When I started Designing Schools in November of 2021 there were three core themes that I believed were integral when designing schools: design thinking, personal branding, and public speaking. Today as we experience an inflection point in our world with artificial intelligence, these three themes could not be more relevant as they coalesce to become your human advantage in the age of artificial intelligence.
How did I know that these were both themes worthy of investing our time and resources into? It’s what Jane McGonigal, author of Imaginable calls signals of change. As she shares in the book:
“Foresight isn’t about predicting the future. It’s about minimizing surprise.”
How These 3 Skills Help You Unlock Your Human Advantage in an AI-Driven World
These three themes can also be used to categorize the, “Top Ten Skills of 2023” a list curated by the World Economic Forum. They were also highlighted a decade ago in a paper called, “Dancing with Robots,” co-authored by Frank Levy, a professor at MIT, and Richard Murnane, a professor at Harvard. They posit that the future of middle class work will necessarily have to rely on uniquely human brain strengths. These are the two areas they highlight:
The ability to process and integrate many kinds of information to perform a complex task, such as solving problems for which standard operating procedures do not currently exist. This is why at Designing Schools I advocate for design thinking. Flexibility is one of the many mindsets you develop as you engage in a process for solving problems. Design thinking is essentially a method and mindset.
Working with new information
Acquiring it, making sense of it, communicating it to others. And this is why we advocate for everyone having a personal brand and public speaking skills. It’s through these two areas that we build trust, encourage creativity, recognize accomplishments, and inspire a shared vision.
While I officially launched Designing Schools in 2021, this journey has been a decade in the making.
In this series I’m going to share how the intersection of these three themes came from practicing them. I hope this series inspires you to examine the signals of change around you, and give you concrete steps to turn insights into possibilities and realities in our schools as we see artificial intelligence embedded into just about every area of our lives influencing how we work and how we learn, challenging what it means to be human moving forward.
Part 1: The Deep Learning Paradox: Advancing Algorithms, Failing Our Future.
Time and attention are our most scarce resource, so let me share why you should care. Artificial intelligence is programming machines to emulate human intelligence. Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) is a subset of artificial intelligence technologies that are used to create new content, such as images or text, based on patterns in large amounts of existing content. GAI is why people are concerned, nervous, and worried about what lies ahead. As we should be. We’re watching tools like ChatGPT, Bing, and Claude do tasks that until November of last year only humans did.
Why do we feel this way ? Well one area to consider is that we’ve spent the past decade advancing algorithms, while schools have largely remained stagnant., stuck in industrial era practices. Ultimately as we advanced what is possible with machines, we’ve been failing our future.
I call this, “The Deep Learning Paradox.”
What Is Deep Learning?
Deep learning is a term used in both artificial intelligence and education. While the nuances vary, the goal is the same: to dig deep, understand complexities, and produce meaningful and profound outcomes. Think of it as planting a seed. In a garden, you wouldn’t just scatter seeds on the surface and hope they grow. Instead, you plant them deep in the soil, ensuring they have the nourishment and protection they need to flourish. You don’t care for all plants the same, you pay attention to their specific needs so that they can grow in a way that’s best for them.
Deep Learning in AI
In artificial intelligence, deep learning is the process where algorithms dive deep into vast amounts of data, seeking patterns and understanding that simpler models might miss. They’re not just scraping the surface; they’re making sense of layers of data called neural networks, continually adjusting and learning, much like roots finding their way and strengthening their hold in the soil. One outcome of deep learning is what has piqued everyone’s interest – GAI.
Deep Learning in Education
In education, deep learning refers to experiences that encourage students to think critically, question, and connect knowledge to real-world challenges. It’s not about rote memorization or learning about topics in isolation. It’s about engaging deeply with subjects, understanding your strengths, grasping core concepts, and applying them to real-world scenarios. Just as a plant draws nutrients from deep within the soil, a student pulls insights from their depth of understanding, leading to a richer, more comprehensive knowledge base, allowing them to create new opportunities and discover new paths.
The irony, however, is while we’ve been so focused on enabling machines to dive deep and grow their “knowledge,” we’ve often neglected to nurture our children’s roots. The essence of the “Deep Learning Paradox” is this discrepancy. Machines are being programmed for profound understanding and growth, while our educational systems, in many ways, keep our youth’s potential confined, their roots stifled, and their distinct strengths and skills that set them apart left unnurtured and underappreciated.
