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AI in the classroom

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Four things an educational psychologist wants you to know about AI in the classroom …
Tools like ChatGPT have introduced challenges into the classroom for both teachers and students, but there are also opportunities, according to UW–Madison’s David Williamson Shaffer, a professor in the School of education, which studies the intersection of technology and teaching.

As a former classroom teacher, parent, and someone who studies technology and learning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Education, I’d like to share a few suggestions—and some reassurances—about what to expect from AI in the near future.

1. It’s not as hard as you think to outsmart the AI.

Yes, AI can produce acceptable, seemingly familiar written content on many topics, but it also has clear limitations. If you know what these limitations are, you can create tasks where the AI ​​will either not be able to perform well or not at all.

That’s because the new generation of big language models like ChatGPT don’t really understand what they’re saying. They simply use whatever they can find on the internet to make their best guess as to which words are most likely to appear as an answer to your question – whether the words are correct or not.

Big language models lack critical thinking skills, “real world” context, and personal experience.

So if teachers give fewer assignments that focus on things AI can do—like repeating definitions or summarizing well-known texts—and more assignments that require things AI can’t do—like critical thinking, reflecting on a personal story or experience, or writing about things that aren’t well known—students will need to think for themselves and reserve AI for things like summarizing information or correcting bad prose.

2. We can use AI for good—in the world and in classrooms.

Shifting lessons away from what AI can do has an added benefit: the lessons themselves can become more thoughtful and engaging.

Recently, a professor of world religions at Northern Michigan University realized that ChatGPT could write acceptable essays on the morality of burqa bans. Instead of banning ChatGPT or having students write about something else, the professor asked students to think critically about how the chatbot answers questions about religion and ethics.

In other words, the current generation of AI tools allows students to do less busy work and focus more on the things that will matter in the world that AI is shaping. Large language models can provide something to critique, solving the problem of looking at a blank page. AI can help students answer questions that the teacher doesn’t have time to answer (although it’s best to double-check the answer!). It can help sharpen students’ prose. It can help them find resources.

Innovators around the world have already harnessed artificial intelligence to do great things. One group, AI for Good, used the latest technology to predict missile attacks on Ukrainian homes and create self-determination poems for Afghan women in Pashto, Farsi and Uzbek. Teen entrepreneur Christine Zhao uses ChatGPT in an app she created to help people with alexithymia (people who can’t connect with their own emotions) develop emotional awareness and build interpersonal relationships.

3. It is actually important that students learn to use AI well.

American philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler said, “Thinking deeply is not just finding answers; it’s about asking the right questions.

It turns out that getting a large language model like ChatGPT to say something sensible about a complex topic is actually quite difficult. The new field of “rapid engineering” pays people six-figure salaries to create queries that will get good answers from AI tools.

I’m not suggesting that we develop entire classes on how to get useful output from ChatGPT. In the early days of the Internet, there was concern that people needed to learn how to “write good search queries.” This didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem.

But learning how to work with AI in ways that are efficient and ethical will be important life skills for decades to come.

As educators (and parents and students), we need to ask ourselves: What are professionals—and other people in the “real world”—doing with the latest AI tools? Are they using the tools productively and responsibly? And what do we, as educators, need to empower students to use AI to solve the complex social, economic, scientific, moral, and environmental problems they will face in the coming decades?

4. Try it before you decide

During my time as a teacher, educational researcher, and professor, there were other innovations that people mistakenly thought would turn students into mindless zombies.

When I started teaching, my peers said that students needed to quickly learn to do arithmetic because they “won’t always have a calculator in their pocket” or they might have to “make change for a customer if the cash register doesn’t work.” “

Well, it turns out we all have calculators on our cell phones now, nobody uses cash anymore, and if the register goes offline, they close up shop.

The right question is not, “How can we stop these new tools from ruining children’s education?” Rather, we should be asking, “How can we use these new tools to improve education?

Ultimately, thoughtful educators and parents will figure out the best ways to do this. But you can’t use a technology for good if you don’t know how it works.

So if you haven’t played with ChatGPT, or Bing, or Perplexity, or Bard, or LLaMa, or any of the growing chorus of strangely named AI tools, try one and see what you can do with it.

Try asking him to write a lesson plan. You may be pleasantly surprised by both how useful it can be and the limitations of what it produces. Try giving the AI ​​one of your tasks and see what it comes back with. What grade would you give the AI’s answer – and how much work would you have to help it get an A?

After all, to use AI well in the classroom, we need to start by using it poorly outside the classroom.

As a profession, we have done this with other innovations. Now it’s time to do it again with the latest new technology.
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