Learning to Teach

teacher at board
   Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a forum newsletter series on teaching written by Beth McMurtrie that had a post recently summarizing what they have learned after 5 years of doing the series. As it states, teaching is "An Ever-Changing Profession" and yet I find that many things about teaching are still the same as when I first went into a classroom in 1975.

When I moved out of the classroom as a full-time teacher in 2000, one of my roles was to teach professors. Though the department I ran was instructional technology, I was also tasked with holding sessions on pedagogy. At first, I wondered if college faculty would have a real interest in topics like assessment, grading strategies, creating assignments, and leading discussions in the classroom or online. But in the early sessions, those who did attend (it was voluntary most of the time) often said things like "I try to do what my best teachers do and not do what the bad ones did" and "I never took any courses in how to teach." Those faculty were interested and had spent their academic lives focused on their subject matter and, especially at STEM institutions like NJIT, research and getting grants were the real foci of concern and attention.

It is noted that "teaching has become an increasingly public enterprise," but some say “teaching is a private act.” Certainly, the K-12 classroom has become more public and parents and the community have always played a greater role in what happens in classrooms than compared in colleges. The newsletter points to possible changes to that dynamic, citing "find a teaching buddy, bring the department together to talk about teaching, create teaching communities across campus."

The pandemic and classes going online K-20 put teaching practices more in the public and into homes. Again, that was more so in K-12, but also for higher ed. Schools also held workshops to help faculty shift their teaching and some virtual support groups appeared with topics ranging from how to use Zoom to how to grade participation online.

Though I "learned to teach" as an undergraduate with an education minor in order to be a certified secondary school teacher, I really learned how in my field experiences and even more so in my first few years of actually being a full-time teacher. Like those professors, it took being in a classroom, creating lessons, grading work, and all the day-to-day tasks for me to really learn to teach. But I did have all the theories, practices, and philosophies before I became a teacher to refer to and use. I had tools.

I used a lot of that training in doing my own training sessions for professors. They were always somewhat amazed at all the research that had been done in pedagogy. They were more surprised at hearing there was such a thing as andragogy which addressed the age group many of them were teaching. It shouldn't have surprised them that there was a vast amount of educational research available, after all, it was what most of them did in their own fields. I always suspected that some of that surprise came from an attitude that teaching was less of a science and more of an "art" - like being able to draw or play an instrument. The "A" in STEAM had not found its way into STEM.

The newsletter has covered research universities creating teaching tracks to try to improve educational outcomes and reduce faculty burnout. Innovative forms of teaching, such as inclusive teaching and active learning, are ways that faculty begin to rethink classroom strategies.

Teaching Artificial Intelligence in K-12 Classrooms

Should K-12 students be learning about artificial intelligence? Since the turn of the century, I have written about, observed and taught in programs to have all students learn the basics of coding. Prior to that, robotics made big moves into K-12 classrooms. AI seems to be the next step.

I saw recently that DayofAI.org launched a day for classrooms around the world to participate in learning about AI. They offered resources from MIT for teachers, including lesson plans and videos for all grade levels.

car gps
New vehicles have many AI-assisted applications Image: Foundry Co

It's not that students aren't already surrounded by artificial intelligence in their everyday lives, but they are probably unaware of its presence. That is no surprise since most of the adults around them are equally unaware of AI around them.

You find AI used in maps and navigation, facial recognition, text editors and autocorrect, search and recommendation algorithms, chatbots, and in social media apps. If you have a smartphone to a new car, you are using AI consciously or unconsciously. Consciously is preferred and a reason to educate about AI.

Though I have never thought of my time as a K-12 teacher as training students for jobs in the way that teaching in higher education clearly has that in mind, you can't ignore what students at lower level might need one day to prepare for job training in or out of higher ed. Artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud computing, and cybersecurity are areas that always show up in reports about jobs now and in the near future.ed workers which means that we need to do more to prepare our students for these careers and others that will evolve over time.

“AI will dominate the workplace and to be successful, people are going to have to understand it,” said Mark Cuban, who launched a foundation in 2019 that provides AI bootcamps for free to students to learn about AI. It is his belief and the belief of other tech leaders and educators that artificial intelligence is something that should and can be taught at all levels, regardless of a teacher’s experience in this field.

One starting place might be Google AI Experiments which offers simple experiments to explore machine learning, through things like pictures, drawings, language, and music. See https://experiments.withgoogle.com/collection/ai

AIClub offers courses for students and free resources for educators including professional development sessions to spark curiosity for learning about AI. They are also developing guidelines for AI curriculum in grades K through 12.

I tried an AI test (it is rather long for younger students) at www.tidio.com/blog/ai-test/ that was part of a survey for a research study about AI-generated content. It shows you images, texts, and plays sounds and asks you to decide if you think they show real people or were created by humans or not. Almost all of us will be fooled by things created by AI. Another site is fun for kids as it shows very realistic AI-created cats that don't really exist. And another site at https://ai4k12.org/ is also a human vs AI activity where you decide whether art, music, writing or photos were created by a human or AI.

All of those examples can be used as a way to introduce students to how AI is used and even caution them to recognize that they can be not only helped but deceived using AI.