Integrating AI in Education with Lauren Owens

Download MP3

AVFL Lauren Owens

[00:00:00] Welcome to a Vision for Learning, a proud member of the B Podcast Network. I'm excited to have on the show today, Lauren Owens, who taught Spanish and student leadership for six years before moving to the district level, supporting ed tech and implementation. And she is now the executive Director of Technology at Agua and has been on the forefront of adopting AI into schools.

Lauren, thanks so much for coming on a vision for learning today.

Yeah. Thank you. This has been

awesome. it's so excited to chat with you. What would you say is your big takeaway from our conversation today?

Oof. Trying to

narrow it down to one,


think something you said at the start that technology and curriculum are not two separate. You know, two separate roads going to the same place. We are together, we are on the same team is I think, transformational because when we are talking about ai, it is not new.

It's been around, but the [00:01:00] more teams work together and bringing in invoices that do oppose and are, you know, for and against and just really trying to work together. I think that to me is the biggest takeaway of like action step for me is I want to go. Keep finding those people who oppose it and really try to, to ask why and, and to see how we can, you know, either, you know, try to understand them or reassure


absolutely. For me, you said two things that were really powerful. One was your simplicity about how you're approaching this, and the second one is how you define AI literacy. I just think it was so simple, so beautiful, and it's exactly how we need to be approaching these kinds of things, making it easy for people to understand.

What AI literacy is, and you know, I'm sure some professors are gonna create some big, huge, long, elaborate thing that this is what AI literacy is and academic it and make it so

that nobody wants to pay any attention to it. But what you're doing with AI literacy, I think is really [00:02:00] powerful. So I'm gonna get to my conversation here with Lauren in just a moment. (ad here)

​Well, Lauren, I think a good place to start out would be if there's somebody who is in a district and they don't have a desire to do something with, artificial intelligence, what would be your advice to them at this point?

I think the first thing I would say would actually challenge that notion because AI has been in education for decades just branded as predictive testing models or how we think students are gonna do on the a CT and what that means for our district. So we've already been using it, it just has exploded the last two years.

And so the first thing I would say is you are using it. So that statement is not. Is not exactly true and then really point to the two things that we firmly believe in our district, and I mean all thought leaders who. Have been in the conversation around AI and education specifically, is not only is there a digital divide and an [00:03:00] equity gap here for students who, if we're not teaching students how to use this or be aware of it at school, students are gonna learn about it at home.

When those homes have computers, they have parents who are aware of it. So that gap is just gonna widen and then also. It's a, we are preparing our students for life after high school, whether that's college, whether that's career and AI is changing the work workforce. So if we truly want our students to be prepared, they need to be AI literate. And so, I know one of the fears I hear all the time is that AI is going to replace people, right? Whether it's teachers or, you know, I mean that's, I mean, I know that's the big fear, but we learned that during covid that no robots cannot replace teaching. We need that human connection. But people who aren't able to interact with AI and make it, make their jobs more efficient and make it better, those are the people who are gonna be losing their jobs.

And so for us, students have to be AI literate. And so that, I would start with the question of like, what are we preparing our students for And so [00:04:00] the other big talking point that I think keeps coming up is technology is not just. A techno quote unquote technology department problem anymore.

It's embedded into everything we do in the school system. And so to just ignore it is kind of an isolated thing, is a disservice to staff and students. That was a

very long answer, but I'm very passionate about that.

it's all good. So one of the things that I, that I appreciate about that is that I, I. When I was in the technology department, I moved from the technology department to the curriculum department, and I did that because I saw myself as bridging the gap between those two departments and. And the reality is, is I've never seen them as two separate departments, and yet they are separate and have been separate.

And I think seeing them as two separate things is dangerous because it makes people think that they're, that they're disconnected somehow. And I really don't believe that they are. They definitely are intertwined and whether [00:05:00] we'd like it or not. They're intertwined and we should, we should be prepared for, and plan for and do things with that so that we can support our students in the best way possible.

Now, Agra

School district has been, ahead of the curve on this, and so why did you guys decide to, to be out in front so much on this?

So in an effort to be transparent with, with all of this is so I too was, so I was someone who was on the curriculum side who moved to it. So I also have always viewed them as they are a team, but that that is not always the case. And so with that move I started in this, in my current role last year, right when this was exploding.

