AI entered the chat when Alan Turing, an English computer scientist, mathematician, logician and the father of computer science, asked if machines could think in his 1950 work Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Since then, artificial intelligence has only developed more, and today, it’s used in our everyday lives, from self-driving cars and digital assistants to facial recognition and smart home devices. In October 2023, researchers even used AI to extract the first word from a scroll that was burned 2,000 years ago during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
AI has also infiltrated the educational system for both teachers and students. It’s used to help administrators schedule courses and homework and incorporated into adaptive learning to teach students skills by assessing their current skill level and then creating instructions that help them learn. It’s also used to help visually impaired students by reading passages aloud and help students improve their writing skills, for just a few examples.
While there are lots of benefits to AI in schools, there are also negatives to having AI as a part of daily school life. Students are getting crafty and can figure out how to use AI to solve math problems or take quizzes and online tests for them. There’s also less interaction between students and teachers with AI, meaning a decrease in the social interactions that are crucial to schooling. Here, we break down the pros and cons of AI in schools for both educators and students.
The Good (A+)
For students, AI systems can help their performance in school by giving them personalized feedback, evaluating their progress and showing them where they need improvement. Certain AI programs can also detect students’ behavior patterns and attention levels and help determine if they need extra support in certain subjects and skills. AI programs have the ability to conduct realistic conversations, which can mean they can serve as tutoring aids, helping to explain complex concepts to students. Some AI systems even offer feedback and can give students critiques on their writing and grammar, which can help them improve their writing skills.
“It’s like having a tutor on standby offering immediate feedback and aiding when I need to have quick, thoughtful information on a topic that I’m confused on,” says Rizwan Khan, a senior at Plano West Senior High School. “It also helps me improve my writing by using its unique revising capabilities to get feedback on how I can augment vocabulary, grammar and word flow.”
There are a slew of positives for educators using AI, as different AI programs can do things like grade papers, schedule and, as stated above, help tutor students. “Time is a commodity that teachers never have enough of,” says Cheryl McDonald, chief technology officer for Frisco ISD. “Frisco ISD encourages teachers to use AI technology for their benefit and look for ways to help them save time.” AI educational tools can provide data on students’ behavior patterns and learning outcomes and use predictive analytics to predict future student performance. In turn, this can help teachers evaluate and understand their students’ strengths and weaknesses and help them tailor lessons and tests to better serve students.
AI can also serve as a teacher’s assistant through programs such as ClassPoint AI, which creates quizzes by generating questions from PowerPoint slides. This saves teachers a tremendous amount of time, as they do not have to come up with questions on their own, and it can even generate questions teachers might not have thought about. Educators can collaborate with AI systems, using them to help instruct and provide lessons while the teachers themselves are there for guidance and to help interpret lessons. McDonald notes that AI can also assist teachers in personalizing learning to make it more relevant and meaningful to students. “AI can streamline efficiency for teachers, which enables educators to focus more on student support.”
The Bad (F)
A new and glaring problem with AI in learning is ChatGPT, an AI-powered language program that generates realistic text based on context and past conversations. Students can type a question to ChatGPT, and it will give back a coherent, realistic answer that sounds as if it were written by a human. You can ask ChatGPT a question, such as “Why is the sky blue?” and it will give a real answer. You can tell it to write you an essay about a specific subject, then ask it to make it more serious or focus more on a specific angle. And students are using it incessantly to write their research papers, college essays and more.
The problem, though, is that students aren’t learning how to write and organize their thoughts on paper, which is a basic skill for any career. Instead, they’re generating text from ChatGPT, which is considered plagiarism since it is not authentic work. A July 2023 article from Business Insider talks about how AI models are passing important exams, including the bar exam, the SAT, the GRE, AP exams and even sommelier exams. This can jeopardize college entrance processes in which students are required to write essays, as well as required high school testing and major career exams. Study.com looked into AI in education and surveyed more than 100 educators and more than 1,000 students about ChaptGPT. The results showed that over 89% of students have used ChatGPT to help with homework assignments, 48% have used it for at-home tests or quizzes, and 53% have used it to write an essay.
“The convenience of instant answers at the sending of a message can sometimes curtail the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as it might create a dependency on technology for solutions,” says Khan, the Plano West senior. “This could lead to a scenario where, instead of trying to find a solution on your own, one will immediately go to an AI tool to find a solution.”
McDonald says that teachers are definitely concerned about plagiarism in this sense and that this is where it’s important for teachers to give assignments that require high-level thinking and be specific about their expectations for completing student assignments. Furthermore, “lower-level questions that require students to simply recall or remember information will need to evolve to higher-level questions that allow student ownership of learning through personalization and creation of evidence of their learning.”
Another issue is the non-human approach of AI. With the use of AI, students aren’t getting what a human can offer, which is understanding, social interaction and empathy. AI might provide the right answer, but a teacher who knows a student’s strengths and weaknesses, learning style and abilities can truly help with learning.
For teachers, AI could possibly be a threat to job security. As AI works to schedule classes, generate test and quiz questions, and curate lessons, some school districts might see the role of the teacher as less important, and this could lead to less demand for teachers over time. With lots of districts under budget constraints, AI programs might sound like a great alternative to hiring as many administrators and educators as the districts have now. If AI systems are able to schedule classes, generate tests and so on, then schools might seek to implement AI systems to perform these tasks.
Students and teachers alike could become too dependent on AI as they rely on it for everyday tasks, which could hurt traditional teaching tactics and hinder the development of problem-solving skills and critical thinking. Both could also suffer from decreased social connection, as students and teachers could rely more on AI for conversations, rather than on friends and peers. “The absence of human interaction could accompany a lack of emotional intelligence and social skills, which are at risk with AI,” says Khan. “With depression and anxiety rates on the rise, it is apparent that further reliance on AI could hamper traditional communication in terms of social and interpersonal skills.”
Where do we go from here?
There’s no doubt that AI has its benefits, especially when it comes to saving time and doing monotonous tasks that we don’t enjoy. But when it comes to creativity, AI smothers that fire and doesn’t allow educators or students to think critically, creatively or empathetically. Teachers will always be needed to provide the human connection in learning, as well as to be there as motivators, social pillars and facilitators of real learning. In a 2023 report on AI and learning, the Department of Education stressed the importance of keeping humans “in the loop” when using AI and stated that AI can’t “replace a teacher, a guardian or an education leader as the custodian of their students’ learning.”
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