A.I. May Help Alleviate Pressures Facing Educators
A Discussion with CEO Edward Keller of Smart Science Education
I had the pleasure to speak with Edward Keller, the CEO of Smart Science® Education, about what he learned from the 2019 Curiosity Conference organized by RoboTerra and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). Before the conference, Keller, who was a panelist at the event, had a personal understanding of AI. But afterwards, he left impressed with a greater understanding of new developments and the collaboration possibilities between other companies.
Keller worked as an educator before Smart Science Education and is well aware of the time constraints facing teachers. He recognizes the storyline of the overworked and underpaid teacher and embraces AI as a remedy. "AI can do a lot to alleviate some of that pressure on instructors by automating grading and assigning of work. With classrooms being embedded with different types of students, you've had to deal with multiple differentiation in a classroom; and AI can help with that," he says.
Adoption of technology and supporting educators through professional development is a challenge facing many edtech companies. It's essential to adequately prepare teachers for success rather than dropping new products on an already overworked staff. As Keller points out, part of the problem arises from presumptive edtech companies. "The biggest challenge with getting technology into schools today is that people like me build great technology products and we expect to drop them into schools or districts and just have a hundred percent use the first year. And that's just not going to happen; that's not realistic." Keller adds, "You have to slowly build up adoption in a district or a school." He recognizes the importance of not forcing technology on schools and educators but instead working with them closely to accurately shape a product to the school's needs.
Edward Keller is a huge proponent of active learning, and hands-on learning is an integral part of the science labs at Smart Science Education. As he adds, "Number one, the student has to be actively engaged, and for us, that means they have to measure data. The key thing we found in research that makes a science lab special is that the student owns a set of data that they measure. When I'm doing an experiment, in real life, I'm picking up a beaker. I'm pouring it. I'm measuring what it did, and I'm writing that down. I'm charting it on a graph." It's precisely that experience Keller and his team are trying to replicate in the edtech developed for students.
Embodying real-world engagement rather than simulation was an early interest of the Keller family based venture with Dr. Harry Keller and Jayne Keller. Whether developing programs that watch the sun cast a shadow while moving across the sky or measuring pendulum speed, using only interactive video became the family mantra. In real life, there are always constraints on time and space, so Keller and his team developed interactive technology that would take out the limitations. As an example, Keller uses a growing of plants as an interesting analogy, "When you grow plants, maybe it takes three weeks to grow and see if giving it no water has any effect. But we can give that experience in fifteen seconds. So, all of a sudden, the student sees these cool videos of a plant shriveled up and then they can click and measure how the plant grows over time and immediately see that translated onto a graph and then react to what's happened."
Collaborative engagement is a great add-on to the Curiosity Conference experience, and Keller had the chance to connect with a cohort member partner in WISE, as part of the accelerated program. The company Uptale does VR learning experiences, and Keller sees an opportunity to translate technologies that merge the two different forms of technology, AR and VR. There is great promise in companies learning more about each other through conference interaction, and technology development has a chance to become even more seamless in collaborative integration over time.
Pricing is an interesting component to edtech adoption in schools and contrary to normal budgetary principles, the higher priced products sometimes get in the school door faster than cheaper models because of investor-backed interests. In addition, there is a psychological fallacy at play where some purchasers believe that if a product is cheap, it isn't good. Keller fights against this notion and tries to develop an easily affordable product, "If it's cheap everyone can actually use it. I'm more concerned with the widespread use and changing the landscape of science education than I am squeezing a few extra dollars out of each customer."
About Edward Keller
Edward Keller is the CEO of Smart Science® Education. He received a Sc.B. in physics from Brown University where he was a teaching assistant in astronomy and published research in astronomical imaging techniques. He began his career teaching high school sciences and tutoring students in science part-time. Edward saw the need to develop a technology that could help the thousands of other science teachers having the same issues he had while attempting to bring a high-quality learning experience to his students.
Dr. Harry Keller and Jayne Keller (Edwards parents) were investigating the creation of a video interactivity tool that could act as a measuring device between students and online videos. Together they started Smart Science® Education to give students a learning platform in science that will revolutionize science education.