And so it was, I have just always firmly believed that we should not hit pause on innovation, out of fear when it hurts students. And so we. I, I knew I was gonna be in this role July one until it was June. We were looking everywhere for an AI conference. 'cause I mean, everyone was talking about it and the question of, oh my gosh, students are gonna use it to cheat and [00:06:00] then you push back of if students can use it to cheat, was it a good assignment in the

first place? And so it just, right, it started this whole conversation around what even is learning what is education. And so it's fascinating. And so, but last summer we were looking for all sorts of resources, conferences. We only were able to find two and they were in Australia and Germany. We did not get permission to go and so we decided to, I know next time but we decided to host our own AI summit in the valley, in the Phoenix area because. We just needed to talk about it. It wasn't this taboo thing. Students were already gonna use it. Teachers were using it and they weren't using it safely. They were putting in PII and information they shouldn't have. And so we, instead of living in fear, we, we, we wanted to embrace it and we went take, I knew there's gonna be risks.

And so to me, it was worth the risk because I was just so firmly believed that this was what was right for our

Well, and I think you brought up such a, a valid point about teachers were already using it because. You know, teachers pay attention to [00:07:00] what's going on in the world also, right? And so teachers start using it and then they start doing things that, like you said, are not safe. And they start putting PII in there.

And that is not good personally identifiable information. In case you don't know what that means. That's not good for them to be putting that in there and something that's going to be used in the future because there are FERPA issues and there's just. Good ethics, right? That we probably shouldn't be divulging that this student has this specific disability and this is what they need help with.

Like, we, that should not be the case. So we need to be smart about it. And if, if you're saying one, it's banned, teachers are still gonna use it. And if you

say, we're opening the flood gates, but we're not teaching you how to use it correctly, then people are going to. Do things that aren't good either. And so like that, that's a challenging situation to be in.

So when you have, when you have people who are all across the spectrum of innovators and early [00:08:00] adopters and all that kind of stuff, some people are just gonna start doing it. And the, in my opinion, the best way to manage that is to work with them. Rather than, than putting the reins on 'em, it's a lot easier to to pull someone back and to work with them than it is to try to light a fire under


That's, that's how I approach that. So how did you balance that? Working with the innovators and and, and lighting a fire under people who needed it?

So we, the, the first thing we wanted to do when we knew that this was the school year was getting ready, right? June to July feels like two seconds before school year starts. And so we create it for us. It was creating common language in a framework to ground. Teachers and to protect them. So when we, I mean, we asked so many stakeholders, so many teachers, like, what, what's the fear?

What excites you? What it, you know, why do you want to or not wanna use it? And it all came down to plagiarizing. They don't want students cheating. And so [00:09:00] we already have a plagiar, you know, our policy around plagiarism. This is, we don't need to change anything if there's evidence of cheating. It's cheating.

We have protocols for that. And so for us it was creating a stoplight, right? Universal red, yellow, green. You know, red means stop, green means go. And so just our blanket foundation was, every assignment is assumed to be a red robot. No AI use allowed. If you, if you catch students doing it, it is considered cheating. You know, you work with your admin teams and all of that process, those processes. But that red robot grounded everyone, so those teachers who didn't even want have the capacity to, to play around with it or to wanna learn they were okay. Like our expectation was Red Robot. But then you had those early adopters who were Yellow Robot who were, and having it be a thought partner for students having it do personalized, differentiated learning for students. I, I'm a former Spanish teacher and I. I miss being in the classroom so much because of this, of being able to have a tutor, but on [00:10:00] hand for any lesson that you wanted at the level you needed. I. And so those Yellow Bot teachers were the ones that we focused on the most, where Green Bot was something we hadn't even, we're still working out what that means.

'cause that means the assignment is using AI and you have to turn in the the transcript and you always have to cite it. But we. I will admit too, that we went way too hard in the beginning of the year 'cause we were so excited and so we had to reevaluate and slow down it the first semester where instead of fo 'cause we wanted kids to be using it, that was our, you know, intention.

But intention versus impact doesn't always land. And so we rolled it back and then this semester, the summer is all on teacher exposure and making them feel comfortable. 'cause that that's, you know, being AI literate. If teachers aren't AI literate, how can they. Help students be that way.

Well, and that idea of AI literacy is is important too. Can you talk a little bit more about what that looks like for you?

Oh, absolutely. So this is one of those [00:11:00] awesome conversations. I work with brilliant people and one of my favorite things about them is we argue all the time, but for like to get to a common understanding. And so being AI literate, this was our discussion of disagreeing, getting the marker board and just writing it all out.

But it ended up, we came up with such a good solution we feel so passionately about, is. Uh, AI literate means using AI with care and care is clarity. A is accuracy. R is relevance, and E is ethics. And so when you using ai, are you evaluating it? Are you making, are you trying to look if there's a bias there?

