4 AI Tools I Actually Use As An Educator

A human hand shakes a digital hand coming out of the screen of a laptop in this illustration of AI assisting a human.
(Image credit: Image by kiquebg from Pixabay)

AI is becoming increasingly impossible to avoid. In Google’s latest bid to catch up with OpenAI and Microsoft, the tech giant launched AI overviews, which provide AI-generated summaries of Google search terms 

Meanwhile, it seems as if almost every edtech company is tacking on the letters “A” and “I” to the end of their name, and I’ve recently joked about rebranding myself as ErikOfgangAI. 

But with all the platforms available and all the considerable hype, I only find myself actually using a few AI tools in my day-to-day work as a writer and educator. Here are the tools and why I find these so valuable. 

1. Grammarly 

This AI-powered spelling and grammar check can be integrated with your browser to automatically check your writing. Even its free version is more effective than most other spellcheck tools I’ve used.

I find that like a helmet or seatbelt, I’ve become so used to using Grammarly that I get actual anxiety when I stop. I also encourage students to use it and find that doing so can decrease errors on a paper by at least 20-40 percent, improving their writing and their grades. 

Grammarly also has generative AI-powered writing tutor that you can send 100 prompts to for free. I’ve experimented much less with this, but from my minimal tests it seems to be — like most generative AI tools I’ve come across — more flash than function. When I asked it to improve the previous paragraph, it made changes that made the writing sound more mechanical and AI-generated. For example, it changed the sentence, “I find that like a helmet or seatbelt, I’ve become so used to using it that I get actual anxiety when I stop,” to “Personally, I've become so accustomed to using it that it has become as essential to me as a helmet or seatbelt, and I experience genuine anxiety when I have to stop using it.”

The first sentence, though not exactly Shakespeare, at least sounds like me, while the second sentence sounds like a robot imitating an English butler from an old TCM movie.  

2. Otter.AI  

Otter.AI is a transcription tool that allows you to record meetings and interviews. It then provides an automatic AI-generated summary of these sessions and text that you can search through to find the parts of a lecture, meeting, or interview you want to revisit.

As a journalist, this has saved me near immeasurable time transcribing interviews. I can’t believe that as recently as 2020, I used to transcribe my interviews myself like a freaking medieval monk!

Otter.AI. can also be helpful for taking notes in meetings, and I recommend it to students who are recording lectures, conducting interviews, and even looking to quote from podcasts -- it can make that process so much easier as well. 

3. GPS

This technology is so widespread that including it here almost feels silly, but yes without the help of the AI-powered GPS app in my phone I wouldn’t even make it to half my classes because I’d be lost.

Few students will remember the dark days of yore when getting to a new location meant going to MapQuest, printing out the directions, and bravely venturing into the unknown with the sure knowledge that if you strayed from the designated path you would never find your way. Or the time before that when you had to use something called a "map."

But seriously, talking about GPS use can be a good exercise in examining both the strengths and weaknesses of AI. GPS tools can help you avoid traffic and get almost anywhere, however, can often be wrong. When you use it in areas you’re familiar with, the routes recommended can seem illogical and result in more turns and confusion than necessary. The same is true with every AI tool I’ve used: They’re great, until they’re not. 

4. AI Search Summaries 

Microsoft’s GPT-powered Copilot has provided search summaries for a while now, and Google recently launched its own version of an AI search assistant, the aforementioned Google overview feature now showing up on select searches.

I don’t like that Google automatically turns this on, and have shared my concerns about the accuracy of these tools. Like someone who confidently gives you backseat driving advice, an AI summary of your search can be hard to ignore even when you want to.

That said, so much of the modern internet has become a joyless scavenger hunt for random factoids that I’m happy when AI can speed that up. I’m probably in the minority here, but so far I actually like Google’s controversial AI summary. I find it quicker and more seamless than Microsoft Bing’s copilot feature.

I also find this function makes it pretty easy to track the source of information used in the summary, which makes it a wonderful tool to teach fact-checking. It’s not always obvious to students that if an AI says something it may not be true, so critically examining Google's AI summaries could be  a good lesson on how to track sources to their core. This skill is valuable for students when dealing with AI but also other sources of questionable accuracy.

Plus, by teaching your students critical reading and fact-checking, they'll never be tempted to make pizza with glue, or eat a rock day as Google’s AI summary has reportedly advised users. (Hopefully!) They'll also learn a valuable skill for a world increasingly populated by questionable sources, both human and AI-generated. 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.