Taking AI to School

"The problem is that all these use cases are Nice-to-Haves. A Nice-to-Have is a bot that coaches the debate team or a text-to-worksheet app."

Taking AI to School
"You are a professional illustrator working for The New Yorker. Create a line and watercolor image of kids bringing robots to school. The robots should be friendly and colorful. The image should have no text." -Dall-E

AI has entered the classroom. And as Kevin Roose reports, this is leading to a mix of emotions among educators:

There is a lot of confusion and panic, but also a fair bit of curiosity and excitement. Mainly, educators want to know: How do we actually use this stuff to help students learn, rather than just try to catch them cheating?

OpenAI has ideas. In a recent blog post, they suggest that teachers use ChatGPT to write quizzes, generate lesson plans and support English language learners. Not mentioned is my personal favorite idea: an AI assistant that will help me improve my French accent without having to speak to a French person.

These ideas are fun and, unlike many historic applications of tech for education, eminently achievable. From a graveyard of SMART Boards, graphing calculators and those dorky green laptops the Media Lab gave to kids in Africa, will grow a garden of AI tools for educators that will probably be pretty useful.

The problem is that all these use cases are Nice-to-Haves. A Nice-to-Have is a bot that coaches the debate team or a text-to-worksheet app. A Must Have is that the kids on the debate team learn to think and write well enough that they have a chance to get a job that won’t be replaced by a computer program.

I am not an educator, but I was once a student and I know that the sneaky trick of school is that you don’t just practice thinking and writing in school, you have to go home and practice for hours more by doing your homework. What happens to homework in the era of ChatGPT is the largest looming question in the ed space right now.

There are a few ideas being tossed around. One is to let students use AI for homework, but significantly raise the expectations of what they produce. This approach seems fraught to me: How do you teach foundational concepts if the foundational tasks are solvable via AI and the higher-order tasks require an understanding of foundational concepts?

I never need to write HTML and Javascript from scratch these days, but the tools to generate frontend code change every few years, and I’m able to pick up new tools quickly because I understand the basics. I would have been in real trouble if I went straight to learning Dreamweaver.

My out-of-the-box suggestion is to use homework time to teach students things that cannot be done by AI such as gardening, painting, volunteering or in any way interacting with the physical world. And then they can come to class and write about it.

We at MoP are wishing all the educators, students and parents creativity, patience and a sense of humor to tackle this upcoming school year. Best of luck and keep us posted on how it’s going!

-- Erica


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