It’s a tough time to work in education. Budgets are progressively tighter as workloads continue to increase for staff in all departments.
Factor in ongoing staff shortages, safety concerns and the myriad challenges brought on by the pandemic, and it’s hardly a surprise that so many educators are struggling with stress and burnout. Given these conditions, it shouldn’t be shocking that provinces like Alberta may lose over a third of its teachers by 2026.
Education professionals are running on fumes, and have been doing so for years.
This shouldn’t be the case. Technology already exists to improve learning outcomes, streamline district operations, and eliminate busywork from a teacher’s day-to-day life. But what if we were to tell you these tools are only the beginning?
What if we were to tell you that with artificial intelligence, we could completely change the face of education delivery?
There’s been plenty of buzz about how algorithms might completely replace teachers. Some have even envisioned a future where students pursue self-directed learning under the “supervision” of a tool like ChatGPT. That notion is built on a fundamental misunderstanding of how AI works.
Even in a future where AI automates the delivery of fully personalized curricula, we will still need human educators, as there are many things that a machine simply cannot do, such as:
“Teachers are going to be able to help students use [artificial intelligence],” explains Peter Stone, professor of computer science at the University of Texas in Austin and chair of the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence. “Did calculators replace the role of human teachers in math classrooms? No — the teacher now has to teach how to do arithmetic without a calculator then [show students] how to use the calculator properly.”
“I don’t think there’s any danger that [AI] is going to be better than individualized attention from a human teacher,” he continues. “It may not be a stretch for it to be much better than having no teacher or a teacher who’s in a classroom with way too many students for them to pay attention to.”
Another oft-cited concern regarding AI is its role in enabling plagiarism. ChatGPT has inspired a wave of plagiarism concerns not just in education, but across the entire Internet. This is not an entirely unfounded concern — but it is somewhat overblown.
For one, ChatGPT isn’t as intelligent as people credit it with being. The bot is absolutely brimming with misinformation. It frequently cites studies that don’t exist, regularly provides inaccurate or outright false data, and at one point even erroneously flagged multiple original works as its own.
AI-generated content also tends to display several glaring flaws which are rarely, if ever present in human writing:
Misinformation is a far greater risk than plagiarism where current AI technology is concerned. It will be more important than ever for teachers to coach their students on how to fact-check and think critically. At the same time, educators should familiarize themselves with tools like ChatGPT so they can better understand their limitations.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to ban AI tools or restrict their usage in the classroom, either. As evidenced by discussions at the 2023 ASU + GSV Summit, you can’t. Like it or not, tools like ChatGPT have a transformative impact on student education.
Accept this as fact, and explore ways that you can use these tools in the classroom.
Per Stanford University’s 2023 AI Index Report, interest in computer science is on the rise amongst K-12 students — as is the number of schools that offer advanced computer science courses. We also seem to be shedding the notion that computer science is primarily a boy’s game, as the share of female students taking AP computer science exams increased from 17 percent in 2007 to almost 31 percent in 2021. Stanford further notes that the number of non-white students taking these exams also increased.
This is all well and good, given that the report also acknowledges that the workplace currently exists in a time of flux. Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed a gradual increase in AI-related job postings. While at this point it’s impossible to predict how the job market will look even in the immediate future, it would be in the best interest of students for educators to look into helping them develop new technical proficiencies.
To that end, several countries have already endorsed AI-focused curriculum for K-12 students, including India, Belgium, China, and South Korea.
Up to this point, we’ve talked at length about some of the issues surrounding AI in the classroom. The technology’s potential arguably eclipses those shortcomings. For one, as noted by Stanford, AI could empower educators to deliver personalized learning at a scale that was previously impossible through:
Modern school districts already save a great deal of time by automating paperwork and other administrative tasks. Artificial intelligence promises to even further streamline this automation. McKinsey & Company estimates that, with the assistance of current technology, teachers can automate as much as 40 percent of their work. The analyst further predicts that through advances in technology, this figure will likely grow even further.
To put it another way, teachers might one day be able to dedicate nearly all of their time to assisting students, leaving preparatory and administrative work largely in the hands of AI.
Schools are not going to be able to fully embrace AI-driven learning overnight. Nor can they transition to this new format without assistance at the district level. Here’s what that involves:
There’s still a great deal of consternation and uncertainty surrounding the role of artificial intelligence in the K-12 space. Some of these doubts are founded. Many aren’t.
Regardless of its risks and ramifications, it’s clear that AI has the potential to revolutionize learning. To change the way that teachers and students engage with their curriculum, and support a brighter future for both.
And that, more than anything, makes this an opportunity well worth pursuing.