Critical Thinking

Guiding Students to Assess the Merits of Artificial Intelligence Tools

Students can tap into their critical thinking skills by examining artificial intelligence outputs to see if they meet learning standards.

August 14, 2023
Visual Generation / iStock

In my time as a secondary teacher, I’ve heard a number of colleagues’ comments that reveal their fears about students using technology. “If we give them calculators, they won’t learn how to do the math.” “If they have access to the internet, they won’t learn research skills.” “If they use a word processing program, they won’t be able to spell.” 

Concerns about technology and its impact on student learning aren’t new. So when people say that if we allow students to access artificial intelligence (AI), it will negatively impact their ability to learn and think, I don’t believe that to be the case. I think it’s simply a matter of reframing how we use AI. Just as we are able to foster student learning with calculators, the internet, and word processing software, we can do the same with AI. 

AI As a Tool for Learning

AI tools can generate everything from essays to artwork to music. In order to be able to use it as a learning tool, we need to have students assess AI’s performance. We know what AI can do, but we need to ask, can AI do it well?

By allowing students the opportunity to assess the products that AI generates, we can prompt their learning and their development of critical thinking skills. In a previous piece, I shared how technology fosters engagement when it prompts students to construct, collaborate, create—what I call the 3Cs. AI can be used to allow students to construct knowledge, collaborate with their peers, and create something new in any content area. If we can design AI tasks that foster the 3Cs, we can use it as a tool for learning and thinking.

AI In an English Classroom

Students are often asked to read a text and then share their interpretation of or conclusion about the text by writing a paragraph. Once they’ve finished reading a text such as a selection from early in a novel, we can give them a prompt with a prediction question like, “In the book Of Mice and Men, will George and Lennie ever be able to achieve their dream? Support your answer by writing a paragraph and offering three reasons.” 

Students can construct their own yes or no answer in their mind and then ask an AI tool like ChatGPT for its answer. In groups, students should collaboratively read the ChatGPT response and assess it using a rubric that the teacher has provided for them. This will allow students to assess the quality of the AI response while also familiarizing them with the evaluation tool that the teacher will use to assess their work. 

Finally, individually, ask students to create a paragraph that is written to defend the opposite position. For example, if ChatGPT said that George and Lennie wouldn’t be able to achieve their dream, students need to write a paragraph arguing that they would achieve their dream. This allows students to know what points support the opposite opinion and then develop rebuttal points that refute them. This provides students with the opportunity to gather and assess relevant information, which strengthens their critical thinking skills.

AI In a Music Classroom

In a music appreciation classroom, a teacher can prompt learning and thinking by having students construct a list of criteria of what good music is. Once this list is created, students can collaborate in groups to ask an AI tool like Soundraw to create a piece of music that meets the specifications of good music. 

Then, individually, students can confer with the teacher to share their response if they believe that the AI’s music was good, but they can also share what they would change to make the music even better. This process challenges students to identify problems along with viable solutions—allowing them to develop as a critical thinker.

AI In a Math Classroom

Mathematical thinking fosters students’ problem-solving skills, and AI can be used to engage students in that process. Teachers can give students a math problem that students input into an AI tool like Photomath

Once the AI creates an answer, students can collaborate in groups to construct their own answer by using the mathematical problem-solving approach they’ve been taught. With the two answers in hand, AI’s and their own, students can create a response to the question, “Which solution is more correct?” This allows students to test solutions to complex problems against criteria that the classroom teacher has provided through a rubric or by testing it against the process that the teacher has taught. This leads students to  form a conclusion, which is another important facet of critical thinking.

Students Will Draw Their Own Conclusions

I’ve used AI tools with students on several occasions within different subject areas, and I’ve seen students do the activities I’ve already shared. Students have made the following comments:

  • “I like it for research, but I’m not happy with the work it produces, so I wouldn’t use it as my own.”
  • “It’s a good place to start if you’re stuck and need some ideas.”
  • “[AI’s] work isn’t very good and wouldn’t get me a very good grade.”

Teachers are concerned about AI, with many schools banning ChatGPT and other AI tools. However, I believe that educators need to use AI as a research tool. Doing so will allow students to see that an AI-generated product is a starting point, not the finished product. We can do this by reimagining how we use AI so that it fosters critical thinking while supporting the 3Cs of tech engagement—encouraging students to construct, collaborate, and create.

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  • ChatGPT & Generative AI
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  • Technology Integration

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