As parents, we guide our children through many of life’s firsts: first steps, first days of school and, now, first contact with artificial intelligence.
While AI used to be a futuristic concept explored in sci-fi movies, it is weaving its way into our kids’ learning landscapes. What are the pitfalls and positive potentials of children using AI — and what boundaries should be set around this ever-evolving technology?
For this generation of students, having a healthy relationship with AI will be part of the equation. Matthew Paolucci, Ph.D., a professor and director of Teaching and Learning at Sonoma State University, frames AI in terms of scale like this: “Think of it in the same way as the effect of the onset of the internet. Every aspect of life is going to be affected by this moment.” Artificial intelligence is just that — fake thinking — and now AI-based systems are more accessible to kids.
Sree Sreenivasan, a long-time digital expert and CEO and co-founder of Digimentors, says this set of tools can be confusing to understand, but this doesn’t mean we should ignore it. “AI is not something we need to tame, but something we should understand and learn to work with,” Sreenivasan says.
So, with AI set to influence so much of our lives and technological advances, how will it affect your child’s learning at school? Is Wall-E or Skynet just around the corner for our kids?
Author and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) middle-school English teacher Noriko Nakada says, “When I first started hearing about AI, I downloaded it to see what it can do.” She found that popular apps such as ChatGPT are easily accessible and designed so users can enter a prompt and have anything from essays to poetry to speeches written for them.
ChatGPT is super versatile. It can help you find information, give recommendations or assist you with tasks. It’s like having a clever buddy who’s always there to lend a hand. And ChatGPT wrote those last three sentences when given the prompt: “Explain ChatGPT in a casual way.” This leads to the question: Is AI a hindrance or a help in your child’s learning?
If chatbots are designed to create content, could they write that tricky essay on “The Outsiders” for your child’s class? In a word: Yes.
Of course, there has always been the chance some students will look for easier ways to finish their homework. But while cheating is an age-old concern, using AI can run deeper than cheating on assignments. “What we’re seeing is a tool that, if misused, will be doing the thinking for the student,” Paolucci says.
AI can make it simpler for those on the lookout for a homework shortcut since it does your research, a first draft or writes your essay (with or without perfect grammar when prompted). It may seem as though AI can do everything but pack your kid’s school lunches, but it can’t learn for your child.
Keeping kids honest
Genein M. Letford, M.Ed., founder and CEO of CAFFE Strategies and author of “The Future Classroom of Intercultural Creativity,” says it’s important to communicate to students that no one can take their place of being the learner. “If you give everything to AI, you’re robbing yourself of the benefit of growing,” Letford says.
Writing essays or putting together that in-class speech allows students to think beyond what happens in the classroom. It improves knowledge and develops research skills. Letford goes on to say that technology is here to help us be better people, not to be us. And since, Nakada says, we can’t pretend AI doesn’t exist or that kids won’t use it, parents need to talk about it with their kids.
Michael Roemer, Ph.D., and director of Global Education at Trinity Valley School, says it’s important and effective to have a conversation about how AI can be used appropriately. “If we don’t have these conversations, we aren’t preparing our kids for their future,” Roemer says.
When it comes to AI generating a homework assignment, start students thinking about the repercussions. Roemer suggests using open-ended questions such as: Why do you think this is wrong? What’s the moral ethical dilemma here? “Instead of ignoring the situation, show kids how to be honest with it,” Roemer encourages.
In addition to questioning your children, Paolucci suggests engaging with the tool yourself to show children healthy ways AI can be used to enhance learning. “It’s important to ask your kids, ‘How can you use this as a tool for thinking rather than the thinking itself?’” For example, Roemer says that with a topic in mind, AI can be a useful tool for brainstorming ideas. “AI can also be good for research,” Roemer says. Apps like ChatGPT can be asked to simplify complex topics, which is like having your very own tutor, thus making learning more accessible. “Now students can use that particular source because they understand it,” he says.
Using AI productively
When used as a study support, artificial intelligence can empower students at home — and in the classroom. Roemer and digital expert Sreenivasan say AI can be used to help classes run more efficiently by helping students of different learning levels in the same classroom. Both explain that students with learning differences (such as ADHD or dyslexia) can have lessons specifically geared for them, so teachers can use AI for this purpose. In education terminology, this is called “differentiated instruction.” “You try to teach differently so everybody should grasp the idea,” Roemer says.
In the classroom and at home, AI can be used as a jumping-off point for inspiring curiosity and creativity. Letford advises using AI to support a child’s sense of wonder and awe, to use AI and other technologies to show them there’s a whole universe out there to explore. “It’s a trait they’re going to need in their adulthood,” Letford says. “They have to have their own curiosity to drive them to be a life-long learner, which is an easier skill to build now.”
Supporting your child’s curiosity creates a continuing interest in learning and builds creative-thinking skills — a trait AI isn’t (yet) really able to duplicate.
The experts agree that demonizing or pretending artificial intelligence doesn’t exist isn’t helpful. Roemer says: “There are a couple of reasons an absolute ban is problematic. One of those being, I feel it’s naive. What we ban can become more attractive.” This is because from a social psychology standpoint, the more a person’s behavior feels restricted, the more likely they are to do it, Paolucci explains. Besides, there is no learning in this scenario, which is why talking to your child about the pitfalls and positive potential of AI is so important.
Artificial intelligence and all its nuances can feel overwhelming, but AI can be used in positive ways to further your kiddo’s learning. Popular and trusted educational websites such as Khan Academy are exploring its value “to mimic one-on-one tutoring experiences,” and Roemer says Khan Academy is an incredible resource for students.
Finding positive ways to introduce AI to your children can support their curiosity and love of learning. When asked how students can use ChatGPT, the chatbot even states, “…it’s important to use it as a supplement to traditional learning methods and not rely solely on its responses.” And as Sreenivasan says, “AI is already around us, we’re using it every day. But that’s where we discuss the ethics of it.”
And we do that together.
Tonilyn Hornung is an author and freelance writer who lives with her husband, son and many furry friends.