school and you’ve got to process and deal with that and that’s real, like, that’s really real but making sure that you’re accounting or some of your time where you are still thinking about what did we learn and how is that going to change, how we’re moving forward.
Then I think it’s paying attention to the decisions you’re making around what kinds of curriculum you’re going to bring in, which teachers you’re going to bring in. We know that one teacher of color in your entire experience from K to 12 has a significant impact on whether or not you go to college, if you’re a child of color, like one teacher so there’s these decisions that looking at what we know about how kids learn and making deliberate decisions about what that looks like in their classroom.
If you’re making decisions like, okay, we’re going to do a VR school, for example, because I think that again, I’m excited about some of these potentials, but recognizing what’s the trade off, what are you trading to be able to do that. Because maybe the time isn’t the right thing, because what you might actually need at your school right now, or counselors so like being, recognizing where you are–
There’s a really amazing school in Houston. When right after the hurricane came through, the principal there made a deliberate decision. He was going to spend several weeks when the kids all came back. He wasn’t even going to learn, worry about learning. He set it up so that the kids got to talk about their experiences. They really bonded as a community then he got back on track. They had higher scores than they have had before because kids need to be in a place to be able to learn.
Jeff: Social connection community.
Katrina: It may seem like you’re paying no attention to the wrong things but in fact, you are paying exactly attention because, as a learner, we’re human first.
Alex: In what ways might technology get in the way of learning and hold us back? Well, any type of technology that’s introduced that’s new or novel goes through what’s called the adoption cycle or adoption curve. What often happens is that there are some organizations and some people as with anything who are really gained for trying new and innovative things, because they inherently understand it.
They’re keen to integrate it and take a little bit of a risk. There are then other types of individuals and organizations who take a little bit longer to see the results, to see early adopters using it before they want to adopt things into their organizations. It’s important that we have both of these personality types and organizational types in the market. One of the key things at a very basic adoption level is that the users as in the students or the corporate learners need to get into the software and use it without any blockers.
I think back to my time in healthcare where I was asked to use multiple pieces of software and remember multiple different passwords, and that really slowed things down when your main focus on caring for patients.
It’s the same in a business setting. If you are working in a high-paced job you don’t want to be slowed down by lack of integration by having to remember multiple passwords and from clunky systems.
I think even before we get to new technology whenever any type of technology is introduced, we need to make sure that that is a seamless and fits into existing business workflows. The most important thing is that any technology that’s introduced actually aligns to business goals reduces the time it takes to do tasks, helps with automation, and really makes people’s lives easier. If it doesn’t do that, regardless of what the technology is and how good it is. You’ve really got to question it.
Steve: The first thing I think is the teachers obviously they’re on the journey. The kids are probably teaching the teachers that so most of our kids are 8, 9, 10 years old are really a level ahead at least the ones that I see. You see some teachers that are really open towards it. Some that obviously need to be helped a bit more. If I think it’s more about helping the teachers realizing all of the amazing re the amazing resources that are all available to them and how do they continue to change how they think about designing, learning.
As we saw in the pandemic, our Fuse Universal channel on YouTube went crazy because the teachers– That’s now continued. That’s maintained because the teachers are now saying actually, rather than me having to teach a concept on the front with some pens, I can now bring the best person to explain that concept into the room or ask them to go do it elsewhere. I think in doing so, it frees up the time, right for the children. We ran the experiment, different experiments.
A number of years ago we actually gave all the kids mobile phones in the classroom, and we gave access to all the knowledge in the classroom. You gave them all their exercises and the teacher changed, become a pure facilitator. The teacher wasn’t teaching, all the knowledge is on your phones on the storage device, and their little practice stories towards it.
Every kid was their progression was accelerated because they were able to learn best practice. They are able to learn on their feet. The smart kids were able to go faster. To slower kids were able to go at their pace towards it. Not everyone’s running at the same pace and the teacher’s able to touch into and to mingle and to coach six or seven times more activity than they would’ve done otherwise.
I see them, I see technology enabling the teachers to change the model of learning. That’s a huge opportunity. It needs people to be brave. I think some of the bravest teachers in schools I’ve seen who have completely switched their models to project-based learning. The outcome we’re not going to the outcome isn’t to finish a course. Let’s say that you’ve read this manual, read this, this circuits to build a restaurant or to do this project. To so do, you’ll learn math in English and science and stuff on the way towards that. You’ll still cover the curriculum, but it’s much more interesting, much more motivational, much more exciting.
A lot of these things you can go and pick up from a byte size video to understand the physics of how to actually physically put all stuff together, for example. Lots of different things assign to it.
Sujeeth: One thing that I think would happen in future would be it’s going to be a continuous learning and not just a degree completed or post education to complete. It’ll be learning always is a continuous thing. Even from upskilling point of view, because of the availability of the content post graduation through e-learning platforms are the digital platforms. People will be upskilling themselves on a continuous basis. This helps them in terms of being on top of things and be ready for any challenges that they’re going to face at their work or on job.
