Design Thinking and Artificial Intelligence in Education: Why Now?

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Dr. Sabba Quidwai gives you the skills and strategies to build your human advantage and be irreplaceable in a world with AI. For the past decade she’s been doing this with schools and businesses using a method called design thinking. By marrying design thinking with futures thinking, she helps organizations create a culture of innovation that’s not only responsive but also preparatory. While we can’t predict the future, design thinking and design sprints allow us to be well-prepared for multiple scenarios. 

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Welcome to another episode in season two of Voices for Excellence. I’m your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and Founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group and proud host of VFE. Today’s guest, it’s just an absolute honor to have her on. She is, yes, she is one of the design thinking, AI experts not just here domestically but internationally as well. It was roughly about, I would say, what, two years ago? Three years ago, Sabba? Yes, about three years ago. Right. We just started talking and I’m like, man, Sabba is like, who is she? So I had to ask multiple people and they’re like, no, no, she is the queen of design thinking. She’s the Queen of AI. And then the more I just started to engage with Sabba, with our conversations, seeing her, whether it be in California, and then most recently she brought the weather with her to New York City for Ed Tech. It was so good to see her. And then finally, I’m at Ed Tech, and I’m like, Sabba, can I get you on my podcast. She’s like, of course I would love to. And finally we have, we got her. So it is so good and and an absolute honor to have Dr. Sabba Quidwai, CEO of Design Schools, her own organization. To my listeners and to my viewers, if you have not or if you don’t know Dr. Quidwai, please just go into her work, unwrap it, and you will learn a ton. You want to talk about a master’s class? Yes, we’re about to have one here on VFE. So, Dr. Quidwai, Sabba, how are you? So good to see you. You didn’t bring the weather today, it’s actually 36 degrees over here. Yes, cold. But so good to see you, my friend. How are you?

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Oh my God, thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m doing well. And I also found our first conversation to be extremely memorable. I was so impressed by your work. I’m always just really impressed by people. And I love when we can make connections between themes, and you were a master at that inner connection between so many different themes. So thank you for having me. I’m excited to chat with you today.

Dr. Michael Conner

Sabba, the episode ends right now. I got my marketing live from you, now be able to ask my marketing team to take all of the nice little sentiments that I get and just end it. No, I’m just playing Sabba, It means so much coming from you because I respect your work holistically. The impact that you’re having on practitioners, the impact that you’re having on leaders, but more importantly, really unpacking the necessary transformation, the necessary redesign that needs to occur in education. And you are a leading voice in our country. So let’s use this as a master’s class, but for us, it’s a straight geek out session. But Dr. Quidwai, first question, right? I know your work personally. A lot of my listeners and viewers, they know your work, but when leaders, educational stakeholders and innovation agents within the ecosystem engage in a session with you, whether it be around design thinking, whether it be around strategically integrating AI into the organizational elements or just even into our operating model ourself what change would look like. What song describes your work for impact in the AC stage of education?

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Well, I guess… Okay, so the first one that comes to mind is, and honestly, this is like my power song as well, it’s Unstoppable by Sia where, she goes like, I’m a Porsche with no brakes, like I unstoppable, like I can do basically… you know, I’m so powerful, like, I can do anything today. And that’s, I think, why I love design thinking so much, because being able to return that feeling of agency and that feeling of being unstoppable to people, I think is that’s the gift that I hope to be able to give others. You are unstoppable. You can do anything you want if you have the right exercises, frameworks, practices and mindset and, you know, being able to fuel you as you go on your way.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Thank you, Sabba. Unstoppable. Yes, you are right. When I think about… we all are. But I mean Dr. Quidwai, so correctly stated when you think of design thinking, I always like to reference that first element of design thinking – Empathy. And that is right there that collection or that coalition around developing the work that is unstoppable. But I loved how you scaffold it, frameworks to exercise to your mindset, those different exercises to be able to get them in that mindset so that now that learning becomes into practice or that theoretical underpinning around those concepts of design thinking is articulated within the work. And I think that is the most essential pillar that we have to really focus on. But we continuously to build that collective shared capability, capacity around what this work look like for the vision or to meet the vision demands here. Right? We are all going to be unstoppable, but I want to I want to move on nicely into the segway, right, Dr. Quidwai? Around design thinking and agency referencing some some key points from your first answer. But when I think about this great design thinking in the context of organizational and classroom reimagination, right before in the B.C stage of education, before COVID, that was considered a nontraditional approach. Now it takes a pandemic to be able to really realize what this work looks like in the educational context, right? So it’s considered a net asset to transform systems to be in alignment with the current. And the future forecast to me is to prepare our students for Delta 2030. Now, in your own words, as a national expert with design thinking and its core principles, how do we leverage this approach to address complex challenges to systematize new opportunities and learning organizations holistically? I’ve just got all the answers, you know? The master’s class 101 everybody.

