Get an educator-focused approach to information, concerns, and uses for these powerful tools.
The topic of artificial intelligence (AI) brings up all kinds of feelings as well as valid arguments about where the technology is heading, how to use it ethically, and what kind of guardrails are necessary for kids before it evolves even further (using social media as a cautionary tale). But some things about AI are certain: It's here, kids are using it, and we probably will too.
Keeping in mind the many changes to come, how can we use it right now? For one thing, we can keep reading think pieces, even while we make it work for us because ultimately, that's what it's for. Just like with any other tech tool, the key is figuring out how to use it effectively, rather than letting it use us.
As we explore, it's crucial to keep students at the center of the discussions and encourage critical thinking about this emerging technology. To that end, you can use the lists of "questions to consider" included in each section for yourself and in your classroom.
It's great to start by learning the basics about AI because it's definitely not a monolith. This technology has been around for quite a while in various forms, and it's likely that you already use it on a daily basis (in features like autocomplete and social media algorithms)! Below you'll find some beginner-level explainers, in-depth reports, and webinars to help you understand the different types of AI a bit better. OpenAI even has its own guide for educators with information and application tips!
- Our video "AI Explained" is great for the basics (and to use with students).
- This article from the New York Times is a great resource if you just want to start at the beginning and work toward generative AI, like ChatGPT. It also links out to other explainers.
- These primers from Aspen Digital cover the basics of AI, generative AI, and lots of terminology.
- This Fox News article might clarify the more theoretical terminology, from "narrow intelligence" to self-aware AI.
- As far as the types of AI used in educational settings, this article from the University of San Diego lists many current and future applications.
- This U.S. Dept of Education report is very comprehensive and has tons of great info. Use the links in the table of contents to jump around to sections of interest.
- This report from Stanford is an ongoing effort to track the impact of AI on lots of different sectors. There are topline summaries and individual chapters, including one on education.
- The Wall Street Journal has a collection of articles on various concerns about AI.
- Our joint EdWeb with AIEdu is a great place to start to get information tailored to K-12 education.
- When ChatGPT first exploded, there were some calls to ban it, especially in schools, so our webinar addresses that issue.
- Digital Promise hosted a webinar all about AI and its potential impact on schools.
- This webinar series is hosted by the Media Education Lab and covers the various impacts of AI in the classroom.
- AI Literacy is a good podcast (especially the first episode) to get your footing around AI.
- Practical AI has this episode that gives some background information on large language model AI.
- AI Quick Bits has really brief episodes, mostly focusing on AI in the present and less on possible future implications.
Questions to consider
- What types of AI do you use on a daily basis (like autocomplete, social media algorithms, etc.)? What types are you less familiar with?
- Do you have a basic understanding of how the AI you're using works?
- What data feeds it? Your own? Other people's content? An up-to-date data set, or one that only includes a specific time frame?
Of course, part of understanding AI is knowing how its pitfalls and limitations can affect everyone, but this is especially important when it comes to kids. Privacy issues, biased content, and misinformation are just some downsides. There are also considerations around mature content and how kids interact with tech that acts eerily human. Beyond that, there are tons of unknowns. Below are some resources that address some key issues.
Privacy and surveillance
- This article from CNN breaks down the reasons you shouldn't share personal information with generative AI, including personal photos or videos.
- Since AI has been used for things like facial recognition programs for a while, more sophisticated AI introduces new concerns around surveillance (and its embedded discrimination).
- As various types of AI evolve and are integrated into platforms we're already using, it will scrape and store more data to feed that AI.
Ethics, equity, and access
- Current generative AI is built using proven biased data, so it's essentially flawed. Decisions based on AI, ranging from placement in a certain math class all the way up to home ownership and resume screening can perpetuate that bias and inequity.
- Its current use in the criminal justice system and for legal purposes also illustrates these issues.
- Similarly, generative AI's lack of representation of all people (and sometimes explicitly prejudicial output) could negatively affect kids' sense of identity.
- Though AI can improve accessibility, it's worth considering that, while programs like ChatGPT were free at first, premium fees give users more features that not everyone can afford.
- Because generative AI is meant to model natural language, it uses a first-person point of view ("I") and is meant to be conversational. This element can certainly be confusing for kids, especially if it's integrated into products aimed at developing a parasocial relationship.
