Dan Fitzpatrick: The future of AI in education

District Administration‘s Micah Ward sat down with Dan Fitzpatrick, former educator and bestselling author of The AI Classroom: The Ultimate Guide to Artificial Intelligence in Education, to learn what artificial intelligence has in store for K12 education. Rest assured, teaching jobs are not on the line.

Last week, thousands of educators, district leaders and IT professionals gathered in Orlando, Fl., for the National Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) to witness firsthand how edtech is shaping K12 education to benefit our students. Among the many innovations and trends highlighted throughout the week, one of the most prominent topics discussed was artificial intelligence—obviously.

Since ChatGPT’s public release in November 2022, the mention of AI continues to spark discussion among educators who share deep concerns surrounding its use in the classroom. One expert, however, assures us that teachers ought to have nothing to worry about. Instead, schools should find ways to invite collaboration between the two.

Dan Fitzpatrick, former educator and bestselling author of The AI Classroom: The Ultimate Guide to Artificial Intelligence in Education, was a featured keynote speaker at FETC 2024 where he shared his vision for AI in education and his forecasts for the future of K12, particularly how it impacts the teaching profession.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with him ahead of his speech to learn firsthand the trends that have arisen since ChatGPT’s release. Here’s what we gathered from that conversation.

Teachers are both excited and concerned

Although teachers have had a significant amount of time to tinker with the tool, Fitzpatrick says many are still on the fence about bringing it into their classrooms. Yet, the excitement is still there.

“Teachers want to know how to implement it, but there’s a lot of confusion out there,” he says. “I compare it to 1997 when the internet came around.

“It’s really interesting because it’s probably the lowest barrier to entry tool ever. All it takes is someone typing into it to produce results. But when you marry it to your profession, especially as a teacher, how can you get the most out of it?”

Still, some of the initial concerns that existed when ChatGPT first arrived in November 2022 remain, specifically those surrounding its regulation in school and how to ensure academic integrity. But Fitzpatrick is certain that AI will become mainstream over the next few years, just as the internet did. Until then, he advises teachers to play with AI. Learn how to get exactly what you need from it and practice your prompt writing.

“There’s a bias that can come with AI tools,” he explains. “I show teachers and school leaders how they can combat that bias. It all comes down to communication. Don’t just rely on AI to give you everything you need. You’ve got to prompt it in a really specific way to get what you need out of it.”

Opening doors for personalized learning

It’s no surprise that teachers are strapped for time. Even in its early stages, AI can do some incredible things to free up educators from burdensome tasks like creating a lesson plan, for example.

During Fitzpatrick’s keynote speech at FETC, he showed the audience how to take an audio transcript from a YouTube documentary, throw it into ChatGPT and have it design a lesson plan based on that information. As ChatGPT was performing magic on the screen, one audience member, presumably a teacher, said out loud, “That’s hours from my day” now freed up thanks to AI.

It has also opened the doors to more personalized learning opportunities for students. Every child with a device now has their own digital tutor in the palm of their hand.

“It’s the utopia of education, really, to have a 1:1 teacher with a student and personalize that learning,” he says. “And it’s difficult. We’ve outgrown class sizes, so it’s difficult for a teacher to be with every student. I think this helps us go further down that path and personalize learning for students.”

He argues that educators will inevitably have to embrace this technology because businesses are already on board. And if we don’t, “students will, and so will their parents.”

“We’re already starting to see companies starting their own schools boosted by AI. I think we’re going to witness the decentralization of education in the next few years,” Fitzpatrick says. “There will be a lot more options for parents and students.”

Don’t teach with AI, collaborate with it

Although it’s in its early stages, he’s enjoying seeing how teachers are using AI in the classroom to help students think more creatively, which he argues might not make sense as critics say it takes away people’s creativity. But through collaboration with AI, that’s where he believes you’ll see the best results.

“Those are the skills students are going to need going into their careers,” he mentions. “Teachers can have students use it creatively for image generation, music generation, ideation on ideas and personalized feedback.”

Ultimately, Fitzpatrick holds out hope for the teaching profession and how it can benefit from AI. Since ChatGPT’s release, the question of “Will AI replace teachers” has been looming over educators’ heads. His response? No, but the profession will change.

“When I was writing my book I was talking to a guy named David Price who is an author from England and he described it as ‘the dance between humans and machines.’ I don’t know much about dancing, but there’s got to be a lead. We need to make sure that the teacher is the lead in that collaboration with proper training and pedagogy surrounding AI tools.”