Schools need to be proactive in terms of implementing digital transformation projects right now. This is the time probably I would say it’s already laid by two to three years and who have already adopted or implemented digital transformation projects are reaping benefits now, but for them to be future ready and be the future of education, they need to digitally transform themselves, adopt technology, add technology-driven teaching as part of their core process and be ready for the reception that is going to happen.
Jeff: I have three more questions for you before we wrap up. One is a fun one, then a random one, and then more of a personal one. The fun one is, what would be one of the coolest experiences for you in the future for education? Any thoughts?
Katrina: I am super excited about the possibilities of VR. You mentioned before that being able to go to the moon, the Dreamscape is actually creating that environment for [laughs] ASU, where you can go to the moon and be able to experience space. It’s almost like the hologram [laughs] for old movies. Being able to go, I want to experience this and I can’t get there, and being able to step into that experience and then be able to come back out, I think that’s super exciting.
Jeff: Awesome. Then, this is a random question, but it’s always intrigued me and I’m interested in your thoughts. Having kids, I have a teenager down to a two-year-old, and when I always see new parents, I talk to them about this and it’s like, hey, we go through all these years of education, but it doesn’t seem like we get any training to be a new parent for those have been through that experience. We assume that we get all that training from our family or that we have good parents that teach us all those principles.
Do you see a role for the educational system to teach more about just healthy relationships and parenting skills or how to be a good spouse? I know those are personal things, but I guess it ties the relationships. Any thoughts on that?
Katrina: Yes, these things are real. Well and these used to be taught, and it’s only recently that we’ve had this single-family household. Historically, in fact, in most parts of the world, the community literally does raise a child. That idea that it takes a village. That’s actually how we were designed so you would get the different skills from different adults or other people who are in your lives.
When I was coming through school, I had things like Home app and mechanical, and we actually did learn some of that stuff and then there was like, “Oh, all that stuff is a waste of time and that should be taught in the home.” Some of that was politics, but you’re starting to see even on the college level. Harvard actually did this out of the class and it ended up being the most popular class on just personal finance. Folks were getting through and having no idea.
My big one, even though I taught mostly English, I always taught compound interest. You need to understand that if you put money in the bank [laughs] and do it for 10 years and then never put more money, you’re still going to make more money than if you start when you’re 30. Some really practical kinds of things, we need to have those. I think it’s understanding there are some families who’ll make sure that the kids get that no matter what, so it’s really more about, who is not necessarily getting that from and for all kinds of reasons.
Parents are working three jobs, or they’re new to this country, or there’s all kinds of reasons why folks might be able to have access to that knowledge, so I do. I would say the one thing I would tell parents is that sleep is really important. Sleep is the single best thing you can do for learning for all ages. The brain needs that time to be able to process and to be able to hold on to information. If I could go back and tell my high school self, “Take fewer APs and get sleep.” I never needed all that.
Jeff: That was my last question for you actually. What would you tell your 18-year-old self? What kind of advice would you give? So you would say get more sleep?
Katrina: I really would. I would say, “You do not need to take all the classes that I did.” I think I see this happening with lots and lots of young people. They’re so worried about getting into the right college and they’re just stacking there, that they are burnt out. Kids taking a year off because they’re burnt out from high school, what is that? Yes, I advocated this, didn’t quite get it across, I wanted to do a national campaign on sleep because it really is a fundamental thing we could do to make a big difference.
It would actually help with car accidents, but on the learning side, teenagers would be able to hold on to things. I would rather kids get sleep than homework. I didn’t think that earlier in my life, but having looked at all the research and what I know about how people learn now, I would say sleep is the thing that I would tell parents and teachers.
Jeff: Seeing so much research about that on how important that is. I have Why We Sleep, the book next to my bedside actually, but I think that it’s great to hear that for your thinking about your younger self. For those that are in that stage right now that are probably bombarded with lots of exciting things around them, lots of exciting technology, it’s really easy to stay up late these days. Prioritizing that, given its long term impact to learning and to your health, I love it.
Katrina: Well, and I would say turn off your tech an hour before you go to sleep.
Jeff: That’s a good practical tip, thank you. It’s my pleasure having you here on the show, it’s been a fun conversation. I’m impressed with your passion. I can feel it, I can hear it, but also your thoughts and your perspectives as an expert in this space and how you’re thinking about the future. A million thanks for fitting the time in as a fellow executive, I know how hard that is, so thank you.
Katrina: I enjoyed it. Thank you, Jeff.
Jeff: The Future Of podcast is brought to you by Fresh Consulting. To find out more about how we pair design and technology together to shape the future, visit us at freshconsulting.com. Make sure to search for the future of an Apple podcast, Spotify, Google podcast, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click subscribe so you don’t miss any of our future episodes. On behalf of our team here at Fresh, thank you for listening.