AI’s Big Deal: AI in the Classroom Continues to Evolve

ai in the classroom
(Image credit: Pixabay)

You would have to be on a deserted island without the Internet to miss the recent buzz around AI. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a broad term that refers to the ability of machines to mimic human intelligence. AI can be used to perform a variety of tasks, such as recognizing objects, understanding language, and making decisions. Generative AI, however, is a type of AI that can generate content such as text, images, and music, similar to the large amounts of data it has been trained with.

AI can only perform tasks that it has been trained to do. It is important to note that generative AI models can also be used to create fake content, such as fake news and deep fakes. It is essential to be aware of generative AI's potential risks and use it responsibly.

The History of AI in the Classroom 

The conversation around AI didn’t just begin in 2023. The U.S. Department of Education initiated a project exploring the use of generative AI in 2020, partnering with Digital Promise to collect information and insights. Recently, the outcomes of that work were released by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Future of Teaching and Learning: Insights and Recommendations. This report explains AI in education and gives a pros-and-cons summary, and suggests districts develop a policy defining parameters for AI use in education. 

There is much to be learned about the uses of generative AI, but there is also a rich history of AI in education.

Artificial intelligence was born in the 1950s and used in various applications. ELIZA was one of the first programs to demonstrate the potential of AI as a natural language processing computer program used to manufacture doctor scripts to respond as a psychotherapist. The first time AI was used in education was in 1965 at Stanford University, with the PLATO computer program, which was developed to teach students basic math and science concepts. PLATO was one of the first computer-based learning systems, and it was a significant breakthrough. 

Since then, AI has been used in various educational settings, from K-12 schools to universities. AI-powered tutoring systems can provide personalized instruction to students, and AI can also be used to create adaptive learning platforms that adjust to each student's individual needs. 

Writing-to-read programs were often used in schools in the 1980s to help children learn to read. These typically used a combination of games and activities to teach the basics of reading, such as letter recognition, phonics, and sight words. Some popular writing-to-read programs from the 1980s include "Hooked on Phonics," "The Reading Blaster," and "JumpStart Reading." However, some critics argue that writing-to-read programs need to be more complex and provide children with a more well-rounded education. 

Despite the criticisms, writing-to-read programs remain popular, and many are still being sold today.

AI in Education Now 

Many software apps and platforms currently being used in K-12 education use AI. Some of these are designed to help students with math, reading, or other subject areas. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • Khan Academy is a nonprofit educational organization that provides free, personalized learning resources for students of all ages. Khan Academy uses its Khanmigo AI to personalize the learning experience for each student. 
  • Duolingo is a language learning app that uses AI to help students learn new languages. Duolingo uses various features, such as gamification and spaced repetition, to help students learn effectively. 
  • Google Classroom is a free online learning management system that helps teachers create and manage classes, distribute assignments, and communicate with students. AI personalizes the learning experience for each student. 
  • Microsoft Teams is a collaboration platform that helps students and teachers communicate and collaborate on projects. The AI provides real-time translation and transcription of conversations. 
  • Knewton relies on AI to create personalized learning experiences for each student. It tracks your progress and recommends lessons based on your strengths and weaknesses. 
  • SuccessMaker uses AI to create personalized learning experiences for each student. It tracks your progress and recommends lessons based on your strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Dreambox applies AI to create adaptive learning programs that adjust to each student's individual needs. The program provides students with practice problems that are just challenging enough to help them learn and grow. 
  • iReady also uses AI to create personalized learning programs by assessing students' skills and providing them with practice problems aligned with their needs. iReady also gives students feedback on their work and helps them track their progress. 
  • Carnegie Learning uses AI to create personalized learning programs aligned with state standards. The program assesses students' skills and then provides them with practice problems aligned with their individual needs, plus gives students feedback on their work and helps them track their progress. 

Each of these companies and more use AI to help students learn more effectively and reach their full potential by personalizing learning, making it more engaging, providing feedback, and collecting data to better drive instruction. 

Most of these companies have peer-reviewed research validating their use to improve academic performance.

AI in Education Moving Forward 

AI has the potential to revolutionize education by providing personalized learning experiences for each student. It can help students learn more effectively and efficiently by providing personalized instruction and adaptive learning. 

Generative AI needs parameters, and its use should be included in the digital literacy curriculum. Students need to be able to distinguish between original and borrowed thoughts, and become critical thinkers and writers. AI can help with this development, but it can never replace the person’s mind it is helping. 

Want to learn more about generative AI? Check out these resources.

  •  The "Natural Language Processing Specialization” by the University of Michigan on Coursera is a comprehensive program focused on NLP techniques. Led by industry experts, it covers a wide range of topics, including sentiment analysis, part-of-speech tagging, and machine translation. 
  • Elements of AI course aims to demystify AI by providing a gentle introduction to the basics that enables you to understand what is possible and what isn't and recognize how AI affects our lives. 
  • Introduction to Generative AI is an introductory-level microlearning course that explains what it is, how it is used, and how it differs from traditional machine learning methods. It also introduces Google Tools to help you develop your own Gen AI apps. 
  • Learning tools offered by Common Sense Media explains how to teach and use AI in the classroom. 
  • AI4K12 offers several free resources for teaching yourself or your students about AI.
  • AIforTeachers is a free subscription site that offers courses and lesson plans for teaching AI.  
  • And of course, Tech & Learning is a great resource for learning about AI, providing info and how to’s for numerous apps, sites, resources, and more. 

To share your feedback and ideas on this article, consider joining our Tech & Learning online community here

Correction 6/27/23: The original version of this article stated that SuccessMaker was owned by Pearson, which it no longer is. SuccessMaker is fully owned and produced by Savvas Learning Company. Pearson sold its U.S.-based K-12 curriculum business in February 2019.

Dr. Kecia Ray

Dr. Ray's career includes designing technology within the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and directing technology research through Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Science Outreach programs. As a district administrator for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, she led the award-winning design, implementation, and evaluation of instructional technology programs, including instructional design for online and blended learning environments, redesigning physical learning environments, redefining school libraries, and establishing the first virtual high school to award the diploma. She leads K20Connect and other passion projects supporting K20 education around the world.