At an AI Safety Summit in November 2023, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk predicted that AI will eventually mean that no-one has to work, as Artificial Intelligence will be able to do everything that humans currently do1. Whilst we do not see the role of teachers being replaced any time in the foreseeable future, there is certainly a growing role for AI in education.
The reaction in the education sector to AI is by turns cautious and optimistic. Experts at the University of San Diego see a wide range of functions that could be carried out by AI, and believe that this technology will be able to enhance the learning experience for students, and enable teachers to spend higher quality teaching time with their pupils.
UNESCO released a report calling for urgent regulation, and here in Australia, the national AI taskforce has approved a national governance framework to be applied in schools from the start of the 2024 educational year2. Schools will allow, but govern, the use of ChatGPT, in a turnaround from the 2023 position of banning it in most state schools.
So what are the ways that AI will be used in the education sector, and how might it help students, teachers and administrators?
- Research – students have long used the internet to carry out research for homework and assignments, and AI will be the next step in this journey, with more sophisticated searching becoming possible. At Wesley College in Melbourne, an AI chatbot named Wesmigo3 is helping year 6 pupils to identify and refine a research question for an issues-focused project, and teaching them how to use AI constructively.
- Writing – perhaps the biggest concern about AI in schools has been that students will use generative AI to write essays, assignments and homework for them. The University of San Diego researchers believe that AI can actually help improve students’ writing, with language usage and grammar feedback. The Australian Government’s overturning of the ban on Chat GPT is a pragmatic one, based on creating a level playing field between private schools, where it is already allowed, and the public education sector.
- Personalisation – teachers are time-poor and in large classes, they cannot possibly tailor their lessons to individual students’ learning levels and styles. AI systems can pick up how each pupil learns, and adapt teaching materials to suit their strengths.
- Equity and access – for students with conditions such as visual impairment or dyslexia, AI could be used to give them greater access to ‘mainstream’ lessons, by, say, reading texts to them, enabling them to feel more engaged in the classroom.
- Outside the classroom, AI has a potential role in the administration of a school – helping with tasks such as scheduling and timetabling, monitoring the status of facilities such as power and water, and playing a role in the managing of student records, parent-teacher communication, transportation, IT and finances.
- Lesson planning – AI-based lesson planning can help teachers to maximise their time efficiency. AI can take in information about the curriculum, and individual students’ progress, to create lesson plans that cover the appropriate topics at the right time and in the right way for each pupil.
- Engagement – AI can be used to produce interactive games and learning materials, that create greater engagement and better learning outcomes from early learning right through to high school.
- Marking and grading – most teachers want to spend time teaching, not grading and marking work. AI can take on some of these tasks – not just talking about marking tests with an answer key (something that’s long been possible with OCR), but grading qualitative work like assignments and essays. AI could also capture the data about each student’s performance and trends, spotting issues or areas that need further focus. If some of these ‘outside of the classroom’ tasks were automated and taken out of teachers’ workloads, leaving more time and energy for teaching, it’s also possible that the profession could become more attractive to those who may not otherwise have considered it.
- Language learning – AI can assess a student’s understanding of grammar, language structure, and vocabulary, and provide ‘conversational’ based learning adjusted to each student’s level.
As the Australian Government has recognised, AI is here to stay – it’s part of our lives, and therefore has to be part of the way in which we deliver and administer education. If well understood, and governed, and put to effective use, it can be a positive that allows teachers to spend more of their time providing high quality teaching.