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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

AI can be a teaching and learning tool -- or a crutch

Bots powered by artificial intelligence are getting smarter and smarter. Will people get dumb and dumber?

A 1963 episode of The Jetsons envisioned robot teachers: Elroy was taught by Ms. Brainmocker.

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute and Harvard's Jal Mehta talk about what will change in the AI era. Will AI prove to be a useful tool -- or a crutch?

Bots can crank out a mediocre five-paragraph essay instantly, they note. Writing instruction will have to adapt.

"Identifying and sharpening a thesis should be a conversation with peers or a teacher," says Hess. "The supporting of claims should involve offering ideas, getting feedback, revision, and then more feedback. A conclusion should be presented orally, with attention to coherence and polish. Editing should be done with a pen in hand, over a printout, while students discuss sentence flow and word choice."

It’s a lot like the calculator. The calculator is a terrific device for allowing high schoolers in trigonometry or calculus to spend less time on familiar calculations and more mastering new knowledge and concepts. But that presumes that students have already mastered computation. If K-5 teachers just allow students to solve problems by punching the numbers into a calculator, then high schoolers wind up using their devices as a crutch — not a tool. And that means they never really understand what they’re doing.

"I agree no calculators for beginning math students and no ChatGPT as you are first learning to write," says Mehta. But he sees a deeper problem. What if AI weakens human's thinking skills?

"Before GPS, it took longer to figure out how to get to places the first time," he says. Drivers got lost more. Now, it's lot easier to find places the first time. "But, at least if you are like me, you can go places many times and still not really know how to get there. When your brain doesn’t have to do the work itself, it doesn’t make the needed connections and thus it doesn’t develop, perhaps even atrophies."

He worries about a GPS-like future for writing. "AI is the one learning, and you are just sitting in the passenger’s seat."

AI can provide customized tutoring for students, free teachers from routine tasks, reduce administrators' paperwork and even help parents navigate the school system, writes John Bailey, also an AEI fellow, on Education Next.

Bailey offers examples of prompts teachers might use to get AI to generate quizzes and examples.

You are a quiz creator of highly diagnostic quizzes. You will make good low-stakes tests and diagnostics. You will then ask me two questions. First, (1) What, specifically, should the quiz test? Second, (2) For which audience is the quiz? Once you have my answers, you will construct several multiple-choice questions to quiz the audience on that topic. The questions should be highly relevant and go beyond just facts. Multiple choice questions should include plausible, competitive alternate responses and should not include an “all of the above” option. At the end of the quiz, you will provide an answer key and explain the right answer.
I would like you to act as an example generator for students. When confronted with new and complex concepts, adding many and varied examples helps students better understand those concepts. I would like you to ask what concept I would like examples of and what level of students I am teaching. You will look up the concept and then provide me with four different and varied accurate examples of the concept in action.

AI can't replace humans, says the Department of Education in a 2023 report. However, technology can enable teachers to spend more time on things “that only a human can do,” says Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, a Cloud-based content-management company.

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