AI in schools

  • 4 minute read
  • 23 May 2024

When ChatGPT was released in late 2022, schools were suddenly standing on the edge of a new unknown. Making generative AI accessible to most of the world meant ChatGPT’s appearance in schools was inevitable, and many schools scrambled to develop policies governing its use. 

Initially concerns centred largely on student’s using generative AI to cheat in assignments, but as we learnt more about what this technology (and AI more broadly) is capable of, more questions were raised. The conversation extended to data security, ethics and whether we should leverage AI in schools, or avoid it at all costs.

Despite these concerns, AI is already integrated into so many aspects of our daily life. It’ll attempt to finish our sentences in Google Docs, suggest what movie to watch next on Netflix, even mow our lawns (*adds lawn mower robot to cart 🤖*).  So how far will AI go? Should we be concerned about it, or should we accept it and use it to our advantage in classrooms? 

When considering the questions surrounding AI in schools, it can be difficult to know where to start. The biggest concerns are generally focused on how AI will impact student learning. 

The assumption is that ChatGPT is like a calculator, but worse. It won’t just take the thinking out of maths equations, it could take the thinking out of just about any homework or assignment. So instead of learning about the Italian Renaissance, students are learning how to edit the essay ChatGPT wrote for them on the topic. That’s why most Australian public schools have banned the use of ChatGPT. But a ban won’t see the end of AI-generated homework. Students generally find a workaround. Plus, we can’t police students at home. So what can we do?

Some teachers are shaking up how they do assessments. Instead of at-home assignments, it’s more in-class quizzes, discussions and even handwritten essays. Others are embracing ChatGPT, encouraging students to use the tool for parts of their assignments, emphasising the importance of fact-checking and critically thinking about the responses generated. Pointing out the downfalls of ChatGPT isn’t just making students more proficient with the technology (which isn’t a bad thing – they’ll likely have to work with it after school), it’s also still getting them thinking about the content they’re learning. Which is why it can work well if incorporated into parts of their assignments or homework. 

The concerns about generative AI don’t stop there though. Another issue is the potential for AI to perpetuate inequalities. If not implemented thoughtfully, AI-driven personalised learning systems may exacerbate existing achievement gaps by favouring students with access to technology and resources outside of school.

Privacy and data security are also significant concerns surrounding AI in schools. As AI systems collect vast amounts of student data, there is a risk of misuse or unauthorised access, raising questions about data protection and ethical considerations.

At the extreme end of the scale, some have suggested AI could replace human educators all together, or at least large parts of their role. But those in the classroom will know, interpersonal connections and empathy are far too important to the learning process for humans to be replaced.

Chances are you’ve already come across AI at your school. Schools across the country are leveraging AI tools to support teaching and learning experiences, making them more efficient and accessible. Here’s a closer look at how AI is already being utilised in Australian schools.

Making marking easier

The nicest way to describe the marking process is time-consuming. But many other adjectives might spring to mind when you think about the 15 essays you’ve got to read later tonight. AI tools like Gradescope are helping streamline this process. This tool assists educators in grading assignments and exams quickly and consistently. It can identify patterns in student responses and provide detailed analytics, which helps teachers understand common areas of difficulty and adjust their instruction accordingly. 

Accessibility and special education

AI technologies are also making education more accessible for students with disabilities. Tools like Nuance Dragon Speech Recognition are used to assist students who have writing difficulties by converting speech to text. This not only improves productivity but also empowers students to participate more fully in their education. Such tools are vital in creating an inclusive learning environment where all students can thrive.

Data-driven insights

AI’s ability to analyse vast amounts of educational data provides valuable insights into student performance and curriculum effectiveness. For instance, Pearson’s Revel uses AI to offer personalised feedback and recommendations, helping students understand their strengths and weaknesses. Educators can use this data to make informed decisions and tailor their teaching strategies to meet the needs of their students better.

It’s no longer a matter of barricading AI from classrooms. It’s here and it’s just going to get better and more popular. So can teachers use AI to their advantage? They can and as we’ve seen above, some already are.

AI is a powerful tool that can support educators to teach in ways they’ve always dreamed of. Most teachers wish they could deliver truly personalised learning to every student in their classroom, for example. But it’s not practically possible for one person to assess, develop and deliver personalised content to each student (trust us, we’ve tried). Enter AI…

AI tools can analyse data from individual students within a class to determine what content they’re ready to learn and the best way to deliver that content to them, delivering truly personalised learning. Tools like Maths Pathway already do this, by having students complete a comprehensive diagnostic assessment that determines students’ knowledge gaps and delivers them the curriculum-mapped, teacher-created content they’re ready for. 

This ability to analyse large amounts of data also means AI can provide educators with insights about a cohort, class or individual students to inform decisions around content, delivery and feedback. Some tools (like Maths Pathway) can show when a student is at risk of falling behind and provide information that can help teachers catch them up. 

Rather than seeing AI as technology designed to replicate humans (which it isn’t great at), think about it as a tool that is capable of inputting lots of data, analysing it quickly and spitting it back out for us to use. When we think about it like that we can consider all of the ways AI can support us in the classroom. How it can make administrative tasks more efficient, or help us sort through information to plan lessons or support individual students. 

There’s no question AI will continue to be the centre of many ethical debates, and it absolutely should be. But when used appropriately and thoughtfully, AI can support teachers and amplify their impact in the classroom. 

Author: Maths Pathway
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