Classroom Technology

How One Researcher Used Teacher Feedback on AI to Create a New K-12 Platform

By Alyson Klein — June 24, 2024 2 min read
A photo illustration of a hand holding a magnifying glass that is focusing on a motherboard chip with the letters "AI".
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When Zafer Unal, an education professor at the University of South Florida, asked 140 teachers for their thoughts on artificial intelligence, he braced for an earful about AI’s downsides.

“We expected to hear, ‘this isn’t working, case closed,’” he said.

But teachers were surprisingly optimistic, even as they shared common challenges.

Most teachers said, “‘We are already using it. And we are not scared of it,’” Unal said in an interview ahead of the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference in Denver, where his research will be presented.

Unal said the theme of the responses was largely along the lines of: “We have issues and problems. But we think that [AI] is not the end of the world.”

In the survey, Unal found that beginners tended to be more likely to use AI tools than more experienced teachers. That didn’t surprise Unal, given that younger teachers are part of the “TikTok generation,” he said.

And high school teachers adapted to the tech more readily than those working in elementary and middle schools.

Teachers are helping their students master a new language through tools like Duolingo Max, ELSA Speak, and Replika. They’re creating quizzes with apps like ClassPoint AI and ExamSoft, and lesson planning with Microsoft’s Education Co-Pilot as well as Magic School AI and Jasper AI.

Teachers cite AI training and knowledge gaps

But despite all that activity, at least half the teachers said they didn’t have the training or knowledge they needed to implement AI effectively with students.

“They didn’t know how to actually use it in classroom teaching and learning purposes,” Unal said. “They knew how to use it to create a lesson plan or update a paper or fix [an] email, but they didn’t know how to actually use it to enhance student learning.”

Another big concern: Potential privacy problems of generative AI’s thirst for data.

“They are willing to use it, they want to learn how to use it more, but they don’t want this to be a problem in terms of privacy,” Unal said.

And educators are concerned about the high cost of some AI tools, Unal said. They told him, “‘I’m already struggling. I’m buying my papers and pencils. And there are times that I’m buying stuff for students,’” he said. They said AI tools “‘should not be costing $20 a month, $25 a month.’”

Unal and his research partner took those concerns as a challenge and decided to create a free, educator-friendly AI platform for schools: Teacherserver.com.

It features tools for creating classroom climate surveys, rubrics, worksheets, and warm-up activities, as well as tools for making behavior intervention plans or customizing lessons for English learners and students with learning and thinking differences. Each tool has a section allowing users to leave feedback, and teachers are encouraged to suggest new tools.

And data is stored locally, to alleviate privacy concerns, Unal said. “We hope we end up doing something beneficial for educators.”

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