Teacher or Cheater? AI’s Role in the Classroom
Every nascent technology presents threats and opportunities in equal measure. You can’t disrupt an entire industry, after all, without ruffling a few feathers. Few seismic shifts have caused more consternation than AI: everyone’s got an opinion, a favorite bot, and a livelihood to preserve.
When AI enters the classroom, the debate becomes particularly shrill. Children are our future, after all. What sort of ethics are we instilling if we’re teaching them to cheat with ChatGPT? And more to the point, what sort of a society are we leaving them if the good jobs have all been eradicated by the time they’ve graduated?
However, much of the screeching around AI permeating schools is just that: brouhaha that fails to understand the role this technology can play in the classroom. Artificial intelligence will undoubtedly change the way we learn, and will do so faster than we expect. But a cursory glance at history shows that this kind of transformation skews more benign than malign.
The 21st Century Meets Its Calculator
The 1970s saw the proliferation of handheld calculators, suddenly affordable and able to process complex problems instantly, and many worried that this would mean the end of mathematical study as they knew it.
However, instead of rendering the human brain redundant, calculators freed it to tackle grander problems. Students now had to show their working, and so understanding of the methodology, not just the correct answer. The calculator became a valuable tool in the school system and workplace but remained just that: a tool.
Fast forward to the current obsession over AI, it’s easy to overlook that education has already been greatly transformed this decade. With the outbreak of the pandemic, classrooms irrevocably changed, with teachers forced to rely on technology like YouTube, Google Classroom and Zoom, instead of addressing a class from the front of a room.
The modern AI bot, trained on large language models and possessed with the entire sum of human knowledge, can do a bit more than algebra. However, the example of the calculator along with the rise of remote learning can show us that technological turning points in the past have not had to signal the beginning of the end. From the calculator to the tablet and from the cloud to machine learning, tech has been disrupting education for decades and now it is simply artificial intelligence’s turn and opportunity.
Welcoming our AI Overlords–They’re Pretty Good Teachers
One such opportunity is the potential to transform teaching and learning methods. Utilizing AI, dull and outdated practices can be replaced by dynamic educational techniques.
So while we are busy thinking how to prevent school children from using AI, we tend to neglect that notion that teachers have a whole lot of use cases for AI themselves. TinyTap, an Animoca Brands subsidiary, allows teachers and educators at large to create personalized learning activities–games, quizzes, interactive presentations and more–and use the thousands shared daily by others. The TinyTap interactive curriculum is especially suitable for younger children and those with learning difficulties.
The company’s latest feature is an AI-powered educational game creator. This allows teachers to enter a prompt, then sit back as AI creates a game themed around this topic. The result is the same customized learning resources, ready to use in minutes, without any of the hard work that usually goes into creating them. Next, TinyTap plans to allow teachers to enter a prompt and receive text and images based around it. Once again, AI is being harnessed for educators to create dynamic content to fit their needs, be it an image needed as an example in class or text to set as a homework assignment.
It’s a similar story with analogous disruptive tech like VR, derided by some as a pathway to human isolation, but in fact bringing exciting potential to revolutionize education. Companies like Optima are demonstrating that virtual reality can accelerate learning of subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and trade-related careers. For example, Optima offers virtual field trips, where destinations are not bound by where students can travel via bus or air. Those on offer include Ancient Alexandria, US Naval Intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and outer space. The sky is, quite literally, the limit.
Learning to Think
While AI can help students learn more about countless topics, it also presents them with vast amounts of information, often without much insight into its source or context. In 2023, the word hallucinate gained a new dictionary definition in the context of machine learning programs: “to produce false information contrary to the intent of the user and present it as if true and factual.” In a post-truth society, the limitless potential of AI might be a scary prospect for teachers.
However, astute educators will embrace this opportunity to teach students how to question the answers they’re given. Students can learn how technology like ChatGPT works, why it can be prone to disinformation, and how to identify when written content was generated by AI. They can analyze and further research AI-created texts in the same way that they investigate the credibility of historical sources.
Through this analysis, they will also learn important fact-checking skills, like cross-referencing information from multiple places. Thus, when they go to generative AI for help on their own assignments and essays–as they inevitably will–they will know what to trust, and how to incorporate sources without compromising their own critical thinking.
Just as AI will destroy jobs while creating others (someone’s got to refine these large language models after all), its use within the classroom can broaden thinking rather than dull creativity. The trick lies in working out how best to use the tool, a challenge which should excite teachers rather than worry them.
The Next Big Adventure
Education has changed significantly in recent years, and AI is just one example of how technology continues to transform teaching and learning. As it matures, it will find its place in the education system like other supposedly disruptive technologies on which we now rely. Just as the locomotive didn’t cause people to shake themselves to death through vibrations, or the electric doorbell cause death through electrocution, VR and AI don’t spell the end of learning as we know it.
These emerging technologies present an opportunity to achieve greater educational outcomes, broaden critical thinking, and compel us to embrace the unknown while simultaneously questioning the very algorithms that are serving us. Try everything. Question everything. Examine everything. Isn’t that what learning is all about? So let’s take a deep breath, order a soothing haiku from ChatGPT, and prepare for class. Every day’s a school day.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.