AI Proof Skills
The purpose of education is to prepare our children for the future, yet, the future is moving faster than ever and we need to catch up with it. Due to the great technological leaps, what we deem the future rapidly mutates, evolving minute by minute, while the education system stays rooted in tradition. We update the technology in our classrooms, buy new tech products, and even invest in expensive maker spaces; all efforts to chase the promise of education. But are we using these tools effectively if our teachers are still required to teach using overburdened curriculum plans and have zero time in the curriculum to allow students to actually tinker with these tools?
While there is no easy solution, we can begin to work within our current systems to better prepare our students for the world they are going to inherit. This means using our content to scaffold, develop, and eventually master AI-Proof skills, meaning skills based on emotional and contextual intelligence (some call them soft skills). AI will not be able to automate skills like teamwork, collaboration, empathy, problem-solving, and adaptability, at least not in the foreseeable future. In order for our students to be prepared for that future, we need to change the focus of education.
The Rise of AI in Work Spaces
AI is quickly developing and automating a host of tasks that make our daily lives easier. Our learning management systems grade our quizzes, our emails autocorrect grammar and spelling, and our students have AI data banks that write their term papers for them. The tasks that used to be the foundation of education; research, papers, and tests, are now tasks that can be automated. Our first taste of this was during remote learning when our students were home and able to “hack” the monitoring of the classroom on tests and assessments. Teachers found that students were able to use search engines to find the answers to assignments from the textbook, read other students’ papers on a variety of topics, and quickly find multiple-choice answers. This was not a complaint that was content-specific either. The plethora of resources available for education is not just focused on helping the teachers. Every day we discover new websites, services, and apps that help students work around tasks that can be automated.
Our jobs are to prepare students for the future, which means we cannot continue the practices that do not meet their needs. The answer is not to create a new higher powered version of TurnItIn, or other apps to check for AI assistance. Those apps too will soon be irrelevant. The technology accessible now will be more powerful in 6 months and 10 times as powerful by next year. We cannot continue to press on with traditional assessments and ways of learning when so much of the world is rapidly changing. Fighting technology adoption by our students is like fighting the incoming tide. We will exhaust ourselves fighting for the old systems instead of following the direction of progress and embracing a new type of learning that our students will need as they grow and eventually lead the world.
An Agile Mindset in the Classroom
When compulsory mass education began, knowledge was scarce. It was hard to access. People typically had a short period of time to learn the content they needed to apply for the rest of their professional lives Now, the entirety of human knowledge is accessible at our fingertips. Content can be accessed and learned within minutes We carry the history of Earth in our pockets, and can easily find answers to the most mundane questions in our everyday lives. Therefore, the learning that we do in school has to adapt to the world around us. The pursuit is no longer in acquiring as much knowledge as possible, but in learning how to apply it, making sense of it within a system, and learning how to collaborate with others in ways that technology has not yet been programmed to do.
Learning how to research, write, and build new connections are fundamental skills that deserve focus and intentional instruction in education. We must ensure that they are purposeful to our students and recognize the rising AI technology that is offering easier pathways toward completion. The task is not to eliminate these processes but to strive to understand the shifting world our students are growing up in and incorporate new ways of learning content and skills into our classrooms.
This shift in mindset benefits our students but also brings immense advantages to individual educators, administrators, and the school culture as a whole. The resistance to change in traditional classrooms add complexity to an already full plate of an educator. Continuing the practices we feel comfortable with feels safe and easy, but instead adds extra tasks which drain time and attention from real learning. The “anti-cheating” measures that we increasingly implement in our classrooms to deal with changing technology rob us of the time we could be using to plan, create relationships, or take a deep breath during our busy days. Resistance to change adds difficulty in many “invisible” spaces of our days and compounds the feeling of burnout and stress.
The change begins with shifting the mindset of the purpose of education. To truly be effective, education needs to focus on meeting our students where they are. This is where Agile classroom practices can reframe the traditional curriculum and build AI-Proof skills while allowing students the space to use the new tools technology offers in a journey of intrinsic learning. The Agile principles of scaffolding how to build self-selected teams, employing kanban boards to teach communication, and bringing relevant purpose to our units, offer small changes to our existing classrooms that teach students AI-Proof skills and replace the anti-cheating measures that are stealing time from actual teaching.
