13 Investigates: Some educators embrace Artificial Intelligence

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It’s easy to see artificial intelligence, or AI, as the enemy, as a product for cheating and a shortcut to get the job done.

Some educators say schools should view it as an opportunity. 

AI is everywhere. It’s been a part of our everyday life for a long time: it’s an app for our phones, used in navigation systems, social media, and even Siri on the iPhone is AI.

Now, educators are at a crossroads on how to bring AI into their curriculum.

AI is featured as an interactive exhibit at Schenectady’s MiSci museum. You can learn how the human brain goes through a learning process and how different that is from trying to teach a machine to think.

“This exhibit, from an elementary school student to students in college, can come and learn something and learn something here,” Thenkurussi ‘Kesh’ Kesavadas said, a professor at the University at Albany.

Professor Kesh has been studying AI since the 1990s. He’s the Vice President for Research and Economic Development for the university.

“I would say AI has been there for a few decades now.”

It’s growing at a rapid pace.

A new survey from UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, found less than 10% of schools and universities have formal guidance on AI. The agency reports education systems are working to catch up with the new technology.

Many educators, from elementary to college, have AI on their radar after ChatGPT launched last year. It’s a chatbot that can answer questions and write articles, social media posts and emails. 

Now, educators face the question: What to do with AI in schools?

“Students use Google from every age. Students use PowerPoint even when they’re in first grade. We already use technology. Now, the schools should be thinking about giving students the fundamentals of AI, teach them how AI can be used in making more efficient ways of generating knowledge they don’t understand,” Professor Kesh said.

Professor Kesh mentions that schools should assume many students already use technology to help them with their assignments, but it’s never a substitute for hands-on experience.

There’s a way to use the two together.

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Many schools learned the importance of hands-on experience during the pandemic – including Matt Sloane, the principal for Middleburgh Jr./Sr. High School. 

“For a long time, education has been content-driven. The professionals study a major in college; they become teachers, and they share that information with students. Content is now available at your fingertips. So, how do we adjust to that methodology? It comes into a skill-based learning environment,” Sloane said.

Sloane had this discussion with the teachers.

Sloane gave us an example of how ChatGPT can be helpful if a teacher is creating a lesson plan. A teacher can use AI to help them write one. It gives teachers a deeper understanding of AI and how students could use it.

One of the biggest concerns of AI in schools is cheating. Sloane said it’s easier than one might think to work around that.

“Cheating has been happening since the beginning of time. Since the first person discovered how to make a wheel, someone else is making a wheel from their model. With ChatGPT in particular, teachers have to get better at questioning. If they are asking more multi-step questions, if they are asking questions that are more thinking process involved, you’ll be able to quickly know if a student typed that into an AI program.”

Like Sloane, some educators said they are trying to get ahead and embrace AI for student assignments.

“What I decided to do was see what ChatGPT was about,” Peter Gabak said.

Gabak is an adjunct professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, RIT. He also works for MiSci as their Vice President for Institutional Advancement.

“I said to my students, If you use ChatGPT on your mid-terms and your finals, which are written-style essay exams, I’ll give you five extra points on your final grade. That was a huge motivator. Then I could control what was happening,” Gabak said. “I want to see the process. I just don’t want to see the finished product.”

The bottom line from all three educators: don’t fear AI; they say use it carefully and wisely.

“Not only is it a tool to help improve our lives, our writing, our ability to connect with information on a macro scale, it’s early adoption of technology,” Gabak said.