AI’s impact on STEM education: 3 takeaways from our latest webinar

Last year, we witnessed firsthand the impact of artificial intelligence as it sparked debate among educators in the K12 space. Chatbots like ChatGPT forced leaders to implement strategies and guidelines to prevent students from cheating or plagiarizing their work. But the conversation has shifted greatly since then. Large school systems have reversed their previous bans on such technology, and educators are excited and willing to invite such tools into the classroom eager to see how it enhances student learning. In fact, we’re already seeing this play out in STEM education.

Earlier this month, the Future of Education Technology Conference hosted another webinar as part of its “Road to FETC 2024” series. In this session, FETC Conference Chair Jennifer Womble is joined by STEAM educators, K12 experts and edtech consultants who discuss the various ways AI is transforming STEM for the better.

You can view the webinar on-demand here. In the meantime, here are three takeaways from the event:

AI’s undeniable impact on K12 education as a whole

“I can target my instruction and tailor it better to their [students’] needs whether individually or as a whole class,” says Rachelle Dené Poth, an author, Spanish and STEAM educator at Riverview Junior-Senior High School. She notes that not only does AI prove beneficial for students as it engages them and meets their specific needs, but it can also serve as a teacher assistant and a virtual tutor, allowing educators to focus on multiple students at once.

Poth also says she’s witnessing AI’s impact on education in three primary ways:

  • Personalized learning: AI algorithms are able to adapt learning experiences to a student’s individual needs and offer tailored support and feedback as a result.
  • Intelligent tutoring: Similarly, virtual tutors are able to provide personal guidance and assistance while matching the student’s learning styles and pace of learning.
  • Data-driven insights: One of the best ways teachers can leverage AI is to make informed decisions based on class-wide assessments made possible by AI. It’s capable of analyzing large datasets to identify certain patterns and trends, streamlining the decision-making process for educators.

Integrating diverse AI techniques to tailor education for students

Meeting students where they are is essential for educators who seek to understand how to better serve their classes. Fortunately, educators now have access to a variety of innovative tools that shave off tons of time for teachers so they can spend more time doing what’s most important: teaching students.

Microsoft, for example, has a service called “Reading Progress,” a free tool available in Microsoft Teams that assesses students’ reading proficiency in real time and provides actionable feedback. What used to take weeks to assess students’ reading proficiency is now streamlined for the benefit of students and educators alike.

“This is now five minutes on the computer,” says Victoria Thompson, an education industry executive at Microsoft. “Students can put in their headphones, they can speak directly into the device and they can receive direct feedback based off of their reading.”

They’re also in the process of releasing Math Coach, a similar tool that analyzes students’ steps while completing math problems. These are just a few of the innovative services Microsoft has developed to enhance student learning, not replace it, and to provide students with the foundation necessary for STEM education.

“These are learning accelerators,” Thompson says. “We all know that they’re learning tools and they’re here to help you. But they accelerate your learning. They elevate your learning. They help you be better as a student alongside your teacher.”

Addressing the responsible use of AI

Leaders are responsible for educating their students and staff about the ethical uses of AI in education. Believe it or not, many edtech companies have already integrated some sort of AI functionality within their products. Students must understand its implications and grasp how to use it to enhance their learning experiences.

Thompson often refers to these four questions when taking into account the ethical considerations of certain uses of AI:

  • Learning objectives: What are the areas in which AI can enhance critical thinking for students?
  • Students’ needs and abilities: Products like Microsoft Word and Google Forms leverage AI behind the scenes without users ever realizing it. How should we approach them considering students’ needs and abilities?
  • Subject matter: What’s the curriculum. What are the topics? How can educators provide these resources? Understand that while AI is fluent in certain areas, it doesn’t know everything. Refrain from allowing these tools to fully provide these resources and instead “use it on the side,” Thompson says.
  • Data availability: AI has to rely on data for its functionality. If you’re using chatbots like ChatGPT that rely on language-learning models (LLMs), always consider where it may be pulling information from, and whether it’s relevant.