#280 – Educator Voices: Artificial Intelligence, Part I

Unpacking Education April 17, 2024 33 min

In this episode, K–12 educators and advocates from across the United States share their experiences and insights about artificial intelligence (AI). Topics range from student use to the need for professional learning to the time-saving benefits it may offer teachers. Their comments shine a light on where things currently stand with AI in our schools and serve as a springboard to our conversation about the best ways to move ahead. These recorded comments were captured during educator interviews at the 2023 AVID National Conference in San Diego, California.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

This is an opportunity for people who didn’t have opportunity before.

Carl Hooker, author of The New Era of AI in the Classroom


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

A Realistic and Positive Attitude

Educators are realists. They see the challenges posed by the proliferation of artificial intelligence and how it may impact the ways they’ve approached teaching and learning. They also acknowledge that some of their current practices may need to change. Despite these real concerns, the educators who we spoke with at last year’s AVID National Conference in San Diego were overwhelmingly positive in their conversations about AI. They realize that AI is not going away, so instead of dwelling on the challenges, they are focusing on making sure that this potentially disruptive change becomes a positive experience.

Tamala Ashford, Principal at Dent Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina, sums up the perspective of many of the teachers we spoke with, saying, “I think it’s something that we should embrace and not run away from.” The following are a few highlights from our conversations with educators:

  • Clarissa Sicarios, English and ELD Teacher, Gonzales High School, Gonzales Unified School District, CA: Clarissa says that her students “are using it to complete homework assignments, and also correcting assignments, but also giving ideas to go deeper into a topic. . . . I would say it is helping students dig deeper but also expand on their thoughts.” To teach writing authentically in the age of AI, Clarissa believes that it’s important to learn each student’s writing style and have them practice in class each day with small quickwrite prompts and open-ended questions. Once students have developed the foundational writing skills, then AI can be used as a support tool at various points in the writing process.
  • Tamala Ashford, Principal, Dent Middle School, Richland School District Two, SC: As shared above, Tamala thinks that AI is “something that we should embrace and not run away from. . . . I use it every day to kind of help with crafting emails, to look for different ways to [communicate] when I have to write letters. It saves time, and it just kind of helps you to know that you’re on the right track.”
  • Sanoe Tuitele, FST and Freshman AVID Teacher, Radford High School, Hawaii Department of Education – Central Oahu, HI: Sanoe finds that it saves her a lot of time with lesson planning. While Sanoe recognizes that accuracy checks are vital, it still frees her up to do the creative things she wants to bring to her classroom. She says, “It’s definitely a teacher’s assistant.” She’s particularly excited about the AI tool, MagicSchool. She says, “That’s been my rubric go-to right there.”
  • Brienna Brown, School Counselor, Alexis I. du Pont Middle School, Red Clay Consolidated School District, DE: “I definitely think we’ve barely scratched the surface on being taught how to teach kids how to use this. So I think staff definitely need more training.” Students are using it and trying to figure out the lines between cheating and effective use. In this context, Brienna shares the story of a student who came to her feeling guilty that she had used AI to help her with an assignment. With Brienna’s guidance, that student navigated the ethics of her uncomfortable experience. Bri says, “We have to teach them how to use this responsibly.”
  • Glenn Jacobson, STEM Teacher, Design39Campus, Poway Unified School District, CA: Glenn admits that some students are using AI to get out of work. However, he says, “I really think the best way to handle that is to lean into it and figure out how to leverage it, rather than look at it as a weapon being wielded against you.” He adds, “The best thing we could do is figure out how can we use it as a tool, just like we do with any other technology.” He believes that students need to use it carefully, analyzing results for inaccuracies, since AI will sometimes “just make something up.” In the end, he believes, “We have to figure out how to embrace it and use it, rather than shy away from it.”
  • Maryrose Hembd, Academic Innovation Consultant, Packback: Maryrose hears a lot of teachers in the districts she serves talking about plagiarism and academic honesty. While she acknowledges those as valid concerns, she also believes that “there’s a world where students use AI regularly, and they’re incorporating it into their work.” Maryrose also thinks that AI can be a huge time-saver for teachers. She reflects on her own experience, having burnt out twice from teaching. She says, “I could just not keep up with the demands on the schedule, and the time, and what I needed to do for me and my family.” She says that AI can potentially alleviate some of the workload for teachers. “AI can help them save time. It puts time back in their hands.” Tools like Packback can also aid students, making immediate feedback possible. “When feedback is timely, it’s actionable, and students are invested.” Despite its potential power, Maryrose shares, “I don’t see a world where humans are not absolutely central to teaching.”
  • Reid Malone, Academic Innovation Consultant, Packback: Reid feels that teachers need to address their worries about AI before they can embrace its power. He finds that educators often start by asking questions like, “Are we going to be okay?” They’re concerned about such things as “cheating, including the validity of their traditional assessments and their traditional teaching styles of the past. Can they still continue with that?” He adds, “But there’s also the real fear of, ‘Is this going to take my job?’” He thinks that teachers will ultimately find most of these fears to be unfounded, and he doesn’t believe that AI will replace teachers. He does, however, think that teachers who know how to use AI may take the jobs of those who don’t. Reid also sees great benefits to using AI tools in the classroom, especially in terms of providing student feedback. Certain AI tools can automate some of the feedback process and help teachers “free up time from grading the technical sides of the writing.” By aiding the teacher, AI will also be helping the students by permitting more time to look at writing progress one-on-one.

He adds, “The real impact that we’re seeing is that we’re closing feedback loops in real time, meeting students where they are, and when they are, at the level that they are at, and then helping to support them get to that next level—all because we’re not waiting on a teacher to have grading time to get feedback to them when the students are already thinking about their next assignment or what they’re eating for lunch the next day. They’re getting the feedback while they are writing, while they’re critically thinking through their next question.” Looking ahead, he says, “I think that in the future, it’s inescapable. I think students are writing with the assistance of AI. I think teachers are differentiating and creating assessments and assignments with the use of AI. I think all professional development is assisted by AI in some form or fashion. And even down to district administration, tracking successes and strategic goals, is assisted by AI in some form or fashion.”

Guiding Questions

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 currently know about AI?
  • How do you see students using AI?
  • How can educators effectively use AI?
  • What training do the educators in your system need regarding AI?
  • At this time, what are the strengths and limitations of AI?
  • How do you see AI being used in the future?