Connect with us

Technology

Will AI replace Colorado teachers? Here’s what experts say.

Published

on

/ 8349 Views

LONGMONT — The questions that baffle Mai Vu’s students, that frustrate them one second and motivate them the next, also foreshadow the future.

At first glance, their work seems ordinary. Scattered across a classroom, they each pore over their laptops, eyes firmly trained on their screens like any other teens.

But the queries consuming each of them hint at the kinds of challenges high schoolers will take on in coming years: How do you teach a camera to spot pedestrians and stop signs from inside a self-driving car? What does it take to speed up a pizza order in a short-staffed restaurant? Can gaming Technology help students better master a second language?

Both the students and their projects are part of a new wave of learning that educators say will transform how kids grasp information. The engine driving their work: artificial intelligence.

“This is a tool that is going to be a part of our future world,” said Michelle Bourgeois, chief technology officer for St. Vrain Valley School District, where Vu’s students are experimenting with AI. “How do we make sure that we are ready not only to use it, but also to make sure our students are ready to use it?” 

As AI technology rapidly advances and raises substantial questions about the future of work, some Colorado schools are at the dawn of exploring how AI could revolutionize classrooms.  Even while still in its early stages, the technology is helping teachers with the heavy lift of daily lesson planning, communicating with families and tailoring their instruction to individual students. It can also give kids more seamless ways to learn at their own pace or put sophisticated ideas — like a camera trained for a self-driving car or a pizza bot — in motion. 

But embracing AI in a way that accelerates students’ academic success, as opposed to offering them a shortcut, will require schools to introduce the technology gradually, both experts and educators say. Meanwhile, leaders and teachers across districts are grappling with how to keep both students experimenting with AI and their data safe.

A teacher helps a student who is working on a laptop
Mai Vu, AI program manager for St. Vrain Valley School District, helps Victor Oshmyan, a sophomore at Niwot High School, Feb. 1, 2024, at the district’s Innovation Center in Longmont. Vu leads the Artificial Intelligence Project Team at the Innovation Center, an after-school project team that challenges students to tackle innovation and design projects for clients and compensates them for their work experience. Victor is part of a student team creating “a pizza bot” to make the pizza ordering process at restaurants more efficient. (Erica Breunlin, The Colorado Sun)

Questions about how AI will reshape education prompted the Colorado Education Initiative to form a statewide steering committee last year with San Francisco-based nonprofit The AI Education Project to shepherd schools through complex decisions about how to blend AI into their classrooms. The steering committee, composed of educators, district leaders, scientists and business professionals, will focus on developing a cohesive plan to point schools, policymakers and industry experts in the same direction as more students delve into AI, said Rebecca Holmes, president and CEO of state initiative.

“We’re at a moment where this is moving so quickly that whether you’re a teacher in a classroom or a superintendent or a school board member, you’re sort of looking for trusted guidance,” Holmes said. “And you also don’t want to move too slowly. You don’t want to get completely outpaced by another state or another district.”

The AI Education Project, a 5-year-old nonprofit, is one resource working with schools across the country to help them figure out how to use AI responsibly and give teachers a “foundational understanding” of the technology so that they can decide how it will best enhance their work with students, said Christian Pinedo, chief of staff for the organization.

☀️ READ MORE

Colorado will get at least $100 million, possibly $1 billion, from infrastructure bill to end digital divide

How southern Colorado is working to bridge the digital divide in schools

A rural Colorado school district is spending $3 million to connect kids’ homes to the internet. Will it be enough?

“We’re really trying to establish this call to action to schools, to educators, to students that you don’t need to know how to build or code an AI model, but you do need to know or build critical thinking skills around what AI means in society,” Pinedo said, “because the reality is that AI is well ingrained into our everyday lives. Students should be given the ability to think about what are the societal impacts, the ethical impacts, the emotional impacts of AI technologies around them.”

AI is making its way into the classroom at a time “education is long overdue to be shaken up and to be rethought,” he added.

Public Education has long been rooted in the idea of measuring students and their intelligence based on how they perform on assessments like multiple choice tests or essays — which AI can master just as well as students. That’s why it’s becoming increasingly critical for schools to start prioritizing other skills that AI cannot replicate, such as collaboration and empathy, Pinedo said.

“It’s no secret that in the future, your coworkers are not all going to be human,” he said. “You’re going to have AI agent coworkers, and a lot of companies already do. Building those skills among students is going to be really key for them to succeed in that workspace.”

How do you empower kids to use AI as a tool, rather than a replacement, for learning?

St. Vrain Valley School District, which has a statewide reputation as a pioneer in Technology and innovation, started ramping up its use of generative AI among teachers and administrators last fall and is determined to train all educators on generative AI by the end of the school year, district administrators say. 

“Our goal this year,” Bourgeois said, “has been to prepare our teachers for the world that we know our students are going to get to thrive in.”

A classroom of students working on laptops
St. Vrain Valley School District students who gain paid work experience as part of to the Artificial Intelligence Project Team focus on their individual and group projects Feb. 1, 2024, at the district’s Innovation Center in Longmont. Their projects, all reliant on AI, range from teaching a camera to spot pedestrians and stop signs from inside a self-driving car to designing “a pizza bot” that can help speed up orders at short-staffed pizza parlors. (Erica Breunlin, The Colorado Sun)

The district, which has about 32,500 students in preschool through 12th grade, has nudged teachers to play around with AI in simple ways, creating a bingo game that gives them ideas about how to use AI, such as planning a weekend trip, a workout routine or a class rubric. Teachers then earn professional development credit for filling out the card.

A key part of the district’s approach in coaching teachers on using AI has been focused on reinforcing safety of students and their personal information.

Data shared for a specific use could be used in a different way, Bourgeois said. “So be very intentional about what data you share with an AI,” Bourgeois said.

Trending