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Technology is Reshaping Education. Are Schools Ready? 'AI is not going to replace the human. It is going to supplement the human.'

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Above image credit: A student works on a math problem with the help of a laptop and smart board in Vetta Manning's summer school class at Lee's Summit High School on June 11. (Cuyler Dunn | Flatland)
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9 minute read

Meet ZB. 

He can teach students with disabilities how to code and develop their social skills. He hangs out with students in their classes, affirming them with positive messages. He is “changing the world,” according to University of Kansas professor Lisa Dieker. 

And ZB is entirely artificial intelligence (AI).  

He’s part of Project RAISE, an initiative that uses emerging technology to help students with disabilities. The project is one of many areas where Dieker researches how technology can reshape the classroom. 

From laptops to AI software, technology is changing the education field. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that nearly all public schools provide digital devices for students, and many offer digital citizenship training and internet access.  

AI is close behind. Some schools that were initially hesitant to use the new technology, fearing it would stunt learning, have begun to explore how it can help overwhelmed teachers and struggling students. 

Studies suggest that technology and AI are already reshaping much of the white-collar workforce. A 2024 study from Microsoft and LinkedIn found that 75% of knowledge workers use AI at work to help save time and boost creativity. 

Dieker describes herself as a cliff jumper, always ready to try something new. But she isn’t reckless, she said. As new technology is deployed, it is crucial guardrails are in place. 

That balance is the key tension at the heart of the growing presence of technology in schools. 

“AI is not going to replace the human,” she said. “It is going to supplement the human.” 

‘You Have to be a Problem Solver’ 

In Vetta Manning’s math classes at Lee’s Summit West High School, the phrase, “I can just look that up” has become far too common, she said. 

It reflects a growing misconception by students about new technology and AI — that they are tools to complete assignments or circumvent standards.  

But Manning says the statement misses the whole point. It misconstrues what AI and technology can do for education. It fails to understand the reason students and teachers spend hours together. And, unfortunately, she says, it’s far too prevalent an idea.  

For Manning, it’s always been about much more than memorizing formulas and rules. New technology can help students unlock a deeper level of learning.  

“I want them to be thinkers,” Manning said. “That’s what I’m trying to teach them, that you have to be a problem solver.” 

KU professor Sean Smith said adopting technology can help level the playing field for struggling learners by shifting students away from memorizing stats and facts, and toward teaching them how to be critical thinkers. It can help expand the ways students demonstrate knowledge, something that could open doors for students who struggle with reading and writing.  

Aside from Smith’s research on how AI can alter education, he has also seen the effects firsthand as a parent of a child with a disability.  

“How else can we push the students to demonstrate what they know?” Smith said. “I’m excited about that. That will, I believe, level the playing field for a lot of learners.” 

Smith witnessed hesitancy at first from teachers toward AI. But slowly he saw them realize how it could help meet the needs of students and solve long-standing problems in education.  

“This is history,” Smith said. “It’s going to be universal. I mean, it’s going to be to a point where it’s just integrated into everything. So, it’s just part of our learning experience.” 

Lee's Summit school district has been on the leading edge of using technology in classrooms, as can be seen by these stickers on Vetta Manning's laptop.
Lee’s Summit school district has been on the leading edge of using technology in classrooms, as can be seen by these stickers on Vetta Manning’s laptop. (Cuyler Dunn | Flatland)

Betsy Baker, a professor at the University of Missouri, isn’t afraid to make similarly big statements when describing the impact of technology on education. 

“I’m hopeful that generative AI will do for literacy what the calculator did for math,” she said.  

Baker’s research has led her to a series of organized four-point lists, book chapters and speeches all aiming to answer one main question: If our culture is changing for the digital age, how is the way we communicate changing with it? And how should that change the way we teach students?  

Digital literacy, Baker explained, is much more than learning how to use technology and keep track of passwords. It’s about understanding new methods of communication. She said digital communication is public, multi-formatted, product-oriented and transitory. All these elements are crucial to a holistic understanding of digital literacy.   

