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[Educator Network] The Importance of Using AI in the Classroom

[Educator Network] The Importance of Using AI in the Classroom

This is a guest post written by Edmentum Educator Network member, Brad Zellner, a teacher at Orleans Jr./Sr. High School and Assistant Basketball Coach at Owensboro Thoroughbreds. You can connect with Brad on Twitter at @CoachZellner.

Do you just look at your phone to unlock it? Does your email get sorted into different categories automatically? Does social media seem to know which advertisements might interest you? Have you opened up a website and an instant messenger popped up asking if you needed any help? Have you ever called a business to get an automated voice asking you questions on how to direct your call?

If you said ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, then you have interacted with the smart technology known as Artificial Intelligence (AI). With advances in technology the interactions with AI are becoming a more frequent part of our daily lives. That is no different in the world of education.

Attempting to make a computer system learn and make decisions like a human is the goal of AI. Sounds simple, right? To understand the complexity of AI can be a daunting task. The words “Artificial Intelligence” can even sound overwhelming and complicated. Until recently, I was an educator who felt AI was too difficult to take on in the classroom. As I dove into two separate projects, I began to see that AI does have a place in the classroom and can be very beneficial to educators and students.


The EON Project

The first project I was part of was a small cohort that assisted the programmers of Edmentum’s Study Island. As I later learned my role in this project was very small but also very important. My group was tasked with coming up with words or phrases that educators would use in their daily life. Coming up with just a couple phrases was not enough. Every educator was tasked with coming up with numerous phrases that answered basic questions the AI would ask. Just think for a second how many ways teachers can answer the question, “What grade do you teach?” The importance of these phrases would give the programmers an opportunity to “teach” the Study Island AI how to answer questions.

After several weeks of video meetings, the development department finally introduce the chatbot named EON to the group. The conversation was about getting one more final review and test with educators before launching. Fast forward to the beginning of this school year as I logged into Study Island. My reaction when I saw the AI pop up for the first time during class was enough for my students to ask what I was doing on the computer. Of course, it is hard to explain that your words are now coming out of a chat feature that they are expecting to see these days. However, for me, I knew the work that went into the simple question that EON asked: “What grade do you teach?” and all the answers that could follow.


ISTE and a Deeper Dive into AI

My second AI project was a 10-week course called “Artificial Intelligence and Their Practical Use in Schools.” After working with the Study Island AI project, I was excited to be taking a deeper dive into AI by taking the course conducted by The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

After an intense application process, a cohort of 400 educators were chosen from all over the world. My team included three other educators that represented 3 schools in two different districts in my region.

Each week we were given lessons on AI that ranged from the history (hard to believe AI dates back to the 1950’s), to how a machine learns and  finished with lessons on how to use AI in the classroom. Each lesson concluded with fantastic thought-provoking questions that required groups to submit a unified answer before the end of each week.

Every week built upon the previous lesson and concluded with a capstone project that each group had to submit. The capstone involved building a lesson to use in the classroom that was appropriate to the grade taught by groups. Having so many grades covered by my group we decided to each develop our own lesson to submit as a capstone. The class through ISTE was both challenging and rewarding. It forced me out of my comfort zone each week as I studied the lessons. The icing on the cake was learning that my group's capstone project was nominated to be featured by ISTE on their website.

After being involved in both projects I believe AI has a place in the classroom without overwhelming educators. AI can also be taught in a way that can be easily explained and challenging for students at the same time.

I have concluded there are three positive outcomes when it comes to using AI in the classroom:


1. Learning About Different Perspectives

When the developers at Edmentum needed to know how an educator would respond they went right to the source. It would have been easy to guess what a teacher might say but they were willing to reach out and ask teachers what they thought. Giving students the opportunity to learn that everyone has a different perspective on the world is an invaluable lesson to learn. This leads to people having open minds and better collaboration sessions.


2. Developing Better Communication Skills

I often hear that students are glued to their technology and the ability to communicate is becoming a thing of the past. I say let’s use technology to help enhance the students' communication skills. Learning to ask and answer questions is critical to the success of AI. Students will not only learn to ask questions, but they will also have to push themselves to ask even better questions. When students are creating AI technology in the classroom, they are working on those important communication skills.


3. Researching to Help Problem Solve

When students study AI, they will have to dive deeper into a subject requiring more than just answering one question. Once an answer is figured out then there must be another question asked to continue to help solve a problem. Learning the ability to ask questions will help students gain more curiosity and the ability to investigate.


Having the opportunity to teach students valuable lifelong skills while being on the cutting edge of technology is a dream come true for educators. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@CoachZellner) or LinkedIn if you would like to further the discussion and share ideas.

brad.zellner's picture
Brad Zellner

Brad Zellner spent 16 years coaching college basketball before entering the classroom in 2016. During his short teaching career, Brad has taught several subjects including Math, Health/PE, and Social Studies. He is currently the Corporation Test Coordinator and Online Learning Facilitator at Orleans Jr.-Sr. High School in Orleans, IN. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in History from Eastern Kentucky University and a Master’s in Sports Management/Coaching from the United States Sports Academy. He is still involved with basketball on a part time basis as an Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach at Indiana University Southeast. He is married to a fellow teacher, Zotaina, and they have 2 children, Clare and Will.