Is it true? Right. A is not always correct. And so using it with care as the framework that we are training our AI ambassadors, which are those teachers who went full yellow, green bot. And so then they can, and the other thing. I know this is shocking to all admin, but teachers learn best from teachers, not from admin.

I know it's shocking, but we're really trying to empower our teachers. 'cause that's who, that's how they learn best. And so that, that framework of use with care is how we are trying, [00:12:00] you know, working slowly rolling it out to, to our leaders, to our department chairs, and then for it to

Well, I'm so glad, Lauren, that you said that your framework for AI literacy is using AI with care because anything more than that, nobody's going to hear. And so kudos to you for making it simple and clear and direct so that people can figure it out. And. Even if you don't know that ca care stands for clarity, accuracy, relevance, and ethics.

You can still probably make a pretty good choice about using it with care and, and so I just think that is really, really wise and I, I want to, I just want to congratulate you on doing that because so many times we're like, let's wordsmith this and make a mission statement that incorporates everything that everybody feels is important, and being able to say it so succinctly really matters.

Because every time somebody's wants to [00:13:00] do something, you can ask, is this using it with care? And then if you do that, then the conversation can continue or it can just stop right there. So kudos to you. Anything else you wanna say about that?

Well, thank you. That was, thank you for saying that it, I mean, I referenced that conversation that took

hours to come up with. That was not easy. There was a lot of disagreement, but that was the whole goal is like when you had the stoplight, you know what that means? You don't need for us to break down.

What every single step of the robot, the colors mean. 'cause, you know, so same with care. So thank you. And we're just excited to see the next role phase or rollout is really getting it into the hands of students. And so I am so curious to hear the student feedback when it comes to that and what that means to them.

Yeah. And using AI with care is going to help because kids are going to do stupid things with it and they're going to use it inappropriately. And when they do, I. Then you can say, were you using it with care? [00:14:00] And they'll be able to say, no, I wasn't. And then you'll be able to help them learn, not just punish them or, or say, you know, here's, here's where this is wrong.

And we're not even tell you how that's wrong. You can help them reason through why it is that that was, that was a bad thing for them to do. So. Good work. So in my book, how to Be a Transformative Principle, I have have a chapter on vision and mission for your school, and I. And that's one of the things that I bring up so many times is if you, if it's not simple and direct and clear, then nobody's gonna remember it and nobody's gonna pay attention to it and nobody's gonna follow it, most importantly.

So, good job. So the red, yellow, green robot and the using AI healthcare, two major takeaways that I think are, are really powerful. So. You said that your goal now is to get students to use it. What are your

plans for rolling [00:15:00] out for students and how are you gonna make it as effective as possible?

So, perfect timing for this question is if you asked me a month

ago, I don't know if I would've had a confident answer. So great timing on our part. But we are, our district is. In the midst of launching the academy model for our students. And so the whole intention around an academy model is to prepare students for the workforce where every freshman in our district next year will enter a freshman experience class, and that entire class for the whole year is to expose them to different career pathways, whether it's guest speakers, visit all of that. And so we are writing the curriculum for that freshman experience course and you know, our executive director of CT, who is just phenomenal, he happens to be like my former mentor when I was a teacher at a school. And so we just have an awesome partnership and we are working with him and his group of freshman experience teachers to add digital mindfulness and AI [00:16:00] literacy to their curriculum. And so we are preparing I mean, I know, so I'm totally blanking on the name. Common Sense Media. I believe they have a great digital citizenship course already created. So we're looking at integrating that of what it means to be a good digital citizen, but part of being a good digital citizen is using AI with care.

And so we're going to be creating two weak lessons for each one in the one in the fall, one in the spring, and then before they enter. Sophomore year, they are going to have to do some sort of project that involves ai, that solves a real world, real world problem. And so next year is going to be our first launch of students.

And I like that we're starting small. I like that we're just starting with freshmen. So that gives us time to, you know, in four years from now we're gonna have hit every student. And we're, that to me is just amazing. 'cause if we didn't start small, it be can, it can seem overwhelming. It can seem like not possible where in four years. We'll meet our goal, but next year is going to be just massive. We're so [00:17:00] excited. (ad here)

Very cool. So, you're digging into some other aspects that we could go on for hours about. We won't,


put in the show notes a link to resources around my. My stuff about synergy, which which is exactly what we did in my middle school several years ago, and gave every student, this is what we said.