Baker has been working with talk-to-text AI systems as a method to help some students learn to read. She found that the tool can help students learn to identify words and their context better by allowing them to see what they say, as they say it. Baker leads a collaborative focusing on the tool and is currently looking to get more districts and participants involved

“Anything that scares a teacher or a parent can potentially be because there are some digital literacy skills that need to be taught there,” Baker said. “Your fear is well founded, and if you cut to the core of it, you might identify the skills that need to be taught. Roads are dangerous, but we cross them all the time. You teach a child how to cross responsibly.” 

‘We Have to be Very Slow and Intentional’ 

The potential of new technology in classrooms is huge, said Manning, the Lee’s Summit teacher. But it also has drawbacks. She has noticed more students struggling to retain material and socialize with classmates.  

She said it is important to keep many assignments on paper and create spaces where technology is put away to avoid distractions 

Lee's Summit school district teacher Vetta Manning said it was important to keep some assignments on paper, which are turned in at this tray on her desk.
Lee’s Summit school district teacher Vetta Manning said it was important to keep some assignments on paper, which are turned in at this tray on her desk. (Cuyler Dunn | Flatland)

As Lee’s Summit School District’s director of instructional technology, Melanie Hutchinson has been working constantly on ways to strike this balance.  

Lee’s Summit was quick to implement devices for every student from kindergarten through high school, but the use of those devices is different for each level. The goal is to ensure they are always a help and not a hindrance. 

The newest task for Lee’s Summit is learning how to use AI in a safe and age-appropriate way for different levels.  

But the challenges don’t stop with emerging technology. Schools are still wrestling with how to manage established technology like cellphones, which decades after their creation still bedevil educators, students and even lawmakers

DeLaSalle High School has taken on the challenge of student cellphone use head-on.  

During the 2022-23 school year, the Kansas City charter school started using Yondr pouches — locking containers that prevent students from accessing their phones. Eighteen months later, the school is rethinking the pouches, but thankful for the shift in culture. 

“It allowed us to reset the culture that when classroom instruction is happening, we need students to be on task,” DeLaSalle Executive Director Sean Stalling said. 

The impact isn’t purely educational, it has helped revive a positive classroom culture.  

“Now, it’s more common to see kids talking to each other about the work and working together in small groups,” Stalling said. “And we’re having more of the dynamics that we know works best for students and for learning. And so, it’s refreshing.” 

DeLaSalle Executive Director Sean Stalling works at his desk on June 5. DeLaSalle has worked to balance when and why students use technology at school.
DeLaSalle Executive Director Sean Stalling works at his desk on June 5. DeLaSalle has worked to balance when and why students use technology at school. (Cuyler Dunn | Flatland)

He said the initial approach from the school frustrated some students, spurring collaboration between students and staff to find a solution. What he’s found is students who truly care about their learning, especially with new technology.  

“I think that we have an obligation to teach and prepare our young people the same way we would our children,” he said. “And that is, you know, respect, responsibility, fairness, equity. Teaching that you don’t judge, you don’t judge people harshly, and you don’t, you know, do harm to people. I think that’s important when you’re talking about digital responsibility.” 

Professors from KU and MU agreed that despite the exciting potential technology can offer, it is important to implement guardrails on where and how tech should be used. 

Most expressed hesitancy about too much screen time for students in grades K-3 and said it was important to vet anything new that might be put in front of children. 

“It’s important for kids to be able to effectively use tools, but it’s also really important that kids aren’t staring at screens all day,” said Sam von Gillern, a professor at MU.  

When Gretchen Shanahan’s children entered kindergarten in the Shawnee Mission School District, they received iPads right away, and she immediately had concerns about the amount of time her children were spending on screens and what they might be seeing.  

In a survey of students from 85 countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found 45% of students felt anxious without their phones, and those using digital devices for over five hours daily scored 49 points lower in math. Additionally, over 65% of students with in-class technology access reported being distracted during lessons. 

Shanahan said school districts appear more fearful of missing out on the newest technology than concerned about how it could go awry. She said tablets and devices in elementary classrooms are unnecessary, and they should be stripped down to the bare minimum educational tools if used at all.  

“That’s why we have to be very slow and intentional about these things,” she said. “Because, as we know, they just evolved so quickly. What was happening five years ago is different from what’s happening this year.” 

