As artificial intelligence (AI) tools and assistants start to get more attention in society, one of the conversations I’m paying attention to is the future of AI in the classroom, and ultimately the future of education.
In these discussions, there is a lot of hysteria and hyperbole about what machine learning, virtual assistants can do with, for, and by students. There is also a lot of fear and requests to block these tools (ChatGPT for example), as if that was an option.
At the root of these discussions, and some of the fear involved focuses on how educators think a classroom should look and operate. A focus on how students should learn. Instead of considering what could, and perhaps should happen in learning environments, we desperately grasp at a bygone era.
This reaction is nothing new in education.
When innovation or new advances enter the classroom, there are always some that test out and try these new platforms or tools. This could be the use of word processors, audiobooks, movies/film, graphic novels, Google Docs, flipped classrooms, online/blended/hybrid learning. Some educators identify ways to utilize these innovations to support student learning.
A different group responds in a way that is much more reserved and negative toward the innovations in society that are trying to make their way into the classroom.
Some of this negative response focuses on how students will use these tools and platforms to cheat. We saw this response with the onset of COVID and emergency remote teaching. K-12 and higher ed systems needed to have students and teachers meet virtually. A common concern was that students would cheat the system and we needed processes in place (forcing students to keep their cameras on) to ensure they were all present and learning.
At the root of this reticence to utilize and perhaps embrace new technologies or advances in the classroom is privilege. Privilege as in an advantage, permission, right, or benefit granted or enjoyed by an individual or class in power.
In the classroom, the teacher is often the sole purveyor of power. As new technologies or advances present opportunities for some learners, there is often resistance from educators. As an example, at my institution, I serve as a distance education mentor. What that means is that I guide colleagues as they build classes online, and integrate technology in their classrooms. When I suggest that an instructor add some videos, online resources, or multimodal content (images, video, audio, simulation) to their course content, there is often a negative response, bordering on anger.
That’s now how people learn in my content area/discipline. That’s not how I teach. That’s not how students learn.
All of these are examples of responses I’ve heard from educators in Pre-K up through higher ed over the years. At their most basic level, the educator is saying one thing.
You need to learn how I learned.
We’ve viewed rigor in our learning environments in terms of how we learned the content and expect that others will do the same.
This is not teaching. This is not good pedagogy.
One of the most basic components of my teaching philosophy is to identify the approach point of learners and figure out how I can help get them from where they are to where they need to be. I focus on minding the gap.
This means getting to know my students. Understanding where they’re coming from. What barriers and accelerators impact their lives. Trying to make learning meaningful, social, active, and socially conscious.
If I do not give them access to tools that could assist them, I am not being equitable.
If I demand that they write and communicate in Standard Academic English, I am not being equitable.
If I do not create space in my classroom for students to share their identities in the classroom, I am not being equitable.
There are many ways that privilege shows up in our educational systems. When innovations, advances, or new opportunities arise in society, there is often a desire to have students do school the same way that we did school.
We need to have a discussion about these new and novel technologies and platforms. We need to think critically about their role, place, and validity in learning. We are not having that discussion even though it is very much needed.
We need to talk about privacy, security, and data. We need to talk about content creation and ownership of ideas. We need to have a conversation about what these tools can do and why they’re doing them.
This is currently not that conversation.
This is a discussion about equity and privilege.