Report: AI and the Future of Teaching and learning

I see articles and posts about artificial intelligence every day. I have written here about it a lot in the past year. You cannot escape the topic of AI even if you are not involved in education, technology or computer science. It is simply part of the culture and the media today. I see articles about how AI is being used to translate ancient texts at a speed and accuracy that is simply not possible with humans. I also see articles about companies now creating AI software for warfare. The former is a definite plus, but the latter is a good example of why there is so much fear about AI - justifiably so, I believe.

Many educators seem to have had the initial reaction to the generative chatbots that became accessible to the public late last year and were being used by students to write essays and research papers. This spread through K-12 and into colleges and even into academic papers being written by faculty.

A chatbot powered by reams of data from the internet has passed exams at a U.S. law school after writing essays on topics ranging from constitutional law to taxation and torts. Jonathan Choi, a professor at Minnesota University Law School, gave ChatGPT the same test faced by students, consisting of 95 multiple-choice questions and 12 essay questions. In a white paper titled "ChatGPT goes to law school," he and his coauthors reported that the bot scored a C+ overall.

ChatGPT, from the U.S. company OpenAI, got most of the initial attention in the early part of 2023. They received a massive injection of cash from Microsoft. In the second half of this year, we have seen many other AI chatbot players, including Microsoft and Google who incorporated it into their search engines. OpenAI predicted in 2022 that AI will lead to the "greatest tech transformation ever." I don't know if that will prove to be true, but it certainly isn't unreasonable from the view of 2023.

Chatbots use artificial intelligence to generate streams of text from simple or more elaborate prompts. They don't "copy" text from the Internet (so "plagiarism" is hard to claim) but create based on the data they have been given. The results have been so good that educators have warned it could lead to widespread cheating and even signal the end of traditional classroom teaching methods.

Lately, I see more sober articles about the use of AI and more articles about teachers including lessons on the ethical use of AI by students, and on how they are using chatbots to help create their teaching materials. I knew teachers in K-20 who attended faculty workshops this past summer to try to figure out what to do in the fall.

Report coverThe U.S. Department of Education recently issued a report on its perspective on AI in education. It includes a warning of sorts: Don’t let your imagination run wild. “We especially call upon leaders to avoid romancing the magic of AI or only focusing on promising applications or outcomes, but instead to interrogate with a critical eye how AI-enabled systems and tools function in the educational environment,” the report says.

Some of the ideas are unsurprising. For example, it stresses that humans should be placed “firmly at the center” of AI-enabled edtech. That's also not surprising since an earlier White House “blueprint for AI,” said the same thing. And an approach to pedagogy that has been suggested for several decades - personalized learning - might be well served by AI. Artificial assistants might be able to automate tasks, giving teachers time for interacting with students. AI can give instant feedback to students "tutor-style." 

The report's optimism appears in the idea that AI can help teachers rather than diminish their roles and provide support. Still, where AI will be in education in the next year or next decade is unknown.

Push and Pull Learning

push pull

Recently, a former colleague asked me what I thought about push versus pull learning. I knew the terms more from social media marketing but hadn't really used them in learning situations. In marketing, examples include whether to decide to subscribe to a newsletter by email or snail mail (you pull that information by choice) or a newsletter that comes to you automatically (it is pushed at you).

In general, I think people prefer to pull (choice) over having it pushed at them. Companies might prefer to push, but that probably comes with the option to stop that push (unsubscribe.)

Moving these approaches - or just the terms - to education makes some sense.

In a push approach, teachers decide on the information, approach, delivery method, and speed of delivery. It is how education has been done for centuries. It tends to start with what Bloom and his taxonomy would categorize as knowledge-level remember and understand questions. These would build toward more critical and creative thinking. With pull, students enter into creating, evaluating and analyzing that requires them to seek knowledge and understanding.

This conventional classroom-styled learning is not the only approach in the 21st century. Pull learning allows learners to access information at the point of need, the way they prefer (in some settings) at the speed they find comfortable. I think that the initial surge of MOOCs back in 2012 is a good example of learning that learners pulled as needed.

Pull puts learners more in control It flips the teacher-centered learning setting. However, we must acknowledge that learning in school at all levels is still very much push learning. Fortunately, the idea that students should be able to pull some learning as they feel they need it is gaining more acceptance and is being incorporated in instructional design planning.

Currently, pull learning experiences are probably best suited to workers who have learning needs based on job roles, personal knowledge, and advancing their career interests.

Ideally, learning is "push-pull" with appropriate information provided by a push and additional information required to complete tasks and goals pulled as needed. This is not really a new approach. When you were a student, you were certainly pushed information, but you might well have gone beyond what was provided and pulled additional information that you felt you needed.




Image: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free

Have you heard the term "metaversity"? What Is a Metaversity? Should You Create One on Your Campus?

Metaversities are campuses created in the metaverse and, in some ways, they represent the next evolution beyond the immersive learning opportunities that currently exist for students at many colleges and universities. The metaversity has gone from a theory to a concept to an actual realm at schools such as Morehouse, and more are likely on the way.

Advances in virtual and augmented reality have made it possible to create digital twins of universities.

What should you consider before building one?  some suggestions