Forward with NACCE

Embracing AI and Entrepreneurial Mindsets for Future-Ready Education, with Ted Dintersmith

September 06, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Embracing AI and Entrepreneurial Mindsets for Future-Ready Education, with Ted Dintersmith
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Dr. Corbin welcomes Ted Dintersmith, a visionary thinker and advocate for transformative education. Ted shares insights from his extensive journey across all 50 states to explore the current state of education and the profound impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on learning. Ted highlights the critical need for a shift in education to focus on developing entrepreneurial mindsets and essential life skills rather than emphasizing standardized testing. He discusses the rapid advancements of AI, exemplified by GPT-3.5, and how it outperforms humans in various high-stakes exams. Furthermore, he emphasizes the importance of community colleges in leading the charge toward a future-ready education system. He envisions a world where individuals harness AI as a tool to enhance productivity and creativity, ultimately shaping a brighter future for all.

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Ted - 00:00:10:

Like it's easier and easier for anyone to learn on their own. In two years, a community college could accomplish everything and then some that people coming out with PhDs are accomplishing. I mean, it's right there because it's indisputable that if you can leverage AI, you will be dramatically more productive. I mean, it just is that transformational. And it's going to get better by 10x. It's not sitting still.

Announcer - 00:00:40:

Welcome to Forward with NACCE, Inspiring Entrepreneurial Action, a podcast that shares the stories of everyday entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial leaders, and the communities that support us. We hope that this diverse collection of stories brings you inspiration, inspires you to take action, and ignites entrepreneurship in your community as we make our way forward together.

Becky - 00:01:04:

Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE podcast. We're excited to have a special guest in our studio today that has coming to us, has done some really impactful work nationally and has been a good friend to NACI. I'm Rebecca Corbin, your host and the president and CEO of NACCE. So it's my delight to welcome Ted Dintersmith. This morning, how are you doing Ted?

Ted - 00:01:28:

I'm doing great and glad to be here. It's great to see you.

Becky - 00:01:31:

It's great to see you too. And I'm just thinking back, I was reading through some things this morning as we talked about just some of the work that you've done over the past decade that we're gonna dive into. But I would love to begin our conversation this morning and just for you to introduce yourself to our audience and talk about maybe as you were growing up, maybe a few of the influences that impacted you and maybe, impacted the way you approached your career and raised your children.

Ted - 00:02:00:

Yeah, I'll try to be brief. So I have a lot of years to cover, like 71 years.

Becky - 00:02:08:

There you go.

Ted - 00:02:09:

I grew up in Virginia. My dad was a high school dropout and made a living living as a carpenter for us. Dropped out of high school at age 17 and enlisted in the Navy for World War II and was immediately sent to the Pacific Rim in six of the most horrific exchanges, discharged with a nervous breakdown. I mean, he was not the easiest dad to grow up with. But I think when we look at hardship among young kids, I think we need to keep in mind what real hardship is. You know, like being 17 years old on a ship in the Pacific with people being blown to bits all around you. That's real hardship. Anyway, I went to public middle and high school, public college in Virginia, spent way too long in school, got a PhD in math modeling from Stanford, not to brag, but I was involved at the very beginning of fast math processing chips that sort of paved the way for the digital revolution. And then spent most of my career in venture capital where I backed and supported bold, interesting entrepreneurs. By the way, bold, interesting entrepreneurs that by and large checked out of the academic system. I think that's worth noting. And after that, I just sort of had a wake up call maybe 12, 13 years ago, that things were just upside down when it comes to school and that we were pushing kids to excel at exactly what machines were doing better and better. And we were in the process eroding from kids the very skills and mindsets they were gonna need, like an entrepreneurial mindset, like being bold and audacious, like being curious. I said, if this keeps up, millions of kids will suffer and it's not even clear to me our democracy will survive. And saying that in 2010, 11, 12, you know, people I think we’re pretty convinced something had gone wrong with me. You know, like Ted's retiring from venture capital, he's gone a little bit off the rails, we're not sure what's going on with him, maybe he'll come back to planet Earth. And I'd say that people who remember those conversations from 10, 11, 12 years ago remember talking about, failed backwards education priorities and the connection to democracy are not skeptical anymore. I mean, I think people now start to realize that these are all part of a fabric. You know, the priorities we place on kids in education, the things we measure, the things we call success are the skills they leave school with. And if those skills are mismatched to what the modern world needs, millions of people are cut loose and adrift. And when people are cut loose and adrift, you know, as I said in my book, What School Could Be, I said that they're willing to toss hand grenades into the ballot box or worse. And I think that's it. I think that's what I'm doing.