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

You know what’s so interesting? So, so much of the thing… so much of what drives my work is this. If I had to sum it up in one line, it’s this quote from William Gibson where he says the future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed. And I think as time goes on, things that we consider to be nontraditional or things that we consider to be unique approaches are actually luxuries for some that are not accessible to everyone else. And so when I think back to like 2007, I often share how, you know, when I graduated in 2007, I was the most cookie cutter person you could have ever imagined. Like I had… 2008 when the recession hit. You know, I was it was layoff notices for me for the next five years. Like I was so confused about how to adapt. But when now I look back at that time and I think, wow, well, Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007. People were creating Airbnb, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, like how was that happening? How did those people know? And I didn’t. And you realize that entrepreneurship or being able to have access to those opportunities was nontraditional for school, but a luxury that allowed others to have access to certain opportunities that people like me and many others didn’t. And so I really see design thinking practices in the same way in that yesterday it was a luxury and now it’s a necessity. And we’re seeing it so much with… it’s been truly, it’s been disappointing really to see where an education with such a powerful technology that really has the ability to be able to fill in so many of the gaps for us. But we have people they don’t most people don’t even know where to begin. And when they do begin, we’re seeing more like that same technology. First approach. Let me show you the top five apps to use and things like that. And one of the reasons we will encourage people so much to first, like don’t even think about the technology right now. Like just first and foremost, what are your people struggling with? You know, how are your people feeling? What do your people want to see in your organization? What you want to see in your organization when that is not being realized? And what are those barriers that are standing in your way? And this is important twofold. Number one, it’s really the only way to get people to take ownership in change and to have agency and to actually be excited and motivated about what’s possible. But number two, our entire professional development model, and this is specific to education of like we’re going to do the summer training or we’re going to do four sessions a year, or this idea that we’re waiting for somebody else to teach us is not going to work anymore. And the only way people are going to be independent learners and be motivated to do that, which is very ironic that we have to even say, given that our number one goal is to help cultivate and nurture lifelong learners. But the only way you’re going to get people invested in that strategy, invested in their own learning, is if they feel a motivation or something that is going to solve a problem for them. It has to be so uniquely personal. And the element then has to be able to be tied to your larger vision if we’re going to see success moving forward. Otherwise, I’m truly scared for people that, you know, are like, well, we’ll just wait. We’ll just see what happens. Or, you know, Yeah, what? We’ll do the air training next summer for all our teachers. Like the model just will not support the speed and scale of change that we see. And design thinking is not only just about, you know, let’s lean into your problems, your challenges, your frustrations, but also your hopes and dreams. It’s also what is just step one, because that’s another big challenge we see. We try to overhaul everything all in one go. And, you know, it breaks. We saw that. I think just with gpts which we can talk about a little bit later. But like we saw so many people just rushed to try to make things public and said of trying to personalize. Well what does this mean for me? Like how does this work for me before thinking about other kind of, you know, ripple effects that you could potentially then have once you have fine tuned as did iterated non feedback on what you’re working on?

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Dr. Quidwai, I want to go back to your original comment – 2007. And it kind of takes education a while to actually catch up or historically based off of quantitative measures that we’ve seen compared to the economic market. We haven’t caught up. Right. Giving you that prime example, I just gave a keynote a couple of weeks back in New Jersey, and what I talked about was the two part phenomena of before COVID with A.I. and education and before COVID, the economic market, What A.I. and education mean? Was it the novelty of it? Right? Very limited understanding negative connotations around A.I. in the education model. But when we talk about it in the economic market, customer service was using it right. We had logistics that were used in medical profession was used in it. We saw eBay, Netflix, Airbnb, even to the point of eBay. Right? We we saw that happening in even in 1956, John McCarthy gave a very concise, incoherent definition of what artificial intelligence was, 1956. So if we’re just, you know, really assimilating or accelerating to adopt principles of design thinking, adopt principles of A.I., we’re still behind. Right? And you stated it so eloquently as well, where it’s just this level of application adoption. And we’re going to get into that where we’re looking at A.I. solutions just in, I like to say this ad hoc form in lieu of really looking at it from a broad organizational design sense, I like to say whole systems transformation that is re authored by A.I. and emerging technologies. But hopes and dreams, ideation and moreover the mega theme I got from your response was agency and empathy, right? That agency and empathy working together. But Dr. Quidwai, again, the goal in education and is to memorialize equity and excellence you spoke about around the gaps, right with DT and how DT, design thinking, can be able to close those gaps at an accelerated rate.But we have to look at this in creative ways using design and agile principles and an evolving lever since the pandemic, what we’ve seen is elevating A.I. into the educational model. We talked about it on a very surface level. Now really want to go deep into this right is been presented with minimal guidance for implementation is kind of, hey, we got these great tools, let’s put it in this classroom, let’s put a different tool. So when we talk about incongruity, where we talk about coherence, right, that’s where now we can see a fundamental design gap, but in a concrete contextualized form. Dr. Quidwai, how do we group equity in our learning organizations in schools? By underscoring I as a systems level strategy?

