The Learning Accelerator Blog/AI’s Role in the Future of Innovation in Education

artificial intelligence innovation evolving delivery creating new opportunities

AI’s Role in the Future of Innovation in Education

by Nate Kellogg on March 31 2023

Technology has a knack for raising alarms in education: the advent of tools like the radio, calculators, television, and smartboards have all caused a stir. OpenAI’s artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, ChatGPT, has introduced us to the latest hyped technology, AI. While history warns us to be cautious and bearish about new technology in classrooms, conversations at the Dell Innovation Summit I recently attended had me wondering how this moment in edtech is different – and similar – from the past. If this is a “watershed moment,” as Dell’s Senior Director of Education Strategy Adam Garry said to kick off a panel on AI, then what does it mean for education innovation? Like many technologies before it, the AI revolution has the potential to impact K-12 education in profound and cautionary ways: as a solution, a capacity builder, and a new problem to solve.

AI as the Solution

If the pandemic has clarified anything, it’s that kids are definitely not alright, and our education system is insufficient in meeting their needs. In the classroom, AI has the potential to help educators meet the academic needs of more kids. Intelligent tutoring tools have the potential to support students in overcoming roadblocks at key dropoff points, helping catch kids before they fall behind. New personalized learning tools can target individual students with activities based not only on a particular skill or content gap, but also on how they learn best. In a panel conversation at the summit, Dr. Michael Jabbour, chief innovation officer for Microsoft U.S. Education, described this “hyper-personalization,” allowing “every kid to understand their own uniqueness,” and said that the kids who will benefit most from targeted, personalized support are those with the greatest opportunity for growth, helping to solve persistent inequalities in schools. AI has the potential to transform the systems of support we provide students in classrooms.

AI as the Capacity Builder

While the noteworthy power of AI is its impact on kids, the potential impact on the teaching profession is potentially even greater. Providing every teacher and administrator with an assistant could help ease the cognitive load for adults in schools who are leaving the profession due to high levels of burnout. According to a recent Walton Family Foundation survey, 40% of teachers surveyed already reported using ChatGPT at least once per week — nearly double that of students who reported using it. At the Innovation Summit, we saw a team of educators from Newport News, VA, use ChatGPT to co-create new schedule designs based on a variety of constraints and needs. AI can quickly create lesson plans, problem sets, and differentiated materials to help teachers plan more efficiently and effectively, including by creating leveled texts and generating assessment prompts — tasks that can take hours. Concerns about ChatGPT have focused mainly on plagiarism, but AI has the potential to alleviate much of the grading burden for teachers, allowing them to spend more time working with individual students, potentially with even more detailed information about student’s individual academic progress. Many innovations and changes in education add to teachers' plates; AI has the potential to take things off.

AI as the Problem To Solve

When I asked Notion’s AI tool to generate questions for that panel on AI at Dell’s Innovation Summit, it prompted me to pay for more AI-generated responses. OpenAI has clarified that, “[d]uring the research preview, usage of ChatGPT is free,” leaving questions about future access to the tool. New York City Public Schools shut off access to the platform on their network – an oft-seen “lock it and block it” response to technology – preventing public school students from accessing the tool rather than “empowering students to influence the AI,” as described by Dr. Joseph South, chief learning officer at ISTE. Access to AI will likely follow the trajectory of other technologies, creating a dangerous divide between those who have full access and those who have limited access or who compromise privacy for access. AI is already being used to surveil students at increasing levels, using AI to identify students as “at-risk” as part of prediction analytics, and using LGBTQ-specific terms to flag students as higher risk for suicide, all raising significant ethics concerns. To assume AI’s potential is all positive is irresponsible and dangerous.

The flip side of all this innovation potential – for AI to make education more personalized for kids and more manageable for adults – is the real possibility that schools will be required to innovate to solve the problems created by AI. Rises in education technology are typically accompanied by access and use inequities, and digital equity challenges will inevitably proliferate with AI.

This blog was the second installment in a series on AI and K-12 education. Catch up on the blog series here:

Have a learning or idea about generative AI tools in education that you’d like to share? Tag us on Twitter, we’d love to hear from you: @LearningAccel

About the Author

Nate Kellogg is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. With a decade of experience in schools, Nate leverages his expertise in innovation for equity to support school- and systems-level improvement to accelerate transformation.