ChatGPT & Generative AI

How AI Can Help Teachers Guide Students to Active Learning

These teachers believe that AI can redistribute teachers’ and students’ roles to further personalized learning.

March 6, 2024
Christina Baeriswyl / The iSpot

A growing number of educators are shifting the traditional teacher-student relationship from passive to active learning. Doing so requires innovative thinking and pedagogy—and new tech tools can play a pivotal supporting role.

Organizing community discussions for ISTE, ASCD, AASA, and EdWeek puts me in daily conversation with educators around the world. These public and private talks provide a wide-angle view of what’s happening in classrooms now and what’s coming soon.

At this point in 2024, the first wave of educators experimenting with generative AI are sharing their wins, losses, and takeaways; among the most intriguing is that ChatGPT and its cousins are more than just tech tools—they are catalysts that shift teacher-student relationships in fascinating ways. I spoke with several educators to gain deeper insights into what has worked best for them.

Using Generative AI to Hyper-Personalize Learning

Helen Crompton, who teaches generative AI to teachers at Old Dominion University, told me, “It gives educators more time, as we’re able to offload extra tasks and spend more with the students.” 

AI can help with personalized learning as teachers tailor content to students’ interests, abilities, and challenges in ways previously unimaginable. Combine any learning objective with a student’s interest and grade level and then ask ChatGPT to tailor an exercise for that student. In seconds, the app spits out a personalized lesson. 

There are many new articlesvideosbookspeer-reviewed papers, and professional development resources that explore the intersections of personalized learning and AI that can help teachers get started.

Putting Learners in the Driver’s Seat

AI tools can also shift more responsibility for learning from teacher to student. Shelby Scoffield, a California high school English teacher, gave seven creative examples. In the first, she put the onus on students to learn to use generative AI responsibly, giving them ”a prompt that asked the AI platform to generate several sources cited in MLA format. They (students) had to then find the sources on their own to see if they were valid.” 

Using AI to engage students creatively while putting them in the driver’s seat is one of the most common ways the teacher-student relationship is evolving.

Using Generative AI and Small Talk to Understand Students’ Needs

Dan Jones is a forward-leaning middle school teacher in Ohio who moved from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” a decade ago. He told me how he uses small talk, or micro-conversations, to replace traditional formative assessment in project-based learning. By engaging students in brief conversations, he determines who is grasping the material and who needs help. He discovered ways to combine generative AI and micro-conversations to assess students more robustly. 

First, he created a customized chatbot for his classes—this is a step that takes some work. Next, he taught students how to use it to get immediate feedback on their assignments. Jones’s go-to tool is School AI, which allows him to see students’ conversations with the bot. Those conversations give him deeper insight into which students need his attention and where. 

Combining AI with micro-conversations gives Jones time for targeted, face-to-face chats with the students who need him most. Jen Staufer provides a road map for setting up a similar chatbot for your classes.

Using Generative AI to Reduce Suspicion and Build Trust

ChatGPT’s launch sparked cheating fears and drove distrust between students and teachers. However, teachers are increasingly discovering creative ways to ensure academic integrity.

The Richland School of Academic Arts in Ohio is setting up a more advanced custom AI platform. It’s called a “walled garden,” because it’s isolated from the general data pool used by tools like ChatGPT. These cutting-edge bots are similar to generative large language models like ChatGPT in that they are trained using internet data. But instead of absorbing large swaths of the internet and treating it all somewhat similarly, they generate feedback based on a more limited database of information that their creators deem reliable.

Customized walled gardens allow you to give students open access to the AI platform, see how they use it, and determine where guardrails are needed based on data versus blind suspicion. Instead of tools that catch students cheating, this approach allows educators to trust students while having the ability to verify integrity.

Moving from Guide on the Side to Chief Learning Validator

Caroline Kurban, an AI researcher and instructor at MEF University, suggests that we should push the boundaries of generative AI with preservice teachers. To keep up with the pace of change, Kurban developed a method that intentionally shifted her relationship with students from the guide on the side to collaborator and validator. 

I spoke with Kurban about a recent class in which she asked her students to select a generative AI tool that interested them, pick a course-related project, and use the tool. Her role started as the learning facilitator, but as the varied assignments progressed, she became a collaborator, “working alongside students as a co-learner,” she said, “engaging in a shared journey of discovery facilitated by AI.” 

She soon stepped into a new role, chief learning validator of content accuracy and certifier of whether the learning process met objectives. She routinely found herself learning from her students—an experience she describes as delightful.

Managing the Shifting Teacher-Student Relationship

Across my conversations with the teachers mentioned above, I collected a list of steps to successfully navigate the shifting teacher-student relationship in the age of AI.

Embrace the emerging role and shifting relationships that AI is driving. “One of the biggest things I had to give up was a sense of control. But the rewards outweigh anything I had to give up,” said Jones.

Recalibrate your vision of what it means to be an effective teacher in the age of generative AI. This involves getting comfortable learning with and from students.

Talk with administrators and peers about the shifting teacher-student relationship and why embracing the evolution is essential to preparing students for the AI-infused workplace.

Prepare parents for the shift. Many may believe that a teacher’s role is to instruct from the front of the room, and a student’s role is to take notes and pass tests. Talk with them about how AI is driving teaching and learning toward more self-directed learning and why it’s vital for their kids to master this skill sooner rather than later.

Talk with your students. We’ve conditioned students to associate AI with cheating. Students may feel hesitant to use AI tools. Be prepared to explain to students how AI can be a complement to their work if used responsibly.

Identify personal practices to help you adapt to the evolving relationship. Taking the time to reflect and discover what you need and what works for you goes a long way toward a smoother transition.

Take AI in stride. AI is seeping into classrooms too fast for any of us to keep pace. Identify and focus on one or two tools relevant to your course content and learning objectives. Feel free to take a rain check on the rest.

Such steps offer meaningful starting points for engaging with this emerging and evolving technology, leveraging it for learning.

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