Misinformation and mature content
- Not only is there already false information online, but generative AI can also invent completely false content all on its own.
- With prompting and active attempts to exploit loopholes, it's possible to get a chatbot to say many things that are false and harmful.
- By nature, AI and the bot in question are meant to be relatable and helpful. Along those lines, it makes untrue claims about itself that make it seem more human.
- As with all online information, there's always mature content, and generative AI is often no exception.
Questions to consider
- What data was used to train this AI? Is the training ongoing? What biases are already embedded?
- How is this data collected, stored, and shared?
- How can we verify AI-generated information?
- Are the sources used to generate content cited? If not, in what ways is it ethically sound to use what's generated?
- When it comes to AI that's used for job hunting, legal investigation, housing applications, and more, how can we be sure the information is accurate and ethical? Who needs to be involved in its creation?
Play around (with privacy in mind)
Once you feel like you have your footing, experiment! Every day, there's a new tool to do things like create your own AI bot, generate images or videos, and stay organized. Without inputting any of your (or your students') private information, play around with these platforms. Below are some tips and tools.
- Just like there tips and tricks to do an effective Google search, there are some methods to optimize your use of generative (text-based) AI.
- Brian X Chen and others at the New York Times wrote a series about AI, including this installment about golden prompts: Use the instruction to "act as if" it's in a specific role or situation. For instance, you can tell it to act "as if you're explaining cell structure to a first grader" or "as if you're a biology teacher."
- You can also point out its mistakes to fine-tune your results!
- Instead of just generating one response to a prompt, build and save threads that become personalized bots, operating in contexts you've outlined.
Platforms to play with
Note: Check privacy policies before using if you're concerned about privacy.
- There are more tools to try every day, but Infinite Drum is a simple one which allows you to choose sounds and rhythms to build your own beats.
- Text-to-image tools aren't super sophisticated yet, but they can come up with some interesting images!
- This tool lets you "talk to books," meaning that you create a prompt and quotations from books answer you.
- Jeremy Caplan from Wonder Tools created some personalized bots that he shares, so that's also an option!
Experiments to try
- You're bound only by your own imagination (and privacy considerations), but one interesting experiment is to have generative AI explain complex concepts or the plot of a famous novel, for example, as if it were explaining them to a young kid. It's one way to see how it can summarize and simplify.
- Using generative AI to write any type of song (even in a particular style) is an interesting experiment. It might also be useful to generate catchy rhymes to help kids remember concepts.
- For those more subversive experimenters, you can also try to test its limits (as we know kids do) and see how it handles requests that "confuse" it. These experiments can also be great discussion starters with students as they explore AI.
Questions to consider
- What are ways you'd like generative AI to work for you?
- Are there fun ways you might be able to use it in your classroom?
- Are there ways you can incorporate generative AI into existing assignments (without compromising student privacy)?
Once you feel ready to either use generative AI to help you accomplish your own tasks or even to use in your classroom, there are plenty of ideas out there. Plus, there are lots of ways to get students thinking about and discussing it. Check out some below.
Lessons, tools, and activities
- Examine the ethics around generative AI and potential plagiarism with our lesson on the topic.
- Check out our list of tools, many of which offer lessons and activities about AI.
- Wakelet has collected some lesson plans and learning activities about AI.
- AI for Teachers has a ton of activities, and you can sort by subject and grade!
- If you teach math, check out these resources from Edutopia.
- Don't have a ton of time? Use these subject-aligned Snapshot activities from aiEDU.
- The National Science Teaching Association also has case studies, lessons, and more for all grade levels.
- Ditch That Textbook offers a lot of specific ideas, both for classroom use and for your own purposes.
- THEJournal has some ideas around how teachers can use AI to help themselves.
- And Ivy Xu created a Twitter thread full of cool ideas to try.
Questions to consider
- Now that you've explored, have a sense of what's possible, and understand the limitations of generative AI, how do you think you can use it in your classroom or for your personal interests?
- What are some ways you can integrate discussions around AI into your existing curriculum?
- As AI (and other tech) evolves and becomes increasingly woven into our lives, how can we help kids think critically about the tools themselves and their use of them?