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AI and CTE: Helping students learn about AI for jobs is crucial

AI in education is important, but AI and CTE are a must-have partnership to help prepare students for jobs-yet-to-be and AI itself.

17 min read


Artificial intelligence as the brain on the motherboard for article on AI and jobs

Akbar Bakhar/Getty Images

Despite the constant stream of new or upgraded technology products, it’s been a while since something has had quite the impact that artificial intelligence has — especially generative AI, such as ChatGPT, Bard and other tools. It recently prompted SmartBrief to host the AI Impact virtual summit, which offered a selection of experts across several industries and 25 sessions to discuss what to expect as this nascent technology grows up.  

Two of these sessions discussed AI and CTE and AI in education more broadly, featuring Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute think tank, and Richard Culatta, CEO of ASCD/ISTE. We summarized Culatta’s discussion in Part 1. In Part 2, below, we offer highlights of “The new CTE: How AI is changing workforce training” session, where SmartBrief Education and Business Services Content Director Kanoe Namahoe spoke with Horn, who also is the author of “From Reopen to Reinvent: (Re)creating School for Every Child” and “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” These selections are edited for space.

Namahoe: AI is changing the workforce, changing the workplace and is going to create new jobs and new opportunities. With that, it will also create demand for new skill sets. Let’s talk about AI and CTE, but first, how do you envision AI changing job creation?

headshot of Michael Horn for article on jobs and AI

Horn: We have glimmers of answers. Some say AI is going to reduce the number of jobs in the future. I’m not in that camp, but I think with all new technologies, we see the most powerful combinations occur when you take the new technology, and you combine it with the human to do more than you otherwise could have imagined to be more productive. And frankly, like AI is really good at certain things, but like it’s constantly making stuff up because that’s how the models work. So having humans alongside them adds the intuition and the human touch so we can step back and say, “No, that’s not right,” but also to do things much faster. 

While it may mean the elimination of certain jobs, it can also be a force multiplier [especially people on the lower rungs of the career ladder]. It can sharpen their writing skills, AI is this force multiplier. It sharpens their writing and allows them to go through data much quicker to fact-check. The early research suggests that it’s greatly elevating their performance, productivity and prospects, and in a way that actually could be a real interesting equalizer in the workforce. I’m confident will create more new jobs in the future. 

I think what we’re seeing is that this is a technology that doesn’t just impact “blue-collar” jobs like technologies [have] in the past. This is something that is profoundly mixed into “white-collar” work. It’s going right into the heart of knowledge work: It is changing how we research; it’s changing how we do marketing; it’s changing how we create content. Everything is being impacted by this. [F]or those who are maybe struggling in their jobs, AI is this force multiplier. It sharpens their writing. It allows them to go through data much quicker. It allows them to fact-check. The early research to me suggests that it’s greatly elevating their performance, productivity and prospects in a way that actually could be a real interesting equalizer in the workforce.

headshot of Kanoe Namahoe

Namahoe: Let’s move into AI and CTE. How do you see AI affecting current technical education? Will it change the way we prepare students for careers? Will it change the type of careers?

Horn: Students are super anxious that what they are being prepared for in school right now is not the reality of what they’re actually going do because of [AI]. The implication from that is to be consciously incorporating AI tools into the work streams that students are learning, making sure we’re using the technology tools in the tasks themselves to prepare students, not only for what the future is like today but, frankly, to be comfortable with how the future is evolving. I think it is a critical piece of what we need to do and how we need to change CTE going forward. 

I’ll say one other thing, which is I also think that CTE is going to have to be not “the education over there” or you opt into the CTE program. I think it’s going to have to be pervasive throughout all education and for all students. I don’t think it’s something that we can sort of shunt to the side for so many more. 

Namahoe: I think that time is long overdue. When social media came along, there was MySpace and then Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and all these things. And pretty soon, you started seeing these jobs that had never existed before popping up, like social media manager and community manager. Do you envision something like that happening with AI, that we will see things that have never existed before? 

Horn: I think we’re already seeing that. The new positions popping up are not just relying on good knowledge of AI, but they’re also relying on subject matter expertise. Like what are you asking the AI to do? You have to know something about the field. And it’s also relying on you to be able to communicate and write well in a way that the AI can understand. So, CTE is highly relevant.  

The future hasn’t been invented yet. We don’t really have a sense except that preparing students to be lifelong learners and to work with these tools and feel comfortable with change seems to be a really important part of the educational system.

Namahoe: That’s your best safeguard, to become a lifelong learner. I think before AI, one of your best job security tactics is to just constantly be learning and constantly be sharpening yourself. With AI and CTE, how do you envision AI and personalized learning coming together to improve student CTE experiences?

