A guide to AI tools in schools—and whether AI is good for students
AI is everywhere.
Schools have a decision to make: ban AI tools on school servers or adopt the technology.
We’ve already seen some school districts in the US try both approaches, with New York Public Schools (NYPS) first banning and then reintroducing generative artificial technologies back into classrooms—with an agenda to help students understand the new technology.
As David C. Banks, Chancellor of NYPS, explained:
“The knee-jerk fear and risk overlooked the potential of generative AI to support students and teachers, as well as the reality that our students are participating in and will work in a world where understanding generative AI is crucial.”
Because AI is already everywhere, schools don't really have an option Students can freely access many AI tools outside of the school firewall, so banning it in schools is not going to stop students using, or being impacted by, the technology.
Rather than fight the tide, schools instead can take a lead from NYPS and help students navigate a world where AI technologies are becoming normal. But how can they do it?
We’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of AI in education, how schools can prepare for AI tools, what kinds of AI tools are available for schools, and how teaching that includes AI will benefit students and could change society in general.
Here we go!
Why students need to use AI tools in education
Teachers can help students navigate AI tools in a safe environment. Copyright Work ED.
AI is an in-demand skill.
Jobs posts requiring AI skills rose over 700% between January and May 2023, mostly thanks to the rise in popularity of tools like ChatGPT*. And while there’s a chance the job market is being impacted by marketing and media-driven hype that may or may not be short-lived, AI technologies will continue to be part of our lives.
So having the technical knowledge of how to use AI technologies will potentially help today’s youth land their first job. BUT, when it comes to teaching, AI tools have a lot more to give than the ability to cheat on homework (though, even that is a teachable moment).
Instead, educators can use AI tools to help students work on their soft skills.
AI tools are a great way for students to explore a core set of soft skills that center around critical thinking—because AI tools such as Chatgpt are designed to mimic the way humans research and answer, students can and it questions and then critique its answers. By doing so, they not only learn about how AI finds and summarizes information but also how and why misinformation can spread. And questioning and spotting misinformation or misleading research is a more important skill than ever.
Soft skills students develop by using and discussing AI tools:
Written communication (learning how to write the right prompts to improve answers, known as “prompt engineering”)
Research (via fact-checking)
Collaboration (by learning to view AI as a collaborator)
So how can educators prepare themselves before bringing AI tools into classrooms?
* ChatGPT is a generative AI (GAI) tool that was developed by OpenAI. It’s free to use, and works a bit like google, except rather than giving you a range of websites that you have to explore yourself, it can give you and answer based on what information it finds on the internet. And that’s important to remember: AGI tools can only produce results based on what data is available—they can’t create anything original. And while it seems like magic, GAI tools aren’t reliable. They often produce false or conflicting results, so should never be copy and pasted without being fact checked.
How to begin including AI tools in education
Before bringing AI tools into classrooms, it's important educators understand the ethics and practicalities of AI technologies. Copyright Work ED.
Before bringing AI tools into classrooms or programs, educators can prepare for a positive impact by thinking through the following crucial steps:
Think about how AI tools align with current teaching goals
Be proactive with AI tools by thinking about how they can be used in the current curriculum. Looked at with a curriculum lens, tools like ChatGPT become more than just a way to get a quick answer: they become sources of critical inquiry. History and historiography are great testbeds for letting students question the way historical information is presented, showing how much room there is for interpretation, the importance of fact-checking, and the need to question and compare sources.
Create guidelines and safeguards for how AI tools can be used
It’s important to review the data security and use policy for any AI tools introduced in schools, either for school staff or those used by students. Work with cybersecurity staff or consultants where possible for help reviewing and clarifying what is safe use. Schools are regular targets for ransomware attacks, so the last thing you want is for sensitive data or personally identifiable information (PII) falling into the wrong hands via AI tools.
Professional development for teachers
Not all teachers will be savvy when it comes to AI tools, so have plans in place to bring teachers up to an equal footing when it comes to AI tools. This helps all students across the school district benefit from teaching that includes AI tools, and will help avoid security, privacy, and ethical issues. There are online courses available, such as those run by AI Club.
Understand the ethical debate around AI technology
AI tools and technology have a history of controversy. Research the ethics of AI technology before using it in the classroom. There are documented cases of racism and what some view as violations of civil liberties through AI.
Examples of how AI tools can be used:
Examining historical events for accuracy
Collaborating with AI to help write stories and essays
Experimenting with how different prompts can lead to different answers (prompt engineering)
Using text-to-image tools such as Dall-E 2 to create collaborative art
Helping to shape lesson plans
It’s important to think through how any of the above example exercises could end up in dangerous territory if students aren’t prepared. While the makers of AI tools are constantly reviewing feedback and trying to improve the safety of their tools, young people can be darkly creative, naive, or downright mean. They can of course be all those things with or without AI tools though, but don’t expect that AI tools will necessarily be capable of stopping hurtful, inappropriate, or offensive content.
