Most of my time is spent working with pre-service (students preparing to become teachers) or in-service (current teachers in the field) as they consider ways to embed digital, online technologies into instruction. As such, I have slowly been taking time out in my classes to talk about what they have heard, think about, or have tried as it relates to artificial intelligence (AI) assistants in their lives.
In this first post, I’ll describe the way that I introduce the topic of AI virtual assistants to one of my classes of teacher education students. I’ll continue to document events as they warrant. Please view this post as a form of open research note.
I have also been having discussions with students in higher education that are not in a teacher education program. Their insights are very interesting and differ significantly from teacher-ed students (for now). I’ll share those reflections in another series of posts. I’m interested in their perspective as many have just left K-12 and are in a higher education program. I’ll also start to play with these AI tools in my classes with students (and with my children) to see what they create.
Setting and Participants
This Language and Literacy class is for students in our middle grades and secondary programs. These 24 students are all training to be middle grades or secondary (high school) teachers in Math, Social Studies, Science, and/or English. There is one student in our Special Education program, as well as one student in the Linguistics Program that is taking the course because it sounds interesting.
The class focuses on theory and perspectives around language, literacy, cognition, instruction, identity, and culture. I work with students to build up a baseline understanding about what literacy means to them, and how they’ll approach it with their future learners. I should also note that I regularly seek to problematize education and decenter the teacher in my classes. Lastly, I tried to refrain from sharing my opinion or insight into any of the materials presented in this first lesson as I want to better understand what AI could and should do from their perspectives.
As class opens, I regularly ask students to share three things that have happened in their lives since they last saw each other. One student indicated that they had an opportunity to teach their first class that day. It was an introduction to Forensic Science class in a local high school. The student indicated that they loved the opportunity, but struggled as they’re not a forensic scientist. The student indicated that their Cooperating Teacher (the teacher that normally teaches the class) is a former forensic scientist.
After a short discussion with other students (one student discussed a podcast about ethics and war they were listening to), I asked the class what they’d heard about ChatGPT, OpenAI, or artificial intelligence (AI), or AI virtual assistants. About five of the 24 students in the class raised their hands. Several students shared a definition of these tools that basically indicated that they were computer programs that have been taught to learn and can be used to help you with research or completing work.
I had two tabs open on the projector (ChatGPT and ChatSonic) and clarified some of the responses given by students. I then opened up ChatGPT and entered a query that extended the discussion by a student about ethics and war. ChatGPT spits out a five-paragraph essay on the topic. I only included a screenshot below as the tool will not allow you to export/embed responses.
As I the AI assistant spit out the response, students started quickly browsing to ChatGPT and setting up an account.
As students explored the tool, I asked them what they thought and what this meant for their future classrooms.
Some students indicated that they had upcoming assignments (it is currently midterm season) and they tried using the tool for some of their work while we discussed.
Most of the initial responses from students indicated that students that were using this were either cheating or lazy. Several students (around 6) monopolized most of this discussion and response to indicate that they worked hard in K-12 and learned how to write, especially since they learned to write essays. I asked whether they learned anything else in middle grades and high school other than essays and most indicated that they did, but that one of the most important was writing and writing essays. They suggested that students in their futures will need to be able to write, and especially write essays to succeed and interact in society.
Please note: All of the students that were sharing these insights at the beginning were not English teachers. They were all social studies/history.
I then opened up ChatSonic and indicated that this was another tool that I used in my workflow. I asked the AI assistant to write me a lesson plan providing an introduction to forensic science for a high school biology class. The assistant spit out a lesson plan that could be used in the classroom.
I then asked the AI assistant to give me a handout that students could use…
…and then a PowerPoint that could be used in the classroom as well.
You can view the entire output here. I uploaded a PDF of the output in case things are erased later by Writesonic.Writesonic_chatsonic_1677866337836
As I quickly showed these documents to the class, there was a gasp of “I wish I knew this about a week ago” from the student that taught the forensic science class earlier that day.
I did have some students start to question the pushback about these tools in a K-12 environment. These comments focused on students with special needs and individuals whose English may not be their primary language. I’ll discuss this more in upcoming classes and posts.
Lastly, I understand that some will react in horror as they think about a teacher copying/pasting a lesson plan from the Internet and then using it in the classroom. To that, I would suggest that good teachers borrow, and great teachers modify.
In my opinion, this lesson plan and the submitted materials provide a good starting point to think about a lesson plan and support materials. Pre-service (and in-service) teachers could review, critique, and fact-check the materials before using them in instruction. There is also an opportunity to focus on the teaching of the lesson, as educators are building up skills in planning and pedagogy.
Lastly, being a healthy reflective practitioner is needed as educators improve over time. Educators should teach, reflect, and improve on the plan over time.