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Yeah. And I think that’s probably one of the hardest things for people because it’s the irony of watching the systems that are designed to protect people fall apart at a time and have very little autonomy and authority over global affairs while also trying to design and put trust in these international or even national entities to again protect people in a conversation. I don’t think we’re having enough. It truly is. I think when people look back on this time going to be one of the biggest dichotomy between like, wow, like on this side you had those same institutions crumbling on this side, you’re trying to use those institutions to move you forward. Yet nobody is analyzing or asking, why do we have these discrepancies and why are these international organizations not protecting people in the way that they are designed to be able to, you know, come through in moments of need? And so I think even being able to put your hopes in or your confidence in, let’s just you know, let’s not even do international man. Let’s just see a national policy. Let’s just be really specific. The United States is going to be so challenging because it contradicts so many of the core values that while they might not be necessarily the values that we believe in, they are the values that operate our economic system. So, for example, we are not a society that believes in necessarily like like we’re a society that still struggles to give people access to college. We’re a society that still struggles to give. Look, we still wonder whether everybody should have access to health care. Very, very, very basic. Human needs are not things that we traditionally believe in holistically as a society. And so when you have those kinds of gaps that are present, but now you’re looking at another sort of like this outside agent who see coming in, it’s very challenging then to be able to align those different pieces together. And so I think within that is both an opportunity and a challenge. The challenges you’re you as a leader are looking to guidance when there is none because you are also trying to figure out what to do and how to put the pieces together. But one of the reasons I think design thinking can be so helpful is it is precisely designed for those ambiguous moments where there are no answers. You know, I always say when you look back at, you know, so I do this activity with people where we map out the technology that’s evolved over the last two decades and you see all the things all the way from Google to email social media to iPhones to, you know, all the things we have now.  And then we map the research alongside those emerging technologies. And one of the most significant papers came out in 2013 called Dancing with Robots. And this is, remember, ten years ago. It’s so hard for me to even wrap my head around that number. But and years ago, we had people telling us, researchers telling us this was Levy and Mernane telling us there are only two things that are going to matter in a world with A.I. being able to solve a complex problem, right? A problem to which there’s no answer. An alien education has no answer. And that answer is also going to look different for everyone. But number two, being able to engage in complex communication. You want it to look this way. I want it to look this like five people here want something different. How are we going to reach consensus and have dialog and debate that’s going to advance our societies? We fail miserably, unfortunately, in both areas, and those are the two most unique human skills and they’re the ones we need the most. And so one of the things that I love about design thinking is that it can give you the I see it’s like the guardrails to hold on to as you are walking into what could be a conversation that you have no idea what direction it’s going to go in. It allows you to control, which sounds so contradictory, right? Because we’re trying to create and design, but it is that very control. It is that very structure of the exercises and the frameworks that allow you to safely have dialog and discussion that could otherwise go off the rails. And you completely very quickly can lose control of those types of conversations, which is why I think many are even hesitant to open that door. And so when you use those proxies, when you use those frameworks, we visualize ideas. We know when to say things out loud, we know when to write things down. We know when to have dialog and debate, and we know when to just, you know, note and vote and just be able to like Mark our ideas around different things to really narrow things down. So there are a lot of frameworks and practices that can help us move in that direction. But to your question earlier, I think I don’t know that we’re going to at least I personally don’t have confidence in a national policy. And I think one of the things I was also really disappointed in and, you know, just given that, again, some of the things that we’ve seen over the last couple of years is I love how all of a sudden we want to be open to immigration when it suits us and we want to close the doors on people when it doesn’t suit us.And I think Biden’s requests to loosen immigration policies because the other impact of that is why do you have no national talent in AI? Why does it have to be a part of your policy that we have to go and seek people from the outside? What are we doing to strengthen our people from within? What and what do we investing in, in our own education systems to make sure that our students are going to college? Because you got to you know, you need to like, you know, have access to these opportunities to think if you’re going to go that deep into research and AI science and all these other pieces, sure. There’s other pathways where you don’t have to. But why is that not a choice that every single kid in this country gets to make for themselves? So I, for one, am not your proponents. You go out of national policy because I think there’s very hard, hard, hard conversations that need to be had if you want to be able to get to a place where we can have that. And I don’t know that society is ready to be honest to have those conversations.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, yeah. And Dr. Quidwai, wow. You brought up a great moment about national policy. I, I concur with you. 100% where we have to be able to build our own social capital around a I and you you stated it where there’s just so many variances with regards to the definition of AI and what it will look like from a cognitive standpoint. But I want to touch upon two things. One will be or the second will be a subquestion just or level setting with my listeners. But the national policy and also I want to underscore what you stated that because education has historically been so slow with adaptation or or adoption holistically of policies or even new governance practices, I believe that we won’t be able to come to a consensus around a national policy. I think the best that we might do is to develop national guidelines with the level of flexibility within the language and then also the evolution of AI being so fast. I think that the policy would be outdated within 20 minutes. Right. But I want to engage in something to critical points that you’d highlight. It very difficult for us to solve complex problems. Yes, I always reference Daniel Kahneman’s work around system systems. One think in versus systems to thinking and we revert so much on the cognitive ease as opposed to that cognitive stretching point that Kahneman always spoke about. How are we able to shift some of the dynamics to systems to thinking? And we were just linear systems, one thinking, but you touched upon it. We’re engaging in complex conversations, and there are immense variances among the individuals or stakeholders that are about bringing their own experience and bringing their own understood ending, whether it be theory or empirical studies. One of my professors at Harvard that I had Michael Tushman, love you Michael, hope all is well. Professor Tushman, you always stated that the artists level within an organization or even within a broad industry to achieve is not the transformation or redesign of the hardware, i.e. the architectures, the elements, the structures and the systems, but is more on the lines of achieving that universal shared mental model. The soft where everybody getting to think in the same direction, speaking the same language, common language of instruction, common lexicon around a I that is the hardest to achieve. And you touched upon it. But Dr. Quidwai just as a follow up question or subquestion, just for level setting purposes. Right. You and I, we’ve been referencing design thinking, DT, an abbreviation, right? But for my listeners and that they do I listen to I listen to the feedback. Everybody. All right. We’re going to unpack it even more. Dr. Quidwai, can you go over just from a level setting with my listeners, the elements of design thinking and in a very short, albeit abstract notion of what those elements mean.

