Over the past year, interest in the use of AI tools—most notably ChatGPT—has exploded in nearly every sector, including education. Casey Green, Founding Director of The Campus Computing Project, has noticed the increase in tech firms making significant investments in AI, whether that looks like bolting on or baking in AI to current and emerging applications and services or discovering new use cases.
Also present in this advancement of technology is the role the COVID-19 pandemic played in accelerating virtual learning in schools and institutions. The immediate need for virtual learning platforms led to institutions leveraging learning management systems, video, and other synchronous and asynchronous learning resources in order to continue classes. As the pandemic-related shift, virtual learning, and AI converge, we find ourselves in an eLearning 2.0 phase previously uncharted.
Green recently had the opportunity to speak with Serena Sacks-Mandel, Global Education CTO at Microsoft, and Michael Chasen, CEO at Class, about the future of learning and AI’s role there, as well as how each of the companies are looking to leverage this powerful new tool moving forward.
The impact of AI in education
Education has long operated as a proving ground for new technologies. In exploring the role of artificial intelligence in the classroom, the melding of the two feels inevitable—especially when students are often early adopters, unafraid of testing how new resources can aid their efforts (and, in some cases, reduce their own efforts).
Due to this early adoption reality, Chasen already sees the impact at the university level, stating, “When is AI going to ripple through universities? It already has. They recently did a study that found out over 60% of students are already using AI to assist with all of their assignments. And very rarely has there been the application that had the type of sign-ups that Chat GPT 3.5 or 4.0 has. So, if you’re asking about the ripple, I think it’s already taken effect.”
Challenges of AI in learning
Alongside this adoption comes the potential sticking points around this wide-spanning technology. Notable elements, such as plagiarism and academic integrity, have already circulated in education. Additionally, the expansive upskilling faculty and staff face of getting “up to speed” on the usage of AI in education exists. Just like the introduction of computers and the internet, educators must become competent and knowledgeable in order to help navigate students through the uses of AI in learning.
Sacks-Mandel sees this as a critical component of a student’s education, adding, “We need our students to be workforce-ready, and therefore they need to learn AI. Therefore, the educators need to incorporate that into their curriculum.”
AI for teachers demonstrates a new landscape of learning strategies. Yes, the potential for leveraging AI teaching assistants and other technical capabilities can lighten the load of educators, but this comes after the training and adoption of artificial intelligence in the classroom.
A shared and reimagined classroom
While many of the topics surrounding AI in education focus on challenges for effective and responsible integration, one of the great upsides of this technology is its ability to empower educators and learners with enhanced capabilities, as well as increased speed of action.
Sacks-Mandel adds, “What Microsoft’s doing is [we’re] copilots. It’s not replacing a person, it’s giving the person more power. So, as we roll out M365 Copilot, it’s going to provide questions and information and allow you to make decisions based on it. So, there isn’t really a learning curve. It’s more about [Copilot AI] providing information and options for the person to be more productive.”
Additionally, this new assistance begs the question of how we identify learning and doing. Does the assignment of “writing a paper” still require the learner to craft wholly original thoughts into a full essay? Or does the assignment of “writing a paper” shift to crafting wholly original prompts that then are fed into an AI software which then creates the bulk of the paper’s content? Sacks-Mandel believes that education’s adoption of AI also means the necessity to reimagine pedagogy and assignments, especially when it comes to the learner’s participation in these acts.
Chasen takes this thought process a step further, noting that, in the future, institutions may have to ask important questions about what it means to be an educator, as well:
“[Currently] AI could become maybe a teaching assistant in a class, and maybe that’s not so bad because you still have an instructor. And that’s some of the technology that we’re starting to beta at Class—giving teachers an AI [teaching assistant], if you will, that can just help them better run their class and be another resource. But of course, you now have models coming up where there are companies creating AI tutoring that’s a fully AI-powered tutor, and is that really much of a step away from having a fully AI-powered class? And so, those are the questions that I think that the institutions are going to have to deal with a little bit longer term. At what point are they drawing the line between instructors using AI and AI, maybe in some ways, maybe even replacing either part of the responsibility or maybe all the responsibility of an instructor?”
Actively understanding the future of AI in education
As AI in learning continues to transform how we understand and think about education, new advancements in technology are identifying impactful, rich integrations that take current platforms to the next level. This comes as Class is partnering with Microsoft to provide Class for Teams, harnessing and extending the scalability of Teams’ trusted video conferencing platform to provide a unique set of tools and analytics that transform the virtual learning experience. The partnership between Class and Microsoft aims to improve learner engagement, facilitation of meaningful collaboration, streamlining of course setup and delivery, and the leveraging of analytics and automation.
Sacks-Mandel adds, “Teachers are critical to the learning process. However, we need to have more flexibility. One thing we learned in the pandemic is that students don’t want to just sit in a class and hear a lecture. They want to come to a class to do work, to interact with other people, to talk with their teacher to get more value out of it. And what Class is doing is giving [Microsoft] Teams even more power to be a robust remote tool so that you can learn in the classroom, outside of the classroom, and everything in between.”