The question then becomes, how can we ensure both our algorithms and our children’s minds are planted in fertile grounds that promote growth, understanding, and innovation? How might we build a future where, rather than supplanting human abilities, machines amplify our strengths; where we prioritize asking transformative questions, lean deeply into our shared values, and equip everyone with the skills and mindsets needed for collective prosperity and growth.
Beyond Jobs: Reimagining Our Standard of Living
For decades, the narrative surrounding the evolution of technology has been closely tied to its impact on jobs. It’s a legitimate concern; after all, our livelihoods often define our place in society. However, there’s a broader dimension to this conversation that often goes overlooked: our overall standard of living.
Over the past few decades, while technology has burgeoned, yielding advancements and conveniences that we could have once only imagined, we’ve simultaneously witnessed a significant squeeze on the middle class. Stagnant wages, in many regions, haven’t kept pace with the rising costs of healthcare, education, and housing. This economic dichotomy has, in turn, led to a widening chasm of income inequality. As a select few reap disproportionate benefits from technological advancements and capital accumulation, many find themselves struggling to maintain, let alone improve, their living standards.
Technology’s promise was to create a new era. An era where routine tasks are automated, granting us more time and freedom to pursue passions, enrich our lives, and design the lifestyles we’ve always dreamt of. And while this idyllic vision has become a reality for some, it remains a distant dream for many others. The challenge we face isn’t just about job security in the age of AI and automation; it’s about ensuring that technology uplifts everyone’s standard of living.
As we stand at this crossroads of innovation and inequality, our mission is clear: to use the transformative power of technology in ways that amplify human potential and cultivate a society where prosperity is not just the privilege of a few, but the right of all.
We Can’t Do What We’ve Always Done
I’ve been an educator for over two decades, and I’ve been working with education organizations for the past 15 years, and it’s disheartening to watch as we repeat the mistakes of the past. James Clear shares the mistake many of us make in his book Atomic Habits. It’s a mistake that he says the smartest people make. We make this mistake without even realizing it. And let’s be honest, we’ve all made this mistake. He calls this mistake – motion vs action. When we are in motion we are strategizing, planning, and learning. These are all great but they don’t produce an actual result. Action is about behaviors that deliver outcomes. What does this look like:
Graduate Profiles & Skill Development:
- If I craft a graduate profile detailing the attributes and skills every student should possess by graduation, that’s motion. If I implement curriculum changes and experiential learning opportunities to ensure every student actually develops those attributes and skills by graduation, that’s action.
Professional Development & Classroom Implementation:
- If I attend a seminar on integrating technology in the classroom, that’s motion. If I actually start using technology tools in my lessons and assess their impact on student learning, that’s action.
- If I review and select modern educational resources and tools for the upcoming academic year, that’s motion. If I adapt my teaching style to make learning more student-centric using those resources, ensuring every student understands and applies the knowledge, that’s action.
School Infrastructure & Actual Utilization:
- If I equip classrooms with the latest interactive whiteboards and digital devices, that’s motion. If I train teachers and students to use them effectively for deeper understanding and critical thinking, that’s action.
Stakeholder Engagement & Collaborative Decisions:
- If I gather feedback from parents, students, and teachers about improving the school environment, that’s motion. If I implement policies or programs based on that feedback and evaluate their outcomes, that’s action
It’s important to note that there are people who are taking action. Here are three of my favorite examples. Think Global School, a traveling high school where students live, and learn in 4 different countries is reimagining the experience merging content, skills, and real-world learning. To learn more connect with Russell Cailey. Colegio Ikigai are bringing together cutting edge technologies to ensure every learner is developing their human advantage. To learn more connect with John Kelly.
The Knowledge Society have a global accelerator program for students age 10-16. To learn more follow them on LinkedIn and see their incredible student stories. And in Orange County, CA we have Santa Ana Unified who everyday share stories across all social media platforms about how they help learners become architects of their life and learning. To learn more connect with Jerry Almendarez. And of course Design39 Campus, where I did my research on how a community challenged the status quo by asking, “How might we change the way we do school.”
While there are many more examples, these are the ones I can attest to first hand. Despite being private and public organizations across different continents what do they all have in common? They were willing to bring together people to ask, “Is there a different way?”
As Peter Drucker shares: “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.”
