Ainhoa Marcos: “When we give teachers that button to create content with AI, we are giving them a superpower”.

Interview published in Magisterio


The fact that an edtech multinational of digital educational content, with a presence in dozens of countries, with more than 7,300 providers of digital educational content in all formats such as courses, interactive applications, videos, podcasts, press, magazines, audiobooks, books, etc., and which rubs shoulders with the big ones, is neither American nor Chinese, is already news. But the fact that it is from Cartagena is news.

This is Odilo, selected in 2024 for the third consecutive year as a candidate to become one of the unicorn companies in Spain. The list, published in the newspaper Expansión, is based on consultations made to the main Spanish venture capital funds and business angels.

We interviewed Ainhoa Marcos, VP Education Spain and Global K12 at Odilo, who is proud that “after having worked in a Canadian and an American multinational, I can say that I am working in a Spanish multinational”.

“My passions are technology, education and Art History”, says Ainhoa Marcos in her X (will Musk get us to stop calling her twitter?). And indeed, from minute zero, she alternates technology and education with the same passion. He is reluctant, despite my attempts, to admit that we may have gone too far with this technology in the classroom… It would be too much to ask for someone who has spent his whole life in the industry. But at least he is committed to a rebalancing – a concept he repeats at least half a dozen times – between digital and analog. It is a credit to him.

Have the PISA results been disappointing?
-We should not be so catastrophic. If we look at the OECD, Spain is quite balanced. So I think that the first reflection is that things are not so bad.

They are bad compared to previous years, but it is not a decline that has been exclusive to Spain.

Should we rethink the learning processes?
No. On the contrary, I am very positive and I think that these kinds of strategies -active methodologies, project-based work, development of soft skills, development of critical thinking, among others- are going to be needed in the future, as well as digital skills.

What we need to see is how we continue to move forward with a very powerful plan for training and empowerment in terms of these technologies. The countries that lead PISA, such as Singapore and Korea, are the ones that have made a greater commitment to digitalization.

So, instead of eliminating technologies, we must seek a balance between digital and analog and establish models based on active methodologies, learning by competencies and digitalization, but in a balanced way and with training.

But do you understand that some teachers are disappointed?
-The effort must continue to be made and the new educational policies must go precisely in the direction of supporting teachers. Teachers have been training, but we have lacked unified projects. We have taken separate steps.

For example, in the case of digitization, there have been teacher training courses on the one hand and then, separately, courses on devices. We have lacked a digitalization plan supported by this educational transformation that brings together all these efforts with a common purpose.

We often send contradictory messages. On the one hand, we have educational laws that promote competencies, but our educational system ends up in a purely knowledge-based assessment and not competency-based, such as the university entrance exams.

Is it more complex at certain educational levels?
-When we have implemented digitization projects, it is much easier to do it at early ages. When you get to more advanced ages it is much more complicated because teachers do not want to experiment. They are looking for effectiveness and they have very extensive curricula that they will hardly manage to deliver in the course, because they have a test that is going to measure the learning of my students based on knowledge.

What we have to do is not to think that these models do not work but to start transforming the educational system, including the evaluation methodologies for university access.

“Instead of eliminating technologies, we have to find that balance between digital and analog.”

Then there is the debate about cell phones in the classroom. What do you think?
-There is a lot of controversy and it is often taken out of context I go back to the balance, we have to know how to educate before prohibiting. What has happened is that it has gotten out of hand and we have not educated in time in the proper use of certain technologies and that has led to an abuse and dependence of the devices by students.

So, would you ban or not?
-I think there is a lot of talk about the use of screens and it has become generalized The problem is in the cell phone and the cell phone is already banned in many centers. This debate is not new.

The problem is the cell phone because it is the student’s leisure device and it is in the intentionality of the device where the difference lies.

In any case, I believe that digital devices should not be prohibited but limited. For entertainment use I would not allow it, but for educational purposes I would allow it.

And how do you control the use that is made in a school with hundreds of teenagers?
-The key is for the institution to be equipped with learning devices so that students do not have to use their cell phones. That is to say that the center can provide the student with the tools.

That intentional difference is the most important thing, but understanding that device -whether mobile or tablet- as something that must be managed, that must have certain limitations and that must have a totally intentional use for learning. Because what we cannot do is eliminate technology from the lives of children and schools. We will be failing as a society if we do not prepare our students in a productive use of the devices.

In a recent interview with the director of Colegio ‘Estudio‘ he told us that they banned it years ago
-Several schools made that decision a long time ago. I believe that the use of student-owned cell phones as a distraction should be banned, but not as a work tool. The problem is that we have not trained them….

Ten years ago, when people were talking about digital natives, Marc Prensky was already saying that there were no digital natives but digital orphans. They had no referents to tell them the things that we have all been told, such as “don’t walk down that street” or “don’t accept things from strangers”.

However, those same parents or teachers of 10 years ago did not have any digital competence and did not know how to educate about the risks or the proper use.

“There is a lot of talk about the use of screens and it has become widespread. The problem is in the cell phone and the cell phone is already banned in many centers. The problem is the cell phone because it is the student’s leisure device and it is in that intentionality of the device where the difference lies.”

Is that where it all started?
-Yes, the problem is that we have not educated them in good habits. We have given them a tool but we have not taught them how to use it. They are still orphans and now that we have more digital skills we say to ourselves -But what have we done? Because now it is rare for a child not to be given a cell phone at the age of 11.

Is this debate worrying the technology industry?
-What worries me is that this whole debate is being carried over to the rest of the digital devices and the rest of the screens. So they say “Sweden has eliminated devices and all reading on tablets”. No, Sweden has not eliminated anything, Sweden has sought a balance because they realized that they had introduced devices at very early ages and that kids were not working on paper.

