You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 44 - and I recently saw an article that said AI - artificial intelligence - will soon make formulaic tests like narrative and persuasive writing tests, redundant.
I also listened to a podcast recently about how we should be teaching skills, not knowledge in schools today because we have Google. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on these, how I see technology in relation to education and how this relates to students and schooling right now.
Well hello VIP’s! I have a bit of a different episode for you today because it’s more topical rather than tangible skills and tips and strategies. But stick with me if you’re more of an actions and tips kinda person. (I get it. That’s me too.) Because I will include a couple of specific points that I believe are important for your teen and their study, given these new advances in technology.
So, the hot topic that seems to be everywhere right now is AI. Artificial Intelligence. Now, I am NO expert on it. I haven’t used it. I couldn’t tell you how it works. So I’m super open to saying that what I’m going to share on this episode are simply my current thoughts based on what I’ve been seeing and reading and listening to - in the classroom and in the media. I might be totally wrong and I’m more than happy to take feedback or criticism on this. But I think it’s relevant and I think it’s worth discussing, so I’m happy to at least open the discussion in case any of you have been pondering on it too.
First off, let’s consider what AI is. Of course, there are many definitions, but here are a couple that I think keep it clear and also that feel most relevant to education.
The first, which was fourth down in the google results, and I liked, but then was a tiny bit annoyed to realise when I clicked on it, was actually from wikipedia, and of course, we as teachers always tell students not to use wikipedia as a reliable source - so bit annoying, but I’m going to use it here anyway: It says that AI is intelligence—which is in turn defined as perceiving, synthesizing, and inferring information—demonstrated bymachines. And then another definition, from Tech Target, says it is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems.
And then investopedia wrote that AI refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. The term may also be applied to any machine that exhibits traits associated with a human mind such as learning and problem-solving.
It also went on to say that
The goals of artificial intelligence include mimicking human cognitive activity.
So - we’ve got learning, problem-solving and cognitive activity all being covered here which I think we’d generally agree are all key elements of schooling and education: learning, problem-solving and cognitive activity.
So here are the most recent things I happen to have seen and heard in relation to AI and education. Now, I haven’t been actively researching this, these are just things I’ve come across in the past couple of weeks and got me thinking.
So, firstly, I’m seeing some students using online free AI software to produce their work for them. I’m seeing students type in key terms and have a paragraph churned out for them about whatever it is they’re supposed to be writing about.
In some cases what is produced is terrible and in some cases, it’s actually not bad.
Secondly, I saw an article with the headline: Formulaic tests should be scrapped in the face of AI.
And how the Naplan Writing Test is an example of this. For those of you not in Australia, Naplan is the National Assessment Program of Literacy and Numeracy. It’s a collection of tests for students in Y3, 5, 7 and 9 and the writing test is where students have to write a persuasive or a narrative piece of writing in response to an unseen stimulus.
And thirdly, I was listening to a podcast, which was actually where the host was interviewing an entrepreneur, so this wasn’t an education based podcast, but the entrepreneur was saying that they believe that in light of technology today, schools should be teaching skills rather than knowledge.
Because we can just look up facts and information and that means skills are more important.
And seeing and hearing all these things in the space of about a week - maybe twn days, got me thinking.
So, given that we’ve defined what Artifical Intelligence is, we should also consider what education is, or what our current education system really is.
Now, I don’t think a simple definition is quite so appropriate here. But just for completeness, I did look one up. The Oxford dictionary has two:
the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction AND an enlightening experience. And I think personally, wouldn’t it be awesome if we considered that school education is both of those.
I think that’s what it’s supposed to be, even though it doesn’t always feel like it.
I’d like to think that there are at least a few enlightening experiences dotted throughout anyone’s formal schooling as well as systematic instruction.
Personally, I think that the aim is to help prepare students for their future.
To have the skills and knowledge and understanding to be able to create a happy and meaningful future for themselves, and make a positive contribution or impact - whatever that looks like for them. Of course it’s different for everyone, but I think that’s personally what I aim for in general in teaching.
And I intentionally said just then to ‘HELP’ prepare students. Because there are of course many factors at play in young people’s lives. It’s not just school that gives them an education, that gives them instruction, that provides enlightening experiences.
It’s family, community, friendships and other relationships and interactions. It’s the media they consume intentionally or sub-consciously. It’s clubs, teams, hobbies.
All of these things influence us, our knowledge, our personalities, our skills, our interests, our values.
So, with regards to AI and technology, what might this mean for our school system and educating teens?
Personally, I don’t think teaching knowledge is pointless just because we’ve got Google.
