Education and Artificial Intelligence: Navigating the Path to...

Artificial Intelligence

Education and Artificial Intelligence: Navigating the Path to Transformation

from Amazon Web Services

By Abbie Misha     Dec 18, 2023

Education and Artificial Intelligence: Navigating the Path to Transformation

In a world where technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace, education stands on the cusp of transformation. Imagine classrooms where teachers are empowered by cutting-edge technology and where students don't just learn from textbooks but co-create their educational journey. Artificial intelligence resides at the nexus of education and technology, where the opportunities seem limitless, though uncertain.

Over the last few months, EdSurge webinar host Carl Hooker moderated three webinars featuring field-expert panelists discussing the transformative impact of artificial intelligence in the education field. The webinars, sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS), served as a platform for gaining valuable insights from education leaders, policymakers and edtech product developers. Throughout these sessions, three overarching themes emerged: the imperative to fully harness the potential of AI, the importance of judicious and responsible implementation and the need to ready ourselves and our students for an unclear yet promising future.

Defining the Integration of Artificial Intelligence

Integrating AI refers to the incorporation of machine-driven intelligence into various applications and processes, enabling tasks that mimic human cognitive functions like learning from data, problem-solving and recognizing patterns. Kevin McCandless, an AWS senior solutions architect, emphasizes the significance of machine learning (ML), a fundamental AI technique employing algorithms and historical data to make predictions. He also introduces the concept of generative AI (gen AI), which signifies the next step in the evolution of AI and ML. Gen AI offers the remarkable ability to create entirely new educational content, underscoring its vital role in enhancing the learning experience.

Embracing AI’s Potential

Richard Culatta, chief executive officer of ASCD and ISTE, presents a compelling framework for the integration of AI in education. He identifies two significant facets, with the first revolving around using AI as a tool to enhance learning, emphasizing personalized education and support. The second dimension pertains to teaching young individuals how to harness AI for their future careers, leadership roles and learning opportunities. Culatta aptly observes that while most discussions primarily focus on the first facet, there is a concerning lack of attention given to the equally vital second dimension.

The crucial first step in addressing both facets is wholeheartedly embracing AI in educational settings. Mary Strain, business development executive for artificial intelligence and machine learning at AWS, highlights a noticeable discrepancy in the acceptance of generative AI within the educational landscape, particularly between K-12 and higher education institutions, with the former sometimes banning gen AI. She underscores the potential of AI-generated content to empower students, granting them agency over their learning journey, fostering higher-order thinking skills and introducing innovative educational challenges.

For school districts seeking quick solutions, Culatta emphasizes the futility of blocking AI, as it is swiftly becoming a ubiquitous presence. Educator and edtech consultant Rachelle Dené Poth agrees, sharing how she encourages her students to use AI-powered tools in the classroom. “You have to show students how [generative AI] is just a tool and let them know that this is not supposed to replace their own critical thinking, creativity and all these skills they need,” says Poth.

Before getting students on board with gen AI, it is imperative that educators embrace the technology. But are teachers provided the support to do so? Culatta asserts, “It's really critical that we're supporting educators in this moment. It's one thing to say: Go learn about AI. It's another thing to actually provide time and space for educators to explore.” ISTE has made this viewpoint a priority, offering professional development and resources that focus on learning about and effectively integrating AI, including a guide for school leaders and a teacher course.

Watch the three Education Transformed on-demand webinars now:

Integrating AI Purposefully and Responsibly

As AI continues to reshape education, it is crucial to explore not only the opportunities but also the ethical responsibilities associated with this technological transformation. Joe Pringle, business development leader for artificial intelligence and machine learning at AWS, underscores the need for a meticulous and cautious approach to the use of AI in education. He stresses the high-stakes nature of AI implementation in educational contexts, emphasizing that it's crucial to consider all possible implications and avoid high-profile mistakes. While Pringle is optimistic about the potential benefits of AI for teachers and students, he equally emphasizes the importance of thoroughly evaluating what could go wrong, the potential costs of errors or incorrect recommendations and the implementation of robust controls to mitigate these risks.

In May 2023, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology released an AI report: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Teaching and Learning. The report outlined recommendations for guidelines and guardrails for the responsible use of AI in educational technology. This includes using AI in edtech tools for data analysis, pattern recognition and resource recommendations.

How does the purposeful and responsible use of AI manifest at local levels? Mark Racine, chief information officer of Boston Public Schools, promotes a decentralized, collaborative approach to determining when and how AI should be used in education. He explains that his district chose not to pursue a formal policy on AI primarily for two reasons. First, policies are typically rigid and slow to change, and given the rapidly evolving nature of technology, they wanted to avoid being bound by a policy that might become outdated before it could be updated. Second, they found that many concerns related to AI, such as intellectual property, cheating and the use of sensitive information, were already covered by existing policies.

Racine advocates for a distributed approach to AI usage, where teachers and students engage in a dialogue to determine when AI is appropriate for a lesson. This flexibility allows for adaptable AI integration while maintaining openness and transparency between instructors and learners. Although some guidelines are essential, such as those for safeguarding confidential data, Racine believes that fostering responsible AI tool usage and preserving the student-teacher partnership should take precedence over a rigid, top-down AI policy in education.

Preparing Students for an Uncertain Future

Education institutions play a pivotal role in preparing students for an uncertain future in a world increasingly influenced by artificial intelligence. How can educators effectively embrace AI in the classroom when there is valid concern about students misusing tools and undermining the learning process?

Dr. Aleigha Henderson-Rosser, assistant superintendent of instructional technology at Atlanta Public Schools, emphasizes the value of personalized learning and effective teaching practices as a strategy to address concerns related to cheating in the context of AI. She suggests that by focusing on having students set and reflect on their own goals, delivering targeted instruction, fostering creativity and employing data-driven techniques, educators can create engaging and collaborative classroom environments. “We take a different approach [than saying] ‘Don’t do that.’ It’s more about: What does an engaged lesson look like and what’s best practice?” Her view is that AI can serve as a stepping stone to elevate and enhance students' creative capabilities despite a common fear that students will become less creative.

Racine acknowledges that there is often concern that new technology might stifle creativity or make students too robotic in their thinking. However, he remains optimistic about the impact of AI on students and education. He believes that AI can help students overcome technical or skill limitations and be creative in new mediums they previously couldn't access.

Similarly, Graham Glass, chief executive officer and founder of CYPHER Learning, underscores the importance of offering students transformative experiences that demonstrate the vast possibilities of human-AI collaboration. He believes that students and teachers will realize the potential to accomplish more when they leverage AI. “I think it is really important for humans to figure out in all realms of life how to team up with AI to amplify [their] capabilities,” says Glass. “There's an opportunity for educators to rise to the challenge. But I would not be complacent if I were an educator. I wouldn't be, like, Hey, let's just see how it goes. The time is ticking, and if you can't figure out a way to become really engaging and compelling in the class, the students are going to tune out, and they're going to learn outside of the class.”

Agreeing with Glass, webinar host Hooker suggests, “A teacher won't be replaced by AI. But maybe a teacher will be replaced by a teacher who’s using AI.”

Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez, superintendent at the Forest Park School District in suburban Chicago, agrees that the concern should not be as much about AI integration but rather about developing best practices for teachers. “AI or no AI,” says Alvarez, “If your classroom is just not engaging, it's not going to be creative. I believe in humans so heavily; that's where the creativity is going to come from. It's not going to come from AI. It's going to come from… the instructor.”

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up