I am a tennis fan and have been watching the US Open. IBM is a major sponsor and has several commercials about AI on rotation, including one that begins by stating that people are excited at what AI can do for them. Are they? That Pew data I wrote about last week would suggest otherwise: a lot of people don’t know anything about it and those that do are concerned.
Today, I attended my second university-sponsored AI workshop. It was an interesting conversation with very smart people, but at the end of the day, we simply don’t know what the impact of AI is going to be on teaching, learning as well as life and work in general. And, while IBM and today’s panelists expressed optimism, audience questions during today’s Q & A showed real skepticism about this technology. The biggest concern seemed to echo Jonathan Zimmerman’s recent Washington Post editorial: struggling with assignments is what learning is all about. The bot doesn’t just create your product; it does your thinking for you.
From the panelists, there was talk of transforming the curriculum to take advantage of AI and creating AI-aware assignments. Meanwhile, an audience member who was an arts professor expressed fear at what will be lost as AI moves into the fields of visual and musical arts. The answer–that different kinds of jobs will be created for those that are lost–was not reassuring.
Bottom line message: AI is here and, unlike previous technologies, cannot be banned or ignored.
I had an interesting conversation with my sister and my father when we were together last weeked to celebrate my mother’s 88th birthday. I’m working on a blog post about the changing nature of work that I will post at some point, but as I looked for data to support my ideas, I was distracted by Pew Research Center’s collection of data related to Artificial Intelligence. In particular, two recent articles seem to conflict a bit in perspective, a sign that we are in a period of real volatility when it comes to this technology.
One article provides evidence that most Americans haven’t tried ChatGPT and aren’t concerned about its impact on their lives. The other reports on the growing public concern with AI. As for the former, I am reminded of a conversation I had with an early adopter of the first widely used virtual community, Second Life. It certainly had implications for the potential of online interactions, but you couldn’t get your real life hair cut or your real life tires replaced. Local communities were still going to be important. And, even with the rise of AI, I think that continues to be true. At some point, I suppose a robot will cut my hair or replace my tires, but for the foreseeable future, it will be flesh-and-blood Olivia and Proctor who help me with those services.
As for the latter headline, I think we should be concerned when a technology that we only sort of understand undergoes such a rapid expansion. The educators I know are learning all they can about AI, especially within their own fields of study. They are also engaging in conversations with colleagues about how to use the tools for their own productivity and with their students.
In a recent email, a colleague at the university where I teach called Artificial Intelligence the wild west. It reminds me of the early days of the Internet in schools, something I was fortunate to participate in as both teacher and professional developer.
Tonight, as I begin my ninth year teaching a graduate-level school technology course for budding administrators, I will be showing a video that I used to show in workshops during the early years of the Internet but haven’t shown for a long time. After nearly three decades, we have gotten comfortable with the Internet as a part of our lives in the classroom. In fact, these younger educators may have little or no memory of a time when they, both as students and now teachers, didn’t start the day by logging on.
But, AI is challenging that comfortable complacency, with schools scrambling to develop policies around what I think really may be the technology the forces educators to reconsider how they teach. The Walla Walla Public Schools are a good example of how schools often approach new technologies. They blocked ChatGPT last spring but are now embracing it for both teachers and students. The article is worth a read as it covers the issues related to cheating and bias The school district ultimately believes it is their responsibility to help their students grapple what is quickly becoming a ubiquitous technology:
“We’re fostering 21st century learners and we’d be doing them an injustice if we didn’t educate ourselves to therefore educate them on how to use it responsibly,” LaRoy said. “This is the world they’re going to go into. We really felt like there was no other option than to jump on this and embrace it.”
Walla Walla Union Bulletin, Loren Kykendall, April 15, 2023
It feels like the early days of the Internet but with a larger sense of urgency. We’re building that plane while we are flying it.*
*The commercial was for a company called Electronic Data Systems. I was surprised to discover that it was founded the year I was born by none other than Ross Perot! Thanks, Wikipedia.
I teach edtech courses to K-12 educators each fall. We’ve talked about AI in a general sense but I know that this semester, we need to dig into what this new technology means for everyone, including educators. It just might be that transformational technology we’ve been promised.
The answers form the bulk of the book, and they are surprisingly spiritual and inclusive. They focus on what connects us at the core as humans without concern for individual religious beliefs or practices. The writing is reminiscent of motivational and devotional texts. In the end, the Beatles may have had it right: all you need is love. Here is part of the answer to the question: What is the meaning of life? “The meaning of life is love. We have a tendency to think we are separate from the Universe. We are not separate. We are part of it, and it is part of us” (p. 37).
The authors are not oblivious to the issues of AI, with Wang especially expressing real fear at the power and potential for harm represented by this technology. The podcast was unsettling. We are grappling with something we don’t fully understand.