Now motion isn’t always bad. We need it to ultimately take action, but the time frame is what we have to evaluate. We’ve spent decades talking about what skills learners need, what we want learning to look like, so why do we find ourselves flustered, and unprepared for a world with artificial intelligence.
The artificial intelligence industry didn’t just speak about the hopes and dreams they had for machine learning, they took action every single day, and here we are. Tools they’ve put out in the world for people to test, to learn how they can be used, to continuously refine and create. This is how we create cultures of innovation. Taking small steps. Evaluating the results. And doing it with diverse teams.
So friends, what will you stop doing today to make room for something new?
What action will you take so that you aren’t stuck in motion?
What Can You Try Today?
After reading this here are three actionable steps you can take with the help of ChatGPT:
Identify One Use Case for AI
Context: Every educator and administrator has unique challenges when it comes to integrating technology. While the many AI tools shared on a daily basis can be intimidating, starting with reflection can pinpoint where AI might be of most value. Simply reflect on what you’ve been wanting to try but have not had the time for.
Prompt to copy into ChatGPT: I’m [your role, e.g., a teacher, principal, curriculum designer] looking to [share something you’ve been wanting to try in your role, the more specific you are the better]. I’m held back by [specific challenge, e.g., lack of resources, uncertainty about the best tools]. What steps or solutions can you recommend that I could implement in [this time frame].
Rethink Meetings with AI:
Context: Routine meetings can often consume valuable time that might be better spent on innovative projects or pedagogical improvement. AI can help streamline information sharing, freeing up time for more meaningful collaboration. A lightning decision jam is one of my favorite ways to turn 60 minutes of wasted time into actionable outcomes leaving everyone inspired and motivated.
Prompt to copy into ChatGPT: Hi ChatGPT, I’m trying to refine the agenda for our upcoming meeting to make time for us to do a lightning decision jam. Here’s our current agenda that is set for [number of minutes]:
- [Insert Agenda Item 1]
- [Insert Agenda Item 2]
- [Insert Agenda Item 3]
What areas would allow me to turn my meeting into an email? What other options do I have to optimize the time we have together during our meeting? I want to be able to use our time together to do a lightning decision jam so everyone can discover an area where they might experiment with AI. I’ve never done one before. Can you share the steps, and how I might have to modify it based on my time.
Context: As the role of AI in education continues to evolve, it’s essential to remain grounded in the perspectives of those directly impacted. Understanding their experiences can shape more informed, effective AI integration strategies.
Prompt for the interview: Tell me how you have used AI in your role. Can you share a positive impact, a challenge you’ve faced, and what you wish could be different or better? If you haven’t used it, what has been holding you back?
By initiating these steps, you’re not just in motion by talking about AI and the future of education, you are proactively seeking out ways to take action in your organization in alignment with how people feel.
Ultimately, you’re creating a culture of innovation that begins with empathy. And best of all you can now recommend the first exercise and you’ve empowered someone else to move from motion to action.
*Utilizing AI prompts in this way is better suited for ChatGPT4.
Feeling Ambitious? Learn About Design Sprints
The mission above can feel overwhelming, perhaps even impossible! As Jane McGonigal shares, “Almost everything important that’s ever happened was unimaginable shortly before it happened.”
When things feel impossible our thoughts cause us to stop before we even start. This is where design thinking becomes essential. However, in its traditionally known format, design thinking often helps people generate lots of ideas. And very few come to fruition due to no strategic implementation plan that aligns with an organization’s vision and values. This is a challenge I often experienced with design thinking in education. That was until I was invited by Google in 2019 to their Design Sprint Conference to learn about design sprints.
How did I get this exclusive invitation given to about 150 people? By leveraging exactly what I tell you matters – design thinking, personal branding, and public speaking. In my next post I’ll share how these three areas intersect and why design thinking alone isn’t enough to move from idea to implementation. In the meantime if you haven’t seen my documentary on this, “Designing Schools: The Future is a Place We Create,” it’s the perfect place to get some inspiration before I return to share what a design sprint is, and how it can help your organization.
How Might We Work Together?
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can work with Designing Schools to move from motion to action, to design an organization where everyone unlocks their human advantage in a world dominated by artificial intelligence then let’s discuss your goals further by scheduling a call. To learn more about what service might be right for you you can learn more here.
I believe that the future should be designed. Not left to chance.
Over the past decade, using design thinking practices I've helped schools and businesses create a culture of innovation where everyone is empowered to move from idea to impact, to address complex challenges and discover opportunities.