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Using Curiosity to Focus on AI Literacy

Where does artificial intelligence start? It seems AI is embedded in everything from auto-complete texts and emails to virtual assistants that pop up on every app and website to creating your own GPT – it’s hard to truly differentiate where non-AI ends and AI begins as the technology is more and more embedded into everything. 

With AI seemingly-everywhere, it’s essential to be focusing on AI literacy with our students (and ourselves), using the very-human disposition of curiosity as a foundation. 

In a recent webinar I attended through the Harvard Graduate School of Education, panelists Faith Rogow (author, Media Literacy for Young Children: Teaching Beyond the Screen Time Debates), Sarah Newman (director of art and education, metaLAB (at) Harvard, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University), and Merve Lapus (vice president, Education Outreach & Engagement, Common Sense Education) discussed how criticism is the opposite of critical thinking – they key to all of this is to teach students to be curious and investigate, not doubt. 

When we start with criticism, we close off possibilities of learning and growing. When we start with curiosity, it leads to questions and gathering information and making connections and choices. 

So how do we focus on AI literacy through this lens?

  1. Start with where you are. You don’t need to have a background in computer science to delve into AI literacy. In fact, not having a background in computer science can be beneficial in emphasizing the human connection behind these tools and relating to students where they are. 

  1. Use what you already do. You’ve probably already done and continue to do a lot of work in this area (literacy and critical thinking), and now it’s about how to apply that to this new technology. 

  1. Treat AI like media. It’s fancy and super-powered, and ultimately, just like all media, it was created by people, so consider what was included (and excluded) in its creation, for what purpose it was created, and how all of that impacts your interaction with it.

  1. Explore together. Work together with your students to learn and make mistakes and figure it out. Media is kids’ culture, and they love exploring and talking about it – and engagement skyrockets when discussing and using it.

  1. Focus on the concepts over specific tools and tricks. The AI tools we are using now will be outdated and replaced in a few years, so rather than focusing on specific tools, focus on the bigger picture. Build habits and systems. Cultivate inquiry and critical thinking. Consider the ethical implications. 

  1. Teach students how to ask the right questions. Fostering an inquiry mindset in students is useful in various areas and can be a great entry point for thinking critically about AI, and it only works if we teach students to ask questions for themselves (rather than tell them the questions to ask). Questions to start include: Is this true? How do I know it’s true? What is my role as media creator?

  1. Figure out what works for you. Teaching isn’t one size fits all. Teaching AI literacy is no exception. So figure out what works for you and your students and lean in to that.

Just like fostering kindness and curiosity is the job of everyone in the building, AI literacy is the job of everyone in the building. We need to build a culture where these are common conversations everywhere – no single educator or single classroom is enough. Though collaborative responsibility, we can maximize AI for the benefits it has to offer. 

We give AI power, so we can control how much power it has. 

We give AI power in how we talk about it; AI doesn’t “think” and it doesn’t “want.”  (We think and want)

We give AI power if we don’t consider thoughtfully how and when to use it; we can actively question the role we want it to play or not. (We, ultimately, get to decide)

We give AI power when we are consumed by the various conversations about the future; experts do not agree, so can hold space for and direct towards the future we want. (We can direct the future)

We can take back the power, and it starts with curiosity and inquiry.

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