AI = Time for Teachers, Tailored for Students

The daughter of educators shares her thoughts on the future of education. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Jennifer Holland  

VOLODYMYR HERASYMCHUK 

Teachers are some of the most creative people I know. My mother, a dedicated high school Spanish teacher and Dean of Students for over 40 years, and my father, my own elementary school principal and Latin teacher, were masters of inspiration. My father had a vision of helping students realize their dreams of starting a business. He brought this to life with his entrepreneurship class — a student favorite — at the local university. I vividly recall the business plan competitions, judged by renowned VCs and executives, where students would radiate passion for their startup dreams. It was these experiences that ignited my own academic and professional path.

When my father passed, I was moved by countless messages from former students. They shared how his class had been a pivotal moment in their education, and that his teachings had empowered them to chase and achieve their own ambitions.

Like my father, educators also have dreams and ambitions about what the teaching and learning experience should look like; but oftentimes, they don’t have the tools to make them happen. Today, we’ve reached a critical moment of change: thanks to AI, we now have technology that is accessible and powerful enough to help educators realize their dreams and unlock their students’ passions and interests.

‘Today, we’ve reached a critical moment of change: thanks to AI, we now have technology that is accessible and powerful enough to help educators realize their dreams and unlock their students’ passions and interests.’

To be clear, AI is (and has been) present in many of the educational tools that are used each day, but it’s evolving rapidly to help teachers and students in new and exciting ways. And we’re just on the precipice of what’s possible. With the more capable AI models available today, we’re entering an era where large language models, or LLMs can understand and reason about all kinds of inputs. We’re entering an era where any input — text, images, audio, video, code — can become any output. Those state-of-the-art capabilities will one day help power education products, too. 

Here are a few examples of how educators are using AI to enrich the learning experience, in their own words:

Saving time: David Hardy, CEO & Founder, All-365 and Co-Founder, Made By Change, tells the story of a teacher who used AI to help her understand the most salient points of a complicated, curricular resource: “Once that teacher then was able to say, ‘Okay, actually, let me type [into a GenAI tool] what are the key things that my kids need to learn from this objective or this content area,’ it became so much clearer that, ‘Okay, these are the six things that I’m going to need to know and understand. I can now look at these resources more differently and be more efficient with my time…’.”

Spurring creativity and critical thinking: Teacher Donnie Piercey shares how he uses generative AI to create original images using creative student prompts, such as “emu wearing a top hat riding a skateboard in Ohio.” He then asks his students to write a story behind the image, turning the engaging exercise into a creative writing assignment.

Learning together: Dr. Jintavee Khlaisang, a lecturer and faculty member at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, shared with us how important it is to build communities of practice when it comes to applying AI – or any new technology – to teaching: “You need a strong supporting community to discuss and have a dialogue together. In my university, we have a regular lunch talk, where you can participate online or onsite. The main purpose is to educate each other about the multifaceted use of AI. We’re not talking to our own faculty alone, but we also invite members of different faculties to discuss together with us, so that we can tap into best practices of using gen AI in the classroom. You can pick and choose the ideas most suitable for your own classroom and adapt them accordingly.”

Differentiating content: Dan Fitzpatrick, “the AI Educator,” explains how AI can help make content more accessible for students: “The personalization of learning is making learning relevant to every student [regardless of] circumstance, background, or ability. Personalization also means that students can use artificial intelligence to make content more accessible to them. And, for example, if a student needs content chunked into small chunks, or it needs the reading age changed, or the student needs a specific bit of content to be rephrased so that it can help them understand it better, then they’re going to be able to ask artificial intelligence to do that for them.”

That’s the power of AI, to expand our capacity and create richer experiences. At Google for Education, we believe that AI is at its best with a human partner. We saw this in action when we visited Justin Reich’s MIT course, Current Debates in Media. In a critical thinking exercise, he asked students to use gen AI to make an argument on how gen AI can be a positive force. One student, an artist, used two different tools to show how, when used responsibly, technology can protect an artist’s intellectual property; another student showed that AI-powered tools for storyboarding need to balance speed with the creative process.

Now, with every new technology, there are unknowns and questions. AI is no different. There are significant questions on issues like bias and privacy which are important areas for meaningful discussions between companies, educators, public institutions, and beyond. As we collectively work to incorporate AI into the education space, I think it’s important we:

●  Act responsibly: For every AI product and feature that’s developed, it needs to be rigorously evaluated against the organization’s principles first. Great care should be taken to ensure (before rolling anything out) that the benefits far exceed any risks. When developing tools powered by AI, speed is important; responsibility is essential, especially as it relates to students.

●  Incorporate purposefully: As with all technology, AI should solve for the user’s needs first, rather than be used for its own sake.

●  Keep the teacher in the loop: Teachers are the heart and soul of the education experience and can’t be replaced. AI is a tool to help expand human capacity and is only helpful when it’s guided by human intent and knowledge.

●  Prioritize privacy: Ensure the AI used in education protects student privacy and data. The technologies should align with the applicable laws designed to ensure the security and privacy of student data.

AI is one of the most profound technologies that humanity is working on today. It’s going to redefine so much of what we do and how we work, and it’s important that we work collectively to determine the best ways to bring this technology into our lives. I think back to my father’s classroom and wonder how he might have incorporated AI into his teaching, to help students expand their capacity, to give them the tools to dream even bigger. It’s from him that I learned that our dreams and ambitions give us direction and purpose; but it’s the right teacher, tools, and support that make these dreams possible.

Jennifer Holland is Senior Director, Google for Education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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