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Classroom Technology

What Teachers Need to Know About AI, But Don’t

Students must be critical AI users. 3 steps for teachers to prepare
By Lauraine Langreo — August 31, 2023 3 min read
Stylized illustration of a teacher figure using a futuristic smart board
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Artificial intelligence experts and K-12 educators agree that it’s imperative for the education system to prepare students to be successful in the age of AI. ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tools like it are here to stay, and now is the time for schools to find ways to use the technology for the benefit of teaching and learning while being aware of its potential downsides.

But a summer 2023 EdWeek Research Center survey shows that a majority of educators (77 percent) said they or the teachers they supervise are not prepared to teach students the skills they need to be successful in an AI-powered world. So, what do they need to prepare students to be critical AI users?

Here are three big answers to that question, gleaned from conversations with classroom teachers, teacher educators, AI researchers, and technology CEOs:

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Illustration of stylized teacher student relationship with AI represented between them as layered screens.
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1. Teachers need time to learn what AI is, how it works, and how to use it. Before teachers can use AI as a tool in the classroom, they need to be familiar with it. Some educators talked about concerns that they are already so far behind on AI knowledge and skills that students who have grown up learning how to use all kinds of digital technologies will be running circles around them.

“My concern is education isn’t out in front guiding the kids through this,” said Chad Towarnicki, an 8th grade English teacher in the 4,800-student Wissahickon school district in Pennsylvania. “I’m learning about it through the kids. They’re already familiar with this foreign tool, but I’m playing catch up.”

District leaders and principals will need to make sure teachers have time to learn what these AI tools can and cannot do so they can gain confidence and be able to use it responsibly with their students. District leaders and principals need to provide mentors or colleagues for teachers to work with as they explore these tools as learners and as educators.

2. Preservice teacher training needs a revamp. Some researchers and educators I talked to said schools of education are not exactly known for being ahead of the curve on preparing prospective teachers to integrate emerging technologies into instruction.

“Teacher-preparation programs really have to grapple with what’s changed,” said Glenn Kleiman, a senior adviser at the Stanford Graduate School of Education whose research focuses on the potential of AI to enhance teaching and learning. “That traditionally has happened much too slowly and piecemeal, not systemically.”

Kleiman said he was not optimistic about teacher-preparation programs matching the pace of technological change anytime soon because they are just not “strong or powerful” enough for such a job.

It’s critical that schools of education act quickly to ensure prospective teachers have a foundational understanding of AI, know how to use it effectively in instruction, and are able to infuse AI literacy into every subject so that they’re ready when they get in the classroom.

3. Standards and assessments will need to change. Many educators are concerned about students cheating on assignments by using AI tools, and they say the only way around that challenge is to change what they’re asking students to do. They need to create assignments that are impossible to complete with these tools or they need to allow the use of these tools but require students to acknowledge and document how they used them.

For some teachers, such as Towarnicki, these changes are easy to make, but it’ll be difficult for others in districts or schools that are more restrictive about curriculum or instructional adjustments. Policymakers and other stakeholders will need to come together to figure out how to change the curriculum and standards so that “the skills students are expected to learn in the 2030s are relevant to the 2030s, instead of continuing to teach the same material that was taught in the 1930s,” said Hadi Partovi, the CEO of Code.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to computer science education in schools.

If teaching with and about AI is not part of states’ standards, it just becomes something that’s “nice to have,” which means it won’t come with funding and support, and schools will have to figure out how to prioritize it against a million other requirements, said Adam Geller, the CEO of Edthena, which provides teacher professional development using AI tools.

About This Project

This story is part of a special project called Big Ideas in which EdWeek reporters ask hard questions about K-12 education’s biggest challenges and offer insights based on their extensive coverage and expertise.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2023 edition of Education Week as What Teachers Need to Know About AI, But Don’t

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