Maybe you’ve heard of ChatGPT, Google Bard, or one of the many other AI tools that have been making headlines in recent months. If you’re an educator, perhaps you’ve heard speculation about what the widespread availability of such tools could mean for the future of learning.
In this article, I offer a definition and short history of “artificial intelligence,” summarize a few ways AI is already being used in education, and then dig into the good, the bad, and the ugly predictions for how AI might transform education moving forward.
What is “artificial intelligence,” anyway?
Before we jump too far ahead, let’s pause for a quick snapshot of the history of this ever-evolving technology.
The concept of artificial intelligence has been around for centuries, but only recently has it become a reality due to advances in computer science and machine learning.
Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the ability of a machine or computer system to perform tasks that would typically require human intelligence, such as learning, problem-solving, and decision-making.
The history of AI can be traced back to the 1950s when researchers began exploring the possibility of creating intelligent machines.
Fast forward to the 1960s and 1970s, and AI research began focusing on developing algorithms and models that could perform specific tasks, such as playing chess or recognizing speech.
This research then boomed to include machine learning in the 1980s and 1990s, which allowed computers to learn and adapt without being explicitly programmed.
Modern AI systems can mimic the human brain’s cognitive functions, including perception, reasoning, and learning. This technology can be further categorized based on the level of intelligence displayed, such as narrow or general AI. Whereas “narrow AI” can perform a specific task, “general AI” can learn and adapt to a wide range of tasks.
Today, AI is used in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, finance, and transportation. Across the globe, this technology is behind the scenes analyzing data, making predictions, and automating processes. Some examples of current AI applications include self-driving cars, personal assistants, and medical diagnosis systems.
As AI technology continues to advance, it’s predicted to play an increasingly important role across many aspects of our lives. However, there are also concerns about the potential negative impacts of AI, such as job displacement and bias in decision-making. Naturally, there is an ongoing debate about how to address these issues as they arise.
How is AI already being used in education?
Artificial intelligence is increasingly used in education to personalize learning, improve student outcomes, and reduce teachers’ workload.
One area in which AI is already thriving is the development of personalized learning systems. These systems use machine learning algorithms to analyze student data and adapt the learning material to each student’s individual needs and abilities. By providing personalized content and feedback, AI-powered personalized learning systems can help students learn more effectively and improve their performance.
Another way AI is already being leveraged is in assisting teachers with planning and in the classroom. For example, AI-powered grading systems can help teachers save time by automatically grading assignments and providing feedback to students.
AI chatbots can also answer students’ questions and provide support outside of class time. By automating these tasks, AI can free teachers to focus on more high-level tasks, such as lesson planning and one-on-one instruction.
The good, the bad, and the ugly of AI in education
For better or worse, AI in the classroom could have many far-reaching consequences, many of which are not likely foreseeable at this point. What we can say, however, is that there will be widespread impacts.
While speaking with Matthew McCullough, an assistant superintendent in Michigan schools, he described how many of his teachers and administrators reacted to the ChatGPT AI:
“Initially, they were very excited about what it could do. They were seeing how it could answer questions and generate content, and then they started to see how students might use it, and they started to get a little concerned.”
The way McCullough sees it, however, this is just another challenge to which our educators will rise:
“AI still makes mistakes, and students, as well as teachers, can probably spot a lot of AI-created content, especially if teachers are creating assignments that have customized rubrics and metrics that would require more human thought and application… We need to shift away from simply recalling knowledge and creating assignments and assessments that require students to use the knowledge they have and apply it to solve problems. Tech like this really just enables kids to more readily access and regurgitate information, which, if we are teaching correctly and assessing those higher-order skills like synthesizing information, making meaning, communicating it effectively, and applying it to problems, then we really shouldn’t have problems. ”
Others tend to agree with Matthew. In an article about how AI may influence composition and writing, Greg Toppo posits that while this technology can and probably will be used for ill-gotten gains by students, it is not a simple, one-click fix for the high school essay.
Many school districts and institutions of higher learning have also recently taken steps to ban the usage of AI-generated content. Further, inventive programmers have already stepped up to the challenge to create tools to help detect plagiarism and AI-generated content.
Even the International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) has banned the usage of AI for the publishing of academic papers (although it can still be used as part of a study’s experimental analysis, data sources, or as a polishing and editing tool to a human-written manuscript).
This technology is not going to simply disappear, and methods of academic dishonesty will always exist. So the real question is: How do we use its abilities for good?
A helpful tool but no substitute for human thought
There are so many exciting developments in the field of AI. As educators, it’s our responsibility to adapt by learning how to leverage these tools to improve our teaching and help our students succeed in an increasingly AI-reliant world.
One thing is for certain: AI may be a powerful tool with many useful applications in learning, but we still ought to leave the thinking to the humans.
*Note: This article was written with assistance from ChatGPT*