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Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice: How Teachers and Students Think about and Use A.I. (Natasha Singer) (Guest post by Natasha Singer)

Natasha Singer writes about technology, business and society for the New York Times. She reports on tech companies and their influence on public schools, higher education and job opportunities. This article appeared in the New York Times on August 24, 2023

I sat in on a ChatGPT workshop this month for teachers at Walla Walla High School, about 270 miles southeast of Seattle. As a reporter who covers education technology, I have closely followed how generative artificial intelligence has upended education.

Now that the first full school year of the A.I. chatbot era is beginning, I wanted to ask administrators and educators how their thinking had evolved since last spring. Walla Walla, a district that serves some 5,500 students, seemed like a timely location to begin the conversation. After blocking student access to ChatGPT in February, Walla Walla administrators told me they unblocked it last month and are now embracing A.I. tools.

So I jumped at the chance to learn more about how teachers there are planning to use chatbots with their students this academic year. You can read more in my story today about how school districts across the country are repealing their ChatGPT bans.

My colleague Kevin Roose has some great suggestions in his column today on how schools can survive, “and maybe even thrive,” with A.I. tools this fall. Step one, Kevin says: “Assume all students are going to use the technology.”

We recently asked educators, professors, and high school and college students to tell us about their experiences using A.I. chatbots for teaching and learning. We got a massive response — more than 350 submissions. Here are some highlights:

Teaching with A.I.

I love A.I. chatbots! I use them to make variations on quiz questions. I have them check my instructions for clarity. I have them brainstorm activity and assignment ideas. I’ve tried using them to evaluate student essays, but it isn’t great at that.

— Katy Pearce, associate professor, University of Washington

Before they even use ChatGPT, I help students discern what is worth knowing, figuring out how to look it up, and what information or research is worth “outsourcing” to A.I. I also teach students how to think critically about the data collected from the chatbot — what might be missing, what can be improved and how they can expand the “conversation” to get richer feedback.

— Nicole Haddad, Southern Methodist University

Studying with A.I. tools

I used ChatGPT and a math plug-in to help prepare me in geometry for next year. That was very helpful for me because you can ask it a million questions and it never gets tired. It was like my personalized tutor in math.

— Amedeo Bettauer, age 13, rising ninth grader, Brookline High School

A.I. chatbots are making it a lot easier for students to understand difficult concepts in a simple way. The tailored responses one can obtain through specific prompts are incredible. It can provide students with endless examples of how to outline essays, business plans and emails. It’s a real time saver.

— Sam Avery, recent graduate, University of Iowa

A.I. chatbots can give students an out. You don’t have to think about a text deeply or write about a connection that you had to find, you can simply just ask a robot to analyze a quote and it will do it in a matter of seconds. I don’t know the effects that A.I. will have on students in the long run but I just don’t want it to make students lazy, as the joy of learning is that “AHA!” moment that comes from figuring something out yourself.

— Emma Nazario, first-year student, Wheaton College


They have industrialized and automated plagiarism.

— Travis Huckell, associate professor, MacEwan University

I think that the very best students will be fine. At less resourced universities than my own, I foresee an ever yawning gap between the privileged and everyone else, between those who know how to use A.I. as a tool and those who don’t know that there is anything to know.

— Ricardo Galliano Court, assistant dean for academic integrity and undergraduate research, Northwestern University….

One educator’s view

Jennifer Parnell, a history teacher at the Lawrenceville School, an independent school in Lawrenceville, N.J., was an early classroom adopter of ChatGPT. She began trying out A.I. chatbots in December and immediately incorporated the tools into her honors U.S. history and environmental science courses.

“I’m fascinated by the potential of this technology, albeit a little bit terrified,” she wrote in response to our reader callout.

I called her on Wednesday to learn more about the ways she’s been using the A.I. tools with her high school students.

For a final exam in U.S. history, for instance, she used ChatGPT to manufacture an essay and then asked her students to analyze the A.I.-generated text for errors and rewrite it. Students also fed their own essays into the A.I. tool and asked it for feedback on the quality of their sources.

Parnell said she still has concerns about the use of A.I. tools in schools, including issues of bias, privacy and academic honesty. But she believed the potential benefits outweighed the downsides.

“A.I. has pushed teachers to think more intentionally about the purpose of education and specifically assessment,” she said. “As a teacher, if I’m asking questions that are easily answered by A.I., am I asking the best questions?”


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Larry Cuban

Larry Cuban is a former high school social studies teacher (14 years), district superintendent (7 years) and university professor (20 years). He has published op-...

Natasha Singer

Natasha Singer is a reporter at The New York Times where she covers the intersection of business, technology and society with a particular focus on education and ...