Becky - 00:05:04:

They don't, you know, sadly, some people have nothing to lose. And so I think what when I read your book the first time, which was a couple of years ago, you know, what struck me is you, is you really did the deep work. So, you actually were on the road and visited all, all 50 states really thinking through, like you said, in the context of thinking about how important democracy is and education. So tell us a little bit about what was that? Road trip like and maybe give us a couple of examples of some of the places that you visited that just stick with you.

Ted - 00:05:42:

Yeah, absolutely. You know, there's a little bit of a backstory, I'll be brief, but you know, I got going in this by organizing and producing and funding a film called Most Likely to Succeed. And I'll make available it's a you anybody can watch it for free. I'll give you the link and you can share it with your community. But I got lucky and found a brilliant director and we filmed for two years across lots of different schools, but caught a story that was just incredible. The film did, you know, I'm bragging about my director, not me. I mean, the film premiered at Sundance, did 25 major film festivals. I turned down Netflix and we offered it directly to schools for community screenings, you know, a vehicle to bring people together to talk about what should be the purpose of school, what kinds of learning challenges actually help kids develop skills and mindsets that matter. And that took off. I mean, we've now done over 10,000 community screenings in over 30 countries. So it's it's had more impact on people's thinking about education, I believe anyway, I'm biased, but I believe more impact than any other film that's been been made. And I started traveling with the film at first, people like thought I knew something, you know, and but also what was interesting is when I'd be introduced to people in the world of education, somebody would often say, Ted was in business for years. Now he's very interested in education. And naively at the beginning, I thought they'd be excited to hear that. Like, hey, reinforcements, you know, somebody else. And by and large, you know, there was a degree of, I would say, beyond skepticism, almost, almost like go away, you know, get off of my lawn. And I didn't understand that. Now I do understand that because I think most business people weigh in on education without doing their homework. And that's what led me to take that trip. I said, I really do need to, I'm never going to be an experienced, fantastic educator. There are people out there that are. I can learn from them. I can try to tell their stories just as we did in the film. But I owe it to people to do that homework, you know, because if, to the extent people care about what I have to say, and some do, not as many as I'd like, I should at least know what I'm talking about. And I think that's a distinction. I think a lot of business philanthropists that get involved. You know, just kind of throw spaghetti at the wall, you know, and just buy into same old same old, you know, better test scores, higher graduation rates, more kids to four off to four year colleges, all will be well. That's the formula that worked pretty darn well 50 years ago, but is so different from what we need to do today. That's what they fund. That's what they call for. And I could be very specific with those examples. And so I've worked really hard. To walk in the shoes of people who are doing the very hard work of educating, you know, students who often aren't motivated because they look at the standardized curriculum and they ask, when will I ever use this? And we all kind of know the answer. Which is you won't.

Becky - 00:08:47:

That's right.

