Calculators, the internet, mobile devices—and now, artificial intelligence.
GUEST COLUMN | by Joel Kupperstein
Every day, teachers adapt on the spot to meet their students’ needs, ensure they understand lessons and provide support. Plenty of technology exists to help educators with this, including artificial intelligence (AI). But AI isn’t a panacea capable of assuming a teacher’s role. While it has the potential to be a valuable tool, it will never replace the human interaction students need.
‘…AI isn’t a panacea capable of assuming a teacher’s role. While it has the potential to be a valuable tool, it will never replace the human interaction students need.’
Take, for example, large language models (LLMs) like GPT-3 and GPT-4. These artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms use massively large data sets to understand, summarize, generate and predict new content. But while they’re an aid — and potentially transformational — LLMs require well-constructed inputs to generate a response. And since the response may not be accurate or complete, LLMs need human input and human review to function effectively and generate usable results.
AI can’t replace high-quality teaching because it doesn’t understand the human context around students’ struggles and cannot replicate a real human connection. Does that mean there’s no place for AI in the classroom? Not at all. A teacher’s toolbox should include AI for automating work that has typically been done manually.
Accepting AI as a valuable educational tool
Like other technology that’s made its way into the classroom — think calculators, the internet and mobile devices — AI can influence instructional delivery. In fact, nearly half of teachers say technology increases the efficiency of planning and presenting lessons, and 54% believe technology helps them plan more exciting lessons. Yet many teachers remain leery of AI because it has the capability to execute tasks they assign and expect students to complete.
Embracing new technology requires an open, creative mindset. Since AI is here to stay, it’s better to consider how teachers can maximize its potential to help them and their students rather than prohibiting its use in the classroom.
Teachers and parents once worried about using what was initially a very controversial piece of ed tech: calculators. They thought students might become so reliant on this tool that they would no longer learn the underlying arithmetic that it performs. Yet calculators have become an important, necessary addition to math and science classrooms.
Like calculators, AI provides a shortcut — but it’s up to teachers to determine when it’s an appropriate and useful shortcut for reaching the real end goal. And it likely won’t be long before educators (and parents) accept AI as yet another valuable educational tool (like a calculator) in day-to-day classroom use.
Just as teachers had to evaluate how best to use — and teach their students to use — calculators, educators should welcome AI and how it can facilitate teaching and learning. AI solutions, like ChatGPT, are simply another part of the ongoing technological evolution in schools.
Harnessing the power of AI in the classroom
Not sure where to start? Here are four use cases worth exploring to implement AI for enhancing instruction and propelling students forward on their journey to academic success.
Creating writing models
Teachers can use LLMs to create a writing model for teaching about writing’s form and function. After giving it a prompt, teachers can have the LLM generate writing samples for students to critique. Teachers could also incorporate LLMs to help students with learning disabilities or English language learners (ELLs) plan and organize their writing.
Teachers can give their students practice presenting reasoned arguments by using generative AI as a debate partner. They can ask the engine to make a case for or against an issue and ask the student to present the counter-argument.
Students — especially those in middle and high school and college — can use AI to better understand complex passages in textbooks and stories. LLMs, for example, can employ clearer language to explain or summarize complicated texts, like original historical documents, promoting deeper understanding and stronger reading comprehension.
Teachers can use AI during lesson planning to identify information gaps within the course content. When given specific inputs and parameters, AI can provide background research to support science or social studies lessons.
As teachers and students add AI to their toolkits, they must be aware of the technology’s limitations. AI can generate inaccurate statements, so when used for research, students must double-check any results they receive. This shortcoming offers “teachable moments” for educators to teach even their youngest students the importance of verifying information — and model how to check sources.
Another potential flaw? Think “garbage in, garbage out.” Unless it’s given a prompt that’s unambiguously connected to the desired output, the user may not get the response they’re looking for. Teachers and students must learn how to be more explicit with the prompts they plug into LLMs and other AI tools.
Finally, writing generated by AI tools like ChatGPT lacks the human element — and any personality — found in student writing. While a great tool for tasks that don’t require much creativity, such as research, outlining and editing, AI can’t replace creativity. Teachers should present ChatGPT as a tool intended to help students write but not complete the job for them. After all, AI can’t replace the inventiveness and originality of a human writer, regardless of age or grade.
AI has value as a teacher’s aid, helping educators increase their efficiency, precision and personalization and do their jobs better. But only teachers can support and motivate students to grow, develop and foster a love of learning. AI can track student progress, automate and perform tasks and offer an assist with grading and lesson planning — but not independently from a human.
Does AI have an important role in supporting teachers’ ability to positively affect educational outcomes? Absolutely. Can it replace them all together? Never.
Joel Kupperstein, Senior Vice President of Product Strategy at Learning A-Z, has more than 25 years of leadership experience in curriculum and edtech product development. He was previously Senior VP of Curriculum at Age of Learning, where he oversaw planning and design of the company’s learning resources. Prior to that, he was Director of Product Management for PK-8 math intervention products at McGraw-Hill Education; Executive Editor for K-6 English Language Arts at Zaner-Bloser; Associate Publisher for K-5 ESL at National Geographic School Publishing; and Associate Director of PK-2 English Language Arts at Harcourt School Publishers, focusing on Early Childhood. He began his career teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades in Santa Ana, California. He holds an MBA from Rollins College and a BA in Social Ecology from the University of California at Irvine.