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Before Implementing AI, Ask the Right Questions

The latest advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have great potential for improving teaching and learning across the board, as long as innovators and educators take the time to develop and implement it correctly, according to a panel of leading suppliers moderated by Dr. Rob Abel, chief executive officer 1EdTech, at the 2023 Learning Impact Conference.

I sat down with Annie Chechitelli, Turnitin Chief Product Officer; Doug Mealing, Cengage Chief Software Architect; Brandy Pitre, Savvas Director of Product Management; and Serena Sacks-Mandel, Microsoft Global CTO for Education, to discuss innovations with the rapidly adopted technology and where they see it going.

The conversation started with a reminder that AI has been around for years, provides potential solutions to educator workloads, and allows for more personalization in the classroom. Notably, the discussion was set within the context of the current state of the education sector, which includes some major challenges, such as learning loss and constraints on human resources.

“AI can help measure the progress of students and meet them where they are,” said Pitre. “AI and machine learning can be used to inform teachers on where students are, and it’s important to put that into place to provide timely and relevant information to help inform how to help students on where they are and where they can go.”

“The best ratio of student to teacher is 1-to-1, but that’s not possible,” said Sacks-Mandel. “AI can extend that reach of the teacher and allows more personalized learning every day. It’s more important to reach each student where that gap is.”

Panelists said generative AI might also help create more personalized experiences for learners.

“The biggest hold up for adapting learning was how to diversify content,” said Mealing. “Generative AI may allow us to create better variations of content.”

“It may also help make teachers more efficient, so they can spend more time making connections with students,” said Chechitelli. “For them to be able to use AI for grading or basic comments, for example, making grading and feedback more efficient, teachers can spend more time inspiring and motivating.”

The panelists emphasized that while the potential for AI is great, everyone needs to be careful with the new technology and understand how it’s being developed.

“It’s important to understand that all the AI algorithms are trained on more data than anyone can understand,” said Chechitelli. “But you can understand how the model was trained. We all need to be curious and get a sense of how to think about AI.”

“Microsoft has a lot of policies on AI; we call them the principles of responsible AI,” said Sacks-Mandel. “We all need to learn more about it because so much of it is relatively new for educators and students. We need to educate ourselves, not to be experts, but to at least be able to explain how it works, even if we don’t know exactly how a result was determined.”

“The models are trained on data, but where do you get it? Do you need consumer data to create a model? There are no firm answers yet, and we need to be careful to figure out the next steps,” said Mealing.
“We need to focus on data privacy,” agreed Pitre. “I think it’s important to understand there is always something new and hard to keep up with, but we need to focus on doing it right first to avoid concerns in the future.”

Panelists agreed getting AI right is important because it isn’t going away.

“If students can do the work using ChatGPT with the context of the course content, then we may need to rethink some of the content and courses,” said Mealing.

“How students use this will vary by age,” said Sacks-Mandel. “We need to teach them how to write when they’re young, but eventually, it is helpful to look at Chat GPT as an aid, start an outline, or get some thoughts going. It starts with policy. As our former director of infrastructure said, ‘We didn’t ‘shut the bathroom down when someone wrote on the wall. We taught them right from wrong.’ This technology is only going to get better. It’s not going away. Every job is going to involve some sort of AI for students currently in school, so they need to know how to use it.

“We’ll continue to evolve,” said Chechitelli. “One of the hard things about product management is trying to meet the different personas of teachers, learners, and administrators. Sometimes their needs are vastly different, so we focus on the educator in the classroom. We help the educators learn and evolve.”

“We want our users to be familiar with the technology, understand the why behind it, and how it can help teachers and learners succeed,” said Pitre. “We use our customers’ voice to help build the products.”

Published on 2023-08-09

PUBLISHED ON 2023-08-09

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Rob Abel, Ed.D.
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