Ted - 00:08:49:

Yeah, it's a game you're playing. Just jump through these hoops so you can get to the next set of mindless hoops. And I just sort of, to me, it's this colossal wake -up call that says we not only can do way much better, but we have to do way much better. And so I took that trip, I met with lots of people. I wrote this book twice, actually. I wrote it the first time and then tossed it because I didn't think it was very good. It was sort of like a running timeline. And I realized nobody. Even my wife didn't care how I felt at midnight when I landed in Indianapolis in February. I mean, that was just not something that I should be writing about. And so I stepped back and said, what did I really learn from this? And I learned many important things, including we know what to do. You know, you can find great examples wherever you look. And so I picked a great example or two from every state, just to make the point, it is everywhere, but at the same time, it's nowhere. We have these examples, we have these proof points, but they're niches, they're in these nooks and crannies and not in the mainstream. And then I, and it was interesting, you know, like I didn't, I just picked things that blew me away. And when you walk around a school and you interview people and talk to the teachers and you talk to the students, You know. It's not the data that tells you how it's going. It's the in -person interaction that tells you how it's going. And when you meet educators that had a bounce in their step that were enthused about what they were doing, and students who couldn't wait to be in school, huge amounts of learning were taking place. So I profiled all these places, often by the way, with an underlying theme of kids developing skills that are beyond what most college graduates have. You know, like kids in elementary school having horrible skills that most college graduates leave college not having. I think that's interesting.

Becky - 00:10:43:

Yeah, it is. And I know we had talked about this before, and I dug up an article from the Washington Post that was written by Valerie Strauss. In November of 2015. So this is nine years ago. And she was capturing your search for the purpose of school. And I thought this was a really interesting kind of insight that you shared at that time, but you were really looking at not only what you were finding, what you found on your search, but you were also thinking about your own life and what you came to experience with your son. And so I thought that would be good because I think you were talking about the depth of which you really sort of did your homework and did your research, but it didn't just stop at other people's kids. It impacted your own family. So would you share with us a little bit about that experience?

Ted - 00:11:34:

Yeah, you know, it's, it's, and I think a lot of times passion comes from the personal connection, right? And so, you know, for me, it went back to when my kids were in middle school, they're now 27 and 25. So that's quite a time ago, but You know, there was a funny story, the school, which the people involved had a high opinion of this school. And I, initially had a high opinion of the school. And I got this note saying, we're now doing this brand new program to teach your kids important life skills. Come to this lunchtime seminar and we'll fill you in. And my initial reaction was like, oh, this is so great. You know, like, what a neat thing to do, teach my kids important life skills. I'm coming. And, and, but in advance, I started to think, and I had the vantage point, right, of having spent 35 years side by side with technology innovation. So, so to the extent I know a lot about anything, maybe put that on the list. I mean, I've seen how it's changed. I've seen how fast it's advancing. I've seen what it can do. I feel like I know that area. And so I'm thinking that world as it has more and more power and impact, what are the important life skills kids need? And I kind of made my list. And I went to this lunchtime expecting that they'd be checking off a bunch of those things. And it wasn't like what they presented was a bad idea. But I think anybody listening kind of knows what I should have known then that it would be, which is the PE teachers once a month would show a film on tar -infested lungs and say, don't smoke cigarettes. 

Becky – 00:13:08:

Right, that's right. 

Ted – 00:13:10:

And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I mean, fair enough. But I mean, surely life skills go way beyond that.

Becky - 00:13:16:

Well, and they start earlier. I know you had shared this before too, what was called like an early wake -up call. And you'd go back to even in the third grade with your son in a science class studying machines. And I think at that time you took $20, you went to Home Depot and bought all of the supplies and the things. Now by today's standards, that would be sort of developing a prototype. Didn't work, right? But what a valuable lesson for a little child. And like you said, it's not a, five-point thing or a film that a kid has to sit there and watch, they're actually getting into doing the work. And that's powerful.

