During the Covid lockdowns, a generation of children experienced education in a historically unprecedented way. Now, a new black swan has floated into view with the rapid proliferation of Artificial Intelligence and chatbots such as ChatGPT across all sectors and industries, including education.
“When we consider technology’s potential changes to our understanding of school, COVID opened the garage door and ChatGPT sent the school bus careening down the driveway with no brakes,” says Colin Northmore, Principal of Evolve Online School, a brand of ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider.
“Schools are resilient. They have mostly, until now, managed to avoid changing or assimilating disruptive technologies and rather tame them so that they do not fundamentally change students’ daily experience. iPads get turned into glorified textbooks, and coding becomes a marketing strategy. We tell children to use Google to look up the most basic facts, and it becomes the new encyclopedia,” he says.
In the past, when disruptive technology appeared on the scene, the first thing a school would do is to ban its use. Later, ways would then be found to include these technologies into the curriculum to use them in a way that causes the least disruption to business as usual, says Northmore.
“However, a different approach is to see instead these new technologies, and in particular now AI, for the opportunity they represent. Schools should find the potential and ways to take the learning in their classrooms to the next level, helping students ethically embrace new tech instead of having it do their work for them behind closed doors.
“AI can be a powerful tool for enhancing learning in school classrooms, providing personalised support and feedback, and creating engaging and interactive learning experiences when used in conjunction with traditional teaching methods rather than as a replacement for them.”
Northmore says it is incumbent on schools to identify teachers who are passionate about best practice and tech and who can investigate the potential for incorporating AI in the classroom. He says a few practical ways in which AI can be harnessed in the classroom include, for instance:
ESSAY WRITING: AI can help students with essay writing by providing prompts, feedback on structure and grammar, and even suggesting sources for research.
LANGUAGE LEARNING: AI can be asked to write a grammatically incorrect essay with spelling errors, which students can then use as a task for identifying mistakes and learning from them. AI can also assist in language learning by providing real-time translation and pronunciation guidance. For example, a teacher could use ChatGPT to help students practice their pronunciation of a foreign language.
INTERACTIVE LEARNING: A teacher could create a chatbot that asks students questions and provides feedback based on their responses. This could be used as a form of formative assessment to help students identify areas where they need more practice.
RESEARCH ASSISTANCE: AI can help students conduct research by suggesting sources, answering questions, and providing guidance on how to evaluate the credibility of sources.
“The integration of AI in the classroom presents benefits and drawbacks that should be considered carefully. On the one hand, AI can enhance the learning experience, help teachers save time on administrative tasks, and provide them with more data to inform their instructional decisions,” says Northmore.
“On the other hand, there are concerns about the reliability and bias of AI algorithms, as well as the potential for AI to replace human teachers and exacerbate existing inequalities in education. It is important to recognise therefore that AI should be used as a tool to support and enhance learning and studying, and not to change the way learning has happened in the past completely. Ultimately, the successful integration of AI in the classroom will depend on careful consideration of its potential benefits and drawbacks and ongoing evaluation and refinement of its implementation to ensure that it is serving the best interests of students and teachers alike.”