Nov 14 2023

AI for Teachers: Defeating Burnout and Boosting Productivity

AI can unlock instructors’ powers while reducing their workload.

The past several years have been a rollercoaster ride for teachers. Hailed as heroes at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the return to the classroom has been rocky, and teacher shortages continue to make headlines.

HMH’s 9th Annual Educator Confidence Report suggests a reason and a solution: “Burnout is a critical issue, with 82% of educators citing that what they need most is a more balanced workload.”

Jamie Lewsadder, associate superintendent of technology services for La Cañada Unified School District in California, says, “As a society, we underestimate the effort it now takes to be a teacher.”

“Expectations are very high for student outcomes,” she continues. “Teachers take their mission to heart, but there are more challenges today in education than ever, especially coming out of COVID. There’s greater diversity in the classroom, across cultures, ability and learning styles. Today’s student is different from students even five years ago.”

Some educators believe that technology, specifically artificial intelligence, could bring relief to teachers carrying heavy workloads. A 2020 McKinsey report backs up that claim, noting that 20 to 40 percent of the tasks that teachers spend time on — grading, lesson planning, general administration — could be outsourced to technology. 

Click the banner to learn more about key technologies for hybrid teaching.

Does AI Help Relieve Burnout in Teachers?

For Francie Alexander, chief research officer at HMH, the benefits of automated technologies such as AI are clear.

"There are four primary upsides to AI in the classroom,” she says. “The first is productivity, helping the teacher be more productive in all aspects of teaching. The second is the social aspect, being able to connect with families, students and colleagues more easily. The third is data, being able to accumulate and review data to improve learning. The fourth upside is being able to use technology to assist in classroom instruction."

Fortunately for educators, they do not necessarily need to acquire new hardware or software to make the most of AI.

“A lot of solutions that are already on the market use AI technology,” says Jennette Vanderpool, a CDW education strategist and a school board member for Lake Elsinore (Calif.) Unified School District. “Manufacturers are jumping on the current popularity of AI technology and rebranding to make it more obvious that they are using this technology. Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace for Education have been using AI in their products. GoGuardian and Merlyn Mind also have AI features.”

AI can help teachers lighten their workloads. For example, Microsoft 365 offers a variety of AI-powered learning accelerators, which are assistive tools built into the OS to help support foundational learning skills. One example is Reading Coach, which analyzes a student’s reading and then produces a personalized program for improvement, lending a hand to overstretched teachers.

RELATED: See how these next-generation reading tools could improve K–12 literacy.

David Miyashiro
For teachers, we need to give them access to these tools and help them keep up with other professions using AI.”

David Miyashiro Superintendent, Cajon Valley Union School District

Google Workspace for Education is a favorite among educators, and for good reason. The tech tool uses AI to automate repetitive tasks, such as class creation and management, document template creation, and calendar reminders. This unloads some of the time-consuming administrative duties that teachers are responsible for.

In March 2023, Google added practice sets to Google Workspace for Education. Practice sets use AI to help teachers transform their existing lesson content into interactive assignments. This is another AI win for teachers who support personalized learning in the classroom, a critical task too often influenced by time and resource constraints.

In partnership with Google Cloud, GoGuardian recently rolled out several AI-fueled features including Edulastic, which identifies student learning gaps; serves up differentiated assignments to remediate, reinforce or challenge learning; and then monitors progress toward mastery. Being able to quickly align identified learning gaps with specific, individualized assignments saves teachers a great deal of time and effort.

DISCOVER: Learn how schools are using customized instruction to strengthen learning.

A Powerful Digital Assistant Automates Teacher Tasks

Merlyn Mind is a digital assistant designed specifically for education that offers the kind of task-oriented classroom support that a paraprofessional might provide to a teacher.

It is used with Promethean Symphony Classroom Hub, a learning tool that includes a smart speaker, microphones and a remote control. The AI assistant responds to voice and touch commands, allowing the teacher to use connected software and hardware from anywhere in the classroom. Being able to activate or use classroom technology on the go offers another timesaving win for teachers.

“Merlyn Mind can now help teachers organize an efficient day for their classrooms,” Vanderpool says. “When they walk through the door, lesson plans and resources are cued up and ready to go. All of the resources and data for kids are already loaded into their devices. This opens up increased classroom time for direct instruction and decreases planning time. Teachers become more productive more easily, and they are able to free up more time to provide direct instruction and build relationships with students.”

38%

The percentage of educators who plan to adopt AI tools in the 2023-24 school year

Source: hmhco.com, 9th Annual Educator Confidence Report, August 2023

How AI Vendors Are Addressing Data Privacy in Education

The current generation of education automation and AI-supported products offer strong support for overwhelmed teachers, but questions linger around data privacy.

“Privacy is a big concern, properly securing and maintaining the data privacy of students,” says Lewsadder. “Parents are worried about teachers taking student writing or work and having it end up in a public large language model. We need to know where it’s going or keep it in the district.”

Newer offerings such as SchoolJoy and Merlyn Mind, which recently released large language model, address privacy by using a “private” LLM built exclusively for education.

“If you use an open-source tool like ChatGPT, you may get hallucinations, references to false information,” says David Miyashiro, superintendent for Cajon Valley Union School District in California. “But with products like SchoolJoy, you know all the data is real. it is coming only from internal sources exclusively within the district. That helps a great deal and keeps student and staff data private and secure.”

LEARN MORE: Get the pros and cons of generative artificial intelligence.

Planning for AI in Education

While AI has proved useful, HMH’s report notes that only 10 percent of 1,000 classroom teachers surveyed nationwide used generative AI in their classrooms last year. 

Miyashiro believes he knows why that percentage is so low.

“Our education system can sometimes be too risk averse and change averse,” he says. “That may make it hard to make the transition to using AI. For teachers, we need to give them access to these tools and help them keep up with other professions using AI. Teachers will start to use their creativity to develop tools we haven’t even thought of yet.”

“District support for using AI would be providing professional development and then providing a properly protected AI environment to use,” Alexander adds.

As for teachers, she advises, “When thinking about applying tech or AI in the classroom, they need to ask, ‘What problem am I trying to solve?’ It needs to start with this question.”

Getty Images: smartboy10, santypan
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