Designing for the future with AI: Lessons learned in curriculum development

Michigan Virtual's educators experimented with ChatGPT to generate content for online courses, offering insights into its potential benefits and limitations in areas like content creation, individualized learning, and the 5D course design process.

Technological advancements have historically brought about significant changes in the field of education

One of the latest technologies introduced to the world of education is ChatGPT, an AI-based chat and text-generation tool with the potential for diverse applications in many fields, including education. This innovative tool has attracted the attention of many educators interested in exploring its potential to improve the educational experience of their students.

Over the course of a week, a group of educators at Michigan Virtual experimented with ChatGPT to generate and test sample content for online courses and reflected on their experiences. Their insights and feedback are valuable in helping us understand the potential benefits and limitations of using AI in education. 

This blog post summarizes the lessons learned from these experiments and the resulting discussions. We explore how AI can be used effectively in curriculum development, when and where it can supplement an SME (subject-matter expert), how it can help individualize student learning, and what considerations need to be made when using AI-based content creation tools.

Jumpstarting content design with AI

When it comes to content design, our team discovered that one of the most effective ways that AI can be used is in generating question banks and lesson introductions. 

ChatGPT can provide a good starting point, spark ideas for getting a course started, and help you develop scenarios and examples by responding to specific prompts. This tool can also assist in summarizing existing content and identifying alignment issues. 

However, it’s important to note that AI cannot replace an SME’s subject matter expertise. A background in instructional design is still necessary to refine the content. 

AI can help generate course content in several other ways as well. For example, ChatGPT can generate course objectives and create a consistent scope and sequence with unit lessons. It can follow directions and create content that follows a consistent outline, rubric, or style. 

It can even help educators generate and refine their own rubrics, objectives, or criteria for assessment and assignments.

Below is an example prompt and response demonstrating how ChatGPT can help jumpstart content design: 


Write a summary of a unit of instruction for a 5th-grade class regarding the scientific method. Most of the students live in rural agricultural communities and have experience with farming, outdoor activities, and nature in general. Make sure to use this prior knowledge when describing the unit of instruction and align the content to Michigan State Standards.

ChatGPT Response:

Unit Title: Discovering the Scientific Method in Nature

Michigan State Standards:

  • Science Process and Inquiry: Apply scientific methods and tools to make accurate observations, gather and analyze data, form hypotheses, and communicate findings.
  • Life Science: Understand the interdependence of plants and animals in ecosystems and the effects of environmental changes on these ecosystems.
  • Earth and Space Science: Understand the processes and components of the Earth’s systems and their interactions.
  • Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science: Understand how science and technology can solve problems and improve the quality of life.


  • Understand the steps of the scientific method (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Apply the scientific method to real-life examples from nature (Science Process and Inquiry, Life Science)
  • Analyze the results of scientific investigations and draw conclusions (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science)

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Scientific Method

  • Define the scientific method and its importance in scientific investigations (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Explain the steps of the scientific method (observation, question, hypothesis, experiment, data analysis, conclusion) (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Use examples from nature to illustrate the steps of the scientific method (Life Science)

Lesson 2: Observing Nature

  • Discuss the importance of observation in scientific investigations (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Practice making observations of natural phenomena (e.g., plant growth, animal behavior, weather patterns) in the schoolyard or nearby natural areas (Life Science, Earth and Space Science)
  • Use observation skills to generate questions for investigation (Science Process and Inquiry)

Lesson 3: Forming a Hypothesis

  • Define a hypothesis and explain its role in scientific investigations (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Practice generating hypotheses based on observations and prior knowledge of natural phenomena (Life Science)
  • Use critical thinking skills to evaluate the validity of hypotheses (Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science)

Lesson 4: Conducting Experiments

  • Discuss the importance of experimental design in scientific investigations (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Practice designing experiments to test hypotheses about natural phenomena (Life Science, Earth and Space Science)
  • Conduct experiments in the schoolyard or nearby natural areas (Science Process and Inquiry, Earth and Space Science)
  • Collect and analyze data from experiments (Science Process and Inquiry)

Lesson 5: Drawing Conclusions

  • Discuss the importance of data analysis and drawing conclusions in scientific investigations (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Analyze data collected from experiments and draw conclusions based on evidence (Science Process and Inquiry)
  • Practice communicating scientific findings in written or oral form (Science Process and Inquiry)


Students will be assessed through class participation, completion of in-class assignments, and a final project in which they apply the scientific method to a real-life example from nature. The final project will include a written report and a presentation to the class.

Extension Activities:

  • Field Trip: Take a field trip to a nearby farm or natural area to observe natural phenomena and practice using the scientific method. (Life Science, Earth and Space Science)
  • Citizen Science Project: Participate in a citizen science project (e.g., monitoring bird populations, tracking weather patterns) and use the scientific method to collect and analyze data. (Science Process and Inquiry, Earth and Space Science)
  • Science Fair: Encourage students to apply the scientific method to a project of their choice and present their findings at a school science fair. (Science Process and Inquiry)

This response was tailored toward a specific audience and generated an excellent jumping-off point for any educator to continue designing lessons based on this unit of study. 

To further refine these materials, the teacher, curriculum designer, or educator responsible for this content would still need to add more clarity at some points, such as creating some of the in-class assignments, the final project rubric, or any presentation and discussion components, as well as any differentiation that a student may need.

That being said, ChatGPT may be able to help jumpstart thinking around some of these materials, too…

Individualizing student learning with AI

Our team also posited that ChatGPT has the potential to assist with individualizing learning for students who need differentiation and extension. This tool can help educators provide further explanations or deepen a student’s understanding by generating ideas for assessments, providing a variety of assignments, and adjusting readability levels.

