Artificial Intelligence and Education

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The article from  the Alphonsian Academy Blog

Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems have been used in many ways in the field of education: text editors, intelligent assistants, search algorithms, translators, etc. On 30.11.2022, a qualitative leap was made with the launch of ChatGPT, a generative AI programme capable of “producing syntactically and semantically coherent texts”[1]. In just two months, the programme reached more than 100 million users. Many other applications that generate texts (Bing, Bard, YouChat, etc.), images (Dall-E, Midjourney, Leonardo, Jasper, etc.), audio, and videos were quickly launched.

The growing use of these applications in education has provoked both enthusiastic and confused reactions: should they be banned, or should pupils be helped to use them critically and creatively? How can plagiarism be identified and the scientific rigour of the work ensured?

Pope Francis acknowledges that “artificial intelligence systems can contribute to the process of liberation from ignorance and facilitate the exchange of information between peoples and different generations”. At the same time, he warns that these systems “can be instruments of ‘cognitive contamination’, of altering reality” (WDSC 2024, 7). A new cultural environment is being created that forces educational institutions to discern about “social and ethical aspects” and about “methods of teaching and formation”. Above all, says the Pope, “critical thinking” and the “responsible use of data and content” should be promoted in such a way as to strengthen pluralism and universal brotherhood (WDP 2024, 7).

Abundant literature
The literature on AI and education is abundant. As early as 2015, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG4) called for AI to be put at the service of quality education[2]. UNESCO continues to promote this reflection[3]. On 23.11.2021, it adopted a recommendation on the ethics of AI with a particular focus on education[4]. In 2022, the European Commission published ethical guidelines on the education and training of educators[5].

These and other documents call for AI algorithms to be transparent so that the criteria, objectives and sources they use can be verified, thus reducing the danger of selective or discriminatory bias.

Some challenges for students
Students have probably welcomed ChatGPT and successive generative AI programmes most enthusiastically because of the ease with which they make it possible to search for accurate information on any given topic and to prepare class assignments. This has increased the temptation to plagiarise and to lose motivation for learning. If everything is given to them, why make the effort? This can lead to a failure to develop the creativity, critical thinking, skills and competences that are necessary for independent learning.

Challenges for teachers
AI forces a rethinking of teachers’ roles and could eventually threaten many of their jobs. Some teachers fear that AI will make them too dependent on technology and force them to work hard to acquire the skills needed to use AI and interpret its results. They lament that they lack the resources to implement it in the classroom and are baffled by the difficulty of detecting plagiarism and assessing school work.

Many others, however, have realised the great possibilities that AI offers, for example, automating tasks such as marking exams or providing personalised attention to students with special needs. AI can quickly identify the areas in which individual students have the most difficulties, thus guiding the learning task. Freed from some tasks, teachers can focus on others, e.g., lesson planning, learning assessment, and interaction with students.

Teachers’ efforts should be in synergy with those of the family to enhance relational values such as empathy, compassion and fraternity, which can be neglected in a technology-dominated environment.

A new understanding of the educational task
What is desirable is to properly integrate AI into the learning task, addressing its risks and enhancing its possibilities. More than containment measures, creativity is needed. It is not enough to evaluate results; students must be accompanied in the process of learning and research. For example, in order to tackle the temptation to plagiarise, dialogue with students, when they hand in their work can help, but it would be better to accompany them throughout the process of elaboration, inviting them to use AI as an initial resource and to evaluate and discuss the results it offers them in class.

Many proposals on using AI in the classroom have already been published on the web [6]. The debate continues, and we are all invited to participate in it.

Martín Carbajo-Núñez, OFM

the original text is in Spanish,
the article and featured image courtesy of Alphonsian Academy

[1] Pope Francis, “Message for the 58th World Communications Day (WCSD), (24.01.2024)

[2] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/es/education/ (Acceso: 1.02.2024).

[3] UNESCO, «International Forum on AI and the Futures of Education. Developing Competencies for the AI Era» (7-8.12.2020), in Internet: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377251 (Acceso: 1.02.2024).

[4] https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000381137_spa (Acceso: 1.02.2024).

[5] European Commission, «Digital learning and ICT in education», in Internet: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/es/policies/digital-learning

[6] Examples of how to use AI in education: https://onlinedegrees.sandiego.edu/artificial-intelligence-education/#:-:text=Tutoring%3A%20AI%20systems%20can%20%E2 %80%9Cgauge,abstract%20assessments%20such%20as%20essays.%E2%80%9D (Acceso: 1.02.2024).