The AI Tsunami on Education’s Shore

Classroom teachers, students, and leaders must help shape this wave.

GUEST COLUMN | by Amanda Bickerstaff


The first part of any tsunami is the drawback—when the water recedes exposing the coast and all is still calm, if not exactly normal. This is the exact moment we find ourselves in with the advancements of generative AI and its impending impact on our schools and universities.

As I walked the halls and attended events at a few major education conferences recently (ISTE and NASSP), what struck me was how little was focused on what school leaders and teachers could do to stop the AI wave from sweeping over their schools this fall.

Educators once again find themselves on the frontlines. Based on a recent survey, less than 1 in 10 teachers have received any formal professional development or training on AI. In my conversations with school leaders, they are similarly flying blind, lacking governance plans and implementation strategies for regulating and harnessing AI’s potential.

Incredible Tools

But optimism and curiosity persist, with teachers being the most open to this new technology of any in my 20 years as an educator. Teachers and innovative school leaders recognize what incredible tools these technologies could become – if thoughtfully and responsibly implemented. 

In one professional development session, a veteran teacher who still had an old-school flip phone went from extremely suspicious of the tool to shouting prompts for me to try from across the room. 

‘In one professional development session, a veteran teacher who still had an old-school flip phone went from extremely suspicious of the tool to shouting prompts for me to try from across the room.’

Showing how AI can automate tasks like lesson planning, provide personalized support, and grant access to enriched curriculum for all learners unlocks the possibility of a better quality of life for teachers. 

‘But Wait, Can I Trust This?’

But even with the possibilities of generative AI, we know that today’s foundational models fall short and are not yet fit-for-purpose for our classrooms. One of the first questions I hear working with educators after they’ve learned how ChatGPT can help them is always a variation of, “but wait, can I trust this?” Trust remains the greatest obstacle to AI’s adoption in schools. Tools like ChatGPT frequently output misinformation, reinforce systemic biases, and lack equitable access globally. These models reflect the imperfect data from which they were built and a tendency to hallucinate means that the tools are not ready yet for prime-time.  Reliability and transparency must be priorities for those building foundational models and the tools powered by them.

While the first reaction from educational institutions often focused on containing AI, edtech organizations have a unique opportunity to grab hold of this wave. By collaborating with students, technologists and policymakers, they can steer AI innovation in a direction that empowers teachers and students. Soliciting ongoing feedback and conducting rigorous evidence-based pilots of new tools can help ensure these new systems align with educational value and ensure that these tools augment users, not disempower them.

AI’s Impact 

Research must also play a leading role. Studying AI’s impacts on childhood development and social-emotional learning is crucial. We’ve learned the hard way how new technologies can have unintended and pervasive negative impacts on young people after the launch of social media platforms. There are also questions on the impact of cognitive offload with generative AI tools. Can AI nurture creativity and critical thinking, or will it stifle these uniquely human traits? How can we enhance access and equity through these technologies, rather than further ingraining systemic biases? Education must help shape this wave, directing it away from harm.

Make no mistake, the tsunami is gaining power offshore, no matter educators’ level of preparation. But the results don’t have to mean destruction. If we amplify teachers’ voices and insights, AI can enable human strengths rather than supplanting them. It can personalize instruction rather than playing to the middle. It can provide access and equity rather than entrenching inequality.

Pivotal Days

In these pivotal days, we must listen closely to classroom teachers, students, and leaders, prioritizing their needs and perspectives. If educators help steer this wave, we can ride it toward a future where AI elevates – rather than drowns – human potential. It’s time for us to start paddling together towards the possibilities that AI brings.

Amanda Bickerstaff is the CEO of AI for Education. A former science teacher and edtech executive with 20 years experience in the sector, she is a frequent consultant, speaker, and writer on the topic of AI in education. Amanda is committed to helping schools and teachers maximize their potential through the ethical and equitable adoption of AI. Connect with her on Linkedin.


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