Ted - 00:13:59:

I had, believe it or not, forgot about that story. So I'm glad you mentioned it. But just for listeners, they were studying simple machines. I thought that was cool. We went and bought all the things you need for simple machines. We played around with it in the basement. And one of the things that we collectively, I probably was way more involved than I should have been now that I look back. But anyway, so my son and his younger sister and I were playing around and put together a multiple pulley system that they, as eight -year -olds more or less, could lift a heavy cinder block. And I made the comment in passing that with this, you could probably use enough pulleys you could lift up, your school's basketball coach, who's a very large man. So my son goes to school, takes a test on simple machines, comes home a couple days later, really looking down. And I said, what's wrong? And he said, I don't, I mean, I really didn't understand simple machines. I failed the test. Now, this is a third grade, which arguably third grade science should be all about making kids love science, not about. Know, marking down kids on multiple choice questions. But the question was, and I couldn't have anticipated, like, how could this be? But the question was, what simple machine would you use to lift a grown man? Like, I wasn't cheating. It wasn't like I went to the computers in the school so my kid could get an advantage on third grade science. But my son said I'd use a six pulley system and sketched it out. And there was this big red X on it with minus 13. And to the right, it said lever. I'm looking at this and I'm saying, oh my gosh. I go in and talk to the teacher and I say, first of all, these are third graders. These are kids that are more or less four feet tall. Just sketch me out a lever that someone four feet tall can use to lift a grown man. I think if you look at the actual physics of levers, you'd realize that therein would have to be 10, 15 feet above the ground. No, you know, Leaver actually is the wrong answer. Six pulley is actually right answer. I don't care about his score. That's not it. But I mean, how are you teaching science? Why not ask the question of show me one or multiple ways you could use one or multiple simple machines to lift a grown man? You know, that's a creative, expansive, interesting challenge versus what would you use? With the teacher having the one right answer that actually turned out to be wrong.

Becky - 00:16:47:

That's so powerful. I mean, and that's what you were speaking about, entrepreneurial mindset, which is. A lot of the work that we do at NACCE and that we've kind of shared together in terms of our excitement for what could be and growth mindset. But let's pivot a little bit as we kind of kind of get to the ending part of this conversation. About chat GPT and AI and the implications of that. And I understand that's an area that you've been thinking a lot about could profoundly impact it is already, it's impacting the way that we work, but education, so maybe share with us some of the things that you've been thinking about in that area and help people to understand a little bit more perhaps where we're headed and what's the potential opportunity and also the potential pitfalls.

Ted - 00:17:39:

I don't feel particularly vindicated, having said for 12 years that machines are gonna get better and better and do exactly what we push kids to do in school. You know, I'm on record. You can go back and look at things from a long time. Look at the opening of the film, most likely to succeed. And when we make that point emphatically and beautifully, GPT just makes it explicit, right? You look at how it does against every high stakes education exam, and it's already on par better than any people. You know, like, let's look at the bar exam, right? And the bar exam tells us not only how it does, but how fast it's improving. So, in December of 2022, so nine months ago, GPT 3.5 was in the bottom 10% of the bar exam. So not terribly impressive performance. Four months later, April, they come out with GPT 4. It's in the top 10% of the bar. Top 10% taking a high stakes exam that determines whether you can enter the legal profession, an exam taken by young adults or older adults who have been through high school, college, and law school, who has spent three to 500k or maybe even more on multiple degrees, and they're sucking wind compared to GPT. And GPT-5 will be in the top 1%, and GPT-6 will be better than anybody. It's just going to be perfect. But you look at that whole list of AP courses, of SAT courses, over and over again. And then people will tell me, and I think this is, I don't know what language is okay, but baloney. We'll just say baloney. People will say, well, yeah, they're the high stakes exams, but we're teaching kids so much more. And that's just not true. When you get out and walk around, if you hold teachers accountable to scores on high stakes exams, you put them in the worst of all dilemmas. You either teach kids what they need to do to excel on the test. Or you run the risk that parents will get mad at you or score, you know, like a million different things. And that's the first thing a kid will do that gets a bad score on, you know, a kid comes home and gets a two on an AP exam. The first thing they tell their parents is, well, It had material on it we hadn't covered. So what a teacher, they wanna make sure they cover every smidgen of material. And that material is exhaustive and it's memory-based and it's fact -based and has nothing to do with critical thinking or creative inventing problem-solving. It's just antithetical. It's exactly what GPT does really well. And so, to me, it's like this ultimate wake-up call if what if the essence of education is currently defined, which goes back 125 years, what if the essence is pushing kids to excel at exactly what machine intelligence does better than they do today and machine intelligence is sprinting ahead? Isn't that important.

