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Emerging Technologies Part 2: What is AI, is it a friend or foe for educators, and what does it mean for K-12 education?

By Micah Miner

Emerging technology trends, such as the metaverse, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence (AI), have the potential to transform education. This is not disputed; but the questions we are grappling with now is will this transform education by increasing student learning, achievement, and positive civic and societal engagement; or will it promote cheating, unethical behavior, and dishonest student practices? This is an attempt to frame and provide clarity to this debate on these emerging technologies and share what their potential impact could be in K-12 education. This discussion will also include how these technologies may impact equity and provide some ideas on how to include them in classrooms in a way that protects student privacy and maximizes learning potential. For this article, we will focus on the implications of AI such as Open AI’s ChatGPT and debating their potential application for the teacher and students.

In the interest of transparency, I must disclose that I utilized ChatGPT as a reference for this article. Consequently, certain sections will quote the AI’s explanations and insights regarding its potential role in education, which were generated in response to my queries. At times, the article may resemble an interview with the AI tool, which is a deliberate choice. Reflect on how we increasing rely on automated text generation and grammar assistance from platforms like Google and Microsoft. Then think of ChatGPT and other similar AI tools as the most brilliant auto-complete recommendations ever, and you will start to understand it.

To contextualize the subject of AI in education, let us examine OpenAI’s ChatGPT as an impressively powerful text generator that responds to user prompts, questions, or statements. By focusing on its practical applications rather than the hype generated by social media and news outlets, we can gain a clearer understanding of its potential value in teaching and learning environments.

Feedback and questioning play a crucial role in learning, fostering intellectual and academic growth. Receiving feedback offers us the chance to reconsider, react, and reflect on our understanding. By exploring the capabilities of AI tools like ChatGPT, we can better appreciate how they might contribute to this essential aspect of the educational process.

Quick Background Overview

ChatGPT and other AI tools based on large language models serve as excellent teaching and learning resources by design. These models are trained on extensive datasets using advanced machine learning techniques and neural networks, with OpenAI’s GPT-3 boasting an astounding 175 billion parameters. As I write this, OpenAI has just released GPT-4 for select users, and when fully rolled out, it could possess trillions of parameters. While the capabilities of these models may appear awe-inspiring and seemingly godlike in their text and image analysis, it is crucial to temper our enthusiasm and remember that they are designed to produce coherent and relevant text, not necessarily factual information. The potential for misinformation and inaccurate facts that can be generated shows the importance of understanding the strengths and limitations of these AI tools, as well as how they can contribute to teaching and learning. It also should highlight to us as educators where their use may be inappropriate.

Despite these concerns, AI-generated content often demonstrates reliability in areas such as historical facts, general knowledge, grammar, syntax, and idiomatic expressions. However, large language models like ChatGPT possess inherent limitations due to their training data. These weaknesses may lead to inaccuracies when dealing with recent events, niche topics, or highly specialized subjects. They may also experience difficulties when responding to ambiguous or misleading prompts.

I am specific in outlining these strengths and weaknesses because I asked ChatGPT directly about its accuracy in various areas, and its response is detailed above. It is important to note that, due to the nature of these AI models, responses to the same question may vary slightly since they are designed to mimic human language generation. We as people often presents similar ideas regularly, but do it dynamically and organically due to the different contexts, relationships, and social situations we find ourselves in. Therefore, due to the design of these models, the AI is unlikely to produce the same response twice.

Recommendations and Uses for ChatGPT for Educators

When I prompted GPT-4’s ChatGPT with the question, “If I were to describe ChatGPT to K-12 educators in an article about AI’s use in education, how would you want it to be written?” I received a detailed response. The AI identified two primary areas of use: for teachers and students. According to ChatGPT:

“In the classroom, ChatGPT can serve various purposes, such as assisting with lesson planning, providing supplementary materials, or even offering personalized tutoring to students. Teachers can use this AI technology to generate ideas, draft content, or create engaging learning activities, saving time and effort in the process. Meanwhile, students can benefit from the AI’s capacity to deliver instant feedback, answer questions, and provide tailored support, fostering a more individualized learning experience.”

