Monday, 20 March 2023

How K-12 teachers are adapting to the use of generative AI in education

K-12 teachers in Egypt adjust to the rise of chatbots: ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence tool released in November by US-based OpenAI, has taken the internet by storm in just a few short months. The program, and other similar chatbots that have since emerged, can generate cogent responses to any prompt they are fed. While having several benefits for the professional world, the rise of these AI tools have raised fears in the world of education about their implications for teaching and monitoring students’ real performance. Despite not being available in Egypt, students here are able to access ChatGPT by bypassing the platform’s requirement of phone number from a location where ChatGPT is supported. Some teachers at K-12 schools in Egypt Enterprise spoke with are embracing the generative AI and have begun to dabble with it, while others have expressed concerns about it derailing their lesson plans. The technology has even raised existential concerns among some teachers regarding the viability of traditional schools and teaching roles.

One major concern among teachers is detecting AI-generated assignments: Teachers had gotten to a point where they were confident in their ability to detect whether a student had copied someone else’s work, by using plagiarism detection services like Turnitin before the emergence of chatbots, Nesreen Bassiouny, a high school and IB mathematics teacher at the American International School of Egypt (AIS) tells us. “I’m planning on subscribing to one of the AI content detectors and to check if any of the students have been using chatbots,” she told us.

AI content detection tools are not 100% accurate: Various AI content detection tools are available online, with varying degrees of accuracy. “I’ve run my own writing through, which I created when I was in my master's level program. It came back as AI-generated — and it's clearly not,” Clayton Boren, a fourth grade teacher at Schutz American School (SAS) told us. “It’s unclear to us how those programs are judging writing and what the formulas are behind it. It's not quite as obvious as some programs like Turnitin that look for already existing writing,” Boren said.

Most teachers agree trying to impose blanket bans on AI would be futile: “It's inevitably and inexorably the direction that we're going. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube and so it's something that you have to accept,” Chris Blendheim, a high school language arts teacher at SAS told us.

If you can’t beat them, join them: Some teachers have toyed with using chatbots to speed up routine tasks such as leaving report card comments. “I have 85 students that I need to write 150-200 word comments for, so writing them becomes tedious,” Blendheim told us. “There's really only one or two reasons that a student would be receiving As, so I asked ChatGPT to give me a 150-word comment bank for a student who does very well with study habits and participation and it generated like 10 different comments and that gave me a foundation on which to build. I took those comments and tweaked them to fit the individual student,” he explained. Other teachers have also explored different ways to use ChatGPT, including creating lesson plans.I had a chatbot generate a lesson plan for me just to try it out but I didn’t end up using it. The plan included resources, reading materials, timeframes and the sequencing of activities was logical,” Reeham Darwish, a humanities teacher and head of social studies at an international school told us.

Others have begun integrating it into classes and guide students’ usage of the tools: “What chatbots have allowed us to do is bypass students’ writer's block,” Boren told us. Students are being guided on how to use these generative AI tools to, for example, “generate a list of ideas for narrative essays,” Boren told us. Students can use these ideas as starting points for their assignments and teachers can then assess their implementation of the ideas and their language use in the final product.

A few teachers are worried about bots taking over their jobs or hindering students’ ability to learn: “It allows students to skip so many different steps: reading, analyzing, evaluating, and determining whether a source is biased,” says Farida Kassaby, who teaches business studies at the Modern English School in Cairo’s (MES) British section. Students already have access to infinite knowledge online, and chatbots or other AI developments coming into the mix are putting traditional schools in danger of becoming obsolete, she said. Darwish echoed a similar sentiment, saying, “The concept of traditional schooling as we know it is being pushed to the brink and [the emergence of chatbots] is a further push.” Some teachers have expressed concerns that their jobs could be at risk of replacement by these tools, Boren told us.

Others feel that although they can provide immediate responses to student queries, they do not replace the value of human interaction between teacher and student. Teachers have even been using it in class to develop student’s critical thinking skills through open-ended discussions. Several teachers expressed that they do not grade students solely on written assignments, and noted that programs such as Advanced Placement (AP) and IB require students to sit for handwritten, proctored exams that make up a significant percentage of their overall grade or score. Darwish assigns her students multi-stage, complex performance tasks that require her students to complete most of the planning phases in class under teacher supervision. These assignments go through feedback sessions the students are required to implement to ensure that their submissions are based on their own original thought and work that they’ve done in class, she explained.

Diversifying the types of assignments assigned: “Written assignments should only be one third of what you're grading anyway. If a student writes an AI-generated essay but they can also defend the essay in class, and they understand what it is they're saying when they're pressed and prompted, they can still demonstrate that they’ve learned something through the process,” Boren said. Performance tasks like giving presentations or creating a video should be given weight as well, he told us.

Looking forward: Given how new the technology is, teachers posed several interesting questions: “If a student creates an essay using a chatbot, does the work belong to the students? Are they plagiarizing a chatbot? How different does it need to be before it's the students' work? Is the prompting itself good enough evidence that the students knew the task at hand?” Boren asked. As the technology continues to evolve, many educators are keeping an eye on how chatbots continue to shape high school education in the future. “We just need time for the debris to settle and for us to get a sense of where the technology is going — and then how we’re going to be able to use it,” Blendheim said.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • Higher education minister to face MPs: Higher Education Minister Ayman Ashour will face questions from MPs on the performance of state-owned universities and the shortage of doctors and medical supplies in university teaching hospitals tomorrow.
  • Flat6Labs is investing almost USD 100 mn in African startups: Egypt-based venture capital firm Flat6Labs launched a USD 95 mn Africa-focused seed fund that wants to invest in more than 160 early stage tech startups over the next five years, including in education.
  • New Egyptian business podcast: Two business students have launched their podcast Eh El Kalam (on YouTube), offering viewers vicarious mentorship from businesspeople pioneering their respective fields. Episodes are available in Egyptian Arabic.

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