AI-Proof Skills in the Classroom
AI-Proof skills must become the centerpiece of learning, while our content works to support their development. While the scope of this change in mindset is large, there are small incremental steps we can all make to change the functionality of everyday education. These changes will make the learning process purposeful and engaging for students while lifting the burden of content off of the shoulders of teachers. These small, but effective changes will have long-lasting effects on all members of the classroom.
AI Proof Skill 1: Empathy
Empathy is the ability to relate to others and understand their feelings. Like all of the skills on this list, Empathy cannot be taught quickly in a reading, a singular exercise, or developed in a vacuum during an Advisory period. Empathy must be scaffolded, modeled, and practiced daily. Empathy must be intertwined with content, and daily tasks to root and blossom within students. To make this change, students must have opportunities to work together in creative spaces. Working together through a pre-designed procedure will not do the trick. Empathy develops where there is disagreement, disruptions, and a need to view ideas from different perspectives. In a classroom, this means students need to work on Wide-Open Questions, be involved in problem-solving activities, and have opportunities to collaborate in student-friendly environments where they feel safe to communicate.
By giving students the opportunity to develop empathy, their learning will deepen. They will become more interested in the content, become engaged in spontaneous conversations, and explore interesting ways to build connections. All of these benefits bring positive interactions between students and teachers as well as make genuine learning transparent.
AI Proof Skills 2: Critical Thinking
Critical thinking involves several skills that help students analyze new information, build it into their existing knowledge, and arrive at new solutions. Instead of calling critical thinking a skill, it would better be defined as a set of skills that work together to arrive at a solution. Critical thinking often gets reduced to verbs in a lesson plan. This is where we see words like “analyze”, “evaluate”, and “synthesize” get tossed around with no explanation or scaffolding for the students. The words show the assumption of critical thinking, but without scaffolding become synonymous with the word “complete” to the student.
To change this connotation we must explain, scaffold, and model the process for students to attain these verbs. What does it look like to analyze a text? How do we evaluate an argument? What does synthesis actually mean? Yes, this takes time away from the content, but the skill once taught can be refined throughout the year. It builds critical thinking because the students are taught that the process of attaining the information matters more than the quick result, and that skill can be employed throughout their lives.
AI Proof Skills 3: Creativity
Creativity is a human-based skill that takes thoughts and ideas outside of the linear path. It is not the shortest route from Point A to Point B, but the one where a unique path is carved. AI knows the shortest routes, the median and range, and the output of like terms. AI cannot currently solve complex problems with seemingly unrelated knowledge addressing the needs of many. Creativity comes naturally when we are young. We color, sculpt, and play pretend. As we grow, this element of our childhood seems to disappear, only to be demanded of us again as adults in charge of solving problems. The key to education is to keep this skill alive and encourage it to grow throughout the K12 experience.
In classrooms, this means working with wide-open questions, where students are truly allowed to hypothesize, test, and search for their own answers. We need to expand our definition of creativity in the classroom as more than “decorate this poster”, or “color in this worksheet”. Those are not examples of creativity, but non-academic fluff. Real creativity involves experimenting, testing, failing, reflecting, and starting again. It means having some autonomy and choice and allowing students to create their own procedures. The creativity necessary to tackle complexity in life does not come from filling in the blanks but from experience building resilience and independent thought.
AI Proof Skill 4: Teamwork
Teamwork involves high-level communication skills. When working in teams we must learn how to actively listen to what is said, and unsaid, be flexible in our cognitive models, remain open-minded to new ideas, and be willing to learn from others. Right now, 75% of working Americans rate teamwork and collaboration as very important. This rate will only increase as more remote jobs are created and the complexity of industry increases. Teamwork is essential for doing work right now, but how often is it purposefully practiced in K-12 education?
Teamwork can be an essential part of an efficient and well-run classroom. Students can be taught how to self-select teams based on their strengths, break tasks down into smaller pieces and negotiate the flow of work. Not only do these strategies benefit the development of students, but remove the responsibility of learning from the teacher and give it to the student teams. The teacher is then freed from delivering content in order to work with teams as a facilitator to develop the communication and collaboration skills that help teams function effectively.
AI-Proof skills show genuine learning. These are the types of interactions, discussions, and opportunities that show mastery that cannot be generated by AI. To truly make education purposeful in 2022, we must accept our students and world as it is and redefine meaningful learning. Technology is rapidly evolving the ways that we work and learn inside and outside the classroom. Education must adopt an agile mindset, like all other industries, and continue to evolve with the way work is done.