Musings about Artificial Intelligence in Education

Although we are no longer grappling with test kits and quarantine, educators and schools continue to face an endless barrage of new challenges. In the last 12 months, artificial intelligence, and in particular chatbots such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, has taken the education world by storm.

Chatbots, for the unacquainted, are trained from big data inputs to perform tasks like answering questions, engaging in conversation, writing essays and creating summaries. Even more remarkable is that every suggestion the chatbot produces is unique, even when given the same prompt.  With no cost to use and their ease of accessibility, chatbots – notably ChatGPT – have quickly become a staple for many students. Not only can they be used to look up answers and complete assignments, but they also have the functionality to create summaries, essay outlines and more. As learning has become increasingly digital, utilising chatbots in the classroom or for assignments is often straightforward.

Within weeks of ChatGPT’s launch, schools across the globe began to prohibit its use. The idea of an AI tool with the ability to answer questions and produce articulate essays on almost any topic from quantum physics to the Homer’s Illiad was disconcerting to educators. It is not surprising that educational institutions swiftly reacted with a ban. More recently, though, schools have started to re-assess their approach. Instead of turning their back to this new technology, teachers are looking at ways to integrate generative AI in the classroom. Learning by rote is old-fashioned pedagogy and a different approach is now needed. AI has the potential to revolutionise education, transforming it from a system focused on memorising facts into one that helps students build their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Equipping students with these skills is vital to prepare them for jobs of the future.

As AI technology develops, it is becoming increasingly straightforward for teachers to deploy AI tools in their classrooms and to create personalised learning experiences. I am hoping that they will embrace AI in their classrooms because it is just another example of how digital innovation can transform education positively. Whilst the limelight has been on ChatGPT, there are thousands of AI products on the market that could greatly enhance a student’s learning. Existing technologies such as Duolingo, Khan Academy and PowerSchool continue to be extremely useful and generative applications, like Llama 2 or BARD, are just two examples of the many products being developed every week.

As methodology in education continues to evolve, learning to use AI tools in a meaningful and productive way can help to continue shaping the learning journey in our changing world. In a time where information can be found at the click of a button, schools play the role not just of informing, but also of curating education, and making it as effective as possible for students to be equipped for their futures. Information that was once dispensed through textbooks in the classroom is now available everywhere: on internet search engines, and now in chatbots. I trust that we will see our schools showing students not only how to find it, but what information to trust and what not to, and how to tell the difference. Being at the forefront of pivotal changes such as this is the hallmark of a British education.

Join the conversation about artificial intelligence in schools at BESSA 2023’s speaker programme with author and BESSA founder, Stephanie Cheah.