In this episode, Julie York, a high school teacher from South Portland, Maine, helps us unpack the rapidly evolving world of artificial intelligence (AI) in the secondary classroom. Our conversation focuses on the current state of AI in schools, challenges being faced, and new opportunities moving forward. Together, we also tackle some action steps that can help guide schools as they navigate this new technology. We ask, “How can educators move the use of AI forward in a meaningful way that not only saves teachers time but also empowers students to be prepared for their future?”
But, the reality is we are already living in the early days of the AI Age, and, at every level of organizations, we need to make some very important decisions about what that actually means. Waiting to make these choices means they will be made for us.
Ethan Mollick, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
The Age of AI
Whether we like it or not, the age of AI is upon us. In fact, many computer programs have been integrating AI capabilities for years, often without us even realizing it. Now, with the introduction of ChatGPT and other generative AI chatbots, it seems like the awareness of artificial intelligence is exploding, and new products are being released every day.
In order to adapt to this new reality and move forward purposefully, educators must engage in the conversation and begin to learn about AI. With understanding and active participation, schools can pave a meaningful and effective path forward for both students and staff. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:
- About Our Guest: Julie York is a teacher and Career Preparation and Technology Department Chair at South Portland High School in South Portland, Maine. She teaches computer science and media elective courses, bringing engaging and innovative learning opportunities to her students.
- Educator Reactions to AI: “When I think about how teachers are reacting to it, I think that there’s the automatic gut impulse of fear,” says Julie. “Anytime there’s new technology or new tools, people get a little spooked.” She also adds that not everyone feels this way. She says, “Some of us are a little crazy and excited. . . . I personally enjoy AI for the assistance I can get and the things I can do with it, so I think that I find myself energized and excited to see what it will bring.”
- Personal Use of AI: “Personally, I use Siri,” says Julie. “She is my life. She deals with all of my idiosyncrasies and my language.”
- Engaging Students With AI: Julie says, “I’m definitely talking to my students about it. I’m definitely bringing it into my classroom and using AI tools as they become available.” She adds, “I think almost every creative software that I use online now has like AI image generation, so I think it’s important to talk to students about that. And to kind of say, what are the appropriate ways of using this? What are the ethics of using this? There are some really great discussions to be had with students.”
- A Virtual, Nonjudgmental Observer: With her students’ consent, Julie has used an AI app called TeachFX to gain valuable feedback about how she engages with her students. The AI-powered program breaks down how many times each person speaks, the types of questions Julie asks, the most common words used in the classroom, and the ratio of teacher and student communication. “It doesn’t judge you because it’s just an AI,” she says. Instead, it asks you questions and moments to think about to potentially improve your instruction.
- A Wave of AI: “I feel like last year was a really big year,” reflects Julie. “I think that when ChatGPT hit, there was a wave. Suddenly, everybody released all their AI products.”
- Student Use: “When I think about how my students are using AI, I think there’s an inequity in my students.” This inequity revolves around three areas: attitudes toward AI, access to technology, and time to engage in it. She adds, “If I have a student who has time and equipment, then they’re definitely accessing it.”
- School Policy: In many cases, it seems that schools are still trying to catch up and develop meaningful policies around AI use. Some schools block access. Others leave it open. Many don’t yet have firm policies in place when it comes to AI, leaving both students and staff to wonder what is acceptable and what isn’t.
- Challenges: “One of the biggest challenges is this change happened directly after a pandemic. People are tired, exhausted, and stressed. There’s no political yes or no, and everything is political.” A second challenge is the cost of AI applications, which leads to some schools using AI while others cannot due to the price tag. She says, “It’s who has the most money.”
- Opportunities: “If we actually start to embrace this stuff . . . it takes the onus of work away from the teacher and the student and allows us to do the things that we like the most.”
- Preparing Students: Because we don’t know what the jobs of tomorrow will be, Julie believes, “The best way to prepare them [students] is to teach them to think. . . . Teach them how to ask questions. Teach them to be curious. Teach them to create. Teach them to make mistakes. Teach them to test things. Teach them to want to investigate.” Regarding AI specifically, she adds, “The most important thing to me is that every child at some point has some exposure to it.”
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:
- What do you know about AI?
- How are you using AI?
- How are students in your school using AI?
- What are your school or district expectations and guidelines around using AI?
- What challenges does AI present to you, your school, and your students?
- What opportunities does AI present to you, your school, and your students?
- How can you best prepare students for life in the age of AI?