Jenny Collier, Shawnee Mission School District’s director of instructional technology, said there are ample benefits devices can offer students of all levels, but agreed they must be used safely and securely.  

The district offers devices for every student, which Collier said opens doors for creativity and allows for more personalized learning and instant feedback. Most of all, it helps prepare students for their future. She said the district works to teach students about balance, purpose and communication when using their devices, skills they will need as they navigate an increasingly digital world.  

“We don’t want your kids on devices all day long,” Collier said. “We want them to have these devices for intentional instructional purposes.” 

‘It is the Future’ 

For James Basham, a professor at the University of Kansas, the growing skills of AI push us to ask a question: What does it mean to be human?  

People have discussed the economic impact AI will have. But he said it is also crucial to start discussing the social impact, all the way down to the education system. 

Basham said it will be crucial for schools to step up and lead the charge. He urged them to be hubs of education, teaching students, parents and communities how to use technology properly and safely. 

“I think parents need to care about this because it is the future of their own children,” Basham said. 

The Center for Innovation, Design, and Digital Learning, which Basham directs, aims to address this challenge by helping integrate new technologies into education.  

In Manning’s classroom, technology never overtakes the element of humanity that makes schools a “microcosm of life,” she said.  

“One of the most important things we need is making sure that we’re incorporating the technology, but it’s not a sellout,” Manning said. “We need to be able to do that — the AI and the technology, all of that is awesome. But we still need to be able to be a part of our communities and be present and show up in our communities as real people.” 

Lee's Summit school district teacher Vetta Manning teaches a summer school on June 11.
Lee’s Summit school district teacher Vetta Manning teaches a summer school class on June 11. (Cuyler Dunn | Flatland)

Across Lee’s Summit School District, Hutchinson works to make clear that no tool can ever replace a quality teacher. Powerful technology makes the role of talented educators even more important, she said, as they teach students how to live in an ever-changing digital age.  

“With any new technology, emerging or not, realize it’s a tool,” Hutchinson said. “And that we determine the capacity of that tool. But we also need to be knowledgeable of those tools.” 

This idea is what guides Dieker, the professor from KU who has worked with ZB and Project RAISE. She said no technology or AI tool will ever replace the impact of a teacher. But they can help them better manage classes and balance crushing workloads.  

“I want the world to be better and easier for teachers because we are not giving them the empowerment they deserve,” Dieker said.  

She has worked on a project using AI to aid in teacher coaching. Using AI and biometric data can help target ways to help teachers manage classes and best teach material. One example Dieker gave was a teacher whose heart rate would spike at the end of every class because the teacher struggled with how to end each period. 

“Six times a day, your heart rate looks like you’ve just ran a marathon,” Dieker said. “And then eventually you look at me and say, ‘I think I’m gonna leave teaching because it’s stressful.’ What we were able to do with her is say, ‘Let’s plan those last five minutes.’ We saw her heart rate go back to a cadence.” 

The key to ensuring teachers feel empowered by AI is to help them understand it, said von Gillern, the MU professor. His research found that many teachers said they didn’t know how to use AI. But those who did were more proactive about how they could use the tools in the classroom.  

“It’s not going away,” von Gillern said. “We can’t just put it in the closet and pretend like it doesn’t exist. Kids are going to start playing with it, for better or for worse, and I think it’s wise to get ahead of the curve of it.” 

Shawnee Mission has taken that idea to heart, focusing on educating teachers and students about AI’s potential. Collier knows these tools will continue to change the workforce, and preparing students and teachers is crucial to ensuring they are used properly.  

“This is what our students are going to need in the world today,” Collier said. “When they graduate school and they go out to get a job, they’re going to need to know how to use technology to make them more efficient, to be a better hire. I need to know how I can use technology to do my job better and more efficiently. Because if I don’t, somebody else is going to.” 

Cuyler Dunn is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and a summer intern at Kansas City PBS/Flatland.

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One thought on “Technology is Reshaping Education. Are Schools Ready?

  1. You did an amazing job. This article is very informative. I learned some great stats to take back to my parents and admin about phone usage and how it effects a students math grade. I also appreciate your hard work and clarity of the facts in this article. I hope a lot of people are able to read this.

    Rock Chalk!

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