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C'est la Z

Who’s the Expert Thought Leader

Last weekend I attended the AI X Education Conference - an online conference on, well, AI in education. There were some talks about AI and generative AI in particular but really the split was that Saturday was focused on college education and Sunday on K12.

I only caught a bit of each day but fortunately, the sessions were recorded. Two in particular or more specifically two specific speakers, one in a K12 STEM education session and another in a humanities education session caught my attention. One for good, one for bad.

All of the speakers at conferences like these are anointed with authority. By being included and given a speaking platform they automatically become "experts" and "thought leaders." This has been true throughout the decades I've been involved in CS Ed. Sometimes the "expert" does indeed the deserve the platform. Far too often, they don't.

Let's dive in.

One speaker, let's call him speaker A, spoke about AI. Repeatedly stated how we should be using it (I agree, with this one point) but also how AI tutors and teachers will be better than human counterparts. Speaker A also segued into how discovery learning is a must and anyone who doesn't approach their classes from that point of view isn't doing it right. He went on but it was all in a similar vein.

The other speaker, speaker B started by saying he was going to share some of the things he (or maybe he said he and his colleagues, I forget) were doing and seemed to be having some success. He shared how he used generative AI to build scenarios for student activities, for example. Speaker B encouraged the audience to try similar but never made authoritative statements of "this is the one true way."

Both of these speakers, by virtue of the conference organizers have been anointed as "thought leaders" and "experts." Are they?


Speaker B may or may not be an expert but in my opinion, he did it right. Here's what we tried. Here's what happens. Our situations might differ so your mileage might vary but think about giving it a go.

This was just a report on his experiences but this is what, in my opinion, good ed research is like - we tried something, here's what happened but there are a million variables we can never account for so take it all with a grain of salt.

This is also how I approach preparing teachers - give them the tools but emphasize there is no single true way. Speaker A talked of how you have to teach but he was wrong. Based on circumstance, students, environment, and yes, that often omitted aspect - teacher strengths and preferences you make the best possible choice. You might want to have a discover lesson because it would work with your students and you love to do it but your class might be too big or maybe the class length isn't long enough or there could be a myriad of other reasons why another approach might be better in that particular instance.

Speaking of speaker A, let's revisit him. You already know that I wasn't impressed but I decided to dig a little deeper. Best I can determine he teaches at a private school with an enrollment of 225, resources and small classes. It looks to have a high performing population.

Of course discovery learning works in that environment. Most things are easy if you have a dozen kids who are performing at or above grade level. Will that translate to the underfunded overcrowded public school? Well, I think you know the answer.

So, we have speaker A - anointed but in my opinion, not worthy. If one teaches at a rich private school does that mean they can't be an expert or real thought leader? Of course not. But the ones that are the real experts know that their school - whatever it is, is not the same as the next teachers so, unlike the Sith, they don't talk in absolutes. Many teachers in many types of schools - public, private, religious, urban, and rural have shared great ideas in education but the good ones understand it's not a best practice, just a practice that might have been best for them at a certain place and time.

I've learned a lot from many, many great people in the CS Ed space but I also can't tell you how many times I've sat in on a session and just had to shake my head knowing that the "expert" didn't really know what they were talking about. Many times we do great but often, I think we can do better.

Anyway, that's my education rant for the day.

I wasn't able to hit all the sessions but overall what I did see was enjoyable and worthwhile. It looks like you can request access if you want to watch the recordings of the conference here.


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