Artificial Intelligence in K-12 Education: Is it Good or Bad for schools and students?

‍Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become the new buzz word. Companies are racing to jump on the band wagon to become developers or users of the technology, and the field of education is no exception. By using data analytics, machine learning, and natural language processing, AI has brought a change in basic assumptions in how learning is delivered and received. Upon its introduction, K-12 schools were quick to ban ChatGPT and other AI integrated platforms. In January 2023 New York Public Schools quickly banned the use of AI chatbots that could write essays and respond to prompts. A 2023 report by The Guardian stated that the district expressed concerns about the negative impact on student learning and the safety of accuracy of information students use. USA Today reported that the Los Angeles Unified School district blocked access to ChatGPT and the OpenAI website last December to control “academic dishonesty…”   

What is AI:

AI refers to machines or software that can mimic human intelligence. These systems are capable of learning from experience, adjusting to new inputs, and performing tasks that usually require human intelligence. In the context of education, AI can perform tasks like grading assignments, personalizing learning, and even detecting instances of cheating. However, AI does have its challenges. While this technology has the potential to revolutionize education, it also carries risks and ethical dilemmas.

The Good:

AI’s benefits to the education sector are numerous. For instance, it can personalize learning, adapt to each student’s pace, and supply instant feedback. This personalized approach can help students who struggle with traditional teaching methods, making learning more inclusive. AI can also save teachers time by automating tasks like grading, providing them with more time to focus on other classroom duties.

The Bad:

The negativity associated with AI is a concern for increased cheating by students who may use the technology to complete assignments that they should be doing themselves. A survey conducted by EdWeek Research Center from March 29- April 11, 2023 found that of 863 district teachers, principals and leaders polled, only 20% believe AI platforms will have a positive or very positive effect on K-12 teaching and learning over the next five years.

Data privacy is another issue that educators are worried about with the use of this technology. Educators fear how the vast amount of AI systems data collected will be used and who will have access to it.

Furthermore, AI could widen the digital divide, with students in underprivileged areas missing out on AI-powered education due to lack of resources. Lastly, many experts question whether AI can ever replace the human touch that teachers provide l empathy, understanding and motivation.  

Expert Opinions on the Use of AI in Schools:

Expert opinions on the use of AI in schools are mixed. Some experts see AI as a game changer that can personalize learning and improve educational outcomes. The belief is that AI can help teachers manage their workload, provide students with instant feedback, and make learning more engaging and interactive.

The Harvard Crimson reported on educational experts’ views of AI in schools during a webinar held in September of this year. During the discussion, panelist Dora Demszky, an assistant professor in education data science at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, said, “Human teachers are pivotal to so many aspects of learning like motivation, like role modeling, et cetera. That’s not something that AI could ever replace.” She also expressed concerns that the technology may not be suitable for minority students or those with disabilities, because it lacks the ability to consider their perspectives. 

Panelist Houman D. Harouni, a Harvard Graduate School of Education lecturer, focused on the positive aspects of the technology. He believes generative AI holds promise for teaching students how to experiment with a powerful learning tool. He said, “I think what’s happening right now is that something that we might have known in education for a long time, and have never really been able to face, is finally staring at us. We have been focusing way too much on student learning and student outcome,” Harouni said. “Maybe the real criteria is not learning. It’s not even work and performance. Maybe it is agency.”

 Schools slowly moving towards integration:

Despite the challenges and concerns about AI use in education, some schools across the nation are slowly warming up to its benefits. Los Angeles Unified School District originally blocked student access to ChatGPT and the OpenA1 website last year in order to further assess its usefulness in education. Since then, the district has introduced an AI chatbot named “Ed” for the 2023-24 school year to function as a student advisor to inform parents about student grades, attendance, and test results. School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho also announced that the district is working on making the chatbot be the main interface for individual acceleration plans for students with disabilities. The Los Angeles Times (Aug 2023) reported that goal is to introduce Ed into the curriculum in December. In that report, Carvalho said, “Imagine the power of artificial intelligence and comprehensive [assessment] data working together to personalize an action plan for the benefit of our teachers, our students, our parents.”

New York City Schools have also done an about face on the technology. After originally banning ChatGPT, the New York Department of Education is now embracing the technology, calling it an essential part of student learning for future careers. During a meeting with New York City Council to address concerns about the initiative, Melanie Mac, director of the Office of Student Pathways for New York City Schools said, “To pursue this mission, New York City public schools is aspiring to be a global leader in embracing AI, and expanding existing programs that build computer science and digital fluency skills as essential concepts layered across our core curricula and subject areas.”

Future Prospects: AI in Education:

Looking ahead, AI is set to play a large role in education. With advancements in AI technology, educators can expect more personalized and adaptive learning, more efficient administrative processes, and more data-driven decision making in education. However, as AI becomes further integrated into education, the challenges will also grow. Schools will need to navigate issues like AI-assisted cheating, data privacy, and the digital divide. They will also need to grapple with any ethical repercussions that may arise.

Despite these challenges, the future of AI in education looks promising. With careful regulation, collaboration among stakeholders, and a commitment to ethical use, AI can help create a more inclusive, efficient, and effective education system.