AI and education: Are there more risks or more rewards for K12?

With AI like ChatGPT, teachers can cut down the hours they spend creating lessons and ensure those lessons accommodate the diversity of their students.
Aaron Rafferty
Aaron Rafferty
Aaron Rafferty is a tech builder, co-founder, and behavioral scientist dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable world. He is the co-founder and CEO of StandardDAO and BattlePACs, leveraging engagement technologies to drive social impact and promote civil discourse.

With every new technological advancement, there is controversy in the classroom—once, it was the introduction of calculators; now, it’s AI and education. Decades ago, teachers would tell their students things like, “You will not have access to a calculator whenever you need it.” But then smartphones came along.

With the launch of ChatGPT in late 2022, many educational professionals are leery of incorporating artificial intelligence in the classroom. Yet, many others are embracing this new technology and encouraging their peers to teach students to use it responsibly and ethically, just as they had to with the calculator.

The good: Inclusion, diversity, and equity

Teachers hold many jobs as the lead in their classrooms. Not only do they create lesson plans, grade assessments and provide feedback on those assessments, but they must also continuously build rapport with their students (and students’ parents), administrators and fellow teachers. They are also tasked with incorporating accommodations for their students and preparing them for standardized testing—all while teaching them life skills for when they leave the classroom.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what teachers do. With AI like ChatGPT, teachers can cut down the hours they spend creating lessons and ensure those lessons accommodate the diversity of their students. For instance, AI can help teachers write one version of a lesson and revise it for students in need of custom accommodations, such as those who are learning English as a second language or who have specific learning disabilities.

Sometimes, the different levels of accommodation—i.e., “below grade level,” “at grade level,” and “above grade level”—can be difficult and too broad for some students to understand how they compare academically to their peers. AI can enhance educational equity by offering learning experiences personalized to each student. This approach can help bridge the gap for students who may have faced disadvantages due to their specific learning needs or background.

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For example, students with hearing impairments can benefit from the AI’s ability to generate real-time transcriptions of classroom discussions, ensuring they can access essential information. Similarly, non-native English speakers can receive translations and language support from AI, allowing them to actively participate in classroom activities without feeling excluded or overwhelmed.

Additionally, because AI like ChatGPT is free to use, it can be utilized by school districts that lack proper funding or resources to provide their students with a high-quality education. This can help narrow demographic gaps in education, such as those between urban and rural districts, or between developed and developing nations.

When used appropriately, AI can become an incredible asset to the K12 classroom by providing teachers with more time to focus on their students and providing them with more resources to ensure those students receive the high-quality education they deserve. However, it’s important to remember that AI isn’t meant to replace the teacher and do the teacher’s work, but rather facilitate the creation of material and help students gain access to more resources.

The bad: Everything used with bad intentions becomes bad

Due to technological advancements throughout the past two decades, students are able to learn more, and far more rapidly than before. And thanks to extensive research on best practices in pedagogy, education has become accessible to students with different abilities from different backgrounds.

However, when any tool like AI is used in excess or without the proper learning, it can quickly become a detriment instead of an advantage. As such, AI should not be used as a replacement for teachers or classroom education. Rather, teachers must take the time to teach how AI can be used in their classrooms to ensure their students know how to use it properly and what to look for when it isn’t. While ChatGPT, for example, can be used as a research engine, students must be taught to fact-check everything they read on the internet—especially when it’s generated by a language-learning model AI like ChatGPT.

Of course, another issue some educators are currently grappling with is the use of AI to write essays and papers. While not every student is innately gifted as a writer or will need advanced writing skills in their career, teaching students how to write using AI offers a lesson in drafting, proofreading, editing and understanding that the writing process is not one-and-done or copy-and-paste. Moreover, teaching students to use AI will help them learn how to become better writers.

Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize the potential risks and challenges when integrating AI in the classroom, such as data privacy, algorithm bias and the potential for ethically misusing AI. Educators and AI developers must collaborate and communicate to establish guidelines and best practices for AI in the classroom.

However, AI can still greatly help educational professionals—be they in the classroom or central office—to engage their students on a more personalized level, ensure equal access to quality learning resources, and alleviate the workload of teachers. Today’s education professionals must reach a consensus on how to best use AI in education and provide all parties with the tools they need to succeed.

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