Can AI replace teachers?
...and our thoughts on this.
Hello and welcome to the 45th edition of our fortnightly newsletter, Things in Education.
The bell rings. “Whew! What a crazy day!” I sink into my chair. “Ankita needs encouragement. Atif's brilliant air experiment is intriguing. Need to encourage him to test it! So much to do tomorrow, but these moments matter.” I juggle all these thoughts as I walk out of the classroom to talk to students after stacking up the notebooks and a seemingly multiplied to-do list.
In the middle of all this, I take a few minutes to relax and breathe. “Tomorrow is all about blood. Aha! How about hooking students’ curiosity with a fictional case in which a drop of blood is the main evidence for the detective?” The very thought of it brings a spark of excitement, but also a realisation. “Wait, when is there time to plan then? Morning is packed with sorting all the administrative tasks, taking attendance, and putting schedules in order. I have to plan it tonight. Let me just gather some chart papers, markers, and oh, some blank sheets.”
In the evening, I work on my lesson plan, focusing on:
Learning outcomes: Students analyse the components of blood and how blood types are determined by the presence or absence of antigens and antibodies on red blood cells. Phew, I have this covered.
Creative investment: Planning a non-gory, age-appropriate blood-related crime case that will push students to question and find out what blood is made up of.
Anticipating student struggles: What will they find tough? What gaps in background knowledge will lead to them struggling? What questions will brew in their minds? How can I support them through these mental hurdles?
I find myself with no creative energy after such a marathon of a day. I search for a suitable case online, saving a few options, but I get overwhelmed. I note down potential distractions for the activity but then stop, thinking that I would come back to them later.
The next day, before I know it, I am standing in front of my class. So, what do I do? I take the simplest route - a textbook and a bunch of diagrams on the board, missing out on the project-based approach I had envisioned.
So, to all of you who've had such days – managing lesson planning chaos, pedagogy and creativity, feeling tired but excited – I have found a way around it that might also help you. Artificial Intelligence! Or AI as everyone calls it.
Here are some of the ways that can help lesson planning using AI as a creative tool:
Idea and content generation
Teachers constantly face the problem of time crunch to plan their lessons amidst the load of administrative tasks. AI has been really useful to create fresh ideas for projects, assignments, and classroom activities. For subjects that involve narratives, we can create engaging stories that captivate students' attention and make learning more enjoyable.
All you need to do is input your requirements into the prompt. Here is an example of the case I created with the help of the AI tool, ChatGPT:
The case pushes students to think of the components of blood – because without that, they can’t solve the case. Using AI as a tool relieves us from creative investment, allowing us to focus on more important elements such as planning how we will convey content knowledge, ask follow-up questions and scaffold student learning. I believe the process of creating prompts pushes teachers to clarify learning outcomes, connect new content with students' prior knowledge, and anticipate what they will learn.
Potential disruptions and classroom management
AI tools like ChatGPT are valuable to predict how students might act in class, helping teachers understand their engagement levels and potential issues. Here is an example:
This information lets teachers adjust their teaching and plan for avoiding classroom disruptions. We don't have to spend time reading 15 books or visiting 35 sites to get this exhaustive list of possible areas where students may struggle or excel. Instead, we can use AI to help us create a laundry list of these areas. But remember, AI is only helping us make the list. Our personal expertise and judgement as a teacher are really important to figure out how to handle these disruptions properly. So, a teacher needs to map them to their students and personalise their strategies for each student, improving the teaching and learning process.
Can AI replace teachers? This seems to be a hot question since the emergence of AI. Let's figure this out with a simple experiment. I asked ChatGPT for activities on the same topic for two different grades.
If you notice, both strategies are practice-oriented rather than teaching-focused. The strategies assume that students have already grasped the topics just by explaining them. Neither of them tells us how to introduce the new topic or connect it to what students already know. This in itself is a nuance that non-experts will not pick up on. So this is something that we cannot rely on AI for.
And there's another problem with these teaching strategies—the hands-on activities for both grades are the same, without considering the distinction between primary and middle school.
Therefore, the underlying problem is that AI doesn't consider the different levels of knowledge that students in the two grades already have. A teacher intuitively understands their students' background and expertise, which is something these AI-generated strategies miss. My general observation is also that the provided teaching strategies lack Indian-based context.
Additionally, AI-created teaching strategies lack the touch of teaching know-how. They can't replace the wisdom that comes from a teacher's research and experience. AI can be a helpful tool for teachers, though. It can free up their time to focus on the most important parts of teaching and apply those ideas to creating lessons that are personalised for their classrooms. This way, teachers can feel confident in using their special skills and knowledge when they're in the classroom.
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