#288 – The State of Digital Teaching and Learning, with Kristina Ishmael

Unpacking Education May 15, 2024 49 min

In this episode, we are joined by Kristina Ishmael, the leader of Ishmael Consulting and former Deputy Director at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. Kristina draws on her extensive experience working in the area of educational technology to help us gain an understanding of the current state of digital teaching and learning. We reflect on the new National Educational Technology Plan, artificial intelligence, and ways that educators can navigate the ever-changing frontier of edtech.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Somewhere between the promise of transformation and the barriers to realizing that promise lies the potential . . . to build systems that better ensure that edtech’s promise is afforded to all students . . .

U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, from the Introduction to the National Educational Technology Plan

New Technology as an Opportunity

Our guest, Kristina Ishmael, is a big proponent of positivity and asset-based language. While there are concerns with any new technology or in changing the way we do things, she believes that there are even more opportunities to be gained. This positive mindset is evident in her upbeat and forward-thinking attitude as she helps us explore how educational technology continues to evolve and potentially benefit educators and students.

Kristina emphasizes the importance of humans in the edtech and artificial intelligence equations. She insists that it’s all about the process and that humans must always be part of that process. She specifically says, “Humans have to be involved with either the input or output.” This input will allow us to keep an eye on our goals and help us shape technology’s impact in helping us get to those outcomes. The following are a few highlights from this episode:

  • About Our Guest: Kristina Ishmael is the leader of Ishmael Consulting. She has nearly two decades of experience in education at the local, state, and federal levels, including a role as Deputy Director at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. In her work at the Office of Educational Technology, Kristina was the lead of AI policy for the country. She has experience as an early childhood, elementary, and ELL teacher. She was the first Director of Educational Technology for the state of Nebraska.
  • A Major Disrupter: Generative AI continues to be the most impactful technology. Kristina emphasizes that while AI and machine learning are not new, generative AI is. She says, “That has been the major disrupter.”
  • Questions of the Moment: Kristina feels that most of the questions of the moment in the world of educational technology involve generative AI. This new technology has led to many interconnected questions, such as, “What does it mean when we’re talking about equity because 13-and-under really can’t use any of these tools right now?” “Does that mean they get later access?” and “Does that mean that we don’t push AI literacy as much?”
  • Pausing Is Not an Option: Kristina says that it’s not an option to press pause on technology use. It’s here to stay and will continue to evolve. Although policy continues to lag behind practice, we have no choice but to work our way through the changes as well as we can.
  • Active Use: Kristina says, “We want learners to be actively using edtech. We don’t want them simply to passively consume anything, and that’s what we still see quite often. So, how do we move because that requires a change in practice? That is getting past the sage on the stage and really moving to more inquiry-based learning and project-based learning.”
  • Three Divides: The National Educational Technology Plan outlines three digital divides: use, design, and access. “Those three digital divides really create the language that we can use to frame a lot of things that are happening in schools today,” says Kristina. While the divides of use and access are not new, the focus on a design divide is. “The divide that continues is the digital design divide,” and Kristina says that most schools are not providing enough support for teachers in designing effective digital learning experiences.
  • Start Small: There are over 10,000 edtech tools in the educational ecosystem, with 2,500 different tools being used in an average district. This can be overwhelming. Kristina emphasizes that you don’t have to change everything at once. She says, “It starts with those baby steps and those small things because eventually those small changes add up.”
  • Reflection: Kristina talks about the importance of teacher reflection. We need time to reflect on our attempts to integrate technology so that we can iterate and improve. One strategy that can be helpful is a “brain dump,” where teachers just get their ideas down on paper. They can then look at that information and ask what the data tells them about moving forward. Getting student input during the reflection process is also very important.
  • Accessibility for All: Technology provides powerful opportunities to provide improved accessibility for students. Kristina shares, “I wish it was just baked into everything.” In reflecting on accessibility and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), she says, “We have to design for our students with disabilities first, and our multilingual learners, and everyone benefits in the end.”
  • The Promise of AI: While some of the current AI applications are a bit “underwhelming,” they offer great potential in helping teachers differentiate and design lessons. Kristina also thinks that there is exciting value in AI chatbots when they can personalize feedback and conversations for individuals. She says, “It’s pretty cool when you log in to a platform, and it’s like, ‘Hey, Kristina. How are you doing?’”
  • The Importance of Humans: In addition to emphasizing the role of humans in the technology loop, Kristina points out that the U.S. Department of Education came out and explicitly said that they “reject the notion that AI will replace teachers.” She adds, “That’s not even a question at this point. Teachers, and practitioners, and educators must always be in the loop whenever AI is applied and used.”
  • Focus on Process: Because specific technology tools will continue to be introduced and evolve, it’s important that we stay focused on the process of reviewing and adopting these new options. Kristina emphasizes, “Learning is the process.” We need to keep asking ourselves questions that begin with teaching and learning and continue with bringing in technology. This includes asking, “How can we get to a place where we are engaging them [learners], and how are the tools going to help us get there?” District-wide processes and procedures can also be valuable, and we must remember to always have teacher voices and insights in the mix.
  • Above All: As we close, Kristina reminds us of the importance of self-care. In the midst of incredible change and the introduction of new technology, she emphasizes, “Let’s take care of ourselves. That’s really important.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How do you use technology in your classroom and school?
  • What are the positive impacts of using technology?
  • What questions do you have about artificial intelligence?
  • Of the digital divides, which one most resonates with you?
  • What important roles do you see humans playing in the adoption and use of technology?
  • What processes are in place to help guide you as you explore and use educational technology?

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