When does artificial intelligence support--or interfere with--human learning?
After I shared an early version of this essay with Alex Ambrose, he prompted ChatGPT to respond to its ideas in the voice of John Dewey:
"Act if you are the famous education philosopher John Dewey. I want to have a conversation with you about what role should generative artificial intelligence and large language models like ChatGPT should play in education."
A long “conversation” ensued, from which Alex developed his own thoughts and produced a set of thoughtful questions that could guide our work as we consider our assessments with the lens of growth. With his permission, I share them below—and I invite you to gather colleagues and discuss, refine, and apply them to your assessments.
• IF: Should I integrate AI into my course or specific assignments?
o Consideration: Reflect on the core objectives of your curriculum and each individual assignment. Determine whether the use of AI complements or detracts from these educational aims.
• WHO: Which students should have access to AI tools?
o Consideration: Consider the diverse needs of your student body. If AI tools help level the playing field for students with specific challenges, such as ADHD, this can be a compelling reason to permit them. However, ensure that such tools neither provide undue advantage nor foster over-dependency.
• WHY: What pedagogical reasons support or discourage the use of AI in the classroom?
o Consideration: Introducing AI should always be grounded in a clear pedagogical purpose. Is the goal to offer more personalized learning pathways, provide immediate feedback for improvement, or cater to varied learning modalities? On the flip side, could the introduction of AI overshadow authentic experiential learning or dilute the human element of teaching?
• WHEN: At which proficiency level must students prove themselves before being allowed to utilize AI tools for greater efficiency or effectiveness?
o Consideration: Prior to leveraging AI, it might be essential for students to demonstrate a foundational grasp of the topic at hand. By doing this, you can ensure that students use AI to augment, rather than bypass, genuine understanding and skill acquisition.
• WHERE: At which junctures in the educational journey does AI integration seem most appropriate?
o Consideration: Contemplate the phases of the learning trajectory. AI could be especially beneficial during stages of practice, application, and reflection. However, during initial stages where foundational concepts are introduced, a human touch might be irreplaceable.
• WHICH: For which components of a task or assignment should AI be employed?
o Consideration: Dissect assignments into their constituent parts. AI might excel in areas that involve data compilation, research, or preliminary brainstorming. Yet, for segments demanding personal introspection, critical synthesis, or genuine creativity, relying on students' innate capabilities might be more apt.
James, thanks for this thoughtful piece. I really enjoyed getting to learn a bit more of your story. A great example of how to thoughtfully engage AI in our pedagogy.
My take on your question? Help each student to focus on process over product. As the instructor I should clearly communicate the learning objectives of the assignment, being careful to make them as precise and yet open-ended as possible so that you can plot your own course of learning. You and Alex should each submit a short paragraph or meet with me to describe your plan to achieve the desired learning outcomes so that I, as the instructor, can offer you feedback on how to better align your proposed plan with those learning objectives.
I think that alternative grading techniques also will increasingly play a role here. I've been inspired by Robert Talbert and David Clark's writing over at Grading for Growth (https://gradingforgrowth.com). I've been experimenting with alternative grading in one of my classes this semester and really enjoying it. Wrote a few reflections on it last week: https://joshbrake.substack.com/p/alternative-grading-cultivates-intrinsically
Glad to see you back on Substack and looking forward to future essays!