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

But what we I would say if it was like one sentence design thinking as a method and a mindset for being able to either solve problems or discover new opportunities.  And it’s important to have that method and mindset. So if we start with the method, it’s, you know, like you shared earlier, we really begin with the empathy phase where we before we come up with any solution, before we decide what we’re going to do for our strategy or implementation or creation plan, we are talking to people, we are observing what’s happening. And the reason for that is, you know, that empathy lens challenges a lot of what you think should happen and allows you to really understand what needs to happen. And that gap that’s in between, it can be the difference between having a successful strategy or an unsuccessful and unsustainable one. And then from there, once you’ve kind of identified like, wow, this is really the problem we need to solve, it’s not about creating this long overarching plan with huge implementation. It’s about first figuring out what is step one going to be that we can put out into the world or into our organization that we can test to see are we on the right track? And it’s truly those bite sized steps that we take that allow us to constantly be doing those check ins. Okay, I need to test this. Okay. Let’s let’s go back with this little part here. Didn’t work. Let’s refine this. Okay. Let’s keep going, keep going, keep going. And you don’t even realize when that goes from being something really methodical, really step by step, that you’re following in a really structured way to just becoming a natural part of how you think, how you work and how you operate. It is it’s really hard to even have know when that defining moment is for you, but it happens to everyone. And the one thing I would say just, you know, going on what we were talking about is when there are no guidelines and that level of disruption is your ultimate opportunity for creation because no one has answers. So guess what? The person who comes up with those answers is going to be the one that people look for. And there’s a positive and negative in that because your answers could be great and could really help. They could also not be so, but because people have no other thing to turn to that will naturally kind of become the default. And so every single community has an opportunity to be like, what do we want to do in this moment? What do they want to advocate for? And what is that going to look like for us? Because no one’s really telling us what it should look like.

Dr. Michael Conner

You’re right. You’re right. Thank you, Dr. Quidwai. And I just wanted to clarify, you know, for my listeners, because obviously one thing I wanted to do was I used this as an asynchronous professional learning platform, self-directed learning and heterodoxy. And I want them to replay this back, right, Replay this episode back. And then to be able to have the basic conceptual constructs of what design thinking is and how they’re able to create opportunity rounded or rooted in creativity. But based off of your work, Dr. Quidwai, both nationally and internationally, we you know, we’ve seen this explosion of A.I. tools. If I hear chat GPT one more time, right? I always say this, Dr. Quidwai, if I mean from within the ecosystem, every time that I hear chat GPT I put a dollar in the hat, right? And I tell you, I will be a very, very, very rich man right now, even in the matter of seven days when we talk about that. But based off of your work nationally, internationally, what future trends as well as signals should we be paying attention to with regards to A.I. and also to as a second part of this question is which strategies from a reverse engineering perspective have and to my order is reverse engineering specifically meaning you have the it goes from full support. Part of all your reconstructing or your deconstructing to reconstruct a new model. So from a reverse engineering standpoint, Dr. Quidwai, should we implement AI for success in the business model of education, or how do we do that from that lens?

