In 2024, education will move to adopt AI—but slowly

Key points:

In education, we tend to move pretty slowly when it comes to adopting new technology, and that pattern won’t change with artificial intelligence (AI). In the coming year, early adopters will continue to play with new AI tools to see how they can be used in education. They will have some amazing successes—and some failures—as they light the way forward and the rest of us endlessly discuss the potential uses and abuses of AI in our classrooms.

Here is a bit about why we’ll have to wrestle with AI, the barriers we will face in adopting it in the coming year, and a few resources to help educators begin exploring AI.

Why teachers need to catch up with students

Students are already introducing themselves to AI tools, so teachers need to help them discover all the ways these tools can benefit their learning in a safe and supportive manner.

Artificial intelligence tools also have great potential to automate a lot of the grunt work in teaching. I have colleagues who have used AI tools to create rubrics and to offer feedback on rubrics they’d already created. AI can be helpful in creating lesson plans, assessment tools, presentations, seating charts, or letters to your students’ families for back-to-school night. Putting AI to work on administrative tasks will free up their time to focus on supporting students.

Concerns over privacy and cheating

Right now, the biggest barrier to adopting AI tools is the fact that many schools simply can’t download or access them because of privacy concerns. In New York, where I work, Education Law 2-D places restrictions on schools’ ability to use software that takes personally identifiable information.

Here and in other states with similar laws, until AI tools that comply with such laws are more widely available, teachers may have to use their own AI tools on their own computers while they show students what they are doing. Some educational software is beginning to integrate AI tools for student use, like the Canva graphic design suite, and features like that might be another avenue for teachers to safely and legally support student practice with AI.

While it is important to safeguard personally identifiable student information, some bans on AI in the classroom have nothing to do with that and are more focused on AI as a poor academic source or as a means of cutting corners or outright cheating. These bans are similar to earlier bans on tools like Wikipedia, YouTube, or calculators.

Wikipedia may be a poor academic source itself because anyone can edit it, but it’s a great place for a student to go learn the basics about a subject, complete with a list of sources for further reading. YouTube may be the largest collection of how-to videos on the planet and, contrary to the insistence of every teacher in the 1980s, you do in fact carry a calculator in your pocket with you everywhere you go these days. Just as with AI, we’re not really afraid of the tools themselves, but what we imagine students will do with them. The answer, then, is not to ban the tools, but to teach students appropriate ways to use them.

Worries that students will cheat with AI don’t strike me as much different than worries that they would copy from the encyclopedia. Everyone is looking for the AI version of Turnitin, but the best way to prevent students from cheating with a tool is to introduce them to it. As soon as their teacher is using something, it won’t be cool anymore, so you’re already halfway there.

Give your students a short writing assignment and give ChatGPT the same one, then have your students compare them and talk about the differences. Ask if it really seems like an efficient way to get information, given that you have to read it, vet it, and revise anyway. Then talk about more legitimate ways you might use it. AI tools are great for creating a table of contents or an outline to help get ideas flowing. They can also provide helpful feedback and suggestions for revision. There are many different ways to bring AI tools into the writing process, and as long as students have plenty of discussion about the differences between writing something themselves and having the software do it, they are all potential learning opportunities.

Getting the conversation started

The best way for teachers to get started with AI is just to play around with it. I was a little nervous to jump in myself, but you can use it for low-stakes personal stuff at first if it makes you more comfortable. Ask it to give you a trip itinerary for a vacation you’re taking, or to plan a romantic dinner for an upcoming anniversary. If you’re really stumped, just ask an AI tool for a list of fun and useful ways to use AI, then give a couple of your favorites a shot.

I would give administrators the same advice. Just jump in and start playing on your own time,  then introduce a tool at a faculty meeting and have some fun. We all need to be on the same page and using the same language, so get some experience with AI tools until you know the meaning of phrases like “machine learning” and “generative model” inside and out before you come up with a plan to introduce these tools to students.

Once teachers do introduce AI tools to the classroom, it’s important to focus on process, not product. AI still gets facts wrong all the time. It hallucinates information that never existed. It can be prone to biases and discrimination, can’t understand emotions, and is incapable of creativity. Students will need digital citizenship skills—along with traditional soft skills like critical thinking—to critique the output of these systems. Rather than focusing on the product AI gives us, assignments related to these tools should focus on the process of vetting them. How do you check facts? How might the output of this tool be affected by the samples it was trained on?

Just getting a conversation about AI started in a professional learning community can go a long way toward getting good ideas out there. Pretty much any edtech organization these days offers resources to help teachers learn about AI as well. ISTE has several resources, including books, pamphlets, and a whole class. I participate in a podcast called AI Café, hosted by BAM Radio, where we’ve talked about a plethora of topics connected to AI in education. Even looking at your own state’s standards to see how AI is incorporated to them could be eye-opening.

If you haven’t already, don’t be afraid to get your toes wet in the new year. Artificial intelligence has the potential to change the world and, if we let it, to improve education. We just have to dive in and get ready to support our students.

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