Opening pandora’s box: does AI have a place in the classroom?

“AI is a tool. The choice about how it gets deployed is ours.” – Oren Etzioni (former technical director of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence)

The discussions surrounding the place of AI in schools are ever-increasing and with the rapid pace of technological advances, it feels like an ever important discussion to be had. As we stand at the precipice of a technological revolution we find ourselves asking the question: does AI have a place in the classroom?

Embracing the new

For some the advances that have been made with AI in the past couple of years is one of the most exciting in our lifetime, and for others it’s the most terrifying. I tend to sit somewhere in between when it comes to the wider implications of AI.

I’ve probably read one too many dystopian novels to fully trust Chat GPT! But, when it comes to education and use in the classroom I say we should be embracing language models and lesson planning tools.

AI is only as good as the people behind it

The success of AI in any landscape, not just an educational one, is firmly dependent on  the human input. From hardworking programmers to end-users from all walks of life, getting the most out of AI is a skill.

Some will argue that being able to create a lesson plan in less than 2 minutes using an AI tool takes the skill away from teachers but I argue it’s just a new skill for educators to learn.

Seasoned teachers will know exactly what they’re looking for in a high quality resource or plan and are probably better equipped for devising prompts for something like Chat GPT than someone who is brand new to the classroom.

We as educators know what a good lesson plan or model answer looks like, so why shouldn’t we use AI tools to give us a starting point and save us valuable time?

Imagine the possibilities

Once we begin to imagine the possibilities AI tools hold for teachers and schools we can’t help but imagine a better future.

Picture an AI tool which takes away the burden of all of your admin tasks, and helps you quickly and effectively create resources. Not only is it going to massively reduce workload for staff but it’s going to give staff the gift of time.

That’s time they can spend on the most crucial parts of their job, and their days creating an inspiring environment for their pupils. It might be the difference between getting home at a decent time in the week and being exhausted and ready to drop by Friday.

Not only that; assessments could be free from the unconscious subjectivity that’s plagued English teachers for decades! AI may have the potential to provide standardised marking which offers an objective take on a mark scheme (though to understand the nuance of great writing would take some work!). That’s not to say teachers should never mark, but imagine the time it would save on all of those end of unit assessments and exams.

For students, AI tools could actively bridge the gaps in educational access, offering additional support to those who need it the most. We could see ourselves in a future where technology helps to equalise opportunities for pupils regardless of their socio-economic background.

AI won’t stop good teaching

We know good teaching isn’t powerpoints, or worksheets or AI generated lesson plans. AI cannot replicate human presence in the classroom; the rapport between a teacher and their class is a precious thing!

It can’t replicate the off-plan discussions about that shocking twist in a book and the excellent Q&A session that follows it.

It can’t be reactive to the needs of 30 pupils all at once.

But what it can offer is support in the form of a starting point and time saved and we should see it as a tool to complement and help enable good teaching, not replace it.

Final thoughts

Right this very second, we have no real idea where AI may take us in a year, five years or even where we might be in a decade’s time when it comes to education.

Will we be in a sci-fi-esque future where robots are teaching our children? Probably not. (I’m still waiting on the hover-cars we were told were coming with the turn of the millennium.)

What we will see is more and more use of technology and specifically AI in the classroom. AI could never take the place of a teacher, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its place in the classroom.

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