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

You know, I would say right now there’s you know, real answer for like this is what you should do. Exactly. And this is how you should roll it out and how it can look like there are. However, though, a lot of things to consider when you call signals, right? I love Jane McGonigal and her book imaginable where she talks about like signals of change. And when you look back, those signals seem so obvious and it can feel like you don’t know what they are, but they’re actually not that hard to begin to spot if you start paying attention. So I would say I feel like for a lot of us, one of the reasons A.I. is so hard to wrap your head around is because a lot of people like we talk a lot about the shift the Internet made. We don’t talk enough about the shift mobility bros. When the idea of what iPhones and mobility in general allowed for it is something that really only a fraction of the population took advantage of what it means to actually build a business and live wherever you want and be able to make more money than you would in a 9 to 5 is something most people still cannot even wrap their heads around, let alone actually go out and build it and create it for them selves. Now that same large population wishes they knew how right it is. The dream for people. I think for so many to be able to leave your 9 to 5 and I think if you are and you know it also got me thinking how like Internet still today isn’t even accessible to everyone. Right? Right. It’s still there’s a huge equity gap even just in that space right there. So now you think Internet isn’t even something that most people have access to, let alone how to build on top of it? Right? Then you think about mobility and the shift that iPhone brought about, and you think about how many people don’t know how to build on top of it and don’t have access to those like, you know, and actually making it meaningful. Now you are in the mix. And so one of the things you begin to see is how that opportunity gap is getting bigger and bigger and bigger simply because we don’t understand how to leverage these technologies for personal, professional and academic use. Sure, we can scroll shore, we can write a poem on Chat GPT, but can we create economic value for ourselves out of these technologies to design a life that’s different than what we had before? If you truly want to escape that industrial model, it requires new structures and new ways of looking at things. We are struggling today to even understand online school. We’re struggling to I mean, forget school people can’t even figure out a hybrid workplace, right? People want everyone back in the office and it’s because mobility is not a mindset that we have.  And so that’s to me, the biggest gap that I see. And I always tell people, if you can understand mobility, you’ll be able to understand so many areas of how I actually does play a really, really significant role. However, if you’re in a really traditional environment, I can see why you don’t think it would be as valuable to you because you’re not able to see the possibilities of outside of that traditional model that you’ve been living in for so long. So being able to like, look at examples of other things that are happening in other industries, what what are people doing? What are people building, How are people creating things? And I think one of the biggest opportunities I think for so many people is how many people have ideas. They want to start something, they want to do something. It may or may not have that economic value that’s going to take you out of what you’re currently and into something different. But I find a lot of people have ideas and really struggle to execute, and I’m one of them. You know, I had so many things I wanted to build, but I knew I would need to hire so many people before I could get there. And one of them was really my online course, right? There’s a lot of moving pieces, like building the course is easy, but the email funnels, the sales, the marketing strategies, all those different pieces require you to really hire out. And what I was able to do for me was unimaginable. Like I truly still tell this day, I’m shocked that I’m able to get they were kind of results from it that I am by putting in a free product that would have cost a couple hundred dollars thousand dollars to go and hire for it. But why do I have that mindset? Because I’m looking for more mobility in my life. I’m looking for passive income in my life. I’m looking for other economic opportunities. So I can see how I is not taking anything for me that’s helping accelerate what my goals are. So that’s a really big thing, is really being able to identify what do you actually want, What kind of life do you want, What do you see happening around to you that you wish you could have, that you don’t? And what is the way to that look like? You know, whatever that may be for you? And I think on a personal level, being able to do that will really help automatically unlock a lot of the professional. And then from a reverse engineering standpoint, I think many of the skills and things that we need are in front of us, right? Like we know that, you know, we used to always, always talk about we don’t know what job kids tomorrow are going to have. Forget jobs. We don’t even know the world is going to look like it’s not even humans you’re competing against anymore. It’s like humans. And I like the world is just completely like I mean, it’s it’s you know, a free for all whatever you think it could be, it quite possibly could. And in such an on and in such an ambiguous space, the only thing you can do is build your skill set. One stop. You need to be lock step in key with this technology, not waiting to see what everyone else is doing. Before you decide to go in and learn. Because you know, it’s so interesting, you know what you say about chatbots and how many people are talking about it. They went from a 100 million users in two months to at the keynote. You know, last week, they shared how they had 100 million weekly users, why none of those hundred million weekly users or maybe its monthly users, whatever, weekly or monthly, a significant number, only 1% subscribe and used it for only 1% into what I tell people. And like I tell this day, just the last week I was with a group of leaders. It was using four, maybe one hand goes up, maybe. And I tell people, if you’re using the free version, it’s like you’re playing with an iPod and you’re designing an entire strategy for the future around an iPod. And tomorrow everyone’s walking in with a them. Wow. Wow. You’re spending so much time thinking, designing and talking about what is already obsolete, right? Because the actual technology is so different. But if you are somebody like I think I really wonder about that person now who all of a sudden gets for today, you’ve a huge learning curve, you know, I mean, it just came out last week and we if you’re learning curve is not moving lockstep in key with the technology, it’s it’s going to be really hard, I think, for that adjustment to take place because tomorrow I think we’re going to see Enterprise versions much more quicker than we probably imagine. And when you do, that’s everyone walking with them. But then you spend all your time just playing with an iPod, building a strategy around not that I think that is going to I think in 2024. That’s the big challenge we’re going to see.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Well-stated, Dr. Quidwai, well-stated specifically? You know, the advanced levels of sophistication with the language models, prompt engineering that we’re engaging in and fascinating data point, right, that just say only 1% is using the second iteration of chat GPT. So going back to the B.C stage of education, where education had this, I like to say resistance to assimilate even to the novel levels of a I and before stage where our economic market was already transitioning and leveling artificial intelligence into the economy. But one thing your overall answer goes back to another professor. I had Kareem McConney. He is the author of Competing in the Compete in the Age of AI. Right. And fascinating book. Fascinating course that I had him with, but he as well resonates with me a I won’t replace humans a I with humans will replace humans without A.I. and that’s essentially what you’re talking about with your answer with regards to this level of mobility and mobility as a mindset, I think that’s going to be a radical and fundamental paradigm shift that’s going to be underscored when amidst paradoxes on an individual. If mobility becomes a mindset. But listen to my listeners. Dr. Quidwai is 20 years ahead of the game. So listen, download chat GPT 4.0 and make sure you have a mindset that is undergirded with mobility. But I want to elaborate on something that you stated and this is a question I keep asking because I have this intuition that it might become an equity gap or an equity challenge that we are going to face, and that is exactly opportunity and access for all and to use I a part of this new economic value. But just like what we see with racial equity, gender equity, all of the inequities in disparities that we still in education, I believe that and again, this is just the forecast, Dr. Quidwai that a guy is going to become the new equity or disparity amongst historically excluded groups. Speaking specifically, just in context, gender and racial equity of what we’ve been fighting for in education, even in the economy for so long. Do you forecast this as a future issue that now we’re going to have to add another level of equity, which is going to be created by A.I. and these new emerging technologies?