Becky - 00:20:38:

Well, and what about even, Deeper leadership skills and qualities like integrity and judgment and things like that. I mean. You know a lot more about AI than I do, but I think, just your example of the bar exam, there are judgments that human beings have to make. And I imagine AI can take things under consideration, but we see in all aspects of life, sometimes a crisis of leadership. And if you have resources where you can get the best information and solutions to very complex problems, but in terms of leading others and having empathy and kind of getting back to what you were talking about at the beginning of. Why democracy is important and why character is important. So it kind of opens up all these really interesting concepts and something as a person who's been in the educational field for a while. I think that's equally important for both community colleges, universities, and other institutions. To really not only teach it, but model it, you know, so that we're making those decisions and. Thinking about people in an ethical manner.

Ted - 00:21:53:

I couldn't agree with you more. And it's why I'm such a big fan of what you and your organization stand for and are doing, which is GPT, AI generally is this gift we're getting, a whole bunch of things we used to have to do by hand. It does for us quite well. You know, is that the entire picture? Absolutely not. And so these, you know, and I hate the word soft skills, but these. Very different forms of intelligence. I always get a little bit vexed when I see people talk about machine intelligence and is it more intelligent than humans as though there's a single dimension of intelligence. That's right. You know, it turns out that school focuses on a single narrow dimension of intelligence, which is tied to short-term memorization skills and speed of operation and minimizing errors. Those are the things that are prioritized in school, which is exactly what machines do perfectly. But all of the things, and let's drill down on one, I mean, maybe your essential core value of entrepreneurial mindsets. You know, the essence of entrepreneurship is going where someone else has never gone. You know, that's antithetical to standardization. You know, if you have five entrepreneurial kids spread around the country, You and I, you particularly could evaluate their work and give them feedback about what standard they achieved in their entrepreneurial approach to things. But there's no way to turn that into a number that compares a kid in Texas to a kid in Mississippi to a kid in New York State or something. It's different. They're not doing the same thing. To me, that's our dilemma. That's the fight we have. Do we continue to insist on standardizing what kids learn to prepare them for taking the same standardized tests so we can generate data that shows we're making no progress after multiple decades of that approach? That's the mind. That's what you find from the upper levels of the US Department of Education today down to state legislators down to college board. Standardize what they learn so they can take the same standardized tests so we can use data to make education better, except we've had 30 years to do that and we've gotten nowhere. Or do you promote entrepreneurial mindsets? Do you draw out those characteristics that AI will never do well? Do you equip kids with the skills to leverage AI to be dramatically more productive in pursuing their goals and dreams? And be content with the fact you're gonna be launching millions of kids into lives of purpose in ways that make it hard to compare them. We give up the measuring stick, but we have purposeful, motivated. Young adults that are going to change the world in positive ways.

Becky - 00:24:43:

Right, you're right. And one example that comes to mind is, you know, NACCE’s been very privileged to work with Verizon on this Verizon Innovative Learning STEM Achievers Camp. And the company has invested a lot of their philanthropic dollars in this. And what you'd see is you'd see kids, you know, from either very rural areas or some kind of, you know, urban areas that were struggling, they'd learn a little bit how to use a 3D printer. And then all of a sudden they could experiment with creating an artificial limb for a person that didn't have that. So, think of the social implications, you know, instead of they might not have health insurance, they might not have $80,000 to do this. So maybe it's not a perfect solution, but for somebody who's lacking that and just the empowerment of kids. So I think there's also that opportunity with the, you know, not only with government, but with corporate partners and philanthropic partners to kind of step in and say, what are we gonna do to invest in this? So I know we're winding short on time, so I want you to have kind of the last comment on this, because I feel like we could talk about this for hours, and we are gonna be talking about this more into the future. But when you look into the future, thinking about all of the work that you've done and sort of the things you've been thinking about, what are some of the things that you're hopeful about into the future as we're kind of in this post pandemic, hopefully? Age where we're looking at things differently.