Horn: The big thing that we can imagine in the future is that AI is going to be capable of actually doing assessment of real, authentic work. And what I mean by that is that I write a paper, I do a presentation, I do some work that is on video. The AI is going to be able to ingest that and give me an assessment. Is it as good as the teacher’s assessment? No, not even close. But it’s going to give me immediate feedback, which a teacher just doesn’t have time with all their students. 

So even though it’s imperfect, that instant feedback is going to be important because it’s going to be like, “Hey, Michael, you didn’t make this point clear enough. The visuals in your presentation were beautiful, but your underlying data analysis not too sharp. You may want to review your statistics unit.” Then, I have a personalized pathway to improve performance and make changes. And that’s where learning really happens: when you get instant feedback, and you can do something with it and incorporate it to make it active.  

Namahoe: Do you think that it can help us better reach some of the students who are marginalized, maybe at risk, maybe lost about their futures?

Horn: I strongly do. It won’t happen magically. We’re going to have to rethink the schooling models themselves to make sure we incorporate it right. A lot of students disengage because they’re bored or, they don’t get immediate feedback or they don’t understand. They grow further and further behind because they’re not getting feedback to help improve their performance. 

Teachers don’t actually give up on students, but they may say, “I have scarce time, and I’m going to focus on the students in the bubble.” But AI is not going get tired of you. It’ll keep giving you feedback. I think that’s an opportunity to use it in the right way, to perhaps keep students engaged, perhaps help them connect to other resources so that they see relevance. I think it can be powerful.

Namahoe: How should schools and CTE programs prepare for this next level of learning? What do we need to have in place in terms of pedagogy, infrastructure and mindset. 

Horn: Mindset is the biggest. Teachers are going to have to admit, hey, they’re not experts in this either. And that’s OK. We can actually model what good learning looks like by not being afraid to take a risk, to ask a question and seek answers. Not being afraid to say, “I don’t know if I trust the AI because it has biases and makes mistakes, and we’re going to research together.” That’s a powerful way to model the learning itself. From my perspective, that’s a huge part of the mindset piece.

From a pedagogical standpoint, you know, the biggest thing is we have to assume that all individuals are going to be active, more active learning in the classroom. Right? They’re going to be doing the work, fewer lectures, that they that there’s room for them to be putting out answers and getting feedback and being able to improve performance. 

As you know, I love mastery-based learning. I think that’s an important thing. We say, “We’re not going to give up on you. We’re going to let you keep working at something until you demonstrate mastery of core concepts, because we know they’re going to be important later.”

The student says, “I want to be a vet tech one day.” The teacher says, “Great. Well, you know, what? I want you to master the skills that are required to be a great vet tech.”

I think getting in the habit of mastery and learning how to learn — I think that’s exactly right. So that’s a big change, right? We think we do that today, but because we just send kids on to the next unit regardless of whether they’ve mastered it, we are actually not modeling or building those skills, resilience and perseverance that students need for this world.

Namahoe: Mastery-based learning has kind of trickled into K-12. Do you think AI can help nudge that along?

Horn: If we think of it as doing two things: helping with the assessment, because that’s part of the problem: How do I assess [mastery when] there are so many students? If we can help with that, then maybe [AI will nudge it along]. 

But I do think that the bigger thing is going to be changing the learning models themselves. We can’t just drop the AI in the classroom and think that it’s going to work. You’ve got to actually reshape the model and then use the AI in service of it. 

Namahoe: That has been one theme that has been consistent throughout all of the conversations I’ve had about AI — that we’re not looking to just introduce something new into the classroom. You’re talking about something that’s really going to push things upside down in a way that I don’t know if we’ve seen this kind of upheaval in education for quite some time — even with the introduction of social media into our classrooms or 1-to-1 deployments and things like that. It doesn’t seem like anything has truly called for the full upheaval and reshaping of teaching models the way AI is poised to do.

Horn: I think it can be dramatic, and I agree that it can turbocharge a lot of the efforts we’ve seen out there already. And I always think the learning model is more important than the technology. Unless we introduce it in really new models, I think we should be careful about the hype outpacing the evidence for real transformational change. 

I think schools and teachers should be really intentional about saying, “What’s the learning environment we want to see? How do we set it up? What’s it going to look like? And then what’s the role that AI plays?” 

I think AI is going to have a lot of roles in this. I mean, the power of the tutoring — that’s huge. We’ve always known tutoring is the best way for someone to learn, but we can’t afford that for every child. Well, now we have a pretty good approximation. 