Here are some ways educators are already using ChatGPT or similar AI tools in the classroom:

  1. Lesson planning and content generation:
    • Produce assessment questions, objectives, and various levels of questioning
    • Generate lesson ideas, customize class readings or projects
    • Create plays, songs, or stories about historical events or core content curriculum
    • Suggest standards, accommodations, modifications, and instructional strategies
  2. Writing tasks:
    • Draft emails, parent communication, recommendation letters, field trip explanation templates
    • Create social stories, readings at various levels that incorporate academic and content vocabulary for the lesson/unit, and feedback for student work
  3. Instructional design and delivery:
    • Add differentiation and/or accommodation to lesson plans
    • Set up the agenda for learning in a class
    • Define academic vocabulary and content vocabulary
    • Include resources generated from AI and vetted by the teacher to drive instruction

By integrating ChatGPT into their daily tasks, educators can free up time to focus on other aspects of teaching, such as building relationships with students, collaborating with colleagues, and growing professionally. It is essential, however, for teachers to use ChatGPT as a thought partner, leveraging their own knowledge, experience, and expertise when employing the tool.

For example, when I asked ChatGPT to create a lesson plan focused on researching and debating the contributions of important historical women, it provided me with a detailed plan, diverse list of women, and resources within seconds. This demonstrates how ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for instructional design and delivery if educators possess the necessary background knowledge to vet the generated ideas. While ChatGPT and similar AI tools offer many benefits, it is crucial to use them responsibly and within the scope of one’s expertise.

Recommendations and Uses for ChatGPT with Students

Before introducing ChatGPT or similar AI tools to students, it is crucial to understand local policies, state and federal laws, and to consult with school or district administrators. Student privacy laws in many states may restrict or prohibit the use of unapproved platforms, requiring written legal agreements between the platforms and the school or district before implementation in the classroom. It is essential to address privacy concerns, security issues, and ethical considerations before using these tools with students.

Many students, particularly those in middle and high school, may have already heard of or even tried ChatGPT. Demonstrating ChatGPT to students as a class on a teacher account can be an effective way to introduce the tool. Embracing transparency and taking instructional risks are part of good teaching practices. Presenting students with a well-designed lesson plan, approved by school or district leaders, can initiate a conversation about this tool and other AI applications while providing context for students. This introduction can also highlight the strengths and limitations of ChatGPT, guiding students on how it should be used.

As with any emerging technology, it is essential to strike a balance between embracing the benefits and addressing the challenges to ensure that AI serves as an asset in shaping the future of education. By following these guidelines, educators can responsibly incorporate ChatGPT and other AI tools into their classrooms while fostering a deeper understanding of their applications, strengths, and limitations.

Now here is a quick list of ways teachers could incorporate ChatGPT or similar AI tools with students for instruction:

  1. Personalized learning: ChatGPT can be used personalize learning by having it create different readings for each class, group and/or student. This could include personalized readings based on what the students are interested in, generate writing prompts that different students and groups could complete, and many other personalized text-based differentiation strategies and ideas.
  2. Research projects: ChatGPT can be used to help students generate research questions and identify sources for their research projects. Teachers can ask ChatGPT to provide information on a specific topic and use this information to guide students in their research.
  3. Review & Assessments: ChatGPT can generate quiz questions and provide feedback on student answers. Teachers can use this feature to create personalized assessments that are tailored to each student’s learning needs.
  4. Vocabulary building and translation support: ChatGPT can help students learn social studies vocabulary and concepts in a foreign language. Teachers can ask ChatGPT to provide definitions and examples of terms in a language other than English.

These are areas where students could really benefit from ChatGPT or similar AI tools. It also provides ways that students can be taught to use the tool responsibly. As word gets out about this tool or similar ones, students will try it. My years as a teacher, school administrator, and my personal experience as a parent have taught me that it is better to keep the conversation open about anything with students and kids, rather than pretending it does not exist. Teachers and school administrators should be providing context and meaning to what students are experiencing in the world and society since they are some of the most trusted adult relationships students may have, so why not leverage that interest and engagement by teaching them how to do it responsibly?

So, I thought that this list was great and then I thought I would ask ChatGPT a similar question to see what the AI would recommend for students. I pasted this list into ChatGPT and prompted it to provide further suggestions, and it did. There was only one that was repeated, language, but it was suggesting a different way to use it for language learning. Here is the list it suggested:

Additional suggestions for incorporating ChatGPT or similar AI tools with students for instruction

  1. Creative writing: ChatGPT can help students brainstorm ideas for stories, poems, or essays by providing prompts or suggestions. It can also be used to provide examples of different writing styles or techniques, inspiring students to develop their own unique voice.
  2. Debate and critical thinking: Use ChatGPT to generate arguments or viewpoints on various topics, encouraging students to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each argument, form their own opinions, and engage in thoughtful discussions or debates.
  3. Language learning: ChatGPT can be used as a language learning tool, providing translations, explanations, and examples of grammar and sentence structure in different languages, helping students practice and improve their language skills.
  4. Peer review and editing support: ChatGPT can offer suggestions for improvements in writing, such as grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. Students can use this feedback to revise and improve their own work and learn to provide constructive criticism to their peers.
  5. STEM subjects: ChatGPT can provide explanations, examples, and problem-solving steps for various topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Teachers can use these resources to supplement their lessons and provide additional support for students who may be struggling with certain concepts.
  6. Multimedia projects: ChatGPT can be used to help students brainstorm ideas for multimedia projects, such as podcasts, videos, or presentations. It can provide suggestions for topics, formats, and content, allowing students to create engaging and informative projects that showcase their learning.

These alternate suggestions provide various ways in which ChatGPT and similar AI tools can be integrated into the classroom to support learning across different subjects and skill sets. As always, it is essential to ensure responsible use of these tools and prioritize student privacy and safety.”

This list generated by ChatGPT was impressive, and in some ways, it was broader and even better than my own list. This realization was humbling at first, but then I remembered that ChatGPT excels in language and word processing, so it is natural for it to create excellent recommendations for this type of question. Additionally, as an educator, I can craft effective questions that elicit valuable responses from ChatGPT. I share this experience transparently to demonstrate that AI tools like ChatGPT can be incredibly useful for educators, administrators, students, and others in generating ideas.

It is crucial to always consider the ethics of AI use, as well as the potential for plagiarism and cheating, when preparing students for their academic futures. Matt Miller from “Ditch That Textbook” created a thought-provoking visual (Miller, 2023) in response to the rise of ChatGPT, which addresses these concerns. Titled “It’s time to rethink ‘plagiarism’ and ‘cheating’,” the visual presents a spectrum of AI use, ranging from bot-created writing and plagiarism to responsible and ethical use.

Miller’s spectrum illustrates how AI tools can be used or misused in the context of academic honesty, plagiarism, and cheating. It is essential for educators to empower students to understand the differences and navigate the use of AI tools with integrity and honesty. By teaching students how to responsibly use AI tools, we prepare them for a future where AI will undoubtedly play a significant role in their lives.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope that this provides some clarity and context around the hype of ChatGPT as an AI and other similar tools as well as bring down some of the apocalyptic, dystopian fervor that this has created over the past few months. ChatGPT and other similar AI tools are here, and I feel it is my responsibility to as an educator to help prepare our educators, students, as well as parents and communities for its impact.

I was in one of our district elementary schools recently and saw “Class of 2035” above the door of a kindergarten room. That is the year our current kindergarteners are expected to graduate from high school, and we hardly know what jobs and opportunities will be available to them or what skills they might need. However, it is now guaranteed that AI in many forms will be a part of their world. So I think it is safe to say that the potential of AI tools like ChatGPT to impact K-12 education is undeniable. As educators, it is our responsibility to strike a balance between embracing the benefits of these technologies and addressing the challenges they pose. By planning now on ways, we can incorporate AI tools responsibly into teaching and learning now, we can help guide how AI is used to shape the future of K-12 education and humanity’s future.

Micah Miner serves as the District Instructional Technology & Social Studies Coordinator at Maywood, Melrose Park, Broadview School District 89. He believes equity matters, not just globally, but locally and all students deserve equity and access in education and life. Micah has served as a teacher in K-12 settings in both regular classrooms and alternative schools, as a social studies department chair, instructional technology coach, adjunct professor in social studies and instructional technology, and as a school and district administrator. He can be reached on social media @minerclass on Twitter, his LinkedIn profile  here, and his email  micah.miner@maywood89.org.

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