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Factoring agency into edtech adoptions helps to ensure that students are ready for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

The importance of agency in successful edtech adoptions


A positive educational experience leveraging agency helps to ensure that students are ready for the challenges and opportunities of the future

Key points:

Education is changing because the world is changing. During the pandemic, teachers and students rapidly adopted new tools to pivot to remote and hybrid learning. With the recent advent of ChatGPT and other generative AI technologies, conversations in education are now abuzz about AI’s potential to redefine lesson delivery, homework and formative assessments. The emergence of AI comes at an interesting time, when educators are looking for solutions to close the gap of pandemic-era learning loss and prepare their students for an increasingly technology-driven world.

As educators introduce new technologies in their classrooms, successful adoption and improvements to student outcomes will hinge on thoughtful strategies and intent to embrace change.

Advancements in education technology

History has taught us that innovation is inevitable. For instance, in classroom instruction, we have evolved from yesterday’s chalkboards and overhead and LCD projectors to cutting-edge interactive displays. While educators can’t predict the next breakthrough technology, we can anticipate the adoption process–by relating our past experiences to a positive path forward.

Instructional design and product development teams should consider the adoption process when designing products to meet the current needs of educators. Designers often pull from personal experiences and observations of how educators delivered lessons from the front of the classroom and created meaningful dialogue with students. For example, displays need to be simple and relatable for educators. The technology should augment what the teachers are already doing in the classroom and amplify their impact on student learning outcomes. 

Teachers and school leaders adopting new technologies – whether AI or hardware like interactive displays – need to understand their purpose. Do not purchase new technology because it is the hottest trend. Think about how you will leverage it to enrich the learning experience. For example, an LCD projector may have helped present lesson materials, but an interactive whiteboard can provide students with a new hands-on experience. They can understand the information more deeply, making connections they never would have before by looking at a static image. Innovation in technology and strategies can provide new opportunities to meet the diverse needs of our students.

Successful adoption also requires defining the measure of success. Higher test scores are often used to measure student achievement, but we know true meaning-making and application of skills are measured in different ways. A successful classroom has engaged students who are inspired to take ownership of their learning and become contributing members of their learning community. Teachers attuned to their classroom culture understand when their students are engaged, and they seek to activate more and more of those coveted light-bulb moments–indicators of high motivation to learn more. The adoption of new technology will amplify instructional practice when used strategically to make a positive impact on students.

Access to agency

How should educators approach adopting a technology like AI where there is no past experience to serve as precedence? Teachers look for instructional leadership from their district, state or the Department of Education (DOE). In fact, the DOE’s “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Teaching and Learning” report recommends keeping humans in the loop with AI: “We envision a technology-enhanced future more like an electric bike and less like robot vacuums. On an electric bike, the human is fully aware and fully in control, but their burden is less, and their effort is multiplied by a complementary technological enhancement.” This high-level thinking is helpful, but more direction is needed.

However, guidance remains limited at the state level. The State Education Technology Directors Association (STEDA) reported in its 2023 State EdTech Trends that there is an “increased demand for guidance relating to artificial intelligence” and its use in K–12 schools, yet most states reported no efforts to meet that increased demand. Survey results showed that 55 percent of respondents indicated an increased interest in AI policy development – yet only two percent reported that their state has an AI initiative in place.

How then are educators to adopt new technology like AI when AI’s usage in education is not a question of “if” but “when.” The technology is only going to permeate more of our everyday lives. We must equip students with valuable skills, such as how to write effective generative AI prompts, to prepare them for their future careers. Seek forward-thinking educators online, where professional development, webinars, blogs and videos on AI are abundant. Importantly, do not be afraid of safely and thoughtfully experimenting with AI directly in front of your students. This is a difficult direction but remember: Young minds can be shaped by seeing trial and error. Rather than appear like we are the experts and already have all the answers, we can give our students visibility into the adoption process, including the struggles. This is called access to agency.

Agency is about having a desire, making plans, and carrying out actions. Agency is stick-to-it-tive-ness in action. The sense of agency plays a pivotal role in cognitive development and includes recognizing oneself as the agent of behavior and an empowered independent. We exercise the power of agency when looking for how to do things. We use YouTube videos to figure out how to repair a refrigerator or dishwasher. This is us embracing our sense of agency, and we should adopt that methodology into our classrooms. Empowering students with access to our agency helps to instill critical skills of the future, such as problem-solving, project management, and collaboration. These skills will be necessary to prepare our students for an increasingly technology-driven and AI-infused world.

As the world continues to change, education will continue to evolve. Yet educators need to take a moment to reflect on teaching methods, rekindle their passion for learning, and embrace change. We must cultivate the courage to stay relevant by acknowledging that technology is an evolving journey. By nurturing essential attributes of success, including motivation, environmental consideration, skills, and knowledge, we will empower ourselves and our students to adapt to breakthroughs.

The courage to make change is at the heart of success. We must explore, adapt, and inspire change to support a positive educational experience, ensuring that our students are ready for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

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