On Feb. 7, Fordham’s Graduate School of Education hosted a panel discussion at the Lincoln Center campus, “Threat or Opportunity? The Impact of AI on Education,” where five experts explored how AI can impact students at all grade levels—and why sometimes, we learn better without fancy chatbots.
A Tool for Bilingual Learners
Artificial intelligence can provide personalized learning experiences for students, particularly bilingual learners, said Rogelio Fernández, Ph.D., GSE ’95, an education consultant and adjunct professor at Fordham and CUNY. AI can not only provide multisensory engagement but also provide a low-risk environment where students can learn English, he said.
“They can put on headphones and listen to the English language, perhaps poems and songs, and take risks that they did not take in general classrooms where there are four, five students who are English speakers—who might make fun or bully them because of their accent or because of their incorrect grammar,” said Fernandez.
AI can also be a time-saving tool, said Layla Munson, a New York City Department of Education administrator and GSE doctoral student in curriculum and instruction. It can generate a basic first draft of an assignment or project, which students can enhance, she said. In addition, AI could help students below grade level catch up with their peers.
Potential Perils of AI
However, one of the biggest issues with programs like ChatGPT is bias, said the experts. ChatGPT, for example, relies on data available to the general public in order to provide information to users. But the sourced data focuses on dominant voices, while leaving out the marginalized.
AI can also widen the educational divide for already marginalized students, said Nicole Zeidan, Ed.D., Fordham’s assistant director of emerging educational technology and learning space design and an adjunct professor at GSE.
“Some of those digital divides can include the lack of access to the actual technology itself, a lack of internet connectivity … the lack of devices … biases in AI, and algorithms in data can have a lack of cultural sensitivities,” said Zeidan. “The technology may not be able to understand certain perspectives or experiences in different cultures as well.”
Why You Should Still Memorize Your Multiplication Tables
Edgar McIntosh, Ed.D., GSE ’20, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and assessment at Scarsdale Public Schools, recalled a group of fifth graders who told him they wanted to get rid of homework—and for a legitimate reason. “Homework is so boring that I can just ask Alexa, and Alexa can [give me the answer],” said one boy.
We need to rethink some homework assignments, said McIntosh. But there is still value in asking students to do things like memorize their multiplication tables, rather than rely on a calculator. This builds a foundation of information inside our brains that we can convey at the tip of our tongue—sometimes, even faster than the time it takes to type a problem into a calculator, he said. From that knowledge, we can build a deeper and more complex understanding of how our world works.
The Singularity of the Human Voice
There is also value in writing essays without the help of artificial intelligence. ChatGPT can write an essay, but even middle school students can tell that it wasn’t written by a person, said McIntosh.
“They knew, as eighth graders, that this essay lacked a real voice,” said McIntosh, who spoke with students in his district that experimented with the chatbot. “It sounded a little canned, even if it was doing tricks and writing in certain styles. They were able to identify that it was lacking a certain human quality and that the machine does not have the sophistication yet—or may never have the sophistication—to provide the kind of nuance that a human being can.”
Future of AI in Education
There are still big questions about using artificial intelligence in the classroom, said the experts. How do we train educators to use AI in the classroom? What do teachers do with the free time gained from efficiently using AI? Should AI be regulated, and if so, by whom? (“We cannot leave it in the hands of the industry. It didn’t work out well with social media,” quipped the event moderator, Robert Niewiadomski, an assistant clinical professor at GSE.)
AI also poses an important philosophical question, said Kevin Spinale, S.J., Ph.D., an assistant professor in curriculum and teaching at GSE: “We have to dwell on what this tool is and what its capacities are, but at the same time, to reconsider who we are. … We want, desperately, a human response, who hears what is important to us and responds to it in their own importance.”
No matter how much our technology changes, it’s important that we remember one thing—the unique power that each person possesses, said Munson.
“Our voices are powerful. We’re going to leverage these tools in very responsible ways,” she said. “And we’re going to be better—together.”
Technology for a New Generation of Teachers
About 50 people attended the panel, mostly students who are, or aim to be, educators themselves.
Onica Jackson, a GSE doctoral student and a sixth grade English teacher in Queens, New York, said she thought the event was a good introduction to helping students.
“Another big takeaway was the collaboration of teachers to start the conversation around it, but there are many limitations contingent on the equality of the use of AI,” she said.
Gabriela Shpijati, FCRH ’24, a psychology major in the five-year education track program with GSE, said she came to the event because she was interested in learning more about AI—one of the most significant forms of technology in her generation.
“I came into the event not knowing if I sided with AI or against it. But after learning more about it, I think it’s mostly important to … understand that it has to be used as an enhancer in order for the best results to come from it,” she said.
The event was co-hosted by the Kappa Delta Pi honor society and GSE’s Innovation in Curriculum and Instruction Ph.D. Program, with support from Diane Rodriguez, Ph.D., associate dean of GSE; Aida A. Nevárez-La Torre, Ed.D., chair of GSE’s curriculum and teaching division; Annie George-Puskar, Ph.D., an assistant professor in curriculum and teaching; and event moderator Robert Niewiadomski, who leads the Kappa Delta Pi honor society committee that hosted the event. The panel is part of an inaugural GSE speaker series called Critical Issues and Contemporary Education, which will host events twice a year.