AI in the Classroom – Helping or Hurting?

A boy with a VR headset surrounded by floating pieces of technology.
Photo by Align via adobestock

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has recently made waves in art, literature and news. From revolutionary innovations that promise to make life easier to horrifying crimes, there’s no area AI hasn’t touched. AI is everywhere— including the classroom.

“While AI undoubtedly offers significant benefits, there are potential drawbacks of which parental awareness is critical,” says Kathleen Phillips, Ph.D., program chair of the College of Education at the University of Phoenix.

According to Phillips, parents need to be aware that as AI becomes more integrated into education, it might reduce face-to-face interactions and affect students’ social and communication skills.

Another area of concern is in perpetuating human biases and inaccuracies.

“It’s important to note that errors in AI outcomes can often be traced back to the human errors that inadvertently seep into the input data,” Phillips explains. “This can result in perpetuating stereotypes and disseminating incorrect information.”

This is one reason that parents need to consciously nurture their children’s critical thinking skills. Phillips says parents can do this by encouraging their children to verify facts, question assumptions and evaluate sources. Even at a young age, children can start learning how to be more aware. Parents can start by explaining to them what an assumption is and then pointing out assumptions in everyday life.

Detecting AI in Student Work

While AI technology has improved and evolved quickly, the programs used to detect AI use are keeping pace.

Annie Chechitelli, the chief product officer for Turnitin, a similarity detection service used by educators in schools, universities and professional research environments, says that not only are detection mechanisms improving, but teachers themselves are beginning to learn what it looks like when students use AI to complete their work.

Teachers are becoming more aware of commonalities in AI writing, such as content staying surface-level without many details or examples, the inclusion of made-up facts and excessive repetition. Teachers can also use a student’s previous work to compare and see if the new assignment resembles their previous writing.

Non-human AI detection programs examine word choice in a way humans can’t see, Chechitelli says. Three aspects of writing Turnitin’s service examines are physical patterns in words, word choice probability and repetition.

Sometimes, students use what’s called a “word spinner” to attempt to circumvent AI detection, but this method had its own flaws.

One example Chechitelli says that Turnitin has shared is about a student writing a paper on George Bush and then putting it through a word spinner, which swaps synonyms and changes word order to avoid detection. The student’s paper on George Shrub didn’t win them as many points as they may have expected.

“Sometimes, students use different tools to evade detection, but it might make the writing pretty bad,” Chechitelli adds.

Chechitelli also gives her perspective as a parent of three children between the ages of 15 and 20, each of whom experienced AI in the classroom at different stages of its evolution.

“Everyone should try and use it—parents included,” Chechitelli says. “Use it with your student—that’s what I did. Monitor their use of it during the formative years so they can develop good patterns, and make sure they reference it if they use AI so they’re transparent with their teacher.”

Helping Students Succeed

However, it’s not all words of caution. Educators are also excited about the potential for AI to help students in ways humans can’t.

AI can adapt educational materials to individual students’ learning styles, pacing and preferences to create the most engaging and effective learning experience possible, according to Phillips.

Other advantages of AI in the classroom include its around-the-clock accessibility and data-driven insights into student learning.

And it’s already in use. AI is currently being used in classrooms to help children with reading difficulties recover from deficits and excel.

Dysolve AI is a program capable of helping people with dyslexia by mapping their areas
of difficulty and designing tailor-made games to retrain the brain in the area the person finds challenging.

While the project is currently being tested, Dysolve’s co-founder, Coral Hoh, says the initial results are encouraging. For students, it helped significantly with standardized testing.

“Students went from the 10th percentile in state testing to above the 50th percentile in one school year,” Hoh says.

The key to this progress is the processing capability of the autonomous AI. Dyslexia is a complicated problem that can be hard for human specialists to diagnose definitively and correctly. But, according to Hoh, Dysolve AI has more capacity to calibrate differences, record them and check them against the database quickly.

This means that students who use the program are accessed faster, more accurately and more in-depth, after which they are provided with an approach uniquely crafted to help them meet their personal
reading goals.

“I hope people also realize this is good AI,” Hoh says. “Sometimes, you need AI to solve a big problem.”

AI In Local Schools

Charlotte Foster, chair of the English department at Westminster School, in Annandale, Virginia, says the school is in the process of developing an honor code policy to address the concerns around students using AI for assignments when they are directed not to.

One way the school has pivoted is by having students do their research and reading at home, with writing done in the classroom.

“We’re addressing it,” Foster says. “We’re also looking at and considering some plagiarism detectors, but I think that through the discussions we’ve had, we’ve really come to understand that the better prepared students are, the more they’re able to tackle these assignments on their own. With teacher support, they’re less likely to turn to AI to completely plagiarize an assignment.”

While AI use is making waves in middle school and with the school’s upperclassmen, the ripples are felt even among the youngest students.

Kay Hoyt, who teaches first-grade science and math at Westminster School, says AI use is not really a concern yet for the age group she teaches, but it is a source of inspiration for classroom lessons.

“We have spoken with [students] about making sure that their work is authentic and is theirs,” Hoyt says. “They have access to Siri and other network devices like that where they could ask answers, so we’ve talked about that. We had a nice assembly.”

The key to the teachers’ approach, according to Hoyt, is making sure kids don’t feel so much pressure that they’re driven to submit work that isn’t theirs.

“We talked to them about making sure that their work is their own and that they’re growing through their homework process,” Hoyt says. “It doesn’t matter if they have
it all correct.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here