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Yeah, So I would say twofold. Absolutely. Yes. But also this is what happens when you’re not lockstep in key with emerging technologies and you’re not keeping pace with the system. So another article that we have on that timeline that we share that maps, you know, technology to research is 2001. Paul Atwell Right. In 2001. So now, not ten years ago when ten years ago we had people telling us, look, you don’t just have a digital divide, you got a digital use divide where some people get access to technology to solve problems. And that’s why in 27 you had people like building Facebook, you were building IP, you had people doing these things and people like me who didn’t have that access to those kinds of experiences, struggling to keep up and keep pace and adapt to what was going on. Because you don’t even know the first thing about being on an iPhone at that time. Like it opened up until, like, you know, a couple of years after the. But again, it’s I think it’s so important I remind people of this often because not to say that you shouldn’t be let off the hook, but because we have to reflect on asked if we’re going to do something differently in our present. And I think when people don’t reflect on the past, that’s when you are more reactive and that’s when you don’t realize like I have like, you know, after we show that timeline, we ask people like, what are the unintended consequences of not designing schools in a world that’s rapidly changing? And we see unintended, you know, very intentionally, because it’s not like we chose to do this to people. It’s not like we wanted to do this. But when we don’t keep pace, there are consequences for us that seeing the speed and scale of not if technology is also matching the speed and scale of consequences. And so, you know, 2016, like again, almost ten years ago, Stanford’s graduate school, a history education group, did a study on information literacy and how people were able to just, you know, navigate online information and disinformation, literacy, media literacy on the Internet and in their report and in their write up in 2016, they said if, you know, children are the future, the future is very ill informed because they had 80% of high school students that couldn’t tell whether a source, when they didn’t even checked to see if a source was on their like valid late. Was this real or was this not real, You know? And now today you’ve got deepfake technology proliferating and it’s going to get even worse. They feel like we haven’t even seen like the bits and pieces that are going to come yet. But they said their data found like their like conclusion from their study was that the future is bleak, dismal and a threat to democracy because these very basic information and literacy skills are like essential to like, you know, interrogate these technologies that we’re seeing now. And so those are like some of the challenges like you see from that lens. But the one again, I go back to though, the design thinking is that if you’re constantly waiting for somebody else to give you something, you’re going to be waiting a very long time. And I, I would love to see more people really like, our big education organizations, really. And I imagine this is coming because I imagine this is happening. But we have to get better at advocating for our kids and for our teachers. I think this is a real moment, you know, for education, like for a profession that’s been so neglected to literally be like, we are like your ultimate key and may be able to unlock a society that knows how to operate in this way. But if we’re not going to give our educators and our schools access to these technologies in advance, like we give them to influencers, we give them to all these other people, if we’re not going to give this to our schools, how in the world do we expect our next generation to be prepared? And that that is the equity issue of our time? Because like I just shared this in the last few months or so, a huge gap between that free version and that paid version. And if you don’t even know what the paid version is, you can’t even begin to think about what’s possible for you, let alone how to operate.

Dr. Michael Conner

It’s absolutely well-stated. Dr. Quidwai And just for my listeners, Dr. Quidwai, you referenced Paul out was work and then the 2016 report from Stanford University so that my listeners will be able to obtain that through their own independent research.

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Or I’ll you want me send you a link to it.

Dr. Michael Conner

No, no. If you could just say right now.

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Yea, so it’s 2001, Paul Atwell. I want to, I wanted to… just Google Paul Atwell those you’ll use divide and you’ll see that’s 2001 and then the second one is going to be 2016. Stanford History Education Group. Just like media literacy or something like that will come up.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you. Thank you. Because my listeners like the Google like me, Dr. Quidwai my I’ve been very, very I get yawn at the amount of emails that I get. So I would just to say, hey, you know, on that episode, what was the research that they were referencing or what was the white paper that they were referencing? So just want to put it in context so that they’ll be able to do their own independent research. And you talked about something, right, That is very important, critical, essential information of literacy skills. And I think that that’s one of the ground it root it’s skills that are students, specifically Generation Z, Generation Y, and I’m sorry, Generation Z and Generation Alpha are going to need. But advocating for teachers and our students. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. And I think that we have to be able to double down on that advocacy in the AC stage of education with the multiple competing variables that we’re seeing in education, even to the level of how we’re able to unwrap and address mental health, you know, social emotional wellness for students. But we talked about it with A.I. with regards to the specific inequities that we are potentially or forecasted to see. But also, if you can just elaborate, how do we avoid pitfalls around compromised data ethics, around data exploitation and an overreliance of technology? Moreover, Dr. Quidwai, let’s be honest. When you and I enter rooms around psychometric evidence data scientists around statisticians who are developing these models and these algorithms for a high degree of F1 accuracy, they don’t look like us. Dr. Quidwai, you and I were going there high fiving, like, Hey, we’re the only ones in here and we can speak for that because this is objectively stating the data, because we’ve been in those rooms, right? And when we talk about algorithms that are free of bias, I want to add that in there. How do we avoid these pitfalls?