This time, it's set aside specifically twice a week for an hour and a half each time, so three hours total each week, which is a lot of time in a school day. Is a time for you to work on a project that makes the world a better place, and you get to define world and you get to define better. And so there are a lot of resources there.

I'd be happy to help you out with, I've already done all the work for that, so I'd be help, happy to help you out with some of that because there's a lot of

systems and processes that go into that,

that, that if you, if you don't do it. Well, it, it makes it more and more challenging, but when you do it [00:18:00] well, then it's like amazing things can happen.

And just real briefly, what we saw was, was kids doing things that were just mind blowing in so many different ways from little things like volunteering at an animal shelter


a student who wanted to create a social network where there would be no bullying that would be just used for our school. Now


the girl never created that, but she learned a ton along the way.

Things that were not even within the realm of our curriculum as a middle school student. That was really powerful. And what I loved about it was that kids had to learn how to do these things on their own, and they didn't have like. You can't say like, no offense to certain CTE curriculums that are basically like, here's a puzzle piece.

Go put this puzzle together. That, that project-based learning approach, [00:19:00] that's not really real. You know, like

it's like putting together an IKEA thing and saying that you're a woodworker, you're just not, you know,

Ooh. Yeah.

that, that was good. I've never said that before, but I'm, I'm gonna remember that. So. Anyway, I, I think there's real power in doing that kind of student driven type of opportunity and it ties in AI in a powerful way, but it also doesn't force AI to be part of it.

And AI can, can help with things now that I didn't have access to back when we were doing it. So anyway, I'll put that link in the show notes. There's a lot of good stuff there. Last question that I want to ask you is if you could go back and do it again. What things would you have changed based on what you've, what you know now?

Ooh, that is a very good question. It might be, I, I dunno, this might be naive in my, or, you know. I, I'm gonna restate that. A part of me wouldn't change anything [00:20:00] because we've just learned so much along the way that I don't wanna, I don't take any of that for granted. And I like when we make mistakes and learn from it because no mistakes are harming students, right?

So like, when, if that's your threshold of mistake, like we're doing fine. But I think looking back, bringing, trying to get more people. Onboard faster. 'cause I think we kept our core team, like we understood it, we were fully aware of it. And so we were, we, we, we like to use the term red pilled, like from the matrix.

Like we were red, red pilled a year, you know, a year and a half ago. And not everyone was, and so our core team was small and we've done so many cool things. But if we could have gotten more people red pilled with us, then I think that impact could have been faster. Um, but I just, I don't take for granted anything that we've experienced because it's all made us better leaders and better thought partners to talk about this 'cause, right.

You learn most when you fail. And so I know that was a little cliche, but I also do

feel that

No, that's cool. I can appreciate it. [00:21:00] And I think that idea of, of, I wouldn't say, I wouldn't phrase it as trying to get more people on board faster, but I would say inviting more people to the table sooner, which is a little bit different, you know, because it's not like you're trying to convince anyone.

This is the way it, it's that you're trying to. Have people be involved in the process and when

that's what's going on. Because that's what I heard you saying, even though you

didn't use those exact words,

you're trying to not get people on board. You're not trying to convince anybody. Like if you, if

you don't wanna teach like this, like it's okay.

It's not the end of the world.

There's plenty of time for you to to, to get on board as it were. But we want you to be involved and we want you to be involved, especially if you have stronger pains against it. Because

then you can tell us the things that aren't working and what you're afraid of, and then we can know ahead of time.

And you don't just have to be over there [00:22:00] scared and afraid that you're not gonna get what you need from this. So I, I think that's really powerful. This has been a great conversation. If people want to reach out more reach out and learn more from you, Lauren, how should they do that?

So I can also share, and I don't, I know you mentioned show notes earlier but we have an AI playbook that we have created as our district because we've gone through so many things this past year that has slides of. You know what you can talk to your cabinet about, or if you need to convince your superintendent to get on board, like we kind of have all of that documented. And so I can share that

link, With you. It is AI for the, the number four So that, and then also my email if that could be shared in it. We love talking about this. So any questions or, Hey, can we have, do you have something for this or can we use your stoplight? Like, yes, the answer is yes

to everything. 'cause that's the one nice thing about educators is we do not need to reinvent the wheel

every time.

Yeah. for sure. Well, Lauren, this was great. Thank you so much for being here and thanks for taking the time to be [00:23:00] on a vision for learning.

Oh my gosh. Thank you. This was awesome. I mean, as you said, we could have probably talked for six hours. I don't think that

goes with the, the flow of your show, but we, we could have. 'cause it's

so exciting.

part two.


Integrating AI in Education with Lauren Owens