Classroom Technology

Khan Academy Plans to Shake Up Writing Instruction With AI Tool

By Alyson Klein — November 15, 2023 3 min read
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The nonprofit Khan Academy is making strategic decisions to shore up its position at the forefront of the use of artificial intelligence in K-12 education.

One move it’s making—announced Nov. 15—is to cut the price almost in half for use of Khanmigo, its AI-powered chatbot that is currently being used in 32 school districts. The company says it is cutting the price to make the tutoring tool accessible to more school districts at a time when many of them are trimming their budgets in response to the expiration of federal COVID relief aid.

In a separate move to entice more school districts to use Khanmigo, the Khan Academy is making technological upgrades to the AI tool.

Later this month, the school districts that use the tool will be able to employ a new feature, offering personalized feedback on student essays and other writing.

The cost of Khanmigo, which gives students and teachers the opportunity to interact with an AI-powered personalized tutor and lesson-planning collaborator, will drop from $60 to $35 per student annually.

“We’re getting a very positive response from school districts [on the tool],” said Sal Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy, in an interview. “Their teachers are finding value. Their students are finding value. We want to make this as accessible as possible. So, we’ve been working pretty feverishly to make it more efficient” and therefore less expensive for districts.

That’s been accomplished, in part, by tweaking the prompts the tool uses, he said.

The AI tutor is not infallible—it does make mistakes, Khan Academy officials concede. Students and teachers are asked to flag those mistakes for the company, so it can tweak the tool to avoid those mistakes.

Chatbots designed specifically for K-12 education are expected to proliferate rapidly over the next few years, according to experts. For instance, Sizzle and Magicschool offer products with some similarities to Khanmigo.

Khan Academy is adding a new twist to Khanmigo: Beginning later this month, students will be able to submit a draft essay to Khanmigo, which will then guide them through a revision process. Students will get feedback on their essay’s structure and organization, how well their arguments are supported, and the essay’s overall tone and style.

The idea is for Khanmigo to give feedback to students such as “I think you can make a stronger thesis statement or this doesn’t really back up your argument,” Khan said in the interview.

It will act like “an ethical writing coach or editor,” Khan said. “It helps the student to refine what they’re doing.”

By next school year, Khan Academy plans to build on that approach, enabling Khanmigo to serve as an anti-cheating tool, and give it the ability to offer a preliminary assessment of a students’ writing, based on a teacher’s rubric.

Students will have a tougher time using AI to cheat because Khanmigo will offer teachers a report on how the writing process evolved for individual students. That means if the student went to ChatGPT and just copied and pasted an essay in, Khan said, Khanmigo would tell the teacher “I don’t know where this actually came from. I didn’t work on it with the student.”

Khanmigo is also being programmed to gauge the quality of a student’s final essay for teachers, saying “based on the rubric we came up with, I would give this essay the following ranks on the different dimensions on the rubric. Here’s why. But you’re the teacher. You should validate that,” Khan said.

That could be a game changer for teachers as far as grading goes, but teachers would remain in control of the process, Khan insists.

“I think it could save teachers time, but I think you would definitely want the teacher to be a second set of eyeballs to confirm” the tool’s assessment, Khan said. “I think that’s not healthy to just have the AI grade and then someone blindly put that into a gradebook.”

Eventually, Khanmigo will be programmed to give teachers feedback on what parts of the writing process their students could use extra instruction in.

“It’s gonna say, ‘you know, these five kids had trouble coming up with a thesis statement. We eventually got there. But I think they could use a workshop on that,’” Khan said. Or it might say, “‘all of your students really have trouble [distinguishing] a credible from a non-credible source. Maybe [you] should make a lesson about that.’ It’s going to be able to give insights across all the students.”

Also in the works: Technology that would allow Khanmigo to be used outside of the broader Khan Academy platform.

That would allow the tutor to walk students through what they are reading on a site like Wikipedia, or the New York Times.

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