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Yeah, I want to go back to your mental health one really quick second. Yeah, please do. Example of why design thinking matters so much. So the state, probably the time that the Center for Democracy and Technology just did a survey asking all people how students were using charging modes like one of the questions or just generative. I don’t know what the exact question is, but the findings were that at a time when we are so fixated on cheating and plagiarism, then the one of the top the main way in which students are actually using these AI technologies is for support with mental health. A lot of the students were using it for depression, anxiety. They were using it to figure out how to get solutions to conflicts with friends in conflicts with family, friends rank higher than family. Family was last, but it was my own anxiety and mental health conflicts with my friends and conflicts with my family. And one of the things like, you know, there’s like that book, like lives, my teacher told me I have this thing we have like lives. We tell teachers, like that idea that you are somehow invincible because as a teacher you build relationships is probably one of the biggest lies we’re telling people that is going to make them obsolete. And I feel like as someone who graduated the teacher really unprepared, I really don’t like like if if I think back to myself, if I was a new teacher or if I was, you know, doing something like that now and somebody gave me this like reassurance. But then three years from now, it turned out to be completely untrue. You just completely wasted three years of my opportunity to learn to grow and figure things out. And I want to really it’s like one of my biggest goals is to make sure I always see in the worst case scenario, even if I doesn’t take your job, you just became a thousand times better at what you do. You just your skill set just up leveled a thousand times. Because even when we use that quote like, as long as you use air, you won’t be replaced. The one big piece that’s missing from that entire equation is your income and your quality and your standard of living. Because, sure, you may have a job, but imagine tomorrow as a teacher if you’re only needed for 60% of your job and you only get 60% of your pay, what does that mean for you? And so what do you need to do to make sure you’re a 150% and the air is always at its because you better believe the air is going to bring its A-game If they have a fire that they have, It’s everything that you better believe it’s going to bring its A-game. And the more we see it, just what we see in the last year is any side or signal for what’s to come. It’s you need to be 150% of what you do. But that doesn’t mean you work 150%. It means I work maybe 30% at a 150% level. And those people who are able to master that, those are the people who could safely say, okay, I think we’re going to be okay. We’re going to have to keep like lockstep or key, but we’re going to be okay. So I really want to make sure people realize not to trust everything they hear and to really always be thinking about how you’re up leveling your own skill set. And so to answer your question then about data, it’s such a this one is so these questions are so hard, at least for me, because I so much history. I like politics. I’m like all these they’re so intertwined. And if I was to say anything, I’d say this is one of the hardest things. And this goes back to that complex communication. We are going to see things become more and more and more intertwined. It is going to be impossible to have a conversation. Even now, when I walk into a space, if I’m hesitant, but it is soon going to be impossible to have a conversation about the future of AI without being able to integrate politics, without being able to integrate all these other very difficult conversations that we like to tiptoe around and is also, I think, unfair for education to bear that burden. They shouldn’t your schools should not have to be the center of solving every single challenge in the world. No support. And I think for those of us who are outside of schools looking for how we advocate, the schools not have to be the ones to take on that responsibility alone isn’t going to be really hard. Like I’ll tell you right now was like just in California in 2025, all schools are supposed to have ethnic studies and you know, you would not they hope to keep a deal given how diverse the state is. It’s it’s it’s a nightmare for school and navigate. And why should a superintendent have to be at the mercy of their board and their own political opinions instead of being able to look out for the best interests of all kids and focus on what they need to be doing to support everyone in their organization. And so there’s a lot of accountability at different levels. So when we talk even about things like data and whatnot, like as a society, we don’t really have I mean, honestly, we’re so like lucky to have Apple that put in some of the restrictions that they did so that Facebook couldn’t sit and just eat away all our data. And that’s another thing. When you think about signals, you think about how, you know, there’s so many acknowledges that we use where we think it’s so harmless. I’m just uploading a photo. like we’re all doing this trending real in the same way. And then you begin to understand algorithms and then you begin to understand how they’re trained. And the more alike these things are, the easier it is that algorithm to categorize everyone up. And so there’s so many from a societal level, so many thing about technology companies don’t or are not held accountable for it, that it’s so funny even. You mentioned, you know, I think it was you earlier, you mentioned Grok and, you know, Elon Musk and some of these new ones. It was so funny just a few months ago, all of them were talking about how we need to have restrictions. And, you know, need to like not be like competing. And we need to be like, careful. And now here you are, like you can tell open air. This is another really big important thing for people to know. If you listen to any interview with anyone from Open Air, it is so they’re like a kid who has to keep a secret. And that’s literally the vibe you get, you know, and you can so easily tell they have so much. And if you listen carefully to what they’re saying, they’re saying we’re giving this to you as a gift. We’re releasing this as a gift to you so that you can figure things out and not be super overwhelmed. When this comes about. It is so obvious from listening to them. That is the number one thing you hear. So I really encourage people to like there’s a lot of things that are out of our control that not that we shouldn’t focus on them, but the more you focus on yourself and the more you focus on understanding the technologies, the better positioned you’ll be to have conversations around data ethics, around privacy and around all these things, because the government doesn’t understand the technology and really cannot even regulate these tech companies. And also that’s for capitalism comes into play as well, right? Like we it’s going to be very Harvard in a lot of ways. This is not something a school alone can fix and solve and create every answer for it. The only thing you really do is have values that are constantly being echoed. You are every single thing you do to create a culture around those values that, sure, some people may not all apply like, you know, abide by, but that I feel I don’t know what to tell people other than value. Like, I really don’t. I don’t. And I always say, like, rules are meant to be broken. So you put a thousand rules in place. Rules are meant to be broken. But when we believe in values, we uphold them. You know, it’s it’s how relationships are truly built are through values, not rules. Right? Like good luck building a relationship around rules, you know, bad values. We feel bad, right? We we don’t want to disappoint, but there’s a there’s a deeper human emotion, I think, with values that it’s data ethics. All of these are really, really complex conversations and ones that we have to hold a lot of different groups of people accountable for.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Well, stated Sabba, well, well-stated, specific Only when you got to the way I’m just referencing in my notes around the algorithmic design. Right. And supervised algorithms. But the more data that is collected, the stronger the intelligence is becoming. And I love how you characterize that when you hear somebody from open A.I. because it’s so true is like, Wait, wait, you’re only given a piece of we only give it a piece of the pie when there’s you got the whole pie. And within that piece, or I should say the alignment with the data set, that data says that they’re release and we should be developing these algorithms to really solve economic inequity issues. But it’s more analyze how we put these regulatory mandates to hold tech companies accountable for that. It’s going to be very interesting. As we’re seeing the next iteration of AI, we’re talking A.I. and education. But let’s be real. We’re at the next stage of generative AI, where now prompt engineering and levels of different data engineer in they’re wrangling processes are turning into, I like to say, these advanced front end experiences, but the back end of it is so complex and intricate and so far advanced that I think that education needs to have this urgency acceleration, albeit strictly jig and pragmatic. I know that’s a great dichotomy, will bring immense cognitive dissonance to people, but it goes back to what you stated at the outset. We can’t look at the answers in this binary way. So Dr. Quidwai, last question. And Sabba you made it. You made it through VFE. You had me on the hot seat making sure I’m okay, asking the national expert about design thinking, AI all the necessary questions so my listeners will be able to take back the critical and core content from our conversation into their practices around the design thinking of testing these new elements within their learning organizations. But I always say this from season one now it’s season two, Dr. Quidwai, people take this question, and I try to limit him to three words, but they, they, they used a level of design thinking, right? They create their own opportunities to really answer the question. So it’s really only meant to be three words. But from a design thinking standpoint, create new opportunities to expand. Not just those three words. But what three words do you want today’s audience to leave our episode with in regards to underscoring AI to address a dealt in student modalities in the AC stage of education? What three words would provide intentionally to build capabilities and learning styles so that it becomes a complementary context with using AI in our learning organizations today and moving forward?

