Rene Kizilcec is a computational social scientist at Cornell University in the US. Rene studies the factors that lead to successful learning with EdTech. His work informs new digital tools and policies to support young people’s academic outcomes and essential life skill development. Annie Brookman-Byrne talks with Rene about changes in EdTech and the possibilities created by generative AI.

Annie Brookman-Byrne: What impact are you hoping to have through your research?

Rene Kizilcec: Technology can empower educators and enhance learning in equitable ways and at scale – but only if the tools are designed and implemented correctly. I study how digital learning can be optimized to improve learning outcomes, especially for historically underserved populations. This requires understanding the factors that contribute to effective learning experiences with technology.

My goal is to inform EdTech development, practices, and policies that promote learning, equity, and academic and career success. There is a growing need for widely accessible and effective ways to support students and educators in a world where traditional educational systems often struggle to meet the needs of all students. By understanding how children interact with EdTech, I hope to design tools that make learning more inclusive, personalized, and effective.

The ability to learn and adapt new skills continuously will be critical for the success of children growing up in a rapidly changing world. I want to prepare them for a future of lifelong learning with technology. I hope to contribute to the development of EdTech that not only improves academic outcomes, but also fosters essential life skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and resilience, preparing children to navigate confidently the complexities of the future.

“Technology can empower educators and enhance learning in equitable ways and at scale.”

ABB: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in EdTech since you started working in the field?

RK: EdTech is fast-moving. Just over a decade ago, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) began pushing the boundaries of scalable learning, stimulating widespread interest in EdTech. MOOCs largely replicated the traditional classroom experience, but with online delivery and automated grading. Since then, we have seen a shift towards more interactive, learner-centered platforms that use data analytics, artificial intelligence, and adaptive learning technologies to personalize the learning experience.

More people are recognizing the importance of social presence and community in EdTech. This has led to innovations that foster collaboration and engagement among learners – learning through EdTech is no longer considered a solo experience. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated some of these trends, highlighting the potential of EdTech to provide continuity and access to education under challenging circumstances and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in remote education. Recently, the field has focused on new digital learning experiences arising from generative AI like ChatGPT. We will see a lot of exciting work in this area over the next decade.

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ABB: Can EdTech help educators as well as students?

RK: EdTech is not about digitizing traditional educational practices, but allows us to reimagine teaching and learning. It can make educators’ lives easier by letting them focus their energy where their expertise is most beneficial to their students. And yet there are many failed technology interventions in education. Technology alone is not a panacea; it needs to be thoughtfully integrated into the academic ecosystem, guided by pedagogical principles and a deep understanding of educator and student needs.

Educators play a vital role in this ecosystem, providing support and motivating students to make the most of these technologies. EdTech can be most helpful to teachers if they are able to stay informed about the latest developments, iteratively experiment with new tools and approaches, and engage in dialogue around the future of education.

“EdTech is not about digitizing traditional educational practices, but allows us to reimagine teaching and learning.”

ABB: What developments are happening right now in EdTech?

RK: I am most excited about the possibilities created by generative AI. This technology can engage students in creative new ways, empower educators to orchestrate personalized learning experiences, and support learners in underserved communities around the world. With generative AI, we can tailor the learning experience for each student based on individual needs, interests, and goals. It can also provide real-time personalized feedback and resources. This not only makes learning more efficient and effective, but also keeps students engaged and motivated. Educators can access tools that differentiate instruction at scale and provide insights into student progress – and these tools can highlight areas for intervention that were previously difficult to identify.

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I am also excited to see social and emotional learning integrated into digital learning platforms, as these skills are important for academic and career success and wellbeing. These innovations have the potential to transform support for children in the classroom and at home, making education more responsive, engaging, and holistic.

Footnotes

Rene Kizilcec is an Assistant Professor in the Bowers College of Computing and Information Science at Cornell University, where he directs the Cornell Future of Learning Lab. Kizilcec studies behavioral, psychological, and computational aspects of technology in education to inform practices and policies that promote learning, equity, and academic and career success. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers, including in such highly regarded journals as Science and PNAS, and has received multiple awards, including a Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship and a Sloan Foundation Fellowship. His work is supported by the National Science Foundation. Kizilcec holds a PhD in Communication and an MSc in Statistics from Stanford University.

Website
Cornell Future of Learning Lab
@whynotyet on X
LinkedIn

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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