But what impact can AI technologies have on how schools work in the future?
Will AI change the future of schools?
AI has the potential to change education—but there are advantages and disadvantages. Copyright Work ED.
Schools haven’t changed much in the last century, though they are bringing in more and more technology. Will schools turn to AI tools? What impact will AI tools have on how schools are run?
Here’s a few ways we could see schools change if they begin to use AI technology. We’ll look at the pros and cons of each.
Personalized learning programs
AI tools could track student progress throughout the year and give teachers insight into what is working and what isn’t for individual students.
Pro: This becomes an extra tool that helps teachers find ways of teaching and curriculums that work best for individual students.
Con: While this sounds useful, there are many possible drawbacks. AI tools could end up doing more harm than good by creating tiered learning programs that benefit some student groups more than others. And while AI is generally good at making predictions based on past data, it lacks the subtlety of human emotion and connection that human teachers have, who may understand factors affecting student performance that AI never could, such as home life. However, there’s also a counterargument here that teachers themselves can have biases, conscious or unconscious, that may lead them to treat students differently, and perhaps AI tools could reduce bias. When it comes to AI, there’s no obvious “right” answer.
You’ve probably encountered a chatbot by now, or perhaps asked Siri or Alexa a question? That same technology can be used to help students out during the school day or with homework, taking some of the pressure off teachers, by answering simple questions and helping them explore further resources.
Pros: Teachers can focus on classroom management and higher level aspects of teaching while the intelligent tutor is available to help with student questions.
Cons: Intelligent tutors may lack the emotional qualities that teachers use to guide students’ learning, including the encouragement to help them think through a problem. Also, an intelligent tutor may reduce students’ abilities to research and think critically if they become too dependent.
Automated grading and feedback
Teachers could upload homework and tests to AI software that analyzes the work and creates a grade in an instant.
Pro: Such tools could save teachers hundreds of hours a year spent grading, a task they often have to do out of working hours and a major contributor to burnout. This would leave teachers with more time and energy to focus on teaching and student support.
Con: Grading can be a window into student performance. While AI tools could potentially provide teachers with actionable insights, perhaps the process of grading itself gives teachers a greater level of insight, so that they can give better, more personalized feedback to individual students.
Similar to intelligent tutors, intelligent assistants are chatbots that can help with administrative tasks. Intelligent assistants can help students and parents answer questions on school websites or within learning management systems, or help out with things like applications or enrollment.
Pros: Intelligent assistants can reduce the administrative burden on schools by answering basic parent and student questions, or assisting educators in their own administrative tasks.
Cons: There are mixed experiences when it comes to chatbots, so deploying them in a school could have negative consequences if parents and students don’t enjoy the experience as much as talking to a human administrator—and a human still has to be available in case the question can’t be answered or the information can’t be accessed.
How teaching with AI will change society
When students are experienced with AI tools, they are empowered to be part of the conversation about how this technology is used in society. Copyright Work ED.
By giving young people exposure to AI and the experience of working with it, we are preparing the next generation for a world where collaborating with AI is normal—but where caution is essential.
The more informed our nation’s young people are about AI and other emerging technologies, the more they can be part of, and help to shape, the conversation about how and why we use AI, and help prevent some of the issues we’ve discussed with AI becoming more widespread in society.
Here’s a quick summary of how teaching AI could change society for the better:
Create more “humans-in-the-loop”
Humans should always be at the center of what AI can do, an approach called “human-in-the-loop”. Humans can set the guardrails that help prevent AI from doing things it shouldn’t. And humans should always make the final decision, assisted by AI.
By embracing AI in education, and learning to understand how it works, we can normalize a closer understanding and collaboration between humans and AI, encouraging a human-centric approach to AI technologies so that we use AI only in a way that’s helpful for humanity and spreads the benefits.
AI and machine learning technologies have a history of creating biases—because they are filled with biased information. When only certain people have the opportunity to work with AI, the technology only learns from those people. By introducing a diverse set of young people from every part of society to AI tools, more people have the opportunity to guide the development and evolution of AI. This will help reduce bias and let more people be part of the conversation about how and why we use AI tools.
Spread skills—and wealth creation
By introducing more young people to AI, we help them learn how AI technologies work. This is a skill that more and more employers are looking for, especially in high-earning industries like the tech sector.
The soft skills that students develop by working with AI tools in the safety of the classroom will also help more young people navigate a career, whatever pathway they choose.
Are you ready to bring AI into schools?
Are you ready to help young people develop AI skills? Copyright Work ED.
So, now you know the lay of land when it comes to AI technologies in education. You know what you need to know before you bring those technologies into classrooms. And you know the potential advantages and disadvantages of AI tools you’ll be facing in the future.
All the best! If you’d like to discuss enrichment programs that empower students to navigate whatever the future throws at them (including some supervised use of tools like Chatgpt), get in touch by either filling in the form below or emailing email@example.com.