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Though, I think my first one and this is probably one of my biggest core values is freedom. Yeah, I think freedom is often used just sometimes politically like, I get to vote or I get to like, you know, you have choices and things like that. It’s freedom has so many layers. It’s freedom of tying, freedom of space, freedom of thinking. There’s so many different things that accompany freedom and also looking at freedom from an equity lens, like the freedom of every single human being. It’s, you know, traditionally it’s just been human against human. It’s now human versus AI. You’ve got a third entity in the mix. And when humans themselves are not aligned, it’s like even, you know, when like a family, for example, like if you or a friend, like if you’re not aligned and you’re not on the same page, you don’t have each other’s backs. There’s an opening now for third party to come in and cause disruption and cause chaos in a way that you couldn’t even have imagined because you’re weak. Humans are so weak right now. So, so, so weak right now. And so I think looking at how we somehow recover from this like colonial mindset from all these, like, like it shocks me that think that we have been brainwashed in such a way that we can look at some people and think one thing and look at other people and look another way. It is truly I mean, forget any political view. You hold the idea that somebody has done that to you is is should frighten you. And so now that there’s that opening for you, I what does that possibly mean for you? And we’re so programed to think it would never be neat. And I think we’re going to be really shocked to see what happens in this next decade if, like, humans don’t get it together. So that’s my first one is freedom on so many different levels. My second one is to balance that out. Optimism. I think there’s so much reason for hope. I think, you know, when I look at this next generation, I am not a big TikTok user, but I lately because it just seems to be the best source of news, have been scrolling TikTok. And I am absolutely blown away by how people are sharing perspective, how people are shifting perspective, how people are building community, how people are supporting each other, how people are fundraising. There are just all these different things. And the dial log that’s taking place, that’s not just young people, it’s them being able to engage multiple generations as well is one of the most beautiful things that has given me optimism in one of the darkest times of, I think, like our modern human history. And so that would be the second one is there’s so much to be hopeful for and there are so many people you can align with as you advance whatever cause it is that you’re looking for. And then the third one, let’s see, for freedom, optimism and… freedom, optimism, and a third word… I mean, I think right now, like…

Dr. Michael Conner

And to my audience, you will never see Dr. Quidwai stumped like this. So we got it on video right here, right.

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

So hard. I think right now I think just because like like I said, like this moment in time, I would say the third one, but it might echo the first one, but it goes back to how important it is. Humanity, I think you don’t figure out like what that means. Like we youth, there’s so many terms we use so generically humanity, creativity. If you don’t actually define what you these mean and you don’t find a way to find a way to allow you to it mean the same thing for everyone that that and I think I say that because that’s what scares me the most. I know a lot of people care about privacy and data like hallucinations. This is actually the other thing. It is absolutely wild to me and I this, you know, people looking back on our time are going to laugh at us. This is a society that criticized AI bias in the AI and completely neglected to address the bias in humans, but thought the bias in the AI could be solved without addressing the bias in humans. People are going to laugh at us when they look back at our hosts and our writings and what the dialog we were engaging in. And so I would just say like that humanity piece is so essential because you can never have all these other things that you worry about can never be solved for if one, we don’t believe in it for everybody. And number two, we don’t fix that problem in the human art because the human programing we were now this programing the AI, who knows what that looks like in the future. But if, as is humanity is not where it needs to be, how can you expect anything else to come about as a result that is going to be an equitable and sustainable solution that moves everybody forward? I just I don’t see that. I don’t I don’t understand how that happens.

Dr. Michael Conner

Ah man Sabba, I tell you, the humans are programing the A.I. and we have to deal with the values of ethics of us as a society to be able to ensure that we are eliminating biases in and grounding our values in what we’re designing on. These specific models that are rooted in algorithms freedom, optimism, and humanity. Dr. Quidwai, thank you so much. So now for my listeners who want to get in contact with you, Sabba, or want to be a part of your organization, Designing Schools, or want to reach out to you about your books that you’ve written. How would they be able to obtain that information, e-mail even, pertaining to Designing Schools, your organization?

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

I mean, I would just say I would say it’s like choose your own adventure. Go to www.Designing Schools.org and choose your own adventure. Go to Instagram, LinkedIn, email, blog, podcast, whatever you enjoy.

Dr. Michael Conner

Dr. Quidwai, thank you so much for being a guest on Voices for Excellence. Anytime you’re on the East Coast, please remember to bring the weather back. Literally, to my listeners, when I saw Dr. Quidwai in New York City, it was probably one of the last nice days of the year, and it was literally a Southern California day. I saw Sabba and I’m like you, brought the weather with you, man, we’re not going to see this for a while. And guess what? We haven’t seen it for a while, but Sabba, thank you so much for coming on VFE and means the world to have your intellect, your expertise and your acumen bestowed upon us, as well as my listeners. 

Dr. Sabba Quidwai

Thank you so much for having me.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And on that note, onward and upward everybody. Have a great evening.