Although machine learning and AI models have been built into many of the apps and platforms we have been using for years, we’re having a different kind of AI moment in 2023. Natural language processing and computer vision models such as OpenAI’s ChatGTP and DALL_E have put AI tools directly into the people’s hands, and many are fascinated and fearful.
With generative AI tools used frequently by growing millions, some are calling loudly for restraint and regulation. AI is already impacting education. From schools to universities, parents, teachers and administrators are scrambling for remedies, rules and policies to prevent students from handing in homework written by ChatGPT. However, the longer-term impacts of AI on education are going to be much deeper and wider.
As Principal of Koa Academy, a high engagement online school, Mark Anderson takes a pragmatic and proactive view of AI’s opportunities and challenges to the education system. He says, “I must say, I feel excited. However, my eyes are wide open. This is a complex and nuanced conversation. We have an education system that is held back by outdated worldviews and structures. Too many institutions are failing to adequately prepare learners for today’s world of work, so systems and tools that disrupt the status quo and improve 21st Century learning are certainly needed. That said, there are real concerns that must be addressed if we are to effectively leverage the benefits in this game-changing shift. When used well, AI tools can sharpen critical thinking skills and encourage creativity. When used poorly, they can become a burden and even block learning. This is the same pattern we see with just about any technological advance in education. The key lies in our pedagogy – how we go about deploying the tools in our schools.”
Will Natural Language Processing Models Undermine Core Skills, Like Writing?
As many users have discovered, AI tools like ChatGPT are adept at generating written text in a range of styles and on any topic, all in a matter of seconds. Mark says, “It’s an obvious pitfall that students can plagiarise any writing task, but does this mean that learners will fail to develop the ability to effectively generate their own thoughts in writing? This depends on how the AI tools are used in the language class. Instead of being used as the source of a written text based on one prompt, the AI model can be used as a personal ‘writing coach’ by engaging the learner conversationally, debating or analysing text. Used strategically, a tool like this has the potential to do what many language teachers would love to have the capacity for – individualised and personalised support of every single learner.”
This role of a chatbot as tutor goes beyond language. There are worldwide Maths education specialists, such as Khan Academy currently testing AI Maths tutors in US schools with the view that one day, every child in the classroom might benefit from the undivided attention of their own Maths specialist.
Mark says, “This idea of AI becoming a sort of ‘personal tutor’ is a potential game changer. Educators know well that the way to holistically increase the performance of all learners in an educational system is through one-on-one tutoring support for everyone. This has always seemed logistically impossible. With the introduction of AI, much of the support typically provided by a person can instead be provided by the AI model. Not thinking for the learner but providing the support for them to really think for themselves.”
As Peter Parker’s uncle said: “With great power comes great responsibility”
Like particle accelerators, genetic sequencers and supercomputers, AI is undoubtably one of the most complex tools humans have ever created. It is set apart though, by its capacity to learn and improve over time.
Mark concludes, “At Koa Academy we are encouraging our learners, parents and educators to explore and become clear about the pros and cons of present-day AI. As with any tool, we have to teach our learners how to approach the technology. We have human choices to make about how we realise its potential and guardrail against its pitfalls. What’s important is to avoid taking a polarised stance and rather finding the balance between recognising the potential pitfalls and potential advantages of AI in education. AI gives us a chance to drive change in a very outdated education system and potentially solve a lot of problems. Yes, it’s going to be challenging to find healthy balances and good guardrails, and yes, there are going to be teething issues along the way. But there are such good opportunities for us to leverage AI in education. Not doing so means that our kids leave school even less prepared for real life. While there is still much to discover and navigate in this technology, we can be sure that by approaching it with all the faculties that make us truly human – critical thinking, common sense, empathy – then we stand to gain much from it in education.”
Parents can join Mark Anderson at the Koa Academy Webinar, AI – the Good, the Bad and the Educational on 8 August 2023, at 13h00. The presentation tackles this exciting and complex topic and includes a Q&A session, so that parents can ask their burning questions. Registration is free.
Koa Academy Webinar: AI – the Good, the Bad and the Educational
Tuesday, 8 August 2023
Discover Koa Academy, visit www.koacademy.com
About Koa Academy
Koa Academy is an IEB online school in South Africa for Grades 4-12 offering parents a future-focused option for their child’s education. Based on a vision and framework for School 2.0, Koa Academy provides high learner engagement in 8-person Pods with a dedicated teacher in a structured, yet individualised environment.
The academic program provides integrated learning across the South African curriculum through an innovative online platform. Learners access carefully curated, top global educational resources. They benefit from high levels of teacher time; ongoing, age-appropriate assessment and instant feedback through the learner dashboard.
Academic progress is mastery-based so that learners can proceed at their own pace. Social and emotional development is embedded in the Koa Academy schooling experience and is facilitated daily through the small class environment. Koa Academy focuses on learning that prepares children for real-life and the development of the skills and capabilities they need to succeed in the 21st Century.