How AI can transform South Australia's classrooms

Educators have been treated to a behind the scenes look at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML), learning first-hand how artificial intelligence (AI) technology is transforming classroom teaching.

By Kurtis Eichler

South Australian high school teachers heard from AIML’s director, Professor Simon Lucey, School of Education senior academics Associate Professor Edward Palmer and Dr Walter Barbieri, and Teacher in Residence program coordinator Claire Hughes, about the impact AI was having on secondary education.

“I’m really excited that Australia should have more accountants, and lawyers and doctors, but if we are really going to be part of the change that Australia needs, part of the economic complexity and a better life that we want for our kids, a lot of this is going to come from STEM,” Professor Lucey told educators.

The presentations gave teachers an insight into how AI-powered language models can reduce the burden of administrative work for teachers while ensuring students are skilled-up for the jobs for the future.

AI is fast becoming a part of everyday life, and while many sectors have been quick to harness its ability to improve productivity, there has been some reluctance from educators about allowing the technology in the classroom.

Teachers have raised concerns generative tools such as ChatGPT are changing the traditional method of learning, for example, students using the tool to write their essays. However, South Australia has been proactive in embracing the technology and is the only jurisdiction in the country not to have banned AI in classrooms.

teacher in a classroom

South Australia has been proactive in embracing the use of AI in high school classrooms. Photo: iStock

SA Education Minister Blair Boyer announced in July that eight public high schools would undertake an eight-week trial of a generative AI chatbot specifically made for the classroom. The software has protective features and shows students how AI can help them with their studies.

At the panel discussion, Associate Professor Palmer, the director of the Unit of Digital Learning and Society, told the forum AI tools had the power to generate lesson plans and slide presentations, saving teachers valuable time.

For example, using, Palmer showed how the generator could pull together a “pretty good starting point for generating your lesson”.

“That’s not the lesson, that’s not going to do the teaching, but it’s just saved someone 40 minutes.”

Palmer demonstrated how AI-powered search engine WolframAlpha could help students solve and explain complex maths equations.

Dr Barbieri encouraged teachers to think about the opportunities, and risks, AI presented to the classroom.

“It can expedite your work in meaningful ways, but if we consider using AI as something that’s reasonable and valuable to help to be more efficient with our own time as teachers, then it’s worth thinking why should we not allow students that opportunity as well,” Dr Barbieri says.

“At the moment in some fields there is a kind of moral judgement against students using AI whereas we know in a vast range of adult professions, it is being used in order to become more efficient.”

Hughes, an advocate for STEM education, highlighted the way we work is changing. She said students were likely to have 17 different careers over their working life, and that AI wasn’t going to be limited to students who study computer science at university.

“It is spreading far and wide and it goes across lots and lots of fields and sectors,” Hughes told the forum.

“We really need to equip students, not just for jobs of the future, but jobs with a future.”

Asked by a teacher whether there was a tool available to detect ChatGPT-written work, Palmer said that would be a “very short-term solution”.

“Very soon, they’ll know how to break all these detection algorithms,” Palmer told the forum.

“I’m more interested in ‘can I design tasks for them that will ensure learning is occurring at each step and allow them to use AI if they want to.”

AI/ML: Visit AIML for Educators panel discussion was held on 26 July 2023.

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