The world of education has undergone significant changes over the past several years. Technological advancements have made it possible to access vast amounts of data that can be analyzed and synthesized quickly. This has brought about exciting possibilities for educators, who can now pull together information from all corners of the globe to gain insights into various fields of study. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now expanding this opportunity to analyze and synthesize data faster than ever before.
On March 22, I gathered panelists in various fields related to technology and data in schools to discuss the global rise of AI and how it can transform education. Here is a link to view the full recording and the panelists that joined me for this important conversation:
- Dustin Ryan – Data & AI Solution Specialist – Microsoft
- Mike Ribble – Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology – Kennesaw State University
- Robert Fogel – Global Education Architect – Microsoft
What follows is a summary of the conversation from that lively webinar, which included many comments from the audience as well.
The Democratization of AI
Artificial intelligence is not a new thing. As Dustin Ryan mentions, we see it in our cars, in our schools, and when we interact with chatbots. However before the recent “outbreak” of generative AI like ChatGPT, the conversation was largely in the background and “the stuff of Star Trek.” It’s now ever-present and much more than just something that generates text following a prompt.
Mike Ribble mentioned that with many things in education, we tend to get nervous and avoid a new tool immediately after it is released. As time passes, more and more educators have started to see the opportunities with a tool like AI and have begun to embrace it and think of ways for their students to use it responsibly. The question in schools around the country are shifting from “Should we block it?” to “How can we use it as a tool for learning?” The truth is, in many ways we are really just scratching the surface of how AI will be used.
Robert Fogel calls this recent surge in AI conversation the “democratization of AI”. When extrapolating out its usage as an educational leader he breaks it down into three main areas:
- AI used to extract meaningful insights from data – Educators have access to much more data now than ever before, but due to time and training limitations haven’t been able to fully utilize it. Now AI can help with that.
- AI-powered tool for teaching and learning – Like with the use of ChatGPT, we can now use various tools to help create lesson plans, grade an essay and help empower students to seek out their own learning and understanding around a topic.
- AI as subject matter – Developing competencies around AI so that we can better prepare students for their future. This goes beyond just teaching them how to be good ‘prompt engineers’ as ethics play a major role in teaching AI as a subject.
How AI affects the data landscape
This ‘Democratization of AI’ also impacts how we use it to analyze the enormous mounds of data in education. AI and ML (Machine Learning) have been around for a while but up until this point haven’t really been used to their fullest capacity. Technology in general has significantly altered the way researchers analyze data over the years. 20 years ago, programs like SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences by IBM) were used to pull qualitative and quantitative data, but now there is a tremendous amount of data available from all over the world that can be accessed in an instant. This is exciting because it opens up new opportunities to gain insights into different areas of how students learn.
Coupling the amount of data that is available with AI can now (potentially) give teachers much more insight into learning patterns and trends with their students, and even offer intervention strategies to improve student engagement. Using AI and ML data, teachers can truly start to personalize learning for students, something that in the past was more of a buzzword than an actual reality. Adding in global data and using AI to visualize it in a much more digestible way means time-famished educators might be able to finally use data to affect learning in the moment.
This means that data literacy is now an even more important part of the education conversation. Dustin mentions that many organizations haven’t quite built a “data culture” because those in the organization don’t necessarily know how to effectively work with data. “It’s about understanding how to collect data and how to understand it.” Once again, AI and ML have and will be vital in putting data into an actionable form to affect student learning.
The use of AI in teaching and learning
Mike is a professor and sees AI affecting his own class in different ways. He mentions that not only will it affect how students create, but also what they create. He humorously refers to taking three years to write his own dissertation, but in looking back on it through the lens of generative AI, it’s almost as if he wrote it in crayon. This highlights the vast differences in what is possible now compared to even 5-10 years ago. Researchers can now write 10,000 words on a topic in an hour, which was unthinkable in the past.
However, he also acknowledges the need to verify the information and ensure that it is accurate. With the recent launch of GPT4, there is still a lot to learn. We need to embrace the changes while showing how to use them in the best possible way. It is essential to understand AI and use it for our benefit instead of being at its mercy. The idea is not to lean on AI, but to wield it to our advantage. This goes beyond grading and assessing faster. Students that can quickly access and assess their own learning data can utilize AI to put them on a much more personalized path to success when it comes to learning and demonstrating understanding of the material or topic.
To block or not to block? That is the question
“It’s a knee-jerk reaction,” Mike mentions. Educators and administrators can sometimes be fearful and skeptical of a new tool. That skepticism is important, but we also need to balance that with preparing our kids for their future. We still need to teach all of the subjects we need to teach, but now, more than ever, we also have to blend it with technology rather than just teach digital skills in a one-off fashion. AI is yet another digital tool that we need to integrate with how kids learn and demonstrate their learning.
Rather than thinking about blocking AI, Dustin mentions that we could use AI and ML to give a student that is struggling access to the resources they need to improve their Algebra score or to give them access to a study group. Students that are struggling to understand a concept could use AI to summarize it for them in a different way.
In terms of accessibility and students with different learning needs, technology has made significant strides for those with disabilities, giving them a voice and enabling them to interact. AI will continue to evolve and give more students an opportunity than they might have had in a traditional educational system or approach.
The students and their future
Ultimately it comes down to what we are trying to do in education. Is it all about just getting the grade, taking the test and moving onto college? That’s not the life path for each student. Our goal in education should be to prepare students for life success and to leverage the tools and resources that will be available to them. AI is already a part of our everyday life, whether we like it or not. We use it all the time when we shop on Amazon or get driving directions with real-time traffic data. If it’s a part of our lives now, won’t it be in the future?
Technology like AI and ML is revolutionizing the world of education and research, opening up new possibilities for both. However, it is crucial to balance the advantages of AI with the need to responsibly use it, verify and ensure accuracy while also being mindful of the possible risks. We have to build and scaffold those skills with our students which won’t happen if we block and ignore it. Embracing technology is essential, but it is equally important to ensure that we use it for our best interests and teach our students to do the same.
Robert mentioned that “AI isn’t going to replace a human, but a human using AI could replace a human not using AI.” The conversation with these experts was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to AI in our schools. The future of education with AI is exciting and has tremendous potential to help each and every student if done correctly. But it’s also important to remember that ultimately, we need to wield technology, not let it dictate how we live our lives.
For more information around Data analytics and AI be sure to check out the free on-demand resources at Microsoft here: Learning Reimagined – Microsoft Education
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