It’s that time of year again—back to school, full of excitement for new beginnings. But along with this anticipation comes a hot debate: the role of AI in the classroom.
AI could be the next big thing in higher education, offering personalized learning experiences and automated grading. However, not everyone is on board. The conversation around AI in education is split between enthusiasm and caution. Some universities eagerly incorporate AI into courses and programs to enhance learning, while others remain hesitant.
AI In Education: Worth It?
In an opinion piece, Douglas Hofstadter, a professor at Indiana University, expresses skepticism, stating that asking AI to write on behalf of a human is like inviting machines to walk all over you.
A survey of 386 Harvard faculty members reveals that nearly half believe AI will negatively impact higher education, raising concerns about cheating, hindering learning, and the reliability of AI-generated information.
While there are uncertainties, Quizlet’s recent State of AI in Education Report provides some insights. Two-thirds of students believe AI helps them study faster and more efficiently, with 73% stating it aids in better understanding the material.
Students using AI for three or more hours per night view it as a tool to enhance learning rather than a shortcut. Almost half of students feel AI has a positive impact on their learning experience.
Teachers, on the other hand, are more optimistic, with 49% expressing excitement about AI in education. Half of the surveyed teachers believe AI has positively impacted their workload, using it for research, lesson planning, and classroom material preparation.
Student interviews conducted by The Conversation support these findings. Some students appreciate AI for sharpening critical thinking skills, while others see it as a new-age Google for interactive learning.
Despite the excitement, students acknowledge AI’s limitations, with one calling its responses “quite abysmal.” The mixed opinions highlight that AI in education is still new, and early adoption attracts both believers and skeptics. As of September 2023, there are no state or federal regulations on AI in education, giving schools the freedom to embrace or reject it as they see fit.
Professor’s Perspective with AI in the Classroom
Meet Liz Fontanella, a faculty member and professor at Nashua Community College, who has warmly welcomed AI into her classroom.
Fontanella, teaching courses in the Arts, Humanities, Communication and Design Department, as well as the Social, Educational, and Behavioral Sciences Department, sees AI as a powerful addition. Her goal is to share its potential with students and equip them with the skills to understand, question, and collaborate with AI.
In her classes, Fontanella emphasizes the importance of critical thinking skills needed to make effective use of AI. She focuses on prompt engineering, the process, accuracy, and reliable sources of materials. AI becomes an integral part of the classroom experience, with Fontanella stressing the role of professors in ensuring its use is grounded in critical thinking.
Beyond experimenting with prompts and outputs, Fontanella plans discussions and exercises in her “Mass Media and Politics” class that delve into AI’s role in politics. Political persuasion and the potential for fraud through AI will be central topics, allowing students to critically analyze these aspects as they approach the next presidential election.
Addressing concerns about cheating, Fontanella draws a parallel to the adoption of calculators in classrooms. She acknowledges the worries but chooses to focus on the benefits, highlighting how calculators, once seen as potential hindrances, have become valuable tools.
Looking ahead, the future of AI in education remains in the exploration phase. Early research suggests that AI can empower students inside and outside the classroom. As a student, the potential of AI to foster creativity, aid research, and provide access to knowledge without hefty tuition fees is evident. The question now is whether AI will deliver on these promises. As educators and students navigate the opportunities and challenges of AI, anticipation for regulations to provide guidance continues to grow.