If we’re serious about it, then that — coupled with a teacher, coupled with learning environment that says every child is going to get mastery of the core knowledge and skills, and then be able to start seeking great wayfinding for what their passions are — that’s a cool opportunity.

Namahoe: l love the idea of students taking that kind of initiative and seeking out the things that get them excited and so forth. What does the adoption cycle look like for AI in CTE? Do you anticipate a rapid adoption? Will AI and CTE kind of be like the 1-to-1 computing, where it kind of trickled in and then — whoosh! — across the way?

Horn: I think AI will probably be a little bit faster than 1:1 because 1:1 computers are already there. I do think it’ll follow a curve. My guess is that it’ll be faster in CTE than it will be in other parts of K-12 education. I think it is going to be so inextricably tied to what the future of work looks like. We know employers and employees are already pulling it in in all sorts of ways. We know that AI is in the background of a lot of tools that we don’t even think about. 

Namahoe: What should teachers and CTE teachers do to prepare for this evolution?

Horn: This is the biggest thing — that it’s changing so fast. Educators have so much on their plates that I think it’s hard for them to keep up. There’s different kinds of AI. AI can be useful for administrative tasks. It can be used for instructional tasks. There’s so many different pieces of this puzzle. I think figuring out where your experts are — and they might not be in your school building — but having an expert alongside you to just help guide you and help you ask the right question is going to be a really important part of this journey for educators. 

The pace of change is so fast that it’s going to be easy to get caught up in the hype or just make moves because you feel like you have to be doing something as opposed to being considered about what you’re doing and what the intention behind it is. So teachers and CTE directors having support and knowing where their support comes from is going to be a really important part of this puzzle.

Namahoe: Do you see any immediate changes in pre-service training for teachers of CTE specifically?

Horn: You’ll start to see it. Higher ed is still wrestling with what it thinks the role of AI is in education. It was described to me that, immediately when generative AI came out, the reaction of higher ed was to say, “1. What’s the acceptable use policy? 2. How do we use it to improve what we do today? and 3. Maybe we ought to think about the curriculum itself.” And I think it’s telling that that was the third thing and not the first. 

So I think that’s the only concern: Is the pace at which higher ed grapples with what are we teaching matching the needs on the ground? It’s not clear to me that they match up. 

Namahoe: Richard Culatta of ASCD/ISTE recently said he did not get tangled up in the policy of it — that we create policies around learning, and learning has to be the first thing that we think about. Once you do that, that’s where your focus is. Everything else kind of flows out of that. Otherwise, he said, you can just get stuck in the weeds.

Horn: I love that. It’s a great point because the goal should be learning, and AI is an input to help you do that. I believe that there’s going to be places where you say, “Not helpful.” So you’ll you’ll disregard it, right? I can imagine that in welding, AI might be super useful to getting specifications or maybe the CAD models or whatever, but it’s not going to be helpful for the actual work on the ground possibly.

So, let’s not rush to just say AI is all. Start with the learning goals, then [make sure the model helps students attain those goals. And how can we use AI as this force multiplier to help us do things that sounded great in theory before but were not attainable? 

Namahoe: If you had an education wish list of what you wanted to see AI do in education, what would that be?

Horn: I would love to see AI redefine how we do assessment to allow for more authentic and real-time assessment of student learning. I would love it to move past tests, that approximation of what we think someone can do. Let’s look at the actual writing and presentations and problem sets and creations that students do and come up with new ways of evaluating. I think AI could be an enormous piece of that in a really exciting way. 

As you also know, I don’t think teachers should be the ones that have to grade their own students. I think that unfairly gets in the way of the teacher-student relationship that I believe should be purely advocating and supporting for all your kids. So, if AI can help bring in other experts to do some of the grading to look at more authentic work. I think that could get really exciting. I think it’s I think it’s especially exciting for CTE. I also think it’s exciting for personalization.

I think it could flip it to be supportive as learners as opposed to judging. It would be powerful right for AI to say, “Hey, Michael, you didn’t quite get it, but nice work — you did better than last time. Here’s a couple things you could work on.” That changes the whole tenor where I know it believes in me, and the teacher believes in me that I’m going to eventually master it. I’m going to have to work hard, but it’s not about giving me the C and skating by. I think some teachers say grades are actually a powerful motivator. But I think it’s very extrinsic and actually a more powerful motivator is conquering the level, right? Like, that’s the video game design. So, if everyone says, “You’re gonna get there. It might take you longer here. It might take you shorter there.” And AI can help facilitate that? That’d be really powerful.

Read Part 1 with Richard Culatta on AI and education in general.


Diane Benson Harrington is an education editor at SmartBrief. Reach out to her via email or LinkedIn

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 



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