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It’s Time to Get Real About AI: Ascend Leaders Gather [Artificial] Intelligence at 2023 ASU+GSV Summit in San Diego

May 3, 2023

Just a few weeks removed from the 2023 @ASU+GSV Summit, we’re still energized from learning, connecting and mixing it up under the sun in San Diego (or virtually) on April 17-19 at the world’s leading education innovation summit from PreK-Gray connecting startups, investors, educators and more.

Attended by thought leaders and EdTech professionals from all over the world, the summit provided a group of cross-functional leaders from Ascend with opportunities to build brand awareness, explore innovations, and participate in future-focused conversations across EdTech in addition to networking, learning about industry trends, and looking for new vendor partners and future talent to join our organization.

We asked our team members to describe this year’s summit in one word and support it with additional perspectives on what they learned and how it can benefit our meaningful work at Ascend.


Jeff Langenbach, vice president of corporate development and strategy, said the summit was a productive way to meet a large number of people from the industry.

“With more than 6,500 attendees, this was the largest event in conference history,” said Jeff. “The [overarching] theme of this year’s event was the coming impact that AI will have on education outcomes and providers.”

Ash Siebecker, chief technology officer, echoed that sentiment regarding the hyper-focus on AI at this year’s summit, its risks and its opportunities.

“We’re clearly at the peak of a hype cycle on AI, so that was a big focus,” Ash said. “From what we saw, our guiding principles still apply: learning is a human-centered activity that can be enhanced with products that leverage AI, and we need to be careful to ensure that AI is applied to augment human centered learning. We should not enable AI products in a way where the technology is making decisions that impact people’s lives, but rather, it should provide deeper insights and information to enable humans to make decisions. The opportunities are broad in terms of how we can use new technology capabilities to improve learning outcomes.”


Justina DeLuca, senior talent acquisition advisor, described the summit as “enlightening” as she and director of talent acquisition Mark Williamson spoke with attendees about career opportunities at Ascend.

“We met so many talented and forward-thinking professionals in various stages of their career and I learned about so many different areas of technology and education that I didn’t even know existed,” Justina said. “Education paths are changing very quickly, and I think as a company we have an opportunity to enhance our emphasis on the whole person when considering candidates — focusing on cross functional skills, experience, capabilities and potential.”


David Aycan, vice president of innovation, returned from the summit feeling “optimistic” about the potential applications of AI.

“Chat GPT has thrown people into a frenzy. People are keen to show that they are harnessing AI, but many are clearly early in their journey and still figuring it out,” David said. “Many experts believe that turning AI loose directly to learners may still be a way off, but the ability to augment and assist educators, content creators, and other professionals to get content ‘80% there’ is a large and immediate opportunity. More generally, technologies like virtual reality and mixed reality (VR/MR) and AI are becoming real considerations — not yet mainstream, but people know they have to figure them out, both from a provider and customer/consumer perspective.”

David also said that VR/MR, often augmented with AI, is slowly moving from a side curiosity to a serious consideration in workforce development — especially in healthcare where the risks associated with employee competencies are high.

“Many healthcare providers believe that these solutions will play a major role in their professional development programs in five years,” David said. “For many career types, new models of education focused on career preparedness are emerging. Competency and skill focused education, low-cost models, new learning modalities, and DEI are some of the major factors underpinning the change. New players are emerging, and traditional players from high-schools, higher education, and employers understand the need for transformation and are getting involved to innovate in this space.”

Invigorating, Hopeful…and Mind-Boggling

For Patty Knecht, chief nursing officer, a key takeaway on the AI front is that there’s no better time than now to embrace the technology and demonstrate leadership in its positive applications.

“AI is here and there’s no option for educators to turn away,” Patty said. “It’s time to lean in like we’ve never done before, particularly in healthcare and nursing, and define well the role of the faculty and workforce while leveraging the benefits of AI, VR and what is to come. We are in a unique position to lead the way here — and that’s invigorating.”

One presentation Patty found particularly “mind-boggling” was reminiscent of an episode of the classic animated sci-fi sitcom The Jetsons — and explored the concept of an AI-powered “knowledge assistant” which could help mitigate workforce shortages.

“Given the workforce shortages in education and healthcare, the ‘knowledge assistant’ could mitigate the effects of faculty and staff shortages by virtually providing everyone with an assistant,” Patty said. “Required workforce ratios could be transformed as administrative assistant work and knowledge sourcing (evidence) that impacts these roles is accomplished through the ‘knowledge assistant.'”

Patty also served on a panel, Life or Death: Solving the Healthcare Talent Crisis, which explored solutions to address the healthcare talent shortage and create more equitable pathways to career mobility.

“Competency assessment is a core element and I’m hopeful that in nursing we can align competencies not only across all program types but ensure they align to first year workforce competencies,” Patty said. “I’m hopeful that early evidence (data) leads the way on what works best, in what segments of the workforce, setting a clear intention and pathway to change.”


As a first-time ASU+GSV participant, senior director of finance Tim Semanchick described the summit as “thought-provoking.”

“Gaining insights into the market trends and challenges as well as how companies are approaching these topics was beneficial as we think about our own journey,” Tim said. “Workforce planning was another interesting topic that seemed to be getting a lot of attention as companies upskill their workforce.”

For Tim, like the others, the topic of AI also was omnipresent.

“I believe AI was mentioned in every session I attended,” Tim said. “From a finance perspective, it was interesting to hear discussions around the ethical use of AI as well as different views on how fast AI will impact and disrupt the market. This will certainly have an impact on how and what we deliver on our customer journey.”


Greg Sebasky, CEO, served on a panel, SaaS Ecosystem, which explored learning and education as a recurring, ongoing and lifelong process among professionals in the age of AI and automation.

“If I had to summarize the overall theme in one word, it would be viral because of the rapid transformation these new technologies are having and the potential for learning to evolve with them,” Greg said. “Evolving technologies like ChatGPT will continue to disrupt and evolve education as well as create opportunities to lower costs for internal processes.”

Greg also said the theme of the “Holy Grail” of “personalized” learning continued in this year’s summit as one that will remain at the front and center in the industry.

“I look forward to seeing how our collective learnings at the summit are shared within teams across Ascend to help us think broadly about our own processes, opportunities to innovate and to drive change that helps learners, educators and employers accelerate opportunity.” 


Full-length panel recordings and video highlights from the 2023 ASU-GSV Summit are available on the GSV YouTube channel. Direct links to the panels featuring Ascend Learning thought leaders are below.

Did you attend any of the sessions virtually? Have a question for one of our leaders who attended? Share a comment or question below!

Greg Sebasky — SaaS Ecosystem

In the age of AI and automation, students no longer fill up their knowledge tanks by age 25 and then drive off to the future; education is a recurring and ongoing process, and everyone’s now a life-long learner. Hear from some of the global learning leaders who are building recurring, SaaS-like services in K12, Higher Ed, and the Workforce.

Patty Knecht — Life or Death: Solving the Healthcare Talent Crisis

The healthcare industry is facing a major talent crisis. Healthcare providers are struggling to fill in-demand roles, and academic institutions have too few seats to meet demand from aspiring healthcare professionals. How can we innovate at the nexus of education and workforce to address the healthcare talent shortage and create more equitable pathways to career mobility?