The Future of AI in Education: Augmentation or Replacement?

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May 2, 2024

By Ryan Gravette, IDLA Director of Technology

Some of the funny quotes about AI recently are related to wanting AI to do the laundry and dishes so we can do the writing, art, and poetry, not vice versa. At first, these generate a chuckle, but the quote relates to using AI to replace traditional human activities and interactions. The way we use AI  has profound implications for education and the future we are building with AI. At IDLA, we are not rushing headlong into any AI interaction; we are methodically thinking not only about how we can use AI but the long-term implications of our use.
On one side, AI serves as a tool that empowers us to be better and more productive. It liberates us from mundane tasks, allowing us to focus on activities we find more fulfilling. AI’s prowess enables us to unleash our creativity and elevate our work. It enhances the quality of our outputs. In the grand scheme, it transforms humanity, much like the tools we’ve created before, empowering us to achieve more.

The other side is one in which we abdicate to AI; we give them tasks beyond the tedious ones because we no longer want to work, and institutions want to replace the workers. This is a possibility because AI isn’t like tools we have created in the past. The analogy to the calculator is overplayed and, in this way, wrong. The calculator was merely a tool that automated actions we just asked it to do. It didn’t question the inputs or predict the following steps; it didn’t reason; AI does. And with this reasoning capability, individuals can let AI take over and step out of the loop. In the context of education, AI is not just a tool, but a system that can reason and make decisions, which raises concerns about its potential to replace human interaction and relationships.

I’ll give examples of both and what I see in education. On the empowerment side, AI can help create content experiences like asking a student to chat with a historical character to understand a historical event. At the end of the chat, the teacher can evaluate the interaction and the learning. 

On the abdication side, I have seen many products that replace interactions between the teacher and the student. Automated comments on papers, automated email responses, and replaced lectures with “avatars” of themselves. The technologies are built around replacing some of the challenging work for teachers and the elements that build relationships and understanding of the individual child.

One of these pathways drives us in a long-term direction that creates a lane for AI as an assistant, and the other pathway creates a long-term direction for AI as a replacement. 

My fear comes back to this original slide and Facebook Mom. We are at risk of letting AI replace what is uniquely Human as we allow it to replace humans. Communication with students and interactions are work, but at the core, that may be what is most important.  If you think of your favorite teacher, how much of what you liked was the content they delivered, and how much of it was who they were and who they believed you to be? I worry that if we rely too heavily on AI, we may lose these crucial aspects of education that make it truly transformative and humanizing. 

At IDLA, we will focus on AI augmenting the human process with quality interactions, and we have started that with @Grammarly. Take what we write and fix commas. Give teachers data to have great conversations with students. Sign us up. However, we will not focus on automation to decrease teacher and student interactions, not because it isn’t possible but because we don’t want to live in a world where AI leaves us to do the laundry.

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