Randi Williams, a doctoral student at MIT, joins us to talk about the Day of AI, which is an opportunity for K–12 teachers and students to explore the topic of artificial intelligence (AI). The official event date for 2023 is Thursday, May 18, but educators can utilize these resources anytime. This free event is intended to help students learn how machines think and to help them better understand how AI is embedded in our rapidly changing world.
The lessons and activities are targeted to general education teachers and students, not just those specializing in STEM or computer science. Up to four hours of lesson plans are provided per grade, and access to materials and lessons is granted with a free registration. The developers of this event encourage educators to “be part of the Day of AI and give them [students] the power to program their own future.” Additional information is available on the Day of AI website.
Programming the Future
AI is quickly becoming infused into many aspects of our daily lives. It’s embedded in our Internet searches, book and movie recommendations, smart home devices like Alexa, customer service support, and even self-driving cars. And despite all the current innovation and implementation, AI is still in its infancy.
Because artificial intelligence will likely continue to grow and become even more impactful, it’s important that our students engage in this topic. With awareness, education, and opportunity, our students can become change-makers who positively transform and shape our future society. As educators, it is our responsibility to help our students on this journey, and the Day of AI is a great way to get started.
Tune in to this episode to hear more about AI and this unique program. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:
- About Our Guest: Randi Williams is a doctoral student at MIT, where she studies human–robot interaction and preK–12 education. She is affiliated with the MIT RAISE initiative and is the founding director of the Boston chapter of Black in Robotics.
- A Definition of AI: Randi says that the official definition of AI is “the study of how you design machines to embody the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior.” However, she adds that, “Honestly, it’s a moving target, and the more you go into AI, the less sure you are about what it is.” She believes that having a flexible definition of AI is helpful because, “As much as we think we know what AI is, it’s always changing, and the definition changes along with it.”
- Public Impressions: Public impressions of AI can be shaped by Hollywood movies, popular culture, and first impressions. ChatGPT is a good example. At first, the chatbot may seem alive and able to think on its own, but then users discover flaws in the system and factual errors in responses. As we learn more, our understanding continues to change and evolve.
- A Partnership: Randi says that the key to using AI effectively is to identify what machines are good at and what people are good at, and then to maximize those skills. She says, “Hopefully, we can get more to a partnership level, but you know, the way to get there is to figure out what technology can do, and what we can do, and how we can work together.” She adds, “It’s a running experiment.”
- Under the Hood: Randi encourages students and teachers to demystify AI and better understand how it works in the background. She encourages us to ask, “What’s happening behind the scenes? What makes these technologies occur and then get put out into the world? And why they’re designed the way that they’re designed and how they’re used.” She adds, “I think it’s really important for more and more people to be involved in those conversations.”
- Teachers Helping to Inspire Students: “So few people really understand it [AI] and how it works. And for me, more importantly, few people are involved in the imagination of what it could be and how it could be used, so I’d want students, for sure—because they’re the future—to understand how their imagination, how their work, their dreams, their interests can be a part of the creation of AI. And I’d love teachers to know that, too, so they can prepare their students because they certainly have the biggest insights into how students’ minds work and how they can inspire them.”
- Not a Replacement for Teachers: Randi does not believe that AI will ever replace teachers. Rather, she believes that AI will help teachers shift their work to an even more human-centered experience, with AI helping to reduce workload.
- Day of AI: Day of AI is an MIT initiative and part of the Hour of Code. Randi says, “It’s meant to be a day where educators can engage their students about AI.” The official Day of AI for 2023 is May 18, but educators should not feel restricted to this one-day event. There will also be a free live stream event that same day.
- Topics and Lessons: The Day of AI is intended to go far beyond the technology itself. In fact, the lessons available on the website are generally not technical in nature. They are conversation starters intended to inform and pique interest in AI. Topics range from applications of AI to responsible use, career paths, and societal impact. K–12 lessons are available on the Day of AI website and can be accessed with a free registration.
- College and Career Connections: While there is a specific module available to study AI careers, the connections go far beyond one lesson. Engagement in any of the Day of AI activities across the curriculum are intended to expose students to AI and to see connections to the subjects and content areas they enjoy the most.
- Resources Available Online: Educators can find a variety of resources on the Day of AI website. Resources include lessons, slideshows, educator guides, training videos, and worksheets. Materials are broken down into grade bands, topics, and tracks, and teachers are encouraged to make copies of the materials and customize them to make them their own.
If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- Where do you see examples of artificial intelligence (AI) in your daily life?
- Why is it important to teach our students about AI?
- What is the Day of AI?
- How might you get involved in AI?
- What are the most important questions you have about AI moving forward?