Now, like I said these are just my personal thoughts right now based on recent things I’ve heard and read.
I’m sure that someone could share a different perspective or point and I may think differently because of it.
But right now, I don’t believe that knowledge is redundant, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly - How are we going to have engaging or interesting conversations with other humans about anything if we have no personal knowledge of anything? How would we connect with other people or develop relationships - personal or professional if we didn’t have common interests or topics of knowledge?
Do we really want to have to consult Google to be able to discuss anything? And personally, I love a pub quiz and board games, and I say that frivolously, but also to make the point that there are both serious and fun things involved here which I think both make up a fulfilling life.
Knowledge of a topic can bring pleasure or benefits in many different ways, not just to have a fact to hand when we need to work on something. It also makes us interesting, it allows us to learn from each other, express ourselves and it enables us to build on our natural talents or dispositions.
And secondly - I think the whole point of studying a range of subjects, especially early on before we start to take subject options and whittle down the number of subjects we study, is to expose us to different things that we may not be exposed to just through our family or friends or community.
Granted, we have the internet, and we can find anything and everything on the internet, but how would we know to even go search it if we haven’t been taught a smattering of different subjects or topics to begin with?
I don’t think we all need to be walking encyclopedia’s, but I think learning about certain topics and subjects helps us expose us to more aspects of life, helps us to identify our interests and carve out our future directions.
And I also got to considering how this specifically relates to study and assessments in our current education system.
The article that talked about AI making formulaic exams and assessments redundant said:
“Students need to be writing in original, creative, personal, ethical and meaningful ways, not acting like robots writing to algorithmic rules like ChatGPT.
"Parents need to ask schools how students are being taught to skilfully incorporate, critique, and exceed AI writing.
“NAPLAN does not test this.
Now, I kinda agree with this, but I also think there is more to it.
Because I think that if we consider education to be one of the ways young people are set up to be happy and successful, contributing members of society, then I think that:
a) understanding how to deliver information in the way it is being asked for is a valuable skill.
Whether that’s responding to command words in an exam, or giving a client what they want in terms of a project at work.
b) I think that sometimes there is value in being able to do something for yourself, rather than being totally reliant on machines or computers.
How can a student critique the output of AI, say a paragraph summary about a topic, or a narrative about a boy who has wings, or a persuasive speech about euthanasia, if they don’t know either anything themselves about the topic, or have the understanding of what stylistic devices or literary techniques apply to that genre?
I think there is a difference between machines taking over basic or manual tasks like washing machines doing our laundry for us, versus us being able to distill information for ourselves, or us being able to summarise a topic, or being able to make decisions based on information.
A good example of this would be me and GPS directions. I have a TERRIBLE sense of direction, need to somewhere about 12 times before I remember the way, and rely WAY too much on GPS and Google maps to get anywhere. I’ve never had something REALLY bad happen to me like ending up 3 hours north when I was supposed to be going south, but I’m well aware that I’m a perfect candidate for that to happen to me one day, and I have had smaller issues like it takes me on some ridiculous route which takes 20 minutes to get somewhere that’s actually 5 minutes away.
If I had SOME idea about the general direction or location, I could have a good idea before I set off if it looks right.
And I see this with students and calculators. They type in something like 20 TIMES 78 instead of 20 PLUS 78 and don’t bat an eyelid when they’re writing out some crazy huge number. Or getting more specific to having knowledge of a topic, let’s say they’re finding an angle inside a triangle, and they don’t know that it’s definitely going to be less than 180 degrees - because that’s the sum of all angles inside the triangle, and they therefore can’t make a ballpark prediction or check for reasonableness of the answer they get.
Now that doesn’t mean I’m against technology or calculators, or AI. These definitely present huge opportunities.
AI is looking like it’s going to become a bigger and more significant part of life, especially for teens and their futures. And so I agree that we need to teach students how to skilfully incorporate, critique, and yes, exceed AI writing, just like they’ve learnt to use calculators and laptops and software and programs and goodness knows what else they know that I do NOT know how to use.
But I don’t think it means we should drop everything else. I think it means we adapt in terms of how we set tasks, what we ask students to do or produce and how we do it, not just in terms of assessment, but also in terms of how they learn along the way. BUT, I don’t see those changing in a SIGNIFICANT way any time soon.
Who knows, in a year or two I might record part 2 to this episode as we see how things develop, or I realise that I’ve been totally ignorant to certain things and change my mind. So, those are simply my thoughts right now.
I hope you have a brilliant week and I’ll meet you back here again next week. Take care, bye!