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Understanding AI

What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a term that can mean different things that fall into three general categories: Reactive, Predictive, or Generative. AI can understand language and patterns, or carry out complex tasks. AI could refer to mobile phone FaceID or voice assistants (reactive), algorithms that create preferred music or video lists (predictive), or even create new content (generative). AI allows machines to learn, adapt, and perform tasks like humans, often more quickly and accurately. It’s a rapidly evolving technology already a part of our everyday lives.

Why all the AI Fuss?

New teaching tools based on artificial intelligence (AI) are being offered, but it’s important to be aware that these tools are still under development.  Like with other new technologies in education, some companies are making promises that are too good to be true.  It’s important to focus on using these tools in a way that helps teachers, not replaces them.  The best teaching combines new technology with the experience of a great teacher.

Keep in mind that AI is not a magic solution: new technology shouldn’t be seen as a quick fix for complex problems in education.  Focus on teachers: the best educational technology should help teachers do their jobs better, not replace them.

To learn more, check out the Gartner “Hype Cycle” of new technologies.  GenAI is already described as transformative, effective, easy to use, and personalized, which minimizes the difficulty and complexity of the use of new technologies in education.  We are promised a solution for challenges with a view of technology as the only solution and a ‘quick fix’ to complex problems that often fail to deliver on that promise.

What is Generative Artificial Intelligence (genAI)?

GenAI has rapidly become very common, such as ChatGPT, Microsoft Copilot, Google Gemini, Claude, Perplexity, etc.  It can create content and explain topics, acting as a digital assistant.  Some of the content on this website was created with the help of genAI.

How Does AI Learn?

Much like how a person becomes skilled at playing an instrument or excels in a game, it is all about practice. AI learns from information, also known as data, analyzing and studying human and machine-generated data and languages. 

Responsible Use of AI

While AI is powerful, it’s not infallible. It can make mistakes, sometimes significant ones. Educating others about how AI works and encouraging responsible use while protecting privacy is important. Remember, AI isn’t all-knowing, but responsible handling can benefit us in remarkable ways. Using AI yourself is an important first step. Have AI create or analyze text, generate questions, create new media or even lesson plans. Learn the benefits and challenges firsthand so you can share responsibly with others.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. AI is integrated into our digital lives already, outright bans are impossible.
  2. AI use is integral to students’ futures and will be common in the workplace.  Preparing students for responsible use of AI is now integral to the education system.
  1. As with other digital tools and websites, AI tools need to be reviewed for appropriate use. Some may be age-restrictive (such as ChatGPT) and others may compromise student safety and privacy.
  2. All use of AI should meet school policy requirements and be of specific, tested, value for students to use.
  1. Besides raising awareness of academic integrity and responsible use of AI, the single most important we can do is change what and how we assess student learning.  If an AI can complete student work, then we are assigning the wrong activities and asking the wrong questions.
  2. Consider designing assessments that focus on critical thinking and problem-solving.  Have students create things that demonstrate their learning.  Have students record how and why they created their project and how they used AI to support that creation.
  1. AI will help teachers immensely by generating lesson plans, learning activities, and formative assessment questions.  AI can also automate routines like offering constructive feedback.
  2. AI will enable educators to focus more on human traits, skills, and abilities rather than knowledge acquisition and recall.  Teachers will be able to design activities that foster higher-order thinking, problem-solving skills, creativity, and application of student learning.
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