It doesn’t matter where you turn – on street corners, at education conferences, in classrooms and plastered all over LinkedIn, AI is the new talk of the town…or should we say, the globe. And of course, with its advanced ability to make our lives easier and our lessons more interactive and engaging, it’s easy to see why AI has been applauded by researchers, educators and leaders.
Its quick-thinking and fast-execution capabilities are of course the obvious features to wow the human eye, but where learning is concerned, most educators are impressed with its ability to design somewhat compelling lessons at the drop of a hat – or the click of a button in this case. Others have praised the way that AI has the ability to engage students and design differentiated learning plans to personalise the learner experience. And while we’re also partial to dabbling in ChatGPT to aid with planning, for example, there’s still a question that not many seem to be able to answer with as much certainty.
The question: How can AI be used to effectively improve students’ traditional literacy skills?
When posing this question to AI enthusiasts, we’ve been met with strange looks, a chuckle or two and the occasional question “Why does it matter? Digital literacy is the way forward and traditional literacy skills are outdated”.
Authors Stephanie Martin & Dr Afnan Boutrid of Edvance Consultants
But the fact is, until all universities begin assessing in a way which does not rely on traditional assessment methods, schools remain at the helm of preparing students for exam and essay based assessment – most of which require basic traditional literacy skills.
We’ve heard time and time again that AI will not replace the teacher, but the teacher who chooses not to embrace AI will be left behind. So we asked ChatGPT to help us plan a lesson aimed at improving students’ literacy skills – specifically written expression – using AI. Here’s what it suggested:
1. Provide students with an AI generated short story and have them analyse and evaluate the worthiness of the story according to a criteria.
Very well, but this assumes that students already have the basic comprehension and writing skills needed to execute cognitive skills, such as analyse and evaluate. Also, where’s the focus on specific improvement of written expression, here?
Take two suggested the following:
2. In this lesson, students can use AI tools to generate content and also to check their own spelling and grammar, for example, Grammarly.
Now, while grammar checking tools are convenient and accessible to students and also serve as a timer saver, most learners tend to simply “accept all changes” suggested by Grammarly and other forms of spell check. Here, the brain is never tasked with taking the time to learn how to spell or write a sentence correctly. Of course, some may argue “why do we need to learn how to spell or write in the 21st century when AI will do it for us?”
We argue that this would be akin to asking “why use your mouth to talk when you can send a text instead?” We learn these foundational skills like reading, writing and speaking for this very reason – so that we can. Rich is the learner who can communicate in various forms but is not confined to limited means of communication.
So we refined our prompts further in the hopes of seeing if our friend ChatGPT could offer further insight. Its final, more puzzling suggestion was:
3. Students can use AI to create a story and as the final step, students can read their story aloud.
Strangely, here ChatGPT prioritizes AI as the first skill to master, and places the traditional, foundational skill – reading – as the last skill to execute. Interestingly, the suggestions made don’t actually require students to engage in any of the basics that are needed to access AI as a learning tool in the first place. You see, in order for our students to prompt an AI tool like ChatGPT correctly, first and foremost, they must possess adequate literacy skills.
For any AI tool to work effectively, it must be accurately prompted. Language needs to be clear and concise so that it can generate accurate responses.
When approaching this next chapter as educators, we propose establishing balance between the traditional and the new. Yes, you’ll always be queried on ‘why we still need to learn about algebra, or why we need to analyse texts’. But here’s the thing. Next time you’re approached with the “I’m never going to use this. Why does it matter?” challenge from your students, don’t get defensive.
Instead, enlighten them.
Learning is about building and strengthening specific connections between the neurons in our brain. These connections allow us to develop critical thinking, innovative and creative thinking and problem solving skills.
The AI Educator, 2022.
AI: The good, the bad and the ugly
The simple explanation of neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. As you can imagine, it plays a crucial role in the process of learning to read and write. So what’s the ugly side of AI, you ask?
When students rely excessively on AI to develop their literacy skills, they risk not building these critical neural connections. Cognitive science demonstrates the importance of the retrieval practice, meaning when students are asked to recall concepts and information on their own, they are strengthening these neural connections and their memory. Allowing students to struggle with writing sentences actually is helping them learn. When we jump straight onto ChatGPT for the answer, we lose this important process.
Why do we need writing in the age of AI?
Learning to write is a complex cognitive skill that involves various neural processes.
As individuals engage in writing activities, whether it’s forming letters, constructing sentences, or organizing thoughts into coherent paragraphs, the brain undergoes changes in its neural pathways. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt and strengthen the connections associated with the specific skills involved in writing. The risk of AI, you ask?
If students only rely on AI to execute written work, they risk not making these critical connections.
But it’s not all doom, gloom and ugly. There’s a myriad of positive factors presented by AI in developing students’ literacy skills:
a.Instant Feedback: AI-powered writing tools can provide immediate feedback on grammar, spelling, and syntax errors. This quick feedback loop helps students recognize and rectify mistakes in real-time, fostering a more iterative learning process.
b.Organization: AI can help students with organizing their thoughts and the writing structure: AI can analyze the organization and structure of an essay or article, providing insights into how to improve clarity and coherence. This helps students understand the importance of logical flow in their writing.
c.Equity: Makes writing more accessible to students who would normally not consider themselves strong writers and would shy away from writing.
So here’s the thing. Contrary to the flurry of AI advocates who may chant ‘out with the old!’ – we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Lest we forget: Our human brains still prove to be the most powerful weapon known, so much so that we’ve designed technology programs that can mimic the way we think.
AI means artificial intelligence. It mimics human intelligence for a reason:
And that’s because our human brains are the most powerful tool we have.
Let’s not forget to use it.