In 19th century England, the Luddites were a radical faction bent on destroying the newly invented textile machinery that would soon displace craftsmen. Their impact was short lived and changes to the factories and society continued. As the Luddites discovered, it is very difficult to hold the tides of change back once the genie is out of the bottle.
As I withdrew money from the TD Bank ATM (automated teller machine), an antiquated concept with the rise of Venmo (ask any teenager), the slogan on the screen was “unexpectedly human.” I remember the controversy around installing ATMs at banks and not having as many tellers available to assist with transactions. The same argument was made with E-ZPass and the loss of toll collectors. However, society adapted because, in the end, the convenience for the customer outweighed the pain of the change.
Education, too, has undergone its fair share of changes and each one was met with trepidation or even an outright ban prior to finally being accepted. Just think of the resistance for abandoning the slide rule with the advent of the pocket calculator in the 1970s. Now, calculators are not only accepted but encouraged to be used on tests and standardized assessments. The same is true with cell phones. Once barred from being allowed in the classroom, teachers have found ways to utilize this miniature computer in a student’s hand to enrich their learning experience.
Once again, education finds itself on the edge of a new frontier with the announcement of ChatGPT artificial intelligence and similar type products just a few months ago. This new technology can compose music, detect cancer images, and write student essays. While still in its infancy, artificial intelligence will only improve in its accuracy and ability to assist mankind. It is not perfect but it is becoming unexpectedly human.
So, while this new technology has left society scrambling to understand its implications, it has also left educators wondering whether it should be banned or embraced. As we have learned from history, banning things is extremely difficult because people always find a way around the prohibition. So, if you can't beat them, the next best thing is to join them.
What this will exactly look like no one knows. The technology is too new to understand its full effect. However, if the past is any indicator, we can make a few predictions about how it may help students and teachers in the future.
Not too long ago, students wrote essays by hand and used dictionaries to check their spelling. Students handed in their papers and teacher’s corrected them and offered comments, usually in red ink. Today, students are given Chromebooks to use as part of their school supplies. This technology gives students a lot of power to increase their learning. They can search the internet for answers and use spelling and grammar check to proof their work. Teachers then offer their comments and corrections by inserting comments on the shared drive of the submitted work. Although the medium and process has changed, the feedback from the teacher and learning process of the student has remained the same.
In science classes, students use probeware – high quality software and resources - to capture data points during experiments. Data that sometimes took hours or days to measure can now be done within a class period and teachers can lead students to higher levels of learning more quickly.
Athletics has not remained unscathed from the incorporation of technology. Esports is a virtual way for students to participate in an electronic sports environment. Students train for competitions in this virtual arena and can receive scholarships at the collegiate level. Ten years ago, these scenarios were unheard of.
While the benefits of technology are numerous, we also know of its shortcomings. Some limitations of artificial intelligence, such as lack of critical thinking, original thought, and context, are areas in which humans excel. Four key skills - critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity - have been identified as needed by students and future workers in order to be successful. These identified skill sets are taught by humans and encouraged throughout a student’s day of learning. Teachers incorporate these skills into lesson plans and create opportunities for students to utilize them. While artificial intelligence can replicate some of these skills, it cannot fully replace them.
Artificial intelligence is here to stay but it will always be just that - artificial. It will never replace the beauty of the natural human mind. The youth of today and tomorrow will use artificial intelligence to supplement, not supplant, their education. And educators will continue to inspire and challenge these amazing and magnificent young minds in ways that no machine can ever replicate.
-March 23, 2023
The "Superintendent's Column,"
by Dr. Thomas A. Gorman also appears in
"The Citizen" newspaper and on-line at "MontvilleTAP"