AI might also be helpful when suggesting language for IEP/504 accommodations and tailoring materials for special education and ELL students. In such situations, AI could quickly generate content within accommodation parameters or translate existing content between teachers and students.

For example, our team tested using ChatGPT to change the reading level of content, generate alternative assignments, and adapt content into plain/simplified language for a non-native English audience.

It’s important to understand, however, that many of these accommodations and modifications will still require a teacher’s intimate understanding of a child’s needs to be successful. This holds true even if the AI is capable of following a set of instructions outlined in an IEP!

Our team also noted that educators must consider the potential issues of students using AI to get answers to assessments, as well as the importance of media literacy. Ultimately, it’s up to educators to create assessments and problems that challenge students with unique and authentic problems and situations that cannot be simply answered using an AI’s knowledge bank.

Teachers must seek to have students apply their knowledge, not simply write down and recall it.

Here’s an example prompt and response demonstrating how ChatGPT could be used to individualize student learning: 


Generate an assignment in the unit just created that is for an ELL student that needs help understanding key vocabulary words in English and Spanish.

ChatGPT Response:

Assignment: Scientific Method Vocabulary

Objective: To help ELL students understand key vocabulary words related to the scientific method in both English and Spanish.


  • Create a chart with the following vocabulary words in English and Spanish: observation/observación, question/pregunta, hypothesis/hipótesis, experiment/experimento, data analysis/ análisis de datos, conclusion/conclusión.
  • Review each vocabulary word with the student and provide an example of how it is used in the scientific method.
  • Have the student practice saying each word in English and Spanish.
  • Ask the student to use each vocabulary word in a sentence in both English and Spanish.
  • Provide a list of natural phenomena or scientific experiments for the student to choose from and ask them to write a brief explanation of how the scientific method can be applied to the chosen phenomenon or experiment, using the vocabulary words in both English and Spanish.
  • Assessment:

The student will be assessed based on their ability to correctly identify and use the scientific method vocabulary words in both English and Spanish in their written explanation.

Extension Activity:

Encourage the student to research a famous scientist from a Spanish-speaking country and write a short biography of their life and work, highlighting their contributions to the scientific community. The student can then present their findings to the class in both English and Spanish.

While this is a good attempt, it may or may not meet the student’s needs and would likely require teacher refinement in many circumstances. 

Our team noted that to get more refined responses, you need to be very specific with your prompts, and it may take more than a few tries to generate something effective for classroom use without requiring much input. 

AI in the 5D Process

When designing courses, our instructional product development team at Michigan Virtual follows the ‘5D’ process: define, design, develop, deploy, and debrief.  

During our experimentation with ChatGPT, our curriculum developers discussed how AI could and should be further tested in areas such as:

  • Importing files
  • Inheriting templates
  • Evaluating the status and health of courses
  • Summarizing datasets (both quantitative and qualitative) to identify themes
  • Creating scope and sequences for courses from scratch, and
  • Creating interactive content with given code and terms.

The group’s opinion overall was that ChatGPT, as a standalone, is most useful for the ‘define,’ ‘design,’ and ‘develop’ stages of the course design process, while the ‘deploy’ and ‘debrief’ stages require more uniquely human expertise and input.

Pros and cons of using AI for curriculum development

A few patterns emerged throughout our team’s experiments and discussion, which we’ve organized into a short list below. We hope this list will provide helpful guidance for anyone using AI for curriculum development:

Pros – AI can…

  • Assist in developing question banks. 
  • Provide starting platforms and frameworks for lesson design.
  • Provide a good starting point and spark ideas for course creation or problem-solving for students.
  • Generate course objectives and create a consistent scope and sequence with unit lessons.
  • Help students who need further explanation or a deeper understanding.
  • Potentially save time for SMEs by providing idea generation and summaries.

Cons – AI cannot…

  • Replace an SME’s deep subject matter expertise gained from their experience and knowledge in the field.
  • Replicate safety and a human experience.
  • Accurately gauge how someone would act.
  • Validate its own content with the same expertise as an SME.
  • Be used as a flippant tool for teachers to create content without thinking about how students can and will use AI to help them with that same content, as doing so will likely result in poor outcomes for teachers and students alike.


Overall, AI shows great potential for revolutionizing how we design and create educational content. However, these powerful tools are not without their limitations and challenges. 

While AI can help save time and provide a starting point for designing courses, it cannot replace the expertise that SMEs bring to the table. 

It’s also important to consider the potential issues that could arise from relying too heavily on AI, such as the risk of teachers designing content using AI tools without being mindful of how their students may rely on similar tools to help complete this content.

Our teachers ought to learn how to use these tools responsibly and with the intent to provide students with challenges and authentic learning situations rather than using them as a worksheet and test factory. To do this, educators will require training in using AI effectively and its limitations and potential risks. 

Despite these challenges, AI has shown itself to be a valuable tool with the potential to improve the educational experience for educators and students alike.

It is essential that the education community continue exploring the potential of AI in the classroom and adopt a holistic approach that combines the benefits of AI with the expertise of human educators. By learning how to best utilize this emerging technology, educators can realize the potential of AI in education and create engaging and effective learning experiences for all students.

If you’re interested in diving deeper into the role of AI in education, check out these professional learning courses for educators: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT for Educators: An Introduction.

See also: How might AI change the way we teach?

***This content was written from an AI-generated outline, then edited by multiple human participants for accuracy and clarity.***

Picture of Nikolas McGehee

Nikolas McGehee

Dr. Nikolas McGehee received his doctorate in Exceptional Learning and STEM Education from Tennessee Technological University. He has worked as a high school science teacher, university researcher, analyst, and project manager, as well as a STEM Education program manager. His professional career is focused upon improving educational processes and products by performing sound research and making data driven decisions.

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