Apr 16 2024

Why Teaching Students How to Use Artificial Intelligence Could Make Them Employable Adults

K–12 schools can no longer stand on the sidelines with AI. They must make professional development around the emerging technology a priority.

K–12 schools looking to adequately prepare students to participate successfully in a rapidly changing 21st century economy can no longer avoid artificial intelligence. There is an increasing consensus that teaching students to use AI is more than just a nice-to-have — it will make them competitive job candidates later in life. Harvard Business School professor Karim Lakhani, who has long studied AI and machine learning in the workplace, says, “AI is not going to replace humans, but humans with AI are going to replace humans without AI.”  

The Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology recently produced a report noting that teachers play a critical role in the AI revolution: “Teachers and other people must be ‘in the loop’ whenever AI is applied in order to notice patterns and automate educational processes. We call upon all constituents to adopt Humans-in-the-Loop as a key criteria.”

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Without Understanding AI, Graduates Risk Becoming Unemployable

Frankly, schools that do not integrate AI into the K–12 curriculum could be exacerbating the digital divide, especially for traditionally disadvantaged groups. The recent National Educational Technology Plan noted that one of the three digital divides in K–12 is the digital use divide, which describes the opportunities students have to use technology to further their learning.

According to the Office of Educational Technology’s release on the plan, this includes “dynamic applications of technology to explore, create and engage in critical analysis of academic content and knowledge.” What this means is that while students may have access to devices and other technology, they may only be using it to passively consume content instead of using it as a tool for creation.

No matter how many new technologies crop up that allow students to learn on their own, teachers remain subject matter experts and can still serve as a guide to help guide students. Such is the case with AI exploration. Unfortunately, students who get few or no opportunities to explore this new technology risk falling behind in the new economy, threatening their ability to secure AI-supported employment.

LEARN MORE: Check out new AI guidance from the Department of Education.

How Embracing AI Can Improve Critical Thinking in K–12

For those educators who worry that AI will negatively impact learning, it might help to think of it more as a resource that students can use to expand their efficiency and capacity. In the pre-internet era, students seeking to better understand a subject matter would go to libraries and hunt through physical encyclopedias for information. Today, students can do the same with generative AI. Much more powerful and efficient than legacy forms of information-gathering, AI can quickly collect and summarize data from across the web and present it in an easy-to-digest format.

What this means is that educators and librarians still have a job to do. They must understand AI in order to help students properly vet these sources. This is, in fact, not unlike how students learned to evaluate and cite references before generative AI became publicly available. This has also been part of the digital literacy wave that’s washed over K–12. As students are bombarded by millions of pieces of information everywhere they turn — from social media to traditional print and broadcast sources — more schools are implementing a digital citizenship curriculum to help students think critically and question more deeply the flood of information and disinformation that they face each day. When students produce projects informed by subject matter experts, websites or books, we ask them to properly cite their sources. Educators must teach them how to do the same thing with ChatGPT or other forms of AI. In fact, professional style guides such as MLA and APA already include entries on how to correctly cite generative AI.

Karim Lakhani
AI is not going to replace humans, but humans with AI are going to replace humans without AI.”

Karim Lakhani Professor, Harvard Business School

Teaching prompt engineering in high school would not only help students learn what questions to ask but also how to validate the answers received, as generative AI is not always accurate. California State University, Sacramento recently established an AI institute where teachers are developing AI-driven assignments. In one such course “students will learn to use chatbots by inputting and refining various prompts and assessing the output via written response. … Faculty will then assess the work to determine if students’ written essays show the same command of the subject matter.”

It is well within reason to see how students with a firm grasp on using AI could leave school today and become competitive in the workforce. A recent work trends report found that there has been a jump in roles on LinkedIn that mention generative pretrained models — and this wouldn’t just apply to students planning for college-prep careers.

Students who take career and technology education routes to the workforce are already being affected. For example, students who go into the auto industry must know how to operate the computers that are built into each new car, and it’s conceivable that AI’s presence will grow in that industry. Students who go into the beauty industry could also lean on AI to help create 3D models to build and test beauty products or even help clients with color analysis.

DIVE DEEPER: K–12 schools can use AI in education.

How Schools Can Get Started with AI Today

If your school is still on the sidelines with AI, know that the longer you wait, the more you risk students falling through the cracks. Become better informed today so you can prepare your students tomorrow. Getting students ready for the AI workforce starts with taking a systemic approach and putting the best frameworks in place. Here are some things to consider:

Create an AI task force. Include participants from disciplines across your district, along with parents. A comprehensive approach will require that educators consider all the ways implementing this new tool might impact those inside and outside the classroom.

One of the responsibilities of the task force would be to help inform board policy on AI, create syllabi, define AI tool use, address cybersecurity, and discuss how AI could improve efficiency at the central office and in the classroom.

Select AI tools with an educational context. As more generative AI tech pops up on the market, schools need to consider how these tools could impact student data privacy. Merlyn Mind, an AI assistant that employs an education-based large language model, was specifically designed for education. Other AI tools may have privacy concerns or age restrictions. Before you bring AI into the classroom, vet the tool.

Incorporate AI learning into professional development. Because teachers already have a heavy workload, and the teacher shortage is ongoing, some of the best advocates for AI could be teachers who benefit from the tools. AI can help teachers write lesson plans or create rubrics for lessons. Once the tools allows teachers to become more productive without adding more hours to their workday, they will be more comfortable passing their AI knowledge on to students. This would require schools to provide professional development dedicated to AI, and is why board policies and creating memoranda of understanding around regular PD on AI should be included in teachers union contracts.

RELATED: AI can help reduce teacher burnout and boost productivity.

Work with your technology partners. Getting an outside perspective can be a valuable investment in your AI journey. Partners such as CDW can help you avoid costly mistakes and get your school set up for success. Connect with your CDW account manager or educational strategist to discuss AI offerings, such as CDW’s Mastering Operational AI Transformation strategy or its work with Aisera, a maker of generative AI solutions that can help resolve back-end IT issues.

Check out these slides from our AI in education presentation for more information.

This article is part of the ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

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