That’s where the key lies, in finding a balance between digital and analog tools.

It’s very respectable that an industry voice is talking about balance
-I think emotional well-being is going to be a key issue for education this year and in the years to come We are going to need to be increasingly concerned about the emotional well-being of both teachers and students.

We used to work a lot on emotional intelligence, it was like a trend. Now I think we should focus on emotional well-being. And this is not only because of the issue of mobile devices, but it is also related to the increasingly globalized and convulsive world in which we live. Although there is a very important part of emotional well-being related to digital health issues.

There is a lot of tension and I believe that we must bring that down to the educational environment and teach children to manage those emotions.

“It’s going to be increasingly necessary to be concerned about the emotional well-being of both teachers and students.”

There are two issues related to this that are of concern. Do you think that social networks isolate them?
-I think that young people relate differently than we did. They don’t call on the phone, for example. My daughter is studying abroad and she sends me audios – which are more like podcasts [she laughs] – and I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for her to call me and have a two-way conversation.

It’s not necessarily bad, it’s different. You have to learn from the differences in this form of communication and seek a balance with other social relationships that provide them with eye contact, talking, gestures, touching… those things that only an analogical relationship can provide.

So that the nets do not become a hiding place
-Effectively, so that they do not become a refuge and end up isolating themselves

The other topic of public debate is pornography. What do you think?
-I totally agree. We are back to the same thing. We have given them a tool with a very powerful reach without any limitations. We have to educate, limit and restrict.

“My daughter is studying away and she’s sending me audios and I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be better if she called me and have a two-way conversation. is it bad? not necessarily, it’s different.”

What do you do in Odilo for the emotional wellbeing you were talking about before?
Throughout the platform we are working on the development of itineraries and training pills on the field of emotional well-being, for families (how to manage the changes of adolescence…), for teachers (conflict management in the classroom, suicide detection…) and for students (knowing themselves, managing their emotions…).

That’s in terms of training, but is it a secure environment?
-Of course, it is a closed platform with four million resources and quality content. We can incorporate open educational resources such as YouTube videos, but it is a closed and secure environment.

What do you mean by closed and secure?
-It is secure from the outside in the sense that no one outside the institution is going to be able to access that data because we are dealing with minors But also outwardly. The student is not going to be able to leave that environment.

For example, how do you guarantee this closed environment with YouTube videos?
-By embedding and playing them on the web, you prevent them from leaving the platform If you send them outside, you are exposed to advertising and other factors that we cannot control. In addition, you lose the traceability of the data, you do not know if it has been viewed and for how long.

Okay, but they don’t have everything the web offers at their fingertips. What do you offer them in exchange for security?
-Quality.We generate an authoring tool where teachers can draw from copyrighted content that is on the platform. In this way, they will be able to offer their students this content, such as articles from National Geographic magazine, for example.

Do you replace the textbook?
-We complement it.

But could you replace him?

But you are not like a textbook?
-No, because we understand learning from many areas. The textbook is very linear learning. What we are seeing with the development of competencies and the open world of millions of high quality contents that the digital world offers us is that we all learn in different ways. There are people who require a course concept and itinerary, a more structured and linear education, while there are others who acquire more knowledge through videos, podcasts, articles…

What we do is to build all these learning models for all people, regardless of their tastes, and we encourage a taste for learning. That is, it is understood not as something obligatory.

For example, if a child is watching a video about whales and then has seen a video about marine ecosystems, then the platform will recommend content related to those topics because it is built from artificial intelligence algorithms that will make recommendations related to marine mammals or any other related field.

I’m asking so that publishers don’t get nervous
-No [he says vehemently], publishers are delighted with our participation In fact, we have more than 7,300 content providers on our platform, including the major textbook publishers.

I insist, our objective is not to include a linear textbook within our platform, but to offer a complement to textbooks for those centers that continue to use them or for those other centers that have eliminated them.

“We generate an authoring tool where teachers can feed from copyrighted content that is on the platform. In this way, they will be able to offer their students content, such as articles from National Geographic magazine.”

Who are your content providers?
-We work with content from Bruño, SM, Grupo Planeta, Siruela, Grao, National Geographic, Penguin Random or Disney, among others. That brings us up to 7,300 suppliers.

It will surprise many that being a multinational ed tech company present in dozens of countries, you are not American
-Well, no, Odilo is a Carthaginian company It started in the digitization of archives, then moved to libraries, from there to the development of reader plans and then became what it is today: an unlimited learning platform that can cover any area of learning. I am proud that, after having worked in a Canadian and an American multinational, I can say that I am working in a Spanish multinational.

By the way, do you see AI as a threat?
-No, we see it as a tool for everyone – teachers, students, society… – but it has its challenges… Here we also have to find that balance because it is an opportunity.

Have you already incorporated it?
-We did it years ago. All our recommendation algorithms are based on artificial intelligence algorithms. Now, in addition, we have added a button in our authoring tool that calls AI and allows the teacher to simplify theprompt to create an outline or content.

Keys to working with AI in the classroom.
-There are two things we must not lose sight of. The first is validated quality content and respect for the copyright of that content.

Secondly, the role of the teacher, who will not be replaced by any robot or AI. The human component cannot be replaced and for us it is fundamental. When we give the teacher that tool, that button, to create content through artificial intelligence, what we are giving him or her is a superpower. But, as Spiderman used to say [smiles], “a superpower carries with it a great responsibility”. Therein lies the responsibility of the teacher to evaluate the quality of the content generated by the AI and to make an ethical assessment.

We can’t use AI and say we did it ourselves. I think it is perfectly valid to say that we have used AI. In the same way, we have to train students to use AI responsibly and to know how to cite AI when they have done a job.

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