Navigating the Future: Insights from the First Meeting of the SREB Commission on AI in Education

Blog post Stephen Pruitt, SREB President

Key Takeaways from the 1st Meeting of the SREB Commission on AI in Education

In this post, the first of a five-part series, you will find some of the key takeaways from the first meeting of the commission. Over the next several weeks, we will also provide insights from our four featured speakers:

  1. Bruce Brossard, CEO of Humana
  2. Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas
  3. Pat Yongpradit, CAO of
  4. Nancy Ruzycki, Director of Undergraduate Laboratories at the University of Florida

If artificial intelligence is the future of our economy, how can we ensure the South is the economic leader of the future?

One answer: We make the South the leader in AI.  

This was the focus of the first meeting of the Southern Regional Education Board Commission on AI in Education. We met on April 30 and May 1 in Columbia, South Carolina, to address something incredibly important: What exactly is AI, and how should education handle it?

The answers to these questions will not come from a two-day meeting, of course. But the commission members’ discourse left us feeling hopeful and clear-eyed about the work ahead.

Over the next two years, you can expect an abundance of research and guidance from us about what AI in education means, promising practices for using it and how to ethically bring it into classrooms. To start, I want to brief you on some key points that came out of this initial meeting.

Moving Rapidly, Responsibly, Proactively

Our first meeting opened with inspirational chats with each of our co-chairs. To start, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talked about how important the work of the commission is, saying, “It took a while to invent the wheel; it took a while to invent the fire… But [AI] is just changing the whole world, and I have no idea where it’s going to end up.”

This sentiment was echoed by Commission Co-Chair Brad Smith, president of Marshall University in West Virginia and former Silicon Valley CEO. He discussed Buckminster Fuller’s knowledge-doubling curve, which “attempts to equate how long it takes for all of human knowledge to double.” It calculated that in the year 1900, it took about 100 years “for all of human knowledge to double. The current algorithm suggests that in this decade, it will double every 12 hours.”

In the year 1900, it took about 100 years for all of human knowledge to double. In this decade, it’s projected to double every 12 hours.

Smith pointed out that we live in a “world that leads to massive disruption and continuous reinvention,” which “puts a premium on agility and rapid experimentation.”

How do we match this pace then?

“As they say in the tech sector, speed is a choice, but it is also a discipline,” Smith said. “You need to have a championship pace, but you need to match it with a championship process.”

He finished by acknowledging that AI is here with us to stay, both the good and the bad. Demonstrating this, he talked about how Marshall University talked to a group of seventh and eighth graders last year. When asked if they were allowed to use AI in their classrooms, the students answered no.

However, when asked if they did use AI in their classrooms, the answer was yes.

 “What we have the opportunity to do now, as an AI commission, is to help pave the way, shine the light and help us do this in a very responsible, ethical way, but in a very proactive way, so we position our students, our institutions, for the 21st century that will have AI,” Smith said.

With that, the commission began to look at the opportunities and risks that AI brings to education.


It is so easy for people to focus on the science-fiction side of the AI debate — robots coming to life and destroying mankind or a society controlled by machines. Fear is a natural response to what we do not yet fully understand.

The truth is, though, that AI does not work without the human in the loop, and it actually has so many exciting benefits we can harness.

Before I discuss some very real concerns, we should all keep in mind, let’s look at some of the truly exciting things that the commission had to say about the future of AI in education:

  1. One of the first things people mentioned as a benefit of AI was the ability to personalize lessons for individual students’ needs.
  2. AI also gives educators and schools the ability to pull data and trends and use them to create better learning outcomes in classrooms.   
  3. AI can take away monotonous tasks that take time from people every day, such as grading or creating lesson plans, so that people can focus on more creative and interesting projects.
  4. AI opens up new careers and paths of study.
  5. AI can provide students with facts so that they can focus on learning and absorbing the meaning behind those facts.


We cannot properly address the great potential benefits of AI, though, unless we also acknowledge and address the drawbacks.

Here are some areas of concern the commission members want to address as we move forward:

  1. How can we make sure that all students have access to new and emerging AI technologies?
  2. What can we do to address potential job displacements and AI inequality?
  3. Traditionally, technology has been sold to schools based on what technology companies are trying to sell. How can schools make sure they stay in control of asking for (and receiving) what they need, instead of just using what they are sold?
  4. AI is inherently biased. How can we make sure that this bias is ethically and responsibly controlled?
  5. How can we make sure the human element is not lost as AI expands?
  6. Who owns these processes?
  7. What should we do to safeguard student data and protect privacy and security?

Next Steps: A Plan

The SREB Commission is made up of over 60 members, including policymakers, postsecondary faculty and K-12 teachers, school and college leadership, business executives and more. Over the course of this two-year commission, subcommittees will work to create recommendations and solutions around the topics of AI education policies, K12 instructional uses, postsecondary instructional use and AI career pathways. The full commission will also meet regularly to make sure the work of each subcommittee aligns.

The future is here, and it arrived whether we were ready for it or not. But where do we go next?

“This is as wide open as A to Z and east to west,” McMaster said.

But our education systems, he said, have both the sophisticated knowledge and the common sense to navigate the opportunities ahead.

AI in education isn’t going anywhere, but by bringing together educators, policymakers, school leadership and workforce leaders, we will have a plan to be sure we control it instead of letting it control us.

That’s our collective goal for the commission.