ChatGPT can pass the bar exam, write sci-fi novels, and code, and that’s only the beginning, say experts in education technology and artificial intelligence.
There has been a lot of ink spilled lately trying to divine how artificial intelligence will disrupt our world—K-12 education included. And there are some big outstanding questions for educators, such as: What emerging artificial intelligence is just around the corner? How can schools stay on top of this rapidly changing technology? And how can educators separate hype from substance?
Education Week asked four experts in technology, education, and artificial intelligence to look into their crystal balls and share their thoughts on how AI will likely change teaching and learning.
Here’s what they said:
Michael Horn: “If we’re all being honest, we don’t know”
Horn is the co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, a research group focused on disruptive innovation.
“The leap-frog of ChatGPT caught a lot of us awestruck by what’s possible,” he said.
However, it’s still possible to project to a certain extent how recent advances in AI will augment technologies currently in classrooms, he pointed out. And there are lessons from other moments in history when technology prompted big changes that educators would do well to bear in mind today.
Horn said that if he were to pick a theme for new technologies, it would be one of empowerment: New tools will give students more control over creating content and learning at their own pace, while simultaneously taking busywork off teachers’ plates by allowing them to automate tasks.
Here’s what Horn said that might look like in the classroom. Imagine students working on writing essays in class:
“And as you’re writing, there’s an AI-powered coach that’s literally giving you feedback—you write your topic sentence, and it’s like, ‘Hey Michael, your topic sentence should be doing a better job of outlining what’s about to come.’ It can actually coach you as you go,” he said. “On the other side, the teacher can take that and very quickly generate several exemplar responses to the prompt and use that with the class to dissect what makes the writing good, bad, or effective or not along the rubric dimensions. One of the biggest problems for teachers is finding examples to illustrate points and make a rubric more concrete. Now, you can generate content very quickly. That gives teachers an extra tool in there as well as to foster conversations.”
Nancye Blair Black: “It’s about awareness. AI is already in classrooms, and teachers are just waking up to this.”
While tools like ChatGPT give educators a glimpse of where education technology is heading, it’s not totally foreign territory. In many cases, AI is already in K-12 classrooms, said Black, the AI exploration project lead for the International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE. Teachers just don’t always realize that it’s powering popular tools like Khan Academy and iRead.
In addition to improving personalized learning, AI has the potential to make classroom instruction more accessible for students with different abilities and backgrounds, said Black. Already, artificial intelligence is being deployed to help visually impaired people navigate their surroundings and to fuel language-translation services that allow educators and school staff to communicate with English learners, and she sees these tools only becoming more sophisticated.
AI could also be used to track student engagement, Black said.
“There are really interesting things happening globally where some institutions are using AI for facial recognition for attendance or for judging whether students are paying attention,” said Black. “Now, I’m not endorsing that use, but these are the kinds of things that are being explored globally.”
Although it’s hard to know the specific details of what kinds of artificial intelligence are around the corner, what is predictable is that with any new technology or app will come a lot of hype.
Not falling for the hype will depend on educators’ ability to stay focused on the right goals, said Black.
“So, instead of saying, ‘This is a new tool, how do we plug this technology in?,’ what we want to say is, ‘This is the educational goal we have, what available technology can help us to achieve these educational goals?’” said Black. “We never want to be using the AI tools just for the sake of using AI.”
Educators are going to be asked to perform a delicate balancing act between introducing students to new and innovative tools, said Black, while also safeguarding students from tools riddled with biases and that misuse their data.
Amber Oliver: “We run the risk [of] further entrenching biases.”
When it comes to disruptive technology, many educators have been here before, said Oliver, the managing director for the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund, a nonprofit joint venture that works to improve the use of technology in high-poverty schools in New York City.
“There is one thing that [new technologies] have all had in common and will continue to have in common: They give students greater autonomy,” she said. “If you think back, calculators, cellphones, Google, all these moments in time when we’ve gotten nervous or felt a little bit out of our depth about how to adjust to new technologies, they moved the needle on what we as adults and educators can decide about how, when, or what students are learning.”
Even so, it’s hard to prepare for changes when you don’t know exactly how things are going to change, experts emphasize. They say there are pitfalls that educators—and everyone, for that matter—should be looking out for as artificial intelligence fuels more advances in education technology.
One big potential problem is how AI could exacerbate inequities. Oliver said she is concerned that history will likely repeat itself.
“If you look back at all the other major disruptions that we’ve had, we’ve done a terrible job of making sure that the way in which they roll out doesn’t exacerbate the inequities that are already in our system,” she said. “Think about how computer science even today is still something that is less available to students of color, to students living in poverty.”
People also have a misconception that technology like AI is perfectly objective, not realizing that there are biases baked into it based on the people who design the algorithms that make AI run and the data it is trained and tested on, Oliver pointed out.
Peter Stone: “We shouldn’t be educating our students to do a particular job.”
It’s not just the tools that teachers and students use in class that will change as a result of advances in artificial intelligence, said Stone, a computer science professor at the University of Texas at Austin. What is taught in schools will also change. Students and teachers are going to need new skills. A major part of that is AI literacy—understanding how AI works as well as how it affects our lives and wider society.
“There is a need for designing curricula that is suitable for K-12 students to start playing with and getting firsthand experience,” said Stone. “ChatGPT is one specific type of AI, and students need a broad exposure to the field of AI.”
Students also need to be prepared to succeed in a workforce that is poised to rapidly change with the expanded use of artificial intelligence in all kinds of jobs said Stone, who is also the chair of the One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100). The study draws insights from experts around the world in reports published every five years to try to understand what the long-term impacts of AI will be on society.
“We now need to be educating our students to be able to be flexible, to be able to retrain themselves, to be able to learn how to learn, because the nature of that job may change over the next few years,” he said. “Or you may find that you need to be able to jump to a new career partway through. Being empowered to learn how to learn, a lot of that is literacy with technology and literacy with artificial intelligence.”