Ted - 00:26:14:

So what I'm hopeful about is the fact that any young adult, any adult, any family, any classroom teacher, any school, any organization, isn't held captive by what the rest of the world does. You know, we have it in our wherewithal, whether we do it at the most granular level or do it more broadly across a community college, we have it in our wherewithal to say, damn it all, I'm going to get this right. I am going to embrace GPT. I am going to offer a course saying, how can you use artificial intelligence to be dramatically more productive? I am going to tell my faculty, kids should have open access to AI every assignment and exam they take, because with that, we can aspire to a dramatically higher standard. People who do that are going to be off to the races. People who say, we're going to value you for the bold creative initiatives you can create and carry out successfully, not for how much you can cram into short-term memory 24 to 48 hours before a high stakes exam that AI does perfectly. It's in anyone's power. Anybody listening has it in their power to take the other road. And I'm just, my role in life, I think, is to as emphatically as possible emphasize that the same old, same old road is going to work incredibly poorly for almost everybody walking on it. And that the different road, the one that sort of thinks boldly and entrepreneurly and develops a sense of purpose and meaning in the lives of our students and equips them with the skills to learn how to learn, those kids are going to be off to the races, right? And I think that's where community colleges have a particularly pivotal role because for way too long. Our general view has been that, yeah, maybe what we're doing in school doesn't make sense, but the solution is more years of it. That's right, more of that. If we just spend K through 12, well, that's not enough. Two years, that's not enough. Four years, that's not enough. When I was a big fan and know him personally pretty well, Obama is on record as saying, in the 21st century, everybody's gonna need a master's degree. And I talked to him and I said, no, no, no. It's easier and easier for anyone to learn on their own. In two years, a community college could accomplish everything and then some that people coming out with PhDs are accomplishing. I mean, it's right there, because it's indisputable that if you can leverage AI, you will be dramatically more productive than Tom, Dick and Harry around you. I mean, it just is that transformational and it's gonna get better by 10X. It's not sitting still. It's not like, oh, this is where it is. It's in the top 10% of the bar and that's where it will be forever. And people can study harder and they'll eventually catch up and it's like, and race. I mean, forget that, right? It's a hundred million active users involved with a resource that can see and absorb everything ever written that learns from all those interactions, it gets better by the minute. You know, it's a, as important a development in our lifetime as anything that's come along. And are we gonna be on the right side of it? Are we gonna say, hey, work harder and try to keep up? I mean, I mentioned -

Becky - 00:29:45:

Yeah, I think - I think people listening and myself listening and talking with you, I think that's the most hopeful thing of all. You think about the invention of penicillin and how that transformed everything. I mean, this, What I hear you saying is that could be the situation if we have the right mindset. So I want to thank you so much, Ted Dintersmith. I'm going to encourage people to Google you because when you do, you'll be able to find your Ted Talks and your book and just thank you for, for being the person that you are. And we look forward to. Continuing the conversation. So I hope you have a wonderful day.

Ted - 00:30:24:

Yeah, and I just want to say thank you back because I've followed what you're doing. Your organization's fantastic. The values you embrace are exactly the values that need to reach people all around the country and the world. So thank you. I know it's, we are both doing work that's harder than we'd like it to be, but it's really important what you're doing. And I, for one, am deeply grateful to you.

Becky - 00:30:46:

I appreciate that.

Announcer - 00:30:49:

Thank you for joining us today. We hope that you will continue to explore the many ways to define entrepreneurship with NACCE as we celebrate opportunity, failing forward, and success, learning from one another along the way. Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite platform, follow at NACCE on social media, and learn more about us at forward slash podcast. Stay tuned for a new episode each week. We look forward to making our way forward together with you.