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What is the most effective way to bring AI into the classroom?

It will require a collaboration between educators and technologists.

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Technology changes the way we teach and the way we want to teach should change the way we develop and use technology. | Unsplash/moren hsu

There are few emerging technologies garnering as much attention as artificial intelligence — or raising as many profound questions.

AI, a broad area of computing that ranges from making meaning out of large amounts of data to systems that sense information, perceive what the information implies and act upon that inference, is making its way into industry, government and public life. But does it belong in the classroom? And if it does, how can educators and technologists work together to be sure it enhances learning?

Stanford experts in AI and education explored those questions at a recent session of the Intersections program, which brings together faculty from engineering and other schools to share insights around a common theme.

“Asking if AI belongs in the classroom is like asking does water or electricity belong in the classroom?” said James Landay, a professor of computer science in the School of Engineering. It does belong, he said, as long as it’s used constructively to help teachers teach more effectively and students learn more effectively.

Along these lines, Laura McBain, an adjunct professor at the Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, says it’s important to think of the technology as more than a tool for consumption. It should be a tool for creation as well. “There’s beauty in allowing students to play and create and use emerging technologies to think differently about problems.”

There was little disagreement on the panel that AI is coming to schools and that if it’s going to be used advantageously, a thoughtful approach must be adopted by school leaders, teachers and technologists. Ideally, partnerships between these groups of people are created so that the new practices and techniques that come out of AI empower more effective teaching and learning and mitigate rather than exacerbate issues of access and bias.

The issues of access and bias are of critical importance in education, said Karin Forssell, the director of the Learning Design and Technology master’s program at Stanford Graduate School of Education. It is important that AI help teachers support all students. When building or adopting new digital tools, Forssell says, educators and technologists need to work together to examine whether technological enhancements are serving their intended purpose. “The trick,” she says, “will be to align these technologies with our goal in the classroom: to support the development of human intelligence.”