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How AI is reimagining education: Evaluating potential benefits and risks

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Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Generative artificial intelligence has emerged as a powerful and transformative tool with the potential to revolutionize numerous industries despite still being in its early stages of development. In particular, AI’s integration into the classroom has garnered significant attention and opened up new opportunities for education professionals to reimagine traditional teaching methods.

It will undoubtedly present new opportunities and challenges as educators and lawmakers determine how to navigate AI's potential benefits, risks and other concerns.

Those optimistic about the innovative adoption of AI believe benefits such as personalized learning; "one-on-one," bot-powered tutoring; adaptive lesson plans; and automated grading tools far outweigh the possible downsides.

Meanwhile, skeptics are urging cautious and thoughtful integration over data privacy, ethics, overreliance, and job-loss concerns as government officials consider sweeping regulations on the AI industry.

Benefits of AI in education:

One of the most revolutionary advantages of generative AI is its remarkable ability to personalize a student's learning experience. For instance, AI could create tailored lesson plans for students based on their learning objectives and areas of difficulty. These hyper-individualized education pathways adapt automatically and instantly, adjusting to an individual's speed and matching their preferred learning style by incorporating various multimedia elements like text, audio, video, and interactive components.

While traditional lesson plans limit teachers with rigid curricula that cannot suit every individual's needs, in contrast, AI could generate an adaptive lesson based on students' prior assessments and test scores. These highly customized learning pathways could not only efficiently improve students' knowledge and performance, but AI also has the potential to make adjustments that boost their engagement and interest in the material.

For example, Prof Jim, a software company that converts written lessons into animated, AI-generated videos, seeks to create more engaging content for students. Prof Jim aims to partner with textbook companies to quickly generate video versions of existing content.

"We want to make it much easier to make these teaching videos," Deepak Sekar, Prof Jim co-founder and CEO, told EdSurge. "Lots of surveys out there show that the latest generation prefer to learn through video, through YouTube and TikTok."

In the not-so-distant future, generative AI could provide students with their own "one-on-one" bot tutor that offers individualized guidance. These AI-powered tutors could engage students in conversational dialogue, leading them through lesson plans and asking thoughtful questions to gain a deeper understanding of their learning objectives and areas of difficulty.

Additionally, AI's incredible ability to analyze vast amounts of data and quickly identify patterns allows students to receive personalized, detailed feedback and targeted explanations.

Garrett Smiley, founder and CEO of Sora Schools, a virtual private middle and high school dedicated to providing students with a "future-focused education," told TheBlaze, "It is helpful to think of AI as another evolution of the internet. With Google, YouTube, Khan Academy, Coursera, Duolingo, and similar websites, any sufficiently motivated learner could teach themselves anything."

"If we believe education should create more capable adults who can contribute to our collective flourishing, we must reject the impulse of doing what we've always done but with more proctoring," he continued. "The traditional system puts kids through a lot of stress and unhappiness for an increasingly irrelevant skill set. Is it really still worth it? Instead, we should teach students how to use these AI tools to understand the world more deeply and create more epic projects."

The near-endless possibilities of AI's integration into the classroom could save valuable time for educational professionals, allowing them to focus more on the needs of their students.

"With the tools being released in the coming months, AI will soon be able to analyze large data sets with visualizations, edit videos, create award-winning images and infographics, write computer programs, compose emails on your behalf, and so much more," Smiley stated.

Addressing concerns and risks:

In contrast, technology as powerful as AI, with its potential to reshape entire industries, will inevitably bring forth a range of concerns that must be addressed.

One of the most significant challenges will be safeguarding students' data as their interactions with generative AI increase. These systems will collect and store vast amounts of data and personal information over extended periods of time, demanding the implementation of robust security protocols that can prevent breaches and unauthorized access.

TeachAI, a new AI resource for educators, was formed by the World Economic Forum, Code.org, Educational Testing Service, ISTE Standards, and Khan Academy. It aims to provide "a global framework," policy recommendations, and facilitate conversations with stakeholders.

According to Tech & Learning, several companies and organizations, including Amazon, Cisco, Microsoft, and "equity-focused groups" Black in AI and National Center for Women & Information Technology, will provide input to TeachAI.

Critics have expressed concern that students will become reliant on AI systems or use the technology to cheat, stunting potential creativity and critical thinking skills.

Additionally, many believe that integrating advanced AI systems into the workforce will inevitably lead to massive job losses as these automated systems replace humans.

Experts anticipate that AI's integration into the education sector may impact employment, as the technology replaces administrative, repetitive tasks. This transition is expected to free up time for teachers to focus on personalized instruction and student support. To maximize the benefits of AI's integration into the classroom, educators will need to be trained on how best to leverage these new automated tools to their advantage.

AI-powered teaching tools currently aim to support teachers, not replace them entirely. To provide students with quality instruction and harness the benefits of AI, education professionals will need to strike the proper balance between automated instruction and human interaction.

A recent Spring 2023 survey by Clever, a digital learning platform, asked over 1,500 teachers and administrators their thoughts on AI. While 85% of teachers responded that they "believe AI will have a significant impact on teaching," nearly half stated that they are concerned the new technology will make their jobs more difficult.

"AI is changing the way we approach education, and this shift is happening faster than most people realize," stated Trish Sparks, CEO of Clever. "As a former teacher, I see the potential to streamline administrative work for educators so they can invest in what's most impactful – learning in the classroom."

Clever emphasized the importance of ensuring teaching institutions provide educators with adequate training to keep up with the evolving technology.

Teachers work on average 50 hours per week, with only 49% of that time involving direct interaction with students, according to a 2020 survey conducted by McKinsey & Company. The survey estimated that approximately 20-40% of hours are spent on tasks that could be automated with AI systems.

Despite concerns that automated technology could make humans redundant in the workplace, a McKinsey Global Institute 2018 report predicted a 5-24% growth for teacher roles in the U.S. from 2016 to 2030.

"Moreover, our research suggests that, rather than replacing teachers, existing and emerging technologies will help them do their jobs better and more efficiently," the report stated.

Real-world applications:

Khan Academy, a California-based online learning nonprofit, recently launched its AI-powered tutoring bot called Khanmigo. The new automated teaching aid is currently being tested by Khan Lab School in Palo Alto, California, and New Jersey's largest school district, Newark Public Schools.

The nonprofit received over $10 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance the development of its AI-powered innovations.

The "one-on-one" tutoring bot was designed to help students solve problems without providing a direct answer.

Tito Rodriguez, a Newark Public Schools system teacher, told the New York Times that Khanmigo has been a valuable "co-teacher" that has allowed students to get answers to their questions faster.

"Now they don't have to wait for Mr. Rodriguez," he explained. "They can ask Khanmigo."

However, not all the bot's reviews have been positive. Alan Usherenko, the district's special assistant for schools, told the Times that educators are concerned that Khanmigo is taking "too much of the thinking work" away from children.

"We want them to know how to tackle the problem themselves, to use their critical thinking skills," Usherenko stated.

"It's not where I want it yet," he added. "But when it can find students' misconceptions, that will be a game changer."

The current piloting phase will allow Khan Academy to make any necessary adjustments to the experimental AI system before bringing additional districts on board.

Sal Khan, the founder and CEO of Khan Academy, believes generative AI will allow every student to have "a world-class personal tutor."

Khan gave a Ted Talk this year, "How AI could save (not destroy) education," during which he explained that Khanmigo is already a powerful tutor for students and could soon be used as a time-saving teaching assistant bot for educators. He described its current and near-future projected functions as "just the tip of the iceberg."

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