Artificial Intelligence: Preparing Students for the Future
For the past five years, I have spent time learning about and teaching about AI. I knew very little when I started back in January of 2018, writing my first blog about AI for Getting Smart. After diving in and exploring it in my eighth-grade STEAM Emerging Technology class, taking the ISTE U course on AI, and doing lots of reading and research, I become more confident. I started to present at conferences both in-person and virtually and loved sharing how I got started and helping educators to get started in their classrooms too.
Since the beginning of this year and after the big launch of Open AI’s ChatGPT in December, interest has increased tremendously. My sessions at FETC and TCEA on AI: What Do Educators Need to Know were well attended. I present often on the topic and have done some PD sessions and small group sessions focused on AI.
With so much discussion and coverage on the topic, it might seem that if AI isn’t already being used in your classroom that you’re falling behind when it comes to technology. However, it is first important to understand what AI is and establish some guiding questions such as: What role does AI play in our daily lives? And more importantly, what role does it or will it play in the future of education and the future of work?
Fortunately, there are many individuals and organizations throughout the world who are working toward building the knowledge base and available resources. Key areas are focused on researching and gaining a deeper understanding of artificial intelligence, the concerns surrounding it, the challenges that it might present, and how we can use it for good.
Starting with AI
As an educator, the start of the school year brings new opportunities to connect with students and build upon some of our teaching methods and resources from the prior year. It’s also a time to explore topics we learned about during the summer and possibly involve the students by collaboratively learning about a topic, in this case, artificial intelligence.
When I started, I looked for some resources on AI to help me as well as provide activities for my students. In the fall of 2018, I enrolled in the ISTE U course on artificial intelligence, where I gained new perspectives on AI and gathered many new teaching tools for use with my students. Michelle Zimmerman’s Teaching AI: Exploring New Frontiers for Learning was a tremendous help when working through the course and building my knowledge base. I also visited Montour School District, where students are enrolled in the first public school AI course. By engaging in these two learning opportunities, I felt more confident in understanding what AI is, how it works, the various industries in which it is being used, and ultimately what role it could play in our classrooms today and in the future.
Considerations for Education
We have all likely heard the concerns regarding AI and how it might impact educators. The most common: is whether or not artificial intelligence will replace teachers. Other concerns are whether AI will replace many of the other positions held in different industries of work and if it will continue to evolve to the point where it does in fact take on human capabilities beyond what it has been programmed to do or what it learns how to do as it iterates. We also have to be cautious when it comes to privacy. In particular, when using virtual assistants; for example, Amazon’s Alexa was reported to be recording conversations. All of these are valid questions and concerns that need to be considered.
I’ve been fortunate to teach my course in STEAM to eighth-grade students for the past seven years, and a large part of the course is focused on emerging technologies in the areas of artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality. There is so much information out there, that becoming an instant expert is not too likely. However, we can take the information we find and use it as a starting point of inquiry with our students because chances are they’ll be interacting with AI in the future wherever they decide to go after their high school careers. There is also the likelihood that they will be working alongside AI in the future in some capacity. It is happening now, with ChatGPT as an assistant, a co-blogger, you name it.
ChatGPT is a new AI chatbot that has been built and is an upgrade from GPT3, which was released in 2020. GPT3 is Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, a trained language model that uses deep learning and can simulate human conversation. You can learn more about GPT3 from this blog that I helped to research in 2020. Now, ChatGPT, which has been released by Open AI, is artificial intelligence that is able to respond to prompts instantly and enable the user to basically engage in what feels like a human conversation. It responds to prompts through the use of natural language processing (NLP), which enables it to understand the questions from humans and to be able to generate responses that mimic a human conversation. It is able to understand the context of conversations and can answer within seconds of being asked about anything ranging from how to bake a cake to something very complex and also in different languages.
It is a language model, and it was released fully on November 30th within one week, it had more than 1 million users trying to explore exactly what it does, which led to a slowdown on the site. ChatGPT is the latest chatbot from Open AI that had its launch back in 2015, and it has tremendous capabilities. It simulates a chat similar to what you might get from a chatbot when using an online website for example. But the difference is that it provides responses that mimic what you might find in a normal human conversation because it has been trained through machine learning and artificial intelligence.
How does it differ from Google or voice assistants? Think about when you ask questions to Alexa or Siri. You will receive a response that is limited, yet conversational, whereas ChatGPT is artificial intelligence that enables you to interact with a virtual assistant with the use of natural language. As mentioned, GPT3 is the third generation of this Generative Pre-trained Transformer text. The new ChatGPT is able to generate responses in real-time and without the need to complete Google searches or look through other resources to get information. It streamlines the process completely. Years ago, using the Dewey Decimal System to find books, to flip through pages became easier via Google Searches. Now, ChatGPT converts Google in a similar way. It eliminates the need for sorting and processing information. It decreased originality and creativity from students or people in general. This is why it has some people concerned.
Not just in the area of education, but in the world of work. ChatGPT and others that are developing as we speak, are the technologies that could potentially replace the need for many types of jobs. Think things like customer service representatives, coaches, and training providers, where you might need information that you normally would ask of a person and engage in a conversation, chat GPT will be able to complete the same task in far less time potentially.
So how can we help students and ourselves better understand what AI might look like in the classroom? We use some existing resources and find a way to tie them to the classes and open up a discussion. Years ago I visited Montour School District, and I was really impressed by the students and their work at the middle school level. It was one of the first schools to offer a middle-school curriculum on AI. Justin Aglio (@JustinAglio) has been doing some amazing work in the area of AI. He leads the Penn State Readiness Institute and has done tremendous work with AI. I recommend reading his blog posts or attending a presentation of his if you have the opportunity. Seeing the students excited about what they were learning made a huge difference. In areas like AI, where few people may understand the potential, it’s easy to criticize. Therefore, the first thing, I think we must do as teachers is to help students understand how to make informed decisions, give them opportunities to explore and research topics like this, and then have a conversation.
By attending conferences and other professional learning activities you can find tools that incorporate AI and that are worth exploring. Students should understand how these technologies work because they may very well end up being the ones who are creating AI and developing the technologies that we will be using in the not-too-distant future. We must first seek to understand before making any decisions about the relevance, benefits, or concerns about any type of technology we think about implementing in our classroom.
Some Resources to Explore
Here are a few unique educational resources I learned more about this summer and how they can be used in the classroom.
- AI4ALL is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in AI education. Through AI4ALL, high school students have access to a free program where they can explore the resources available on the site and even participate in a “build your AI for good” project. Students will better understand AI and its potential through the resources provided.
- AI World School offers three flagship AI courses for different age groups and also, several micro-courses. AIWS also has a virtual driverless car course.
- DAILy from MIT offers a curriculum for students to explore AI as well as other activities and a mini-course Day of AI is coming up too!
- ISTE’s AI and STEM Explorations Network has created four free hands-on AI projects for the classroom guides which are available for download from ISTE and GM. I helped to create a lesson on the use of AI in language classrooms. The guides are available in English, Spanish, and Arabic.
- Microsoft AI for Good offers many resources for educators or anybody to look at how artificial intelligence is being used and to also better prepare teachers
There is a lot to learn about when it comes to AI, and the first step is in deciding the benefits for student learning and make sure that any privacy and security concerns are addressed. It is important that we help our students understand not only the capabilities of using AI in learning but also to develop their own skills to become the creators and innovators of the future.