Image by imagesourcecurated on Envato ElementsImage by imagesourcecurated on Envato ElementsBY DAVID BARNES

In February, I gave a professional development session to more than 60 teachers from the Leander Independent School District on how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to revolutionize their instruction in the classroom. The purpose of the one-hour session was to make teachers AI aware, as that conversation must happen before we can become AI literate.

At the beginning of the session, we discussed some of the most important innovations in education history. By far, the Internet was the most popular. Some teachers mentioned personal computer access, while others talked about the textbook. Before researching AI's impact on education, my answer would have been the chalkboard.

Many teachers have never had formal exposure to AI in the classroom. In an opening survey, over 74% of the participants indicated that they have never used AI tools like ChatGPT. The same survey indicated that only 37% of the participants believed their students were using AI tools to complete their classwork. However, nearly 70% of the participants "strongly believed" that it is important for teachers to be AI literate within the next three years.

Where are we with AI in the classroom?

The arrival of artificial intelligence in the classroom may seem like an exaggeration. No Terminators or Replicants are running around to mark its advent. Instead, it crept in quietly through subtle features like autocorrect, Grammarly suggestions, autofill options, and chatbots in the corner of a website. The most recent trend is Chat GPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot that can answer questions, and its impact was not the same as Siri or Alexa.

There is a moment in the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron when Tony Stark introduces his AI computer JARVIS. JARVIS is described as a complex pre-trained language computer model in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On some level, we are now at the cusp of the technology level of Iron Man. Chat GPT can do much more than simple tasks. It can create original essays, compose song lyrics, generate stories, and even write unique lines of code. Claims abound that ChatGPT can pass Legal Bar exams, medical certification tests and even be used to predict Russian missile attacks in Ukraine.

I decided to test Chat GPT's abilities in front of the teachers by asking it to develop a lesson plan on "The History of AI in Education." Its initial response was impressive and original, but the lesson was written for High School students. So, I asked Chat GPT to simplify the language, syntax, and style for Elementary School. The result was much easier to comprehend. I then asked ChatGPT to create a Russian assessment for a foreign exchange student, and it did. Then, one of my fellow educators asked if ChatGPT could create project-based lessons. I asked Chat GPT to create a project-based lesson on the Civil War. It did, even with the disclaimer, "Note: It is important to provide a safe environment for the reenactment and ensure that all props and sound effects are appropriate and safe for use."

ChatGPT can also create graphic organizers and rubrics, grade papers, facilitate notetaking, and more. One of the educators asked how I got ChatGPT to do so much. I briefly discussed the new skill of Prompt Engineering. Simply put, prompt engineering is the art of interacting with AI interfaces. Just like Google has an array of ways to interact with the search bar (which most people barely know how to use), prompt engineering allows efficient and effective interaction with the AI.

How should we use AI in the classroom?

The AI revolution is not limited to a single chatbot; it is happening everywhere, though often unnoticed. Artificial intelligence powers vehicle navigation systems, smart devices in homes and personalizes social media and music apps. It changes how we interact with online stores, play video games and shapes financial institutions, supply chains, restaurants, city planning and product development. Some educators are excited about the possibilities, while others are skeptical or fearful. Questions remain, such as how to distinguish between cheating and using AI, what happens to students' voices, information literacy and what education's future is.

People can fall into two common traps regarding AI and education. The first is techno futurism, an uncritical acceptance of AI's ability to transform education entirely. Some predict that AI will eliminate essays and even replace teachers. This approach overlooks an essential aspect of education. Just because technology can replace something, it does not mean it should or will. The second trap is the "Ban it!" approach, which is driven by fear. This approach relies on constant surveillance to keep AI tools out of schools, which prevents students from learning how to use them wisely.

Instead, there is a third way. Revolutionize. AI is the catalyst for educational change that has been long knocking on our schoolhouse doors. As educators, we can change our view from seeing AI as the new and flashy to more as the different and better. AI can help all students reach a level of education that was previously inaccessible to them. Here are two ways educators can use AI to help students learn:

  1. AI can be a valuable tool to help tutor students. Students can interact with AI by asking open-ended questions, receiving various responses, and then deciding how to proceed. AI can provide possible solutions, relevant facts, statistics, and alternative viewpoints. AI can help students think more deeply about a topic and refine their ideas. The assistance with the student acquiring knowledge on a particular topic can be conducted with help from AI, all without the teacher needing to be present.
  2. AI can help students own their learning. Education has used assessment-adapting tools that have been accessible only to administrators. For example, the TSI test dynamically adjusts test questions based on a student's answers, right or wrong, allowing the assessor to place the student more accurately on the rubric when evaluating their academic level. AI distributed to all students could do this not only with assessments, but also with learning. AI can develop personalized individual learning plans, help students stay focused, track educational goals, and monitor student performance. This dynamic information can also be fed back to teachers to personalize further and tailor interventions for the student.

But what about the Cheating?

It is important to remember that plagiarism and cheating have always existed long before AI. Ghostwriters are nothing new to the world of academia. However, believing that AI will turn a large wealth of students into cheaters is shortsighted and even despondent. I will concede that students who cheat will always cheat, with or without AI. Moreover, if students cheat, it is the fault of the educator's pedagogy and not the student's morality.

  1. Students' primary reasons for cheating can fall under one, two, or all these categories:
    Time: Students were not given enough time by the educator to master the task sufficiently.
  2. Lack of Understanding: The educator has not scaffolded the lesson enough to allow the student to reach the rigor of the assignment independently.
  3. High Stakes: The assignment is unduly arranged, so the student cannot afford to fail.

At bottom, a student cheats because we, as educators, have placed more value on the grade than on learning. If we were to flip that dichotomy around, we would have much fewer cheaters than people who would otherwise not cheat. Ultimately, we must transform our educational model so that our education system is not measuring something that anybody could do with AI. Think about this, if anyone with a computer could complete our lessons, classes, and diplomas – then how much is it really worth?

So what does AI mean for the future of education?

Ultimately, educators need to change the way we approach teaching and learning. There must be a transformation in our lesson delivery and assessment strategies. Grades should reflect mastery of student knowledge, not their compliance with teacher, class, or school expectations. Project-based learning should be a hallmark in all our content areas. Furthermore, teachers must transform themselves from purveyors of knowledge into facilitators of learning.

In a world of AI, students will need to develop soft skills that machines lack, such as collaboration and empathy. Students will need to become divergent thinkers, think philosophically, and slow down to become critical curators of information. Teachers must motivate students to learn, build an intrinsic thirst for knowledge, and help students build human connections. These are things AI cannot do in classrooms.

We can avoid falling into the traps of techno futurism and Ban it! by asking ourselves how to use AI wisely and think critically about it as a tool. As a teacher, you are an innovator and experimenter who designs new learning opportunities. While technology may become obsolete, one thing remains constant: teachers always change the world. Artificial intelligence will not change that.


  • David Barnes is an Advanced Placement US Politics and Government teacher in the Leander Independent School District. He is also the Site Coordinator for the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which helps first generation college students to achieve their dreams. David has helped mentor over 600 students into becoming college, career, and military ready.


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