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Using AI to Redefine what Education Could (and Should) Be

Updated: May 31, 2023

I was on the committee for technology integration at my school from 2007-2010 when “bring your own device” was being explored, and we were finding ways to encourage teachers to use technology in meaningful ways. We would hold professional development afternoons, showcasing innovative uses of different websites or apps. We would highlight authentic assessment examples that, not only assessed student learning in various subject areas, but also taught key technology literacy skills. We went to local and national conferences (such as International Society for Technology in Education - ISTE) that were purely focused on supporting integration of technology in education and brought our learning back to our peers.

But were all of these different forms of technology integration created equal?

Like with anything, in order to assess success for integration of technology, we need to start with the goal. In this case, what was being accomplished by using the technology? And did this differ from a situation without the technology?

Enter the SAMR. The SAMR model was first created by Dr. Ruben Peuntedura in 2010 to categorize the different degrees of integration of technology into education, helping to provide a framework for questions like this:

  • Substitution (direct substitute with no functional change) – Such as using Google docs to write a paper instead of pencil and paper.

  • Augmentation (direct substitute with functional improvement) – Such as using Google docs to write a paper instead of pencil and paper, but allowing the teacher to suggest edits and make comments within the document.

  • Modification (significant redesign) – Such as using the Google doc to integrate an interactive, collaborative peer editing process.

  • Redefinition (previously inconceivable tasks) – Such as using the Google doc to share the draft of the paper with experts in the area discussed for direct feedback and conversation.

While the lines between the different degrees can be a little blurry at times (for example, is peer editing really a significant redesign?), there is a clear difference between simply using Google instead of pencil and paper and being able to share that work with experts around the world in real-time. No level is better or worse than another – it simply speaks to the way in which the technology is being used and the purpose thereof.

As we continue to consider the integration of artificial intelligence into education, the same principles of the SAMR model apply, thinking about the degree to which we are integrating AI and how it is impacting education.

While it can be tempting for a leader to have ChatGPT draft the policy manual or a teacher to save time by asking it to write his next lesson or or for a student to have Bard answer clarifying questions instead of the teachers or write the summary for her next project, this is using AI at its most basic level – substitution. Humans can easily handle any of these tasks without the AI assistance. While it would take longer, the end results would be comparable.

Moving to the next level, modification, AI could be used to create rubrics that apply from one situation to another, enhance presentations with imagery, translate material into languages, or quickly review student work to identify trends. Here, we begin to use AI in a way that modifies the original in a way that sees some functional improvement.

Moving to modification could look like using AI to provide personalized learning and real-time feedback for students or using the technology as a virtual tutor. Historical figures can be brought to life to more meaningfully engage in a dynamic environment. The concept of “literacy” is expanded to include crafting chat prompts for effective outputs. These are all ways that education can be significantly redesigned with AI.

But what about redefinition? What does that look like with AI?

It’s the “redefinition” degree that is truly exciting (and a little bit scary) when we think about the potential impact of AI on education.

While we absolutely can (and should) be using AI for substitution and augmentation to streamline tasks, save time, and integrate key skills, using the technology for these roles is not maximizing the potential and doing our students a disservice.

As I’ve shared in previous writing, AI has the potential to catalyze much-needed radical change in education, rethinking everything rather than optimizing outdated systems. In order for that to happen, however, we must use AI to “redefine” what is possible and truly prepare our students for their future.

Just think…what might be?

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