How AI could influence learning across subjects, while becoming a crucial one itself

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In this photo illustration, the welcome screen for the OpenAI “ChatGPT” app is displayed on a laptop screen on February 03, 2023 in London. OpenAI, whose online chatbot ChatGPT made waves when it debuted in December, announced that a commercial version of the service, called ChatGPT Plus, would soon be available to users in the United States.

The education industry is having to grapple with where artificial intelligence can fit into schools, from lesson plans to teacher training, since the technology has been propelled to the forefront of debates in recent months. 

The chatbot ChatGPT has caused shockwaves through the education industry over concerns about cheating and how students will learn, but the importance of AI in technological education has also been highlighted in the discussion. 

The introduction of AI could one day be integrated into all school subjects, not just computer science, experts say. And familiarity with the technology itself could soon become essential for students.

“The way that we integrate AI education to the classroom is really an approach to connect artificial intelligence with core subjects like English, science, math, social studies, in addition to computer science and career technology education,” Alex Kotran, co-founder and CEO of the AI Education Project, told The Hill.

AI education could become essential for students as the technology becomes increasingly integrated in everyday use, with ChatGPT exploding faster than TikTok or Instagram as it reached 100 million users just two months after its launch to the public. 

In that time, both students and teachers have discovered ChatGPT’s ability to help with personalized tutoring, working on assignments, creating lesson plans and crafting emails. 

Torrey Trust, an associate professor for teacher education and curriculum studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, laid out how she believes AI and ChatGPT could be integrated in different areas of study. 

For English, students could analyze the writing quality of the technology. For social studies, they might read a press release from a politician and then ask ChatGPT to write one and compare and contrast the two. For math and science questions, which ChatGPT can get wrong, critically analyzing what the program messed up could be a useful lesson, according to Trust. 

“I think with some creative thinking, and a focus on critical media literacy, ChatGPT can be brought into any subject in any grade level and really should help prepare students for interacting with these types of tools in the future,” Trust said. 

Experts say AI presents an opportunity not only for assisting with teaching other subjects, but also examining how the technology itself works.

“I think what AI offers, it offers an opportunity for our students to sort of open up that black box and allow students to understand the anatomy of the technologies in ways than that make them think about how, what can they create versus always thinking about ‘I’m going to use this for X,'” said Noemi Waight, associate professor of science education at the University of Buffalo. “That’s the potential that exists here.”

Teaching students about how the technology works and how it was created can also help them understand concerns such as misinformation, biases and privacy within AI.

One of the first debates that erupted over ChatGPT was over how it can give clear and concise responses that sound human, but still give wrong answers to basic questions. 

Trust believes that critical media literacy, the ability to analyze and understand technologies and their impact on communications, is an important part of bringing students up to date with technologies including AI, to recognize their shortcomings.

“The way that I think there’s a strong approach to bringing ChatGPT into schools is through critical media literacy and having students look at not just what ChatGPT produces as text but also the tool itself,” Trust said.

“You know, who created this tool? Who was part of the team that trained the tool to produce what it does? What are the objectives, aims, values of the tool? How’s the company making money, whether that’s off users’ privacy and data or whether that’s now they have all these pricing plans? I think really everyone, but students in particular, need to learn how to critically interrogate the design and production and dissemination of these different tools,” she added. 

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, said earlier this month that the program has “shortcomings around bias,” but he did not go into detail on the issue. 

Waight said, “We know that it comes with racial bias. It comes with ethnic and linguistic bias. It comes with gender bias, for example. So we have to be alert and cognizant to the ways in which these tools are being designed so that they don’t come into spaces [where they’ve] continued to reinforce harmful practices.” 

Current age limits on the interface, however, could post a significant classroom limitation.

“Teachers should know that if they ask their students to use ChatGPT on their own devices and sign up for their own accounts, that actually violates the ChatGPT privacy policy and terms of use if they’re under 18 years old,” Trust said.

But schools could still face a race to teach students how to use the technology before it becomes entrenched in the U.S. economy. 

“These are very, very hard skills that are going to be immediately relevant to students, like competitiveness, and so I think that’s going to be a really big driver of this. Schools aren’t going to really have a choice,” Kotran said. 

AI technology is developing fast and is likely to outpace the speed at which K-12 is trying to keep up with it. While technological knowledge could become as important as reading and math in the future, it will take some work to get the education system up to speed with it. 

One of the ways to help with the process, Waight says, is to work on teacher education with AI and provide professional development workshops and AI courses to prospective teachers. 

“I see all of these, honestly, is a lot of different stakeholders who will have to come to the table to help support a mass adoption and also to ensure that the implementation of these tools are having benefits for teaching and learning,” Waight says.

Making technology a priority just as high as reading and math would require a lot of work, such as standardized testing on the subject, Trust said, adding that the government isn’t completely behind the ball on the issue. 

“I’ve seen that in the past five years with computer science, especially the U.S. government and the Department of Education, have had a strong focus on integrating computer science education into every grade level. And the reason for that is we need to understand how computers work, how they’re designed, how they influence thinking and learning and behavior,” Trust said. 

While debates rage on how to integrate AI into schools and concerns regarding the technology, K-12 will have to move quickly — those advances won’t be slowing down.

“It’s like, this is the next big technology revolution, as big as the internet, at least, has been, maybe bigger than the internet or the personal computer, and it’s going to move a lot faster,” Kotran said.

—Updated Monday at 6:07 p.m.

Tags AI ChatGPT k-12

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