Four things an educational psychologist wants you to know about AI in the classroom

Tools like ChatGPT have created classroom challenges for both teachers and students, but there are also opportunities, says UW-Madison’s David Williamson Schaffer, a professor in the School of Education who studies the intersection of technology and teaching. iStock / Devrimb

It’s back-to-school time, and the start of the school year has some parents and educators wondering how to handle artificial intelligence in the classroom.

As a former classroom teacher, parent, and someone who studies technology and learning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education, I’d like to share some suggestions and reassurances about what to expect from AI in the near future. .

1. It’s not as hard as you think to remove AI.

Yes, AI can produce acceptable, seemingly knowledgeable written content on many topics, but it also has clear limitations. If you know what these limitations are, you can create tasks that AI won’t be able to do well, or not at all.

This is because the next generation of large language models such as ChatGPT. don’t really understand what they are saying. They simply use whatever they can find online to make their best guess as to which words are most likely to appear as the answer to your question – are the words correct or not.

Big language models have no critical thinking skills, no “real world” context, and no personal experience.

So if teachers give fewer tasks that focus on things that AI can do, such as repeating definitions or summarizing well-known texts, and more tasks that require things that AI cannot do, such as in critical thinkingreflecting on a personal story or experience, or writing about things that are not well known, students will have to think for themselves and reserve AI for things like summarizing information or correcting bad prose.

2. We can use AI forever – in the world and in classrooms.

Shifting lessons away from what AI can do has the added benefit of making the lessons themselves more thoughtful and engaging.

Recently Professor of World Religions at Northern Michigan University realized that ChatGPT can write acceptable essays on the morality of burqa bans. Instead of banning ChatGPT or forcing students to write about something else, the professor asked students to think critically about how the chatbot responds to questions about religion and ethics.

In other words, the current generation of AI tools allows students to work less and focus more on the things that will matter in the emerging world of AI. Can provide large language models what to criticizesolving the problem staring at a blank page. AI can help students answer questions that the teacher doesn’t have time to answer (although it’s best to double-check the answer!). This may help sharpen students’ prose. This can help them find resources.

Innovators around the world have already used artificial intelligence to do big things. One group, AI for Good, is using the latest technology predicting missile attacks on Ukrainian homes and composing poems about self-determination For Afghan women in Pashto, Farsi and Uzbek. Teen entrepreneur Christine Zhao uses ChatGPT the program she created helping people with alexithymia (people who can’t connect with their emotions) develop emotional awareness and interpersonal relationships.

3. It’s really important that students learn how to use AI well.

American philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler said: “Deep thinking is not just about finding answers; it’s about asking the right questions.”

It turns out that it’s actually pretty hard to get a big language model like ChatGPT to say anything intelligent about a complex topic. The new field of “rapid engineering” pays people six-figure salaries create queries that will get good answers from AI tools.

I’m not suggesting creating entire classes on how to get useful ChatGPT results. In the early days of the Internet, there was a concern that people needed to learn how to “write good search queries.” It didn’t turn out to be such a big problem.

But learning to work with AI effectively and ethically will be an important life skill for decades to come.

As educators (and parents and students), we should ask ourselves: What are professionals and other people doing in the “real world” with the latest AI tools? Are they using the tools productively and responsibly? And what do we, as educators, need to enable students to use artificial intelligence to solve the complex social, economic, scientific, moral, and environmental problems they will face in the coming decades?

4. Try before you buy.

In my time as a teacher, educational researcher, and professor, there have been other innovations that people mistakenly thought would turn students into mindless zombies.

When I started teaching, my peers told me that students needed to learn math quickly because they “won’t always have a calculator in their pocket” or might need to “change money for a customer if the cash register doesn’t work.” “

Well, it turns out we all have calculators on our cell phones now, nobody uses cash anymore and if the register goes offline, they close the store.

The right question is not, “How can we stop these new tools from ruining children’s education?” Rather, we should be asking, “How can we use these new tools to make education better?”

Ultimately, it will be up to thoughtful educators and parents to figure out the best ways to do this. But you can’t use technology well if you don’t know how it works.

So if you haven’t played around with ChatGPT, Bing, Perplexity, Bard, LLaMa, or any of the growing chorus of oddly named AI tools, give one a try and see what you can do with it.

Try asking for it write a lesson plan. You may be pleasantly surprised by both how useful it can be and what it produces. Try giving the AI ​​one of your tasks and see what comes back. What grade would you give the AI ​​answer and how hard would you have to work to get an A?

After all, to use AI well in the classroom, we need to start using it badly outside the classroom.

As a profession, we have done this with other innovations. Now is the time to do it again with the latest technology.

David Williamson Shaffer is the Sears Bascom Professor of Learning Analytics and the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Learning Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

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