How to Teach With Deep Fake Technology

deep fake technology
(Image credit: Jaime Donally)

The very concept of teaching with deep fake technology may be unsettling to some. After all, deep fake technology, which utilizes AI and machine learning and can alter videos and animate photographs in a manner that appears realistic, has frequently been covered in a negative light. The technology can be used to violate privacy and create fake videos of real people. 

However, while these potential abuses of the technology are real and concerning that doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to the technology’s potential when using it responsibly, says Jaime Donally, a well-known immersive learning expert. 

“Typically, when we're hearing about it, it's in terms of the negative – impersonation and giving false claims,” Donally says. “But really, the technology has the power of bringing people from history alive through old images that we have using AI.” 

Donally, a former math teacher and instructional technologist, has written about how a type of deep fake technology called deep nostalgia technology that went viral in 2021 can allow students to form a stronger connection with the past and their personal family heritage. The technology, available on the MyHeritage app, allows images to uploaded that are then turned into short animations thanks to AI technology. 

Here are some of the ways in which teachers can utilize deep fake technology in the classroom utilizing the MyHeritage app. (Note: The app only has a two-week free trial period, after which plans start at $7.42 per month.) 

Deep Fake Technology and Personal History 

Donally was able to use the technology in a deeply personal way. She never met her grandfather and felt as though she missed out on some aspects of her family’s heritage as Chocktaw Indians. “He lived on a reservation in Oklahoma, and there's a big disconnect for me to understand him because I did not grow up on a reservation,” she says. 

Using deep fake technology she was able to make one of the few photos that exist of her grandfather come to life, which was incredibly moving for her and her family. “It just gave this deeper connection,” she says. “My mom has never seen a video of my grandfather, so she started crying when she saw it.” 

This personal test-case shows how the technology can be used in the classroom to add a new perspective to history and cultural lessons. “I think that this brings about a relevancy to history to historical figures in our past when maybe we don't have the video to connect back to that person,” Donally says. “We don't know what their expressions would have looked like.” 

Classroom Applications  

Teachers have used the deep fake technology in the My Heritage app to bring historical figures such as Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein to life. One teacher Donally has communicated with used an animation of Frederick Douglass (above) to help students connect with Douglass’ famous 1852 speech about the meaning of the Fourth of July to Black enslaved Americans. Another teacher has plans to use the app to have students interview a historical figure and create dialogue for them, then match the dialogue to the animation.

Donally herself has paired animations she's created with other types of immersive technology. “I layered it on top in augmented reality,” she says. “When you scan the photo of my grandfather, it all came to life. And it became something that was much more relevant to see in your real-world space.” 

With proper supervision, students can use the technology to animate images of family members or local historical figures, and can experiment with augmented reality (AR) in the process. 

“It makes you want to learn more,” Donally says of animations created using deep fake technology. “It drives you into kind of the history and understanding a bit more, and I think it also helps you identify who you are in that process.” 

Deep Fake Technology and Privacy 

As much potential as deep fake technology has, there are still important privacy concerns educators need to weigh and evaluate. It’s important to check the legality of data collection of facial structure, features, and expressions, and how that information is stored or shared, Donally says. Obtaining proper image permissions is also important. 

However, discussing these legal concerns with students and other potential ethical issues around this technology can provide valuable additional lessons. 

When immersive technologies first appeared there were similar concerns, Donally says. “When we saw virtual reality spaces initially starting they were pretty horrible. It was not a safe place,” she says. “But it doesn't mean virtual reality, holistically, is wrong. It just means that somebody used that technology to do something wrong.” 

Teachers should help their students learn to navigate this new technology that will likely be a part of society going forward. Donally says avoiding it altogether is like teachers who advised against going on the internet in its early days. “That was the wrong approach back then it's the wrong approach today,” she says. 

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.