As recently as two years ago the idea of artificial intelligence, or AI, as having transformative implications for education was interesting, but highly speculative. When we thought about AI we were likely to consider Siri and Alexa as examples. While useful for some purposes, AI was not seen as having immediate implications for how we engage students in learning and how we assess what they have learned.
However, a lot has changed in the past few months. The emergence of tools such as ChatGPT have opened the doors to a myriad of implications for the way our students engage in learning, how we prepare for and engage in instruction, and how we approach assessment and documentation of learning. The adoption of these new forms of AI has been faster than any technology in history and its implications span almost every industry. Yet, what we see now is barely the beginning.
Whether AI will impact education is no longer far-off speculation. In fact, predications are that education will be profoundly changed through the impact of AI. Even early applications available now—with a simple prompt—can write essays, compose lesson plans, rewrite existing content to accommodate lower reading levels, create succinct topical summaries to provide students with background information that is calibrated to a grade level, compose drafts of difficult letters to parents, and much more.
The question we must answer is how we will respond to the introduction and expected rapid growth of AI in the coming months and years. Of course, there is a lot we don’t know. Yet, we are facing pressure to choose sooner rather than later. The implications of our choice may have lasting implications for the institutions we lead, the people who work and learn in them, and our leadership.
Let’s explore four possible responses to the changes AI is likely to press. We might think of our response choices as resisting, adjusting, adapting, and anticipating. Each of the response options carries implications, but they imply different action sets.
If we choose to respond to the introduction and growth of AI, such as ChatGPT, by resisting, our focus will be on how to avoid and control its introduction. Typical actions include banning AI tools from use in schools, focusing on how to detect the use of AI, and working to protect traditional teaching and learning practices and processes. Our bet is that what we normally do and how we typically approach pressures on the system will win out and blunt the challenge of AI. Unfortunately, in this circumstance our inability or unwillingness to accommodate change likely will lead to even greater pressure and erode confidence in our leadership.
A second option is adjusting to the changing reality we face. Here we broaden our focus and enlist the full array of strategies and tools we possess. Our bet is that by employing our best skills and approaches we will position ourselves better than by resisting. We might limit applications of AI to current programs, allow only adults to use AI tools, and require formal adoption processes to precede introduction of AI tools. However, our current skills, tools, and processes are likely to be less than adequate in the face of the scope and pervasiveness of AI. Unless we commit to expand our knowledge and skills, develop new approaches and strategies, and adopt new perspectives on our role and work, our success will be limited and pressure will continue to grow.
The third response option, adapting, means that we move beyond what might be familiar and has served us well in the past. We ask ourselves what we need to learn about AI and what skills we need to develop. We open ourselves to developing new strategies, creating new approaches and adopting new tools that will be required in the new world of AI. In this response, our focus is on understanding the needs and demands we face rather than depending on what has worked in the past. We seek opportunities to expand access and address equity issues, while remaining focused on the purpose and mission of the institutions and the learners we serve.
A fourth option is to embrace the change by anticipating what lies ahead and preparing in advance. This response shifts our leadership position from being reactive to proactive. Rather than waiting for the pressure of AI to overwhelm us, we explore and anticipate what may lie ahead. We learn all that we can about AI and its implications and consider how the traditional practices and processes we rely on need to be rethought and redesigned. We look for opportunities to make changes at micro and macro levels in the educational experiences we offer to learners. While this may be the most uncomfortable of the four response options, it’s the choice that promises the greatest opportunity to find success in a rapidly changing and difficult to predict future.
Experience has shown that change is constant and inevitable. However, few if any of us have experienced the scope and pace of change that appears to lie ahead. We